Anger Rises on Campuses over Declining Living and Studying Conditions
Anger Rises on Campuses over Declining Living and Studying Conditions
- Time for a One-day Nationwide Students’ Boycott and Mass Protest
By Omole Ibukun Secretary, ERC, OAU Branch
From all available indices, tertiary education in Nigeria is undergoing a major crisis as the combination of economic decline, fuel price hike, inflation and the collapse of electricity generation conspire to worsen the already bad condition on campuses. As a result, authorities of tertiary institutions are cutting cost. These include rationing electricity and water supply and cutting other basic amenities that students and staff require to function.
But students are not taking these new attacks lying low. They are fighting back. Within the second week of April 2016 alone, four universities, namely the University of Lagos (UNILAG), University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), Benue State University (BSU) and the Adekunle Ajasin University Akungba Akoko (AAUA), got shutdown as a response to Students resistance to government’s anti-poor policies. Before the end of the first half of the year, universities like the University of Ibadan (UI), Obafemi Awolwo University (OAU), University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) and the Niger Delta University (NDU), alongside many other tertiary institutions have been touched by this scourge of autocratic shutdown.
Even with outright extortionate fee increments alongside exploitative policies like Pre-Degree programme fees and acceptance fees and so on, living and learning welfare of students remain unattended to, with congested hostels and lecture theatres, poor facilities, unavailability of basic utilities like water and power supply, relatively higher cost of living on campuses and poor infrastructure. These poor welfare conditions have led to mass failure for students. But the attempt to demand better welfare have also been met with repressions of shutdown (a collective victimization of students, ban of union activities (in UNILAG), of victimization of student leaders and activists, and then of police brutality as in the case of Uniport, where two lives were lost to trigger-happy police bullets. These closures lead to compressed and unstable academic calendar, which in turn continues the cycle of mass failure and poor academic performance of students. Yet, government shows no energy at administering a long-lasting solution to the root cause of the agitation of students – the education sector becomes the fool that the government chooses to give the silent treatment.
Meanwhile, not all of the closures were products of students’ unrest; some were linked to workers’ industrial action over unpaid wages and other allowances. In any case, arbitrary closure of campus is a measure of collective punishment to which school authorities often resort to avoid meeting demands of struggle. An example is the on-going strike and protests of Non academic staff and senior staff at OAU over unpaid allowances and in protest at the alleged manipulation of the appointment process of the new Vice Chancellor. But despite the closure, so effective was the strike that the Federal Government had to dissolve the Governing Council of the University.
As expected, public education remains underfunded under the APC ‘Change’ regime. However, the few funds released by the government and those squeezed out of the pockets of students in form of exploitative fees and charges are squandered by the management of those institutions. While OAU students and workers have been clamoring for the probe of their Vice-Chancellor for the past seven months (based on convincing evidences of financial corruption and diversion of funds), the Provost of a college in Jos (who had already been invited twice by the EFCC for financial crimes) is making an unconstitutional attempt to impose himself as a Third-term Provost of the college, despite protest of workers and students, to cover up his corruption. Yet despite the so-called anti-corruption war of the Buhari administration, the anti-corruption agencies have studiously refused to investigate any of these Universities.
Not only have the management of tertiary institutions been kleptomaniac, they have also been extremely tyrannical. Meting out grave punishments like suspensions and expulsions on genuine innocent student activists, they also order the proscription of students’ unions whenever they get any pressure from students.
Students must intensify struggle to demand an end to fee hike, exploitation, poor living and studying conditions, victimization and attacks on independent unionism. The 2016 budgetary allocation to education is scandalous. We must therefore also demand an increase in education funding with 26 percent as the starting point. As expected the government will claim that the economy is in crisis. Students must not be fooled. While premising the anti-poor policies currently ravaging public education on dwindling economy, the Nigerian ruling class spends billions yearly on the education of their children and wards overseas. Free and quality education at all levels is possible but capitalism is the reason why it is not. Students must therefore link struggle against anti-poor education policies with the need to build a political alternative to end capitalism and build an equitable socialist society.
In the midst of all of these crises, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) has failed to provide bold leadership to students who have repeatedly shown their preparedness to fight back. Except occasional press statements, no attempt has been made to mobilize for a mass struggle. In addition, NANS leaders have a very undemocratic method of waltzing in to meet with the authorities of a campus embroiled in protest without holding a prior discussion with the concerned students and their unions. This was the case with UNILAG when the state leadership of NANS (JCC) called a meeting with the Vice Chancellor after the campus was closed following the April 6 and 7 protests. As the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) warned, only rotten compromise came out of this effort.
The element of democracy that is lost in NANS is also lost in most local students unions and it forms the major reason why NANS remains a den for violent cultists and political hustlers. Even when the Zone D (South west) of NANS called for congress in response to the over 60 percent hike in fuel price in May, the resolutions of the congress for mass demonstrations was not followed up with the necessary mobilizations. Instead, the leadership turned 180 degrees after a meeting of the association with the Minister of Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu.
Obviously, NANS need to be reclaimed for students struggle to move forward. This is why the ERC campaigns for NANS to be returned back to the campuses, its democratic structures restored and its leadership to reflect the desire of students to fight back against education attacks. But side by side with calling for this, the ERC also strives to build campaigns among rank and file students urging them to begin to organize to challenge all anti-poor education policies. In 2014, in collaboration with others, we led the successful campaign against fee hike at the Lagos State University.
This time around, we have launched a campaign calling on students to organize through their local unions and name a day for a nationwide lecture boycott and mass protest to begin to resist fee hikes, poor studying and living conditions, proscription of unions and victimization. While a nationwide mass action if it succeeds would not mean an end to the crises that higher education suffers, yet it will deal government neo-liberal education policies a bigger blow, force out some concessions while having big impact on students’ consciousness. If you are a student and you want a real fight back against anti-poor education policies and attacks on democratic rights, join the ERC today.