SOCIALIST DEMOCRACY SEPTEMBER – OCTOBER 2013 EDITION
SOCIALIST DEMOCRACY SEPTEMBER â€“ OCTOBER 2013 EDITION
EDUCATION CRISIS: Need for United Mass Action
(By Kola Ibrahim, Protem Secretary, Osun State SPN)
That education in Nigeria is in its death agony is no more news on the basis of facts being reeled out daily. From chronically inadequate facilities, to poor conditions of study and living of students, inadequate staff, poor quality of graduates being churned out and mass failure; the list is just endless. In fact, talking about education crisis these days is becoming a boring exercise, yet we cannot stop talking about it. But, as expected, most of the solutions being proffered by most pro-market pundits and ruling elites are either inadequate or catalysts for further crisis in the sector.
Really, the major problem with education is the chronic under funding of the sector coupled with the undemocratic management of decision-making organs in and allocated resources of the sector. This itself is linked with the pro-free market, neo-liberal orientation of various governments. On the basis of the primitive accumulative character of the ruling class, Nigerian state is a major source of wealth which is gotten mostly through rents on crude oil. The Nigerian capitalist classes are unproductive and weak in the global capitalist arrangement; and therefore rely directly and indirectly on oil rents. This of course excuses them from serious development planning that will challenge their acumen. This is aided by the global capitalist division of labour that ensures that third world countries are suppliers of raw materials while being net consumer of finished goods.
The immediate implication of this on education is that, public resources, gotten from oil and other sources like taxes that should be used to fund public and social services are being cornered by the capitalist elites in politics and big business. In order to sustain the global capitalist arrangement that ensure the continuous supply of oil rents, neo-liberal policies of commercialization of social services, privatization of public assets and services, deregulation of the economic mainstay, enforcement of exploitative labour policies, etc. are enforced. These policies, while helping global capitalism to ensure unhindered transfer of wealth to the centres of capitalism for the sustenance of the system, also allow Nigeria’s primitive accumulators in politics and big business to divert public resources to private coffers through both direct looting and implementation of policies that gives more money to the rich few.
For instance, commercialization of education will mean that students and parents will be asked to pay more for education to subsidize government’s funding, which allows more money to be available, not for funding other social services but, for looting. This will also mean government attacking workers’ living conditions. It is no accident that while government claims it does not have money to fund education, just 460 federal legislators earned as much as N1 trillion in 10 years.
This reality is grimly expressed by recent development in the Lagos State University (LASU), where fees have been hiked by as much as 1, 000 percents with an average student paying up to N200, 000. This has led to fall in enrolment into the only state-owned university from over 5, 000 to less than 2, 000, in a state with total population of over 15 million!
Therefore, to successfully reverse the rot in education, which, as said earlier, bothers on adequate funding of education, and democratic running of schools and the sector itself, it will require radical measures aimed at challenging the current status quo that engenders the rot. This is why the current strike action of the lecturers, under their union ASUU, should be supported. The strike, by constantly raising the issue of funding, highlights the treachery of ruling class in Nigeria. This however does not mean that other unions do not raise issue of funding, but ASUU has consistently been raising it as a central demand. Even, the haters of ASUU strike must concede that if for nothing, the strike has put the question of funding on front burner, and in some few instances has forced the bankrupt ruling class to cough out some funds for education, especially at tertiary level. Indeed, the resolve of ASUU in their struggles has emboldened workers not only in the education sector but throughout the country to boldly face government up.
MASS STRUGGLE NECESSARY
It needs to be pointed out however that industrial strike, while necessary for workers in defending their rights, and fighting for new ones, must be linked with the political economy of the existing system. ASUU sit-at-home strike, while vital in piling up social pressure on the ruling class and exposing their bankrupt character, cannot alone force the backward-moving ruling class in Nigeria to concede to far reaching demands that will uplift education. This is because as said earlier, this is against their interest of cornering public resources. More importantly, Nigeria’s ruling elites, having destroyed every facet of social service and economy, have created exclusive safety nets for themselves. While people are groaning under collapsed education system, ruling elites have created private education for their kids, both within and outside the country. In short, Nigeria’s capitalist ruling elites have developed social thick skin against problems in the country, while securing their economic interests. While strikes, especially those that impinge on their economic interests, can force out concessions from them, only a combination of strikes and united mass actions of workers, youths and the oppressed can beat down the hands of ruling elites.
Mass actions, with appeals to other workers, parents, students and the public, will bring fundamental threat to government. If there is anything that the capitalist ruling class fear most, it is the potential for united mass struggle of workers, and the possibility of escalation of such action to other sectors. This, it instinctively know can upset the precarious applecart of the system, and erode the social basis of the system. Yet, only this road can force fundamental concessions from an obstinate ruling class; and expose to workers the need to end the exploitative capitalist system. This perspective is vital both for ASUU struggle and other workers’ struggles. The current strike, if not linked to this perspective risk being exploited by the ruling class to blackmail ASUU. This does not mean that mass of people are not in support of ASUU’s demands and strike. On the contrary, the mass of people will support genuine struggles. However, without a long term and well drawn-out line of actions that seek to solve the problem fundamentally, people, already attacked from all fronts by the capitalist class, are bound to be weary. Already, the media is awash with government’s claim of committing fictitious N130 billion to ASUU demands, as a strategy to blackmail lecturers to end their strike.
