ONGOING ASUU STRIKE IN OOU: ERC INTERVENTION WIN SUPPORT DESPITE THREAT FROM PRO-MANAGEMENT STUDENT
ONGOING ASUU STRIKE IN OOU: ERC INTERVENTION WIN SUPPORT DESPITE THREAT FROM PRO-MANAGEMENT STUDENTS’ UNION LEADERS
By H.T. Soweto
For the past 4 months, academic activities at the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ogun State have been suspended due to the obstinate refusal of the OOU Governing Council and the anti-poor government of Otunba Gbenga Daniel of Ogun State to meet the legitimate demands of members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) of the institution.
ASUU OOU Chapter began an indefinite strike on 30th September 2010 demanding, among others, (1) Implementation of the 2009 FGN/ASUU Agreement (2) Payment of the salaries withheld during the last national ASUU strike of 2009 i.e. full salaries for August and September, 2009; 32% of the salaries for July, 2009; 37% of the salaries for October, 2009; 50% balance of July, 2010, (3) Resumption of deductions into Union, Cooperative and Welfare accounts from source in line with the Trade Union (Amendment) Act 2005, Section 16A (a, b) and (4) Recall of the 170 academic staff illegally sacked by the University. Other unions too embarked on strike for similar demands.
However while ASUU has remained steadfast in its strike, other Staff Unions suspended their strike in January 2011 on the basis of agreement reached between them and the University Governing Council. The ASUU found this agreement defective and unacceptable because among other things the agreement of the Governing Council did not present any clear timeframe for its implementation, the issue of the 170 academic staff sacked by the University Management was not addressed and the issue of infrastructural development and increased funding was not mentioned.
On the basis of the above the ASUU continued its own strike to the disappointment of many students who were hopeful of resumption in mid-January. The University management latched onto this mood and called on students to resume on campus even though academic activities could not begin. Equally, the Students’ Union leaders of the University embarked on a campaign of calumny and hostility towards ASUU and its members. To them, the sketchy agreement of the University Governing Council should be taken by ASUU so that academic activities could resume. They failed to see the larger issues of funding of the University, improvement of teaching infrastructure and the inability of the University function if the sacked lecturers are not recalled. They also failed to see that even though it is desirable for the strike to end quickly so that students can catch up on lost time. It is also desirable and indeed very beneficial to students if the strike ends victoriously because the demands of ASUU are genuine.
Encouraged and emboldened by the Management, the Students’ Union leaders have now gone totally to the side of the management by putting all the blames for the strike on lecturers. The situation was so tense that Prof. Owa, a member of ASUU and one of the sacked academic lecturers, was physically harassed by a mob of students instigated by the students’ union leaders. This has made many lecturers to keep away from the vicinity of the University for fear of attacks. Apart from attacking lecturers, the union leaders have taken to attacking fellow students who dare to canvass support for the strike with thugs and with the aid of the police and University Management. For instance, over 8 students were attacked, harassed and brutalised by the motley crew of the union leaders and later handed over to the police when they together with other students embarked at the permanent site of the University on a spontaneous protest on Wednesday, 9 February 2011. Equally on Friday 11 February 2011, two members of the Movement for the Emancipation of Nigerian Students (MENS) who also came into the campus to distribute leaflets were arrested on the orders of the Students’ Union leaders and have been remanded in detention. According to the Students’ Union leaders, their crime was because their leaflet was critical of the Students’ Union leaders.
It was against this background that the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) began its intervention on Wednesday 2nd February 2011 with a press conference in Lagos which was attended by over 20 electronic and print media. The ERC used the opportunity to explain the cause of the strike, the legitimacy of ASUU’s demands, the anti-poor policies of the OOU Management and the Ogun State government. A call was also issued to all OOU students to support the strike and undertake peaceful protest and demonstrations to solidarise with ASUU and to compel the Governing Council and Ogun State government to meet the demands.
The organization also produced 10, 000 copies of leaflet and 500 pieces of posters. These were taken to OOU on Wednesday 9th February 2011 to sensitize students who had by now resumed en masse and were being fed with lies of the pro-management Students’ Union leaders. The entire intervention lasted 3 days from Wednesday 9t to Friday 11 February 2011.
Despite threats from the Union leaders and the use of police to trail us around campus and Ago-Iwoye town, we were able to distribute leaflets at the University’s mini campus and permanent site. Because of the arrest of the 8 students who embarked on protest at the permanent site of the University, we could not paste posters at the permanent site but some leaflets were distributed. At the end, we were able to paste posters and distribute leaflets in the communities of Oru, Ago-Iwoye, Ijebu-Remo and Ijebu Ode. These are students’ residential areas and as a result we were able to reach out to students whom we would not have had enough time to speak to on campus due to the constant fear of police and the pro-management Students’ Union leadership.
Also, with the distribution of leaflets in the communities, we were also able to reach out to market women, artisans, okada riders and taxi drivers, artisans and other category of workers all of whom are affected by the strike. They were very enthusiastic about the leaflets and posters and they openly called on students to embark on protest to compel the government to meet the demands. One interesting aspect of the intervention is that many of the non-academic staff who received our leaflet were very supportive and complained bitterly that they were arm-twisted to resume. A non academic junior staff even revealed that apart from all the issues we realized in the materials, there are other cases of victimization going on. According to him, some junior staff who survived the mass sack had their salary reduced from N26, 000 to N15, 000 and are not allowed to join a Union. This shows the deep-seated anger of all categories of workers in the University against the Management and also reveals that perhaps the decision by other unions to suspend strike is not a true representation of the desires of their members.
WHAT REMAIN TO BE DONE
So far, the intervention of the organisation has yielded some results. We have received several phone calls and text messages from students and staff appreciating the intervention. However, a whole lot of work need to be done not just in propaganda activities but in repeatedly engaging students of OOU many of whom may unknowingly oppose the strike not because they are pro-management like the Students’ Union leaders but because of their frustration and the current ideological barrenness of the Nigerian student movement.
The Students’ Union leaders still remain strong and relevant among students despite their pro-management stance. This shows that large layer students still continue to misconstrue their hostility to the strike, attack on ASUU members, arrest of students and activists and their latest call for dissolution of ASUU as genuine efforts to make the University to resume academic activities.