OAU RESUMES AFTER 2-MONTH CLOSURE: The Struggle against Fee Hike Must Continue
OAU RESUMES AFTER 2-MONTH CLOSURE: The Struggle against Fee Hike Must Continue
Fight For the Immediate and Unconditional Restoration of the Union
By Stephen Adewale, DSM Member, OAU
The Authorities of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile-Ife have opened the University after a 2-month closure in response to students’ peaceful protests against the imposition of N20, 000 acceptance fees and N1, 600 health insurance levy. This was in spite of the generally peaceful conduct of students during the struggle. As the University resumes on Wednesday 27 April 2011, the hiked fees has not been reversed while the Students’ Union has been proscribed.
Some union leaders and activists (Union President Frederick Joel, Secretary General, Nelson Benjamin Public Relations Officer, Adediran Adeyemi, Speaker, Seyi Legend, Akinola Saburi and Orgumah Segun) have also been invited to an investigative panel for playing leading roles in the struggle against fee hike. All this is part of the desperate moves of the University management to cow students’ capacity to resist anti-poor policies. But now and more than ever before, OAU students must gird their loins to defend their rights to independent unionism and a free, functional and democratically-managed public-funded education system.
REVIEW OF THE STRUGGLE AGAINST FEE HIKE
Expectedly, a layer of students frustrated by the over 2 months closure of the campus have started to express doubts as to the correctness of the struggle against a N20, 000 fee increment and N1, 600 health insurance levy when other institutions are charging fees higher than OAU. These people believe that a struggle against such a “slight” increase in fees should not have been allowed to lead to closure of the University at all. According to them, the issue could have been settled through “dialogue”.
To start with, the closure of the University would have happened anyway because the university management already had the sinister agenda to send students home during the April 2011 elections just as they did during the 2007 general elections. The motive for this was to give undue advantage to political parties to rig the over 30, 000 votes of registered student voters. In fact if anybody should be blamed for not allowing the use of dialogue, it is the University Management who arrogantly increased acceptance fee and other charges without meeting with the Students’ Union first under the fraudulent pretext that fresh students are not members of the Students’ Union until they are matriculated. When the Students’ Union leadership approached them for dialogue at the commencement of the session, they were rebuffed and threatened with expulsion and suspension.
In every struggle, tactics and strategies are very important and in fact in the final analysis, determine whether a just struggle would be won or lost. Also, honest criticism in struggle is an important component of unionism, much so, the student movement where the passion to struggle against anti-poor policies is abundant but the correct ideas and methods sometimes lacking. If the truth must be told, the uncoordinated manner the Students’ Union leadership led the struggle also gave the University Management the opportunity to use the struggle against fee increment to justify this devilish agenda to send students home during elections.
Right from the outset of the struggle, the DSM had argued at numerous congresses, parliamentary sittings and through the medium of public statements that the struggle against fee hike cannot be detached from the general struggle against education under funding. What this means is that the struggle against fee hike cannot be fully won without a national struggle to force the government to devote adequate resources to the funding of education at all levels. This does not mean however that when fees are increased in a certain campus, students should not fight until there is a national struggle against education under funding. No! What it means is that such a struggle against fee hike must be pursued as part and parcel of a national campaign against education under funding and that all tactics and strategies must flow from this holistic conception of the struggle.
Therefore, we had argued for a planned, coordinated and sustained course of action that will include symposia, rallies, leafleteering, days of actions that will include protests and demonstrations, sustained media campaign etc all linked with a national campaign for adequate funding of education as the best strategy to win the struggle against fee increment and make it a national issue that government will not be able to ignore. It was the inability of the union leadership, and of course a large layer of the most conscious students, to comprehend the struggle from within this perspective that led to the error in tactics.
Indeed on the first day of the protest on Monday 21st February 2011, we had argued for the protest to be rested on the second day while the third day which was to be matriculation day should be used to circulate leaflets to parents and the general public in order to garner more support for the struggle. This was to guide against the Management blackmailing students and the union as thugs who want to disrupt matriculation. Unfortunately, this was exactly what happened.