However, if ASUU, other unions in the education sector (ASUP, COEASU, NASU, SSANU, SSANIP, NUT, etc) and students, come together and concentrate on issues that unite them proper funding of education, democratic running of schools and education sector to include elected representatives of staff and student unions, reversal of education commercialization, massive expansion and rebuilding of facilities, massive employment of more academic and non-academic staff, better remuneration, etc they will not only defeat government and force it to concede, but also lay the basis for more mass actions by other strata of the working class. United action must involve mass activities like strikes, rallies, protest marches, press campaign and lobby, enlightenment campaign through educative materials, public meetings and town hall meetings.
ROLE OF STUDENTS
Students must see this struggle as theirs. It will be ridiculous for students to be so much concerned about graduating without sparing a thought for a system that cannot provide N400 billion yearly to improve education facilities but allows 17, 474 political officers to take N1.3 trillion annually from national coffers. Moreover the best way for this on-going strike to end quickly and with the least consequence for the academic calendar is through students supporting the strike and organising mass solidarity protests and demonstrations. Students have to mount pressure on their leadership at local union levels, Joint Campus Committee (JCC) and Zonal structures of NANS to back the strike and lead struggles to compel the Federal Government to meet ASUU’s demands. At the same time it is crucial for students to formulate their own set of demands on fee hike, poor conditions of facilities, victimisation and attacks on independent unionism which can be put forward to the government.
Important also is the need to put pressure on trade union federations NLC and TUC to declare solidarity strike, backed up with aforesaid mass actions on not only education crisis, but also against other attacks on working people’s welfare (non-implementation of minimum wage, casualization, electricity tariff/privatization, etc.) This is why the current effort of the pro-labour civil society groups under Joint Action Front (JAF) at organizing national mass actions should be supported. Already, protest has been held in Lagos and Calabar, with further action planned for other zones. Education unions especially ASUU and labour centres, need to give this a decisive boost.
FOR A NATIONAL DAY OF ACTION!
ASUU as a matter of immediate urgency must DECLARE A DAY of ACTION on education crisis. This should involve mass actions as said earlier. Such a Day of Action must involve conscious mobilization of lecturers, other workers, especially in the education sector, and students through meetings and rallies. This will surely draw in mass of people, who are concerned about the crisis in education sector, but also the profligate nature of Nigeria’s ruling class. ASUU members should abandon the idea that they are intellectual elites who must not be seen in street protests. To gain any single concession from the current set of capitalist rulers, workers, including intellectual workers, will need to struggle.
Finally, as already said, capitalist ruling class in today’s Nigeria, in conjunction with their international masters, cannot move the country forward fundamentally. It is against their class interests, and against the current global neo-liberal capitalist regime. Only a democratic working class government based on public ownership of the mainstay of the economy, and emerging from revolutionary dethronement of this iniquitous system, can salvage the country. Therefore, the working people and youth, through their organizations must link their struggles to this ultimate end by building an alternative pan-Nigerian, internationalist political platform against the current ruling parties in the country. The struggle to salvage education should be a subset of this whole agenda.
TAKE THE STRUGGLE FORWARD! THINGS TO DO!
- ASUU should name and begin to mobilize for A DAY OF NATIONWIDE ACTION now!
- JAF’s solidarity rallies should be intensified and spread round the country! NLC and TUC must call a 48-hour solidarity general strike and mass protest!
- It doesn’t pay to fight alone! ASUP, COEASU, SSANU, NASU, SSANIP & NAAT should jointly declare strike actions to force government to implement agreements reached with them!
- For the unity of all unions (ASUU, COEASU, SSANU, NASU, NAAT, SSANIP, etc) in the struggle to save public education.
- Students should not be onlookers! NANS should act! Activists and mass of students should get organized to demand that NANS leaders either fight for public education or resign!
- For students congresses/mass assemblies to be convened in all the major cities to bring together mass of students to collectively discuss and draw up plans of actions to back the on-going strikes as well as put forward their own demands on fee hike, poor welfare conditions, victimization and attacks on independent unionism!
- For this struggle to continue until public education is properly funded and schools put under democratic control of committees of elected representatives of workers, students and communities!
The SPN hereby demand that the Lagos State Government must stop this brutal attack on the poor and tender apology and pay adequate compensation to the victims of its act of illegality. We call on trade unions and pro-working people organizations to condemn all anti-poor policies and conduct of Lagos state government and organise activities to resist them.