Protest in Benin
NIGERIAN STUDENTS PROTEST ON 1 OCTOBER
While the Nigerian capitalist ruling elite marked this year Nation’s independence anniversary in gloom, hundreds of students took to the streets in Lagos, Benin in Edo State and Ilesa in Osun State, in condemnation of the Yar’Adua anti-poor government for failing to meet its social responsibilities to the people especially in the area of education. On October 1st 2009, Nigeria became 49 years old as an ‘independent’ Nation. Normally, every October 1st is a day of fanfare, passionate march pasts and outpour of nationalistic emotions by the ruling class elements. Compared to 2008, this year’s celebration was marked by a feeling of despondency even in government official circles. Where celebrations were organized, it was marked by low turn out while most state governments did not organize any celebration. Apart from the Independence Day television and radio speech by the President, Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua, the federal government did not organize any celebration except a small event organized by the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory. Even in Lagos State, where the opposition party the Action Congress (AC) holds sway, the governor was absent at the celebration and was represented by the deputy governor who had to leave in a hurry apparently to avoid protesting students and youths.
This feeling of gloom among the ruling class is not accidental. On the basis of the relentless neo-liberal attacks on the living standards of workers, artisans, students and youths and the feeling of resistance which has become evident in society, the Nigerian ruling class knows their system is doomed. More so, the Independence Day came at a period when the universities have been shut for over 3 months on account of strikes by education workers, at a time when government has been forced to intervene in the financial sector with record bail out of 5 distressed banks to the tune of N400 billion (aside the additional four recently bailed out with N200 billion) in order to avert a financial crash and of course at a time when the commanding heights of the economy are being handed out to foreign multinationals and their local agents under the policies of privatization and deregulation. This is a reversal of the real motive for Nigeria’s independence from British colonial rule which was to build an independence Nation whose resources would be used to guarantee decent life for its citizens. Today Nigeria’s oil and natural resources are being exploited, through the assistance of the local capitalist ruling class, by imperialism through the means of powerful foreign multinationals and monopolies â€“ a situation which is responsible for the condition of poverty and penury among the mass of workers and poor people.
This mood of gloom which pervades the ruling class contrast sharply with the enthusiastic turn out at protests organized by students and youths in Lagos, Ilesa in Osun State and Benin in Edo State on that day to mark Nigeria’s “49 years of failure”. The protests in Lagos and Edo State were organized by the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) in collaboration with the South-West zone of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS Zone D), Coalition of Radical Students Union (CORASU), Nigerian Youths in Motion (NYM), students unions of COLBEN, ICE, NAESS, ESCABEN and other radical groups. Another protest held in Ilesa Osun State and was organized by the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CDHR) with the active participation of ERC members.
Report by Keye Ewebiyi, DSM and ERC Member
The Lagos protest which commenced at about 9:15am at the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Secretariat, Yaba had in attendance over 500 participants majorly students and youths drawn from various campuses across the country. Those from outside Lagos included two students from Niger Delta University situated in the troubled Niger Delta region who participated in the protest. Members of Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), United Action for Democracy (UAD), Ajeromi Ifelodun Community Movement (AICOM) and Amukoko Students’ Movement (ASM) also took part in the protest.
While flagging off the protest, the National Coordinator of the ERC, Hassan Taiwo Soweto, described 49 years of Nigeria’s independence as an unbroken thread of mass poverty, impoverishment and poverty for the masses, students and youths.
“What have we achieved since independence to justify any celebration of independence? What does a Nation with no electricity, education, health care, pipe borne water and with a perpetually hungry, poor, jobless and homeless population celebrate in its independence? What does a Nation whose leaders travel abroad to treat minor ailments such as headache and send their children to private schools abroad celebrate?” he asked rhetorically.
“We regard the Independence Day celebration as a cynical celebration of the poverty and destitution which the mass of people have been consigned to on account of government anti-poor policies. By this protest, we declare a vote of no confidence on the Yar’ Adua government and call for the revolutionary overthrow of this anti-poor government. We also call for the immediate removal of the Minster of Education Sam Egwu for his mishandling of the on-going strike of staff unions to the detriment of Nigerian students” he further added.
