JUNE 16 SOWETO MASSACRE ANNIVERSARY ARREST
JUNE 16 SOWETO MASSACRE ANNIVERSARY ARREST
4 ACTIVISTS REGAIN FREEDOM
H.T Soweto, National Coordinator, Education Rights Campaign (ERC)
Hassan Taiwo Soweto (National Coordinator, the Education Rights Campaign), Chinedu Bosah (National Secretary, Education Rights Campaign) Usman Oloyede (Former PRO, NANS Zone D) and Debo Adeniran (Chairman, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders) were released on bail today at the Sabo Police Station, Yaba Lagos. Soweto and Chinedu are also members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)
They were arrested yesterday June 16, 2009 at Yaba while protesting against the under funding of education by the Yar’ Adua capitalist government. June 16, 2009 is the 33rd anniversary of the Soweto Masacre in 1976 when the then South African Apartheid government unleashed terror on black youths protesting against imposition of racial measures in the education sector. Hector Pieterson – a 12-year-old boy – was shot dead by the Aparthied Police. Over the next two days, over 600 people including children and youths had been killed and injured as the protest swept over South Africa.
Students and youths under the auspices of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) chose the 33rd anniversary of the gruesome massacre to begin a nationwide protest against under-funding of education, especially the low allocation to education in the 2009 budget. Right before the protest started, a contingent of heavily armed policemen, numbering about 100 had gathered at the gate of Yaba College of Technology (YABATECH) presumably to stop the protest. From indications, the policemen were invited to brutalize the protesters numbering about 25 by the Management of YABATECH with the willing conspiracy of the Acting DPO of Sabo Police Station, Yaba Mr. Tony O.A and the Lagos State Commissioner of Police Mr. Marvel Akpoyibo.
The manner of the arrest shows clearly that it was premeditated. The claim of the Police and the Yabatech Management was that the protesters wanted to disrupt the campus. Actually, the protest was billed to take off from Yabatech front gate but a combination of factors including the unwillingness of the right wing Union leadership of the institution and mobilization of police to the campus gate as early as 8 am dissuaded the protesters. Instead of Yabatech gate, the protesters started at Jibowu and marched through the road in front of Yabatech towards Herbert McCauley way from where they planned to visit other institutions around Yaba and Akoka communities. The protesters only stopped briefly at YABATECH gate to address pressmen who had gathered there in expectation of the protest, after the address the protesters continued on their march towards Herbert Macaulay way.
But as they reached Herbert Macaulay way, Debo Adeniran (Chairman, CACOL) who had been invited as a guest speaker was arrested. Few minutes before then, Chinedu Bosah had been harassed while distributing press statements to the press and circulating leaflets to the motorists and passers-by. Some copies of the statements and leaflets were snatched from him. Within a split second, the policemen swooped on the remaining protesters who had by now reached the side of Herbert Macauley way waiting to cross. At that spot, Hassan Taiwo Soweto was arrested; the Public Address System (PAS), with which he was addressing, seized and dragged to a waiting Police van. Also arrested at the same spot was Usman Oloyede (former PRO, NANS Zone D). The rest of the protesters scampered across the road with the police in hot pursuit. Chinedu Bosah was arrested, cruelly handcuffed and hit severally on the back with riffle butt.
After this, the Police took the arrested activists in two vans with siren blowing wildly to Area C Command, Iponri where they were detained till about 8 am this morning. At about 8 am, they were transferred to Sabo Police Station, Yaba where a one-count charge: conduct likely to cause breach of public peace was preferred against them. They were then taken to Chief Magistrate Court Yaba for arraignment but the judges and magistrates were at a seminar and so were not on seat. They were then taken back to Sabo Police Station Yaba where to their surprise they were released on bail to their lawyers including Segun Sango. They were asked to report daily at the Police Station until the case is settled.
The protesters were brutalized for their condemnation of the 2009 budget and its meager allocation to education. One key demand of the protest was that the government should increase allocation to education to at least 26% of the budget as recommended by UNESCO. According to the 2009 budget signed into law by the President early March this year, 7.2% was allocated to education while the salaries and allowances of 17, 474 political office holders totaling N1.13 trillion dwarfs the combined allocation to education (N224billion), Health (N103billion), Transport (N38billion), Works, housing and Urban development (N208billion). This is aside the huge allocation to defense.
The protest, which held successfully in two states (Osun and Oyo States) in Nigeria, had other demands including the call for reinstatement of all victimized student and staff activists, restoration of banned students’ union bodies, provision of quality education at all levels, democratization of decision-making processes in schools, public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy under the democratic control and management of the working class people.
