UNIABUJA: SYMPOSIUM EMPHASIZES NEED FOR STRUGGLE TO DEFEND PUBLIC EDUCATION
UNIABUJA: SYMPOSIUM EMPHASIZES NEED FOR STRUGGLE TO DEFEND PUBLIC EDUCATION
“With this APC administration, if we are not careful, all of the gains of the 2013 ASUU struggle may go down the drain” â€“ ASUU leader
Report by Akande Daniel
The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) and the Academic Staff Union of the Universities (ASUU), University of Abuja chapter, jointly organized a successful public symposium at the Faculty of Law, Mini-campus of the University of Abuja. This symposium was held on Tuesday, 15th of December, 2015. The theme of the symposium was “Buhari Regime: A new dawn for the education sector?” The sub-theme centered on “Building an Independent, Virile and Democratic Students Union: Issues and Challenges“. The lively discussion on these issues drew conclusions on both how to end the rot in education and start to rebuild a vibrant, non-corrupt student movement.
In preparation for the symposium, members of the ERC had moved around some higher institutions in Abuja and nearby Niger and Nassarawa states to circulate leaflets and posters to mobilize for the program. Indeed the symposium was a success. More than anything, it showed the possibility of bringing students and workers together in the coming period for the collective struggle ahead of us.
Participants at the symposium included comrades from the ERC branch at the Federal Polytechnic Bida, Niger State. The speakers were Tunde Aremu – Policy and Campaigns Manager of Actionaid Nigeria, Benjamin Ugheoke – the Chairperson, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) Uniabuja Branch, Abdulfatai Jimoh – the Chairperson of ASUU at the Federal University of Technology Minna, Comrade Hassan Taiwo Soweto – ERC National Coordinator, Adjan Oyin Esther â€“ Speaker, Students’ Union of the University of Abuja. Nda-Umar Usman – the immediate-past National Secretary Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) was unable to come but sent a solidarity message, which was read out to the audience.
Fundamental improvement unlikely under new government
The program started with solidarity songs; followed by introductory remarks by comrade Dimeji Macaulay – the ERC Northern Zone Coordinator. He explained what the ERC stands for and the objective of the symposium. He further explained that the symposium was organized to heighten the consciousness of the students and prepare them for the forthcoming neo-liberal attacks on public education. Already the education sector is in crisis. He cited the example of the University of Abuja which you would expect should occupy the attention of government being that it is located in the Federal Capital Territory. Regardless of this, the University has had a running problem with the accreditation of its Law programme which has led to the halt of admission into the Law Department. A few years ago, the same school was battling with the National Universities Commission (NUC) over the de-accreditation of is engineering course.
Tunde Aremu who spoke first explained that during the last 2015 general election, he was one of those who felt that Buhari was a lesser evil. However given the pro-capitalist character of his government, it is not possible to begin to talk about a new dawn for education sector. He said he was among the students, under the then Lanre Arogundade-led National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), who organized in 1984 against the commercialization of education by Buhari’s 1983-5 military regime. He urged students and workers to organize and be prepared to resist neo-liberal attacks on education. According to him, when you have in a government people like Fashola and Fayemi who implemented neo-liberal polices of privatization and commercialization in Lagos and Ekiti States where they governed respectively, one should not expect anything less. With recent development, the best method is to organize and be prepared to resist with mass actions. He further affirmed that privatization has never worked and his robbery in disguise.
Reasons why NANS and many Students’ Unions are weak today
On his part, Benjamin Ugheoke, the ASUU chairperson of the University of Abuja, delivered an inspirational speech which was well received by the audience with a big applause. He spoke on the topic Student Union Movement: The Missing “U”. The “U” represents Unity. The vital points raised in his speech includes that the primary purpose of the Student Union movement is to ensure the welfare of its members studying in various institutions in the country. He further explained that welfare is meant to be the totality of the well-being of the students. However in contrast to these stated objectives, it is very difficult to tell whether most of the Student Union movements that exist across the various campuses in Nigeria understand the original concept of the movement and if they do, whether they do understand how to achieve this purpose.
He also stated that the Student Union movement is a pressure group that agitates for and insists on the right things to be done, not just in the immediate institution’s boundaries, but in the overall affairs of the state. It is clear therefore, that the Student Union movement, other organisations and pressure groups such as ASUU share the same vision and have a common enemy – the oppressor. Ordinarily, this should lay the basis for unity of purpose and action. However, “this has not held true for the Student Union governments and ASUU. This is because the “U” that ought to stand for Unity has been replaced by potent forces of division, so much so that the entire Student Movement in the country is in disarray. The center can no longer hold on and resist the capitalistic forces and influences of the enemies of the Students”. He finally concluded by saying “we must return to our roots, we must organize ourselves against opportunists who have taken over the Student Union Movement, it is time to confront the oppressors with the raw facts that will debilitate their machinations; it is time to enthrone the true democratic visions of the Student Union Movement. The time to act is now, so that we can ensure access to affordable quality education for the nation’s Student. It is time to bring back the missing “U”.