The demands of the protests include the immediate signing and implementation of all agreements reached with ASUU, SSANU, NASU and NAAT as condition precedent for academic activities to resume; immediate payment of the Teachers Salary Scale (TSS) to teachers in order to end the on-going NUT strike which has halted academic activities in public primary and secondary schools in 19 states of the federation; reversal of the proposed N180, 000 fee increment and cancellation of all fees including the exorbitant law school fees; payment of N40, 000 Cost of Studying Allowance (COSA) to all Nigerian students in tertiary institutions to offset the cost of textbooks, accommodation, feeding, upkeep, transport etc.
Others are Funding of education up to 26% of budget as recommended by UNESCO; Provision of free, functional and compulsory education at all levels; Democratization of the education sector with the involvement of representatives of staff and students unions in all decision making organs of the education sector and running of schools; Recall of all victimized students/staff activists and restoration of all banned unions and the public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy under the democratic control and management of the working masses.
Also speaking at the protest rally was the Co-secretary of the Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO), Abiodun Aremu and Dagga Tolar (DSM member and Editor of Socialist Democracy). Dagga called for the overthrow of the present anti-poor government to be replaced by a pro-working people’s government that will give preference to the welfare and education of the masses. The NLC Lagos State Chairman Michael Alogba and SSANU-UNILAG Chairman both commended the students for embarking on the protest while also calling on the government to meet the demands of the striking university workers as well as implement the TSS so that students in public primary, secondary and tertiary schools can resume.
The students marched amidst singing of solidarity songs, distribution of leaflets and sensitization of the public (some of whom later joined in the protest) from Yaba through Ikorodu and Mobolaji Bank Anthony down to Police College, Ikeja where the Lagos State government held its Independence Day celebration. On getting to the college, the state government officials had hurriedly rounded-off the event and left the venue possibly due to the fear of being confronted by the protesters.
In front of the procession were two students carrying a wooden coffin, painted green and white with the words ‘Public Education’ boldly written on it. This represents the death of public education in Nigeria. Also a student, appearing to be covered in bruises and dressed in a shirt in Nigeria’s national colours of green and white and tattered trousers, was being dragged and beaten around by three other students who with the inscriptions on their clothes represent the IMF/WORLD BANK, Yar’Adua and Sam Egwu respectively. Sam Egwu is the Minister of education. This dramatic scenario represents the various neo-liberal attacks of government against the poor masses.
Placards carrying inscriptions like ‘Sam Egwu must go’, ‘No Education, No Economy’, ‘Stop the oil war in the Niger Delta’, ‘ASUU’s demands are genuine’, ‘Prosecute corrupt politicians now’, ‘Democratic Socialism is the way out’ were also displayed all over the place.
The peaceful and successful protest gained support from workers, commuters and even police officers who could not disrupt the over 8 kilometer protest march. Members of the public openly condemned the Yar’Adua government for its anti-poor, pro-rich policies while they also called for a revolution that will overthrow the present capitalist elites. About 30 members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) participated while 215 copies of the DSM paper, Socialist Democracy, were sold at the protest.
Report by Emeka Aneneh, DSM and ERC Member
The protest in Benin Edo State was organized jointly with groups like National Association of Edo State Students (NAESS) and Students’ Unions in COLBEN, ICE, AAU and ESCABEN. Meetings were held with these unions and groups and a program for joint action worked out. Only the UNIBEN Students Union declined to work with the ERC and they later worked actively with police to crush the protest.
The protest was preceded by a number of activities and programs which helped to popularize the October 1st protest. On September 30, ‘Gani Fawehinmi Good Governance Movement’ (GFGGM) – a movement formed by civil society groups in Edo State in honour of late Chief Gani Fawehinmi – held a seminar/protest march on issues of education and to back the demands of striking public University education workers’ unions like ASUU, SSANU, NASU, NAAT as well as teachers under the umbrella of the NUT who are also on strike for payment of the Teachers Salary Scale (TSS) which is yet to be implemented in Edo state. Comrades participated actively in the seminar and the protest march which went through Ring Road, to Edo State House of Assembly, through Sapele Road, NUJ Press Centre and finally ended at Government House. A total of 49 copies of Socialist Democracy) were sold at this event.
Earlier on Tuesday September 29, 2009, Emeka Aneneh (DSM member and ERC Zonal Chairman), the President of ICE SUG and NAESS president appeared on a programme on EBS (TV) where they spoke of the proposed protest. Soon after it was over, the president of UNIBEN SUG sent a text message to the NAESS president informing him of their protest which was to be held on Wednesday and Thursday, apparently having heard of the GFGGF and ERC rallies proposed for same days. This indicated the beginning of the UNIBEN Student Union’s actions to crush the October 1st protest.
