ASUU BEGINS ONE-WEEK WARNING STRIKE
ASUU BEGINS ONE-WEEK WARNING STRIKE
For a joint struggle of education workers, students and the working masses
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) began a one-week warning strike on Monday 26 September 2011. The warning strike of ASUU is in protest against the refusal of the Federal government to fully implement the 2009 FGN/ASUU agreement. This agreement, which among other things included allocating at least 26% of the government budget for education, wage improvement and raise of the retirement age of professors from 65 to 70, was signed by the late President Yar’ Adua’s administration after about four months of strike of ASUU, SSANU, NAAT and NASU which grounded all Federal and State Universities in Nigeria.
The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) calls on all Nigerian students to give active support to the strike by organizing solidarity mass rallies, protest and demonstrations on all campuses. The Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities (SSANU), the National Association of Academic Technologist (NAAT) and the Non-Academic Staff Unions (NASU) have also given notice to begin strike on October 3 in pursuance of the implementation of similar agreements.
This immediately creates conditions for joint struggle of the four unions on the immediate issues as well as the long term struggle for provision of free education. In the 2009 strike the potential for united struggle of all education workers and students was posed in the Joint Action Committees (JAC) of the four unions set up on major campuses across the country. The Unions backed up their strike with public rallies, leafleting, media campaigns and mass demonstrations which helped sensitize the public.
The ERC together with students’ unions equally played a crucial role of building student solidarity for the strike. There were a number of protests and mass demonstrations called independently by the ERC and other students’ unions in support of the strike. It was these elements of joint action, solidarity and mass struggle which the strike had that eventually forced the Federal Government to sign the agreement in 2009. Otherwise, it would have been easy for the government to break the strike in its first one month by mobilizing public opinion against it with the aid of pro-state leaders of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and other rightwing individuals and bodies.
Even at a period during the strike when government tried to intimidate workers back to work by opening registers and calling on students to resume, it was this joint action, especially at the Lagos State University and University of Lagos (UNILAG), that defeated the government. It is this time-tested tradition of joint action and mass struggle that can equally win in the current strike. This is why the ERC calls for the immediate reactivation of the Joint Action Committees (JAC) on all campuses linking education workers and students in joint struggle. These committees must be built as democratic fighting committees with the task of organizing propaganda, public sensitization programmes, rallies and mass protest.
Once again the federal government is dragging the entire University system into another avoidable disruption of academic calendar. This agreement if implemented could begin to address the growing crisis of standard and inadequate facilities in the education sector. This is why we urge students, parents and all members of the public to give active support to the strike actions of University lecturers.
That the Federal government continues to fail in its responsibility to the funding of education despite the worsening condition of the sector is a demonstration of the irresponsibility of the corrupt ruling elite in Nigeria. This is in spite of the alarming signals in the education sector most especially the recent mass failure. According to the 2011 NECO SSCE result recently released, only about 25% of candidates made credits in English language and mathematics.
Not least the Minister of State for Education Nyesom Wike painted a gory scenario of the collapse imminent in public education. According to him “there are no fewer than 50 million illiterate Nigerians. About 38% of the children population is out of the schooling system while at least one in every three or four adults is not literate and over 22 million children are out of school” (The Nation, September 6, 2011).
This is an indirect admittance of the failure of the Universal Basic Education (UBE) scheme which the ERC has always argued would fail if schools continue to remain under bureaucratic management. Despite billions of Naira spent so far on Universal Basic Education (UBE) in the last 5 years, the quality of public education in terms of facilities and learning conditions remain deplorable. This is because most of the money went into the pockets of top officials of the Federal Ministry of Education and corrupt school managements.
The UBE program itself is in dire need of more than 40, 000 qualified teachers, 336, 467 additional classrooms, 336, 144 additional chairs and tables and 950, 430 units of toilets to meet present requirements. Drop-out rate in primary school, according to official statistics, is still as high as 9.3% while transition rate to secondary school is 61%. We have always argued that the only way government can ensure that public spending on education is not siphoned is by democratizing the management of primary and secondary schools through the involvement of elected representatives of teachers, parents and communities on the management boards of each school.
Perhaps the most frightening problem in the education sector is actually at the entry point of the tertiary institutions. Only about 200, 000 places are available in all the Universities in Nigeria for the year 2011 admission. Meanwhile, a huge 597, 494 who passed the 2011 UTME will require University admission this year. This means only about 33.5% of them will be admitted by the over 70 public and private universities in Nigeria. All this leads to the ineluctable conclusion that Nigeria cannot achieve the 2015 Education For All (EFA) objectives and the MDG goals.
Unless there is serious government-driven effort to begin a public crash program of rapid expansion of facilities and infrastructures in the Nation’s primary, secondary and tertiary schools as well as establishment of new schools, the education sector will continue to collapse. The over N1.29 trillion spent to recapitalize 8 banks in the last two years together with the N649 billion government recently spent to bailout 3 failed banks could, as an initial capital investment, dramatically turn around the fortunes of the education sector. But that the government readily found this money to bail-out banks even though public schools are in a state of ruin shows how the Jonathan’s administration defends between the Nigerian masses and super-rich bankers.
This is why the strike of University lecturers is not only justified but must be actively supported by all Nigerians. We urge the ASUU not to organize the strike as a mere sit-at-home action. Instead public programs like symposia, rallies and mass demonstrations must be organized on all campuses to sensitize the public and expose the hypocrisy of the government.
However, to fully defeat government neo-liberal policies on education, there is the need for a coordinated nationwide struggle that will include wide mobilization of students on campuses, youth in communities and education workers in series of joint actions like strikes, mass protest and demonstrations. This is the best way to bring the full strength of over 40 million Nigerian students and education workers to bear on government.
We therefore urge ASUU to take the struggle to the next level by calling for a “Day of Action” immediately after the expiration of the warning strike. This day of action should involve coordinated nationwide actions of University lecturers, non academics and students involving strikes, lecture boycotts and mass protest.
National Coordinator, ERC