The protesters also demanded the immediate and unconditional release of 27 soldiers who have been unjustly sentenced into life imprisonment for embarking on peaceful protest over their lawful salaries and allowances that had been embezzled by some military officers, and an immediate end to attack by JTF on the harmless residents of the Niger Deltan communities.
In Osun State, over 4000 students of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile-Ife went on lecture boycott and held a protest march on the campus in support of the ERC’s Day of Action and on local demands for improvement in water and electricity supply as well as for the reinstatement of victimized activists (Akinola Saburi, Orgumah Andrew Segun and Muyiwa Aderibigbe).
While the lecture boycott was on some students of the University mobilized in buses to Osogbo where they joined students from other institutions in the state for a joint protest to the State house of Assembly to submit a charter of demand to the state government for onward transmission to the Federal government. There was also heavy presence of Police at the venue of the protest and in fact comrade Kola Ibrahim (member of the DSM) and 3 others were briefly arrested but released immediately after which the police numbering hundreds and led by the State Commissioner of Police monitored about 100 protesters as they marched for about 7 kilometers to the State House of Assembly. In the course of the protest march a rally, addressed by various speakers including Waheed Lawal, Chairman, Campaign for Democratic and Workers Rights (CDWR) Osun State, Alfred Adegoke, Coordiantor, DSM Osun State, Rufus Oyatoro, Chairman Labour Party Osun State, Kola Ibrahim and other student leaders was held at the Correspondents Chapel Osogbo.
In Oyo State where about 25 students protested, reports has it that the protesters were not allowed togain entrance into the Government House to submit the charter of demand. There is no report of arrest. Also, activities held in University of Benin in Edo State and Adekunle Ajasin University Akungba Akoko in Ondo State
The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) had started organizing resistance against the budget since March this year starting from March 18 when the ERC held a press conference to call on the government to increase spending on education. Also, a petition was also submitted to the Minister of education calling government’s attention to the issues.
Thereafter, the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) issued a call to all students and youth to begin nationwide mass protest and lecture boycott from June 16, 2009, which is the anniversary of the Soweto massacre in 1976 in South Africa. Numerous posters and leaflets were produced and massively posted in schools in the Southwest, South South and a school in Eastern part of the country. Due to shortage of finance, it was impossible to reach out to more schools in the East and the North.
To mobilize change-seeking activists within the student movement, the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) together with the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Students’ Union organized an “All Nigerian Students Conference” on June 6, 2009, which attracted representatives of 11 tertiary institutions, 18 delegates from organisations and groups and leadership of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) Zone D, leaders of the Joint Campus Committee (JCC) in Osun and Oyo States. There, the decision of a mass protest starting from June 16 was given further support with the JCC of both Oyo and Osun and the leadership of NANS Zone D promising to lend support.
This agreement of support notwithstanding, the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) had frequently and equally at the conference made it clear that the leaders of NANS at all levels are corrupt, isolated from students and unwilling to challenge government neo-liberal policies on education. The mass of students and activists at the conference berated the NANS leaders in speeches and contributions but the conclusion of the conference was that the June 16 day of action will be the litmus test for the NANS Zone D leadership. Therefore, the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) and the NANS Zone D were asked to mobilize for the protest and submit joint charter of demands to government of each States where the protest will take place for onward transmission to the Federal government.
Our conclusions raised about the unwillingness of the NANS leadership at all levels to struggle have again been confirmed by the June 16 protest. In Osun State where the protest was massive, it was due to the immense mobilization efforts of the ERC. Also, in Ondo, Lagos, Edo and Oyo States where protest and other activities held, this was due to the active efforts of DSM and ERC comrades. Even the NANS Zone D Coordinator was absent at the protest in Lagos for reasons yet unknown.
The arrest notwithstanding, we shall continue to mobilize for mass actions, protests demonstrations and lecture boycott until the demands are met. The June 16 action is just the beginning. The response of students to our call although not nationally, shows what can be achieved with redoubled efforts and mobilizations. While we shall continue to persuade elements in the NANS leadership to struggle, it is crystal clear that the struggle for adequate funding of education can only be won by organizing students from below under an alternative platform of struggle like the Education Rights Campaign (ERC). With the objective situation created by the economic crisis of world capitalism and its severe implications on the living standards of youths and working masses in a neo-colonial country like Nigeria, the possibility of building a movement of youths and working masses exist. Only a clear headed, focused, sacrificing and ideological leadership equipped with the philosophy and methods of Marxism is needed in the student movement and the labour movement to unite the economic demands of the masses with the political demand for the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of a socialist society where resources will be publicly owned, controlled and managed by the working people as against the anarchy of capitalist production.