A good number of students and youths who got our leaflets called to indicate their interest while promising to participate in the protest. When we got to the venue of the protest on October 1st, about 25 to 30 of us there decided to start destributing leaflets along the road, while waiting for more persons to come before beginning the procession. Motorists who got them appreciated what we were doing and encouraged us. Suddenly, about three motorbikes with a police van drove into us and the situation changed. Those who were on the bikes claimed to be UNIBEN SUG officials. The police ordered us to stop what we were doing and in conjunction with the SUG officils, they made some laughable and most reactionary accusations. They said we were impersonating as UNIBEN students and were holding a rally in Benin while Uniben Students were holding another, a right which they said we do not have. In the ensuing scenario Emeka, Lateef, Ogaga Martins (all members of the DSM and leaders of the ERC) as well as one other protester, Lucky Omonitie, were arrested.
While taking us to the Police Station, the police officers said it was Uniben SUG officials who came to report that we were looting and extorting from motorists while pretending to be students from their campus. We got to the station and were put behind the counter and after some time, we were taken to another room possibly to write statements. Immediately, the protesters had regrouped under the leadership of the presidents of ICE and NAESS as well as ERC members and the procession arrived the station. This resulted in a tense situation at the station and the idea of putting down statements was jettisoned, while preparations for our release was put in place. Protesters kept chanting solidarity songs outside the gate while the DPO appealed to them to calm down. The DPO later called us into his office and said the allegations were not true since no one had come forward to claim that he was molested by us. He asked if we were students and we defended the fact that as Nigirians we have the right to protest on any issue whether or not we are students. In all, we were asked to go and continue our protest peacefully.
Undeterred, the procession continued with about 80 to 90 persons involved. Some journalists met us at Ring Road and took statements and our Charter of Demands. The movement also went to NUJ center wher we delivered our Charter of Demand to other media organisations. We all parted at Government House while leadership agreed to meet at a later date to review the action. About 9 members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) participated while 3 copies of Socialist Democracy were sold. The arrest also helped to increase the profile of the protest. No doubt, it also scared away many students and youths who wanted to participate while some others who might have arrived the take-off point would have found no one at the time we were at the Police Station. This is even justified by the fact that some of these persons kept calling to say that they got there but could not find us.
Report by Dimeji McCauley, DSM and ERC Member
The Committee For Defense of Human Rights CDHR with the active participation of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) led Nigerian student and youths to the street in Ilesa in Osun State on October 1st 2009. Firstly posters and leaflets were distributed and pasted for sensitization and awareness to draw out crowd for a mass action to reject government celebration day. The protest started at exactly 10:15 am with solidarity songs and placards that bore inscriptions like ‘No to fees increment’, Stop Victimization’, ‘Masses Support the demands of ASUU To Save Education’, ‘Is This Democracy Or Craziness’, ‘Freedom For 27 Soldiers’, ‘Workers Alternative Now’, ‘Fund Education By 26% Now’, ‘FG Must Sign greement with ASUU Now’ etc.
The protest rally enjoyed the support of traders, artisans, okada riders and workers. Drivers and passengers openly expressed their support for the protest rally even though traffic was held up in major junctions of Ilesa town where the protest paused occasionally for speeches. The protest gained more echo when the protester get to ilesa roundabout where they have never experienced such before aside the political unrest in the past few years. A leader of the CDHR Olaifa (a.k.a better live aluta) addressed onlookers composed of market women, youths and artisans on the significance of Independence Day and the failure of successive governments in resolving the condition of poverty while majority have been enmeshed despite the huge revenues from oil sale.
In his own speech, Oladimeji McCauley (member of the DSM and ERC) called on the masses to join the protest. He pointed out that the masses have been suffering from lack of good road, no good electricity, no free heath, collapsed infrastructure and education under funding since flag independence in 1960. He emphasized the demands of the protest which include immediate signing of agreement with the striking education workers so that students can go back school and immediate release of the 27 soldiers who have been unjustly sentenced to jail . He also stressed the need for working class alternative to save Nigeria from social, economic and political oppression of the ruling capitalist elite. The protest continued to the king’s (Owa) palace. The protest lasted for about 3 hours and and the protesters numbering about 50 covered a distance of about 2 kilometers. The success of this protest rally cannot be overemphasized as it has again aroused the consciousness of Nigerian students and youths in Ilesa to defend their rights to free and functional public funded education and fight against government’s neo-liberal economic policies.