Shortly after this, Okenwa Enyeribi, the Head of the Revolutionary Council of the Nigeria People and also a member of #Bring Back our Girls Campaign group, gave a solidarity speech. He mentioned in his speech that negligence of the Students’ Union leaders is one of the reasons why problems fester in the education sector. He explained that in the past, the voice of Nigerian students was a potent force that governments could only ignore to their peril. However, nowadays so-called Students’ Union and NANS leaders have sold out students’ rights to the politicians, with the aim of collecting money in return. He also mentioned that there are factions within the students’ movement. He also talked about the leadership of NANS, he said NANS leaders of nowadays are more of political jobbers, who are lapdogs to the politicians. He ended his speech by calling for total rejection of the anti-social media bill which he described as undemocratic.
Preparing for new struggles
Abdulfatai Jimoh, the chairperson of the Federal University of Technology Minna, also gave a solidarity speech. He started by asking what the current generation intends to leave for those coming behind. He said that public education is in shamble but ASUU will not give up on the struggle for better funding of education because no country can develop without quality of education. He appreciated ERC for organizing the program. According to him, the first trade union that will have problem with the Buhari regime might be ASUU. This is because of the feelers that the government may not be inclined to follow-up with past agreements and Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). If this happen, all the gains of ASUU’s struggle of 2013 will go down the drain. He said the body language of the new regime is not what can be taken serious. While allegedly recovering looted funds, they have not told the populace how much have been recovered and who are those that have returned the looted fund.
In his contribution, comrade Soweto appreciated those that were present and called on them to join the organization. Quoting intermittently from the Needs Assessment of Nigeria Universities, he exposed in graphic details the total decay in public education. He referred to situations in some higher institutions where students receive lectures in ports pavilion, cafeteria etc. In some institutions, there are laboratories without equipments and even no power supply. Despite the resources at the command of the country, Nigeria cannot provide hostel accommodation for up to 50 percent of its students’ population – a situation that now manifests in overcrowding and terrible conditions in the hostels.
It is unfortunate that while establishing a Law faculty is easy even for private universities, yet a public university of the stature of Uniabuja cannot boast of full accreditation of its law programme. He said ERC strongly believes that education is not a business venture. This is why we are opposed to education commercialization. We must unite to fight to make it free and well funded because education is an investment in society. He further revealed how the Tinubu and Fashola governments destroyed public education in Lagos state. Tinubu returned schools to the original private owners who had already been compensated when the schools were taken over, while Fashola increased fees at the Lagos State University (LASU) beyond what the poor could afford. Now their successor, Governor Ambode, is following the same trend as attempts were recently made to increase acceptance fee which was only reversed after the union protested. The excuse of economic crisis that the ruling class is now trying to use as a ploy to launch neo-liberal attacks on Nigerians is not acceptable and must be defeated. We must not be fooled by such excuses. As students in South Africa showed recently, it is possible to win concessions on the issues of fees and funding of public education even in the time of economic crisis.
Rebuilding the students’ movement
He identified decadence in Nigerian student movement as a product of retreat in radical ideology. According to him, there is a need for rank and file of students to begin to fight to reclaim their union and by so doing linking that with the question of reclaiming NANS or forming an alternative national student platform. This would require transformation of the entire student movement. According to him, criminal connivance of some president of Students’ Unions with the rightwing leadership of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) is also responsible for the complete capitulation of the platform. When exactly did any union publicly condemn NANS awards to corrupt politicians? When exactly did any union mobilize against the NANS leaders when they criminally sold out students’ struggle? He called for independent unionism and respect of the right of Uniabuja students to democratically elect their union leaders in a free and fair election devoid of authorities’ interference. At the University of Abuja, the authorities recently suspended union elections and handpicked so-called executives for the union. This in effect mean an illegitimate union leadership tied to the apron string of the authorities. Only the Students Representative Council (SRC) was elected and even this is weak when it comes to defending students interests. He ended by saying we have to unite to fight and build the movement to end the rot in Nigeria’s education sector and this in effect would require a movement to end capitalism and transform society along socialist lines.
The speaker of the Uniabuja Students Union Representative Council in person of Adjan Oyin Esther delivered a solidarity message. In her speech, she said that she was not happy with the way things are going on campus and the student movement as a whole. She ventilated her anger on the situation on campus and called for unity and support from the staff unions for their struggle for independent unionism. She said that NANS has degenerated and that she was shocked, when she sees the way and manner in which the leaders of the association run after politicians to present awards in exchange for money instead of fighting for the interest of students. She called on ERC to continue to synergize with like minds to fight to reclaim the student movement.
During the question and answer session, an angry student from the chemistry department of the University of Abuja made the following telling comment: “in all my stay studying chemistry in this University, no practical experiment was conducted because there was no laboratory!” According to him “In a department like mine, which is chemistry, we have not had a single laboratory practical because of lack of laboratories’ equipments and facilities, and fellow students will still be proud that they are students schooling without having a practical experience, and in months to come we will become graduates, I wonder which kind of company will employ us”.
Comrade Akande Daniel shared his experience as a one-time treasurer of the NANS/JCC Oyo State and a Mobilisation Officer of NANS Zone D. However, he had to resign because of the numerous nefarious activities of Association. He said NANS can no longer pilot the affairs of students and that is why an organization like the ERC is needed. He concluded his words that students should join the ERC, which will at all times wage struggle against outrageous fees, fight for the respect of democratic rights, independent and virile student union, improvement in living and working conditions and against education commercialization and other neo-liberal attacks on education. In all, the program was inspiring. About five students signed to join the ERC.