ERC LEADING NIGERIAN STUDENTS ON PROTEST RALLY IN SOLIDARITY WITH ASUU, SSANU AND NASU
ERC LEADING NIGERIAN STUDENTS ON PROTEST RALLY IN SOLIDARITY WITH ASUU, SSANU AND NASU
By Keye Ewebiyi
The eight-week old nationwide strike actions of the ASUU as well as the national strike embarked upon by the SSANU and NASU have paralyzed academic activities in the public universities. This has led Nigerian students under the banner of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) to stage a peaceful protest rally in Lagos as part of the campaign to compel the federal government to immediately sign and implement agreements reached with the striking unions. The protest rally held on Monday, August 10, 2009 took off at the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Secretariat, Yaba, Lagos and ended at Channels Television office, Maryland area after the march had covered over 4 kilometers. Traffic was held up along Ikorodu road for over 3 hours as a result of the march.
About 200 Nigerian students from different campuses across the nation participated in the protest rally. Members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) and civil society organizations like UAD, LASCO, CDHR and pro-student organizations were on ground to show solidarity with students.
Those who addressed the protest include Hassan Taiwo Soweto (ERC National Coordinator and DSM member), Chinedu Bosah (ERC National Secretary and DSM member), Abiodun Aremu LASCO Joint Secretary, K.T Fashola (Secretary SSANU OAU Chapter), Dagga Tolar (Vice Chairman NUT Ajeromi Ifelodun), Dairo Olatunde (DSM member), Plato (a student activist from U.I), Davidson Olaniran (President OAU Students’ Union) and Wale Balogun (UAD Secretary General).
The success of this protest rally cannot be overemphasized as it has again aroused the consciousness of Nigerian students to defend their rights to free and functional public funded education and fight against government’s neo-liberal economic policies. The demands of the protest rally are (1) the immediate signing and implementation of the agreement reached with the striking unions so that Nigerian students can resume academic activities; (2) the withdrawal of the proposed N180,000 tuition fee increment and cancellation of all fees including exorbitant law school fees;(3) adequate funding of education up to the UNESCO recommended 26% budgetary allocation (4) payment of N40,000 Cost of Studying Allowance (COSA) to all Nigerian students in the tertiary institutions as a comprehensive package to bail out the students from economic crisis, (5) the restoration of all banned unions (6) immediate recall of all victimized students/staff activists.
The ASUU, SSANU and NASU are on strike in protest at government refusal to sign agreements reached with them through Gamaliel Onosode re-negotiation committee. The renegotiation committee had agreed with the unions over certain issues. For ASUU, the agreement covers improved university funding, academic freedom, genuine autonomy and decent condition of service. For SSANU and NASU, the agreements include 65 years retirement age, special salary scale and decent condition of service. Despite entering freely into these negotiations, the Federal government has refused to sign the agreements. Ever since then, students have been held up at home without any hope the strike would soon end. As the DSM and ERC have repeatedly argued, the demands of the striking unions are worth supporting because if met, these demands can reposition the education sector for the benefits of poor working class parents who find it hard to meet the high cost of education while ensuring that students have improved facilities for learning and quality education.
There is therefore the need for Nigerian students, parents and workers to give support to the striking unions. Also importantly, students who are obviously frustrated at home need to understand that the Nigerian capitalist ruling class represented by the Yar’ Adua government who have over the decades destroyed public education through neo-liberal policies of under funding, privatization and commercialization in the face of stupendously abundant human and natural resources is to be blamed for the strike. Only the building of a mass based workers’ party to lead the masses for the revolutionary overthrow of the exploitative capitalist system and its replacement by a democratic socialist system in which the commanding heights of the economy are nationalized and placed under the control and management of the working class can end the horrors of incessant strikes, the destruction of public education and poverty amidst plenty.
AFTER FEDERAL GOVT WITHDRAWAL FROM NEGOTIATION: HOW CAN WE UNLOCK THE STALEMATE?
In the immediate, matters have reached a deadlock since the protest rally on Monday 10th of August, 2009. On Tuesday August 11 2009, the Federal government in a dramatic turn announced to a shocked public its decision to withdraw from further negotiations with ASUU. The immediate implication of this is that Nigerian students have a horribly long time to rot at home while the strike last. One reason stated by federal government spokespersons, Gamaliel Onosode (Chairman Re-negotiation Committee), Julius Okojie (NUC Executive Secretary) and Sam Egwu (Education Minister) for taking this highly condemnable decision is ASUU’s refusal to suspend its strike while negotiation continues. To them, negotiation is only possible when ASUU and other unions suspend their strike.
But the real reason why the Federal government withdrew from negotiation is far from the above. ASUU had bent backwards over the weeks to ensure that the crisis was resolved as quickly as possible to the extent of accepting that certain contentious aspect of the agreement should be removed or renegotiated as demanded by the Vice President Goodluck Jonathan. This was the basis for further talks between ASUU and federal government team at the re-negotiation committee. Unfortunately government in its fraudulent claim of “federalism” posited that the agreement should be turned over to the governing councils of each University for conclusion of negotiation and signing. It was as a precondition for this that Federal government insisted that the strike be suspended. The call by government on ASUU to suspend its strike is a booby trap while the proposed negotiation and signing of agreement at the governing councils after a two year negotiations at the Gamaliel Onosode re-negotiation committee is an attack on the principle of collective bargaining and amounts to shifting the goal post in the middle of a game. ASUU’s rejection of federal government proposals that it suspends its strike as well as conclude negotiation at governing councils is therefore correct.