Of course, a layer of fresh students had the wrong conception that once matriculation took place then the struggle against fee hike would be impossible. Unfortunately, the Union leadership was so much overwhelmed by the immense mass of fresh students who stuck to the erroneous idea that if matriculation was allowed to hold it would signify the death of the struggle that it lacked the courage to explain to students at the congress held on the evening of Tuesday, 22nd February 2011 at Awolowo hall Cafeteria that this was not the case.
Given a clear-headed union leadership armed with correct ideas, they would have explained to the fresh students, using examples from the rich history of the OAU Students’ Union, that allowing matriculation to hold would not necessarily mean that the struggle against fee hike had ended. Indeed they would have explained that allowing fresh students to matriculate gives the union the opportunity to appeal for parents support through distribution of leaflets at the matriculation venue and it also ensures that management’s argument that the Students’ union cannot have a say on acceptance fee because freshers are not yet matriculated and therefore not members of the Students’ Union is neutralized.
Indeed, the congress, instead of adopting the ambivalent resolution that “no one will disrupt matriculation but freshers should also boycott it” should have called a protest the very next day after matriculation. This protest would have been a protest of matriculated students which the Management would not be able to ignore. It was the combination of these mistakes and ambivalent resolution of the congress that gave the management the golden opportunity they had been waiting for which was to use the fictitious claim of a perceived threat to disrupt matriculation to justify the closure of the campus and ban of the Students union.
The tactical mistakes made by the Students’ Union leadership do not, however, mean that the struggle against the fee hike was not justified. Those who, out of frustration, are parroting the views that the struggle should not have been allowed to lead to closure are actually helping the management to get away with the unjust increment of fees and the illegal proscription of the Students’ Union. For us in the DSM, we are convinced that the struggle against fee hike is justified. We also believe that where sincere errors have been committed in struggle, what is required is a honest analysis of the mistakes so that the most conscious and combative layers of students can learn the vital lessons and use these to arm themselves for future struggles. We therefore congratulate all ever-conscious OAU students who have been actively involved in the struggle. We also enjoin all students to remain steadfast, resilient and committed to the struggle.
We call on the Students’ Union and all great Ife students not to allow the 2-month closure to dampen their mood and make them to accept an obviously unjust increment. For us in the DSM, we are of the conviction that education is a basic social need that must be funded by the state from the collectively owned wealth of this country. Funding of education by the state is an investment by the society in its growth and development.
However, to fully ensure that education is adequately funded, democratically managed, free and functional, students and youths must join Nigerian workers and the poor masses to put an end to this exploitative system of capitalism which prioritizes profit above the interest of the people and replace it with a democratic socialist society where the commanding heights of the economy will be placed under the public control and democratic management of the working people. It is only in a socialist society where people’s needs form the basis of governance, unlike the contrary case under capitalism, that real free and functional education as well as other basic needs of people can be provided and a decent living standards guaranteed for the mass of working and poor people.
We call on all students to condemn the proscription of the Students’ Union and demand immediate and unconditional restoration of the Students’ Union. Students must also reject any attempt by the Management to replace the Students’ Union with a “care taker committee”. To move the struggle forward, we call on the Students’ Union leadership to convene an immediate congress of all OAU students within the first one week of resumption to give students the opportunity to debate and agree on the ways and manners to continue the struggle against fee hike and begin the struggle for the restoration of the Students’ Union.
We demand that such a congress should set up a “Students’ Union Restoration Campaign Committee” composed of student activists, ideological and political groups as well as conscious students to work together with the leadership to prosecute the struggle for the restoration of the Students’ Union. The Students’ Union must also begin to organize political programs like symposia, leafleting, posters and rallies to sensitize students and build their consciousness towards the imperative of fighting for the restoration of the Students Union.
The Students’ Union leadership must not allow itself to be discouraged by its purported proscription from defending students rights to standard welfare conditions. Indeed, this is the most important period for the Students’ Union to intensify its demand and organize mass actions for adequate living and studying welfare of all students. Most importantly, the Students’ Union must begin an intensive nationwide campaign for adequate funding of education linked with all schools and institutions fighting fee increment and other symptoms of education commercialization. This campaign must include press work, symposia, leafleting, rallies and one-day lecture boycott linking all institutions and all change-seeking Nigerian students.