Against the background of this stalemate, there is the necessity to raise the tempo of mass actions and protests against government insincerity in its dealings with the striking unions and its insensitivity to the plight of students who are held up at home wasting away. Currently, opinion in the student movement supports a protest march on the National Assembly in Abuja (the Federal Capital Territory) as the next stage of the struggle in order to force the federal government to reckon with students’ demands for immediate settlement of the dispute. The ERC intends to commence immediate mass mobilization for this, while we also call on labour leaders to immediately declare a one-day solidarity general strike and mass actions as a follow up to the solidarity protest march organized by Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) held on July 14, 2009.
There is however, the need to broaden the base of the mass actions by reaching out to more student unions across the federation as well as progressive groups, student ideological organizations and those leaders of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) who have come out openly to support the strike. While, of course, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) has lost the capability of a serious defence of the rights of Nigerian students to free and functional public education due to the right-wing, pro-government and corrupt leaders who have led the Association over time, the current strike of the education workers has pitted several sections of the Association against each other as the association does not have a united position on the strike.
While some of the leaders have come out openly in the media to condemn the strike, some others have also supported the strike in the media and in fact threatened protest marches although without doing any practical mobilization for mass actions. This differentiation in the attitude of different leaders of NANS to the strike does not yet mean that a section of the leadership is getting radicalized. In fact it is not impossible that some of those who proclaim to support the strike do it for corrupt and pecuniary reasons.
Nonetheless, this situation opens up a window of opportunity for the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) and progressive student activists who have been campaigning overtime for the revival of NANS to intervene by encouraging the section of NANS leaders who have threatened mass actions to carry out these threats as well as drawing up joint programs of mass actions and protests against government neo-liberal education policies that include all student unions, ERC, NANS and other groups that support the strike and struggle.
But even with this, the necessity of rebuilding a vibrant student movement, the rebuilding of NANS as a mass-based democratic and radical platform of struggle and the replacement of the current set of rightwing opportunistic NANS leaders by a militant Marxist leadership that is not only committed to the defense of students against government neo-liberal attacks on education but that is also financially and politically accountable to the mass of students and subject to recall becomes stronger than before. If such a NANS exist today, Nigerian students would have been better positioned to fight for free, functional and public funded education and against attacks on democratic rights and victimization. Only the rebuilding of NANS along the above mentioned path can make it play the role it used to play in students and youths struggles in the 1980s.
FOR A UNITED STRUGGLE OF EDUCATION WORKERS, STUDENTS AND YOUTHS
What is to be expected now is the Federal government redoubling its effort to break the strike and implementation of “No Work, No pay”. This therefore mean that ASUU, SSANU and NASU must immediately launch-out with peaceful mass rallies, protests and mass actions which is the only way to sustain the sympathy and support of the public.
As we have repeatedly argued, an indefinite strike cannot be conducted as a sit-at-home action. At the same time, the DSM and the ERC have been calling for joint action of students, youths and education workers to defend the strike and fight government to meet the demands through the formation of a Joint Action Committee (JAC) comprising workers, youth and students activists at campus and community levels to organize joint rallies and protests, to distribute leaflets as well as to draw up a charter of demand that covers the demands of all unions in the education sector. It was such joint action that averted the attempt by the government to break the strike in Lagos State University (LASU) on August 3, 2009. Such joint actions will be necessary now more than ever to resist new efforts of government to break the strike.
Except for reluctance on the part of the leadership of ASUU, SSANU and NASU, the conditions for such united actions of workers, students and youths very much exist. For instance, more students have come out in support of the demands of the current strike and against the government contrary to the past when government have always succeeded in breaking education worker’s strike by manipulating students’ frustration into hostility towards ASUU and other striking unions.
But this time around, media interviews of students and parents are mostly in favour of the demands of the unions with a minor percentage condemning the strike. The plan of government to hike fees to N180, 000 which was exposed by SSANU has so much horrified many working class parents and poor students that despite strident denial by government spoke persons, many have come to realize that danger lurks in the shadows if the demands of the striking unions are not met. This is why government efforts to use a group of lickspittles who called themselves “Forum of Ex-NANS Leaders” led by one Segun Olaleye (former rightwing and pro-government president of National Association of Nigerian Students) to undermine the strike has been largely ineffective.
However if effort is not geared towards building a concerted struggle involving education workers, youth and students, there will be a possibility of the strike suffering a defeat especially with the current withdrawal of the federal government from negotiations with ASUU which would mean to most students that there can be no quick end to the indefinite strike. This can create disenchantment towards the strike as the strike gets longer and its impact bites harder. Students may in that case seek any solution whatsoever to end the strike and ensure academic activities resumes. But with the formation of joint action committees at campus and community basis and with a charter of demand that covers the demands of all unions in the education sector, mass of students can be drawn into the struggle thus making them immune to government propaganda and guaranteeing a mass base of support for the demands of the strike. Only a united struggle of education workers, youth and students linked with the general struggles of the working class for decent living wage and an alternative socialist socio-economic system can successfully defeat government neo-liberal attacks on public education.