Key issues facing education and the fight for democratic rights of students and campus workers
Text of a press conference convened by the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) to address salient developments in the education sector held on Tuesday 29 October 2019 in Lagos
Great Nigerian workers! Great Nigerian students!
(1) We welcome you all to this press conference. By now, we are sure that there is hardly anyone, except those who benefit from the corrupt status quo, who is still in doubt that the Buhari’s All Progressive Congress (APC) government has nothing to offer than mass poverty in the midst of abundance, decline in living standards, collapse of public utilities like education and healthcare, rising cost of living as well as joblessness.
(2) Our primary concern in this press conference is the state of the education sector. However while there is a lot happening in the education sector today, this press conference can only focus on issues we consider to be the most pressing and important at the moment. We therefore want to restrict ourselves to address the following: (1) underfunding and commercialisation of the education sector (2) new fees in LASU (3) suppression of democratic rights in OAU, UI, UNILAG, LASU, LASPOTECH and AOCOED and last but not the least (4) the raging issue of sex for grades on campuses.
UNDERFUNDING AND COMMERCIALISATION
(3) We want to say without any element of equivocation that both the Federal government and the state governments have failed woefully in the funding of public education and the maintenance of the requisite standard and condition that can permit the provision of quality education to students and pupils. Since 2015, budgetary allocation to education by the Federal and state governments has continued to decline. In the 2019 budget, only N620.5bn was allocated to public education while in the 2020 appropriation bill, only N652.94bn (a paltry 6.9 per cent of the sum) is being proposed as allocation to the education sector. Considering the collapse of the value of our currency and other economic factors, these allocations fall far below previous budgets and are grossly incapable of addressing the basic needs of the sector.
(4) Consequently, the condition and quality of education has continued to nose-dive. At the moment, the number of out of school children has risen to 13.5 million. But even for those in school, they have to endure poor facilities, outmoded curriculum and inadequate or unmotivated teaching staff. Half-hearted efforts by some governments at Federal and state levels to reposition the sector have ended up as white-elephants projects that have neither repositioned the sector nor improved the quality of education. This deplorable situation exists not only at the primary and secondary levels of education but also at the tertiary levels with many public Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of education lacking standard laboratories and libraries. The result is that Nigeria’s education sector continues to churn out half-baked graduates at different levels.
(5) There is no doubt that Nigeria has one of the worst education systems in the world. This is a direct result of the pro-capitalist policies of education underfunding, commercialisation and privatization being implemented by successive governments over the past decades. Together with poor facilities and low quality, the cost of education has continued to rise. Today, many of our public Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education are indistinguishable from private institutions because of the high tuition. This is a case of the government trying to push its responsibility of funding public education onto the shoulders of poor working class parents who already are burdened by low pay and rising cost of living.
(6) In order to build their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), we are all familiar with how management of public tertiary institutions now device several means to increase fees and by so doing extort students. They achieve this by introducing all kinds of miscellaneous charges e.g. library fees, security, laboratory and practical, ICT etc. The whole idea is to ensure that while the tuition component is low, the miscellaneous charges leads to a total fee package of tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of naira. But recently, a more novel way of increasing tuition fee through the backdoor has been introduced by no other than the management of the Lagos State University (LASU). This is called Stream 2 admission programme with a price tag of N150, 000 per newly-admitted students, while the stream 1 candidates are required to pay the normal fee of N25, 000.
N150, 000 STREAM 2 ADMISSION IN LASU
(7) According to a publication on LASU website, the stream 2 admission programme offers a B.SC and B.A. fulltime programme with certificate in 79 entrepreneurial courses with a tuition fee of N150, 000 as against the normal B.SC, B.A & B.ED full-time programme with tuition fee of just N25, 000. The ERC condemns this new programme tuition fee as it is a ploy to commercialize education, exploit admission seekers and their poor parents and prepare the way for the wholesale increase in the tuition fees of all undergraduate and post graduate students in LASU.
(8) LASU is one University maintaining same standard of facilities, teaching and non-teaching staff for all category of students be they undergraduate or post graduate. Therefore there is no justifiable basis to enforce discrimination against a new class of students who pay higher class of tuition fee while using the same standard of facility and academic resources as other students who pay less. This kind of “Apartheid system of education” has no place in our University System.
(9) Anyone who still recalls the history of our struggle in 2014 called “SaveLASU Campaign” to make the Lagos State University (LASU) affordable for children of workers and the poor will find it disheartening to hear that the Lagos State University (LASU) is once again back to being the poster-boy of commercialized education with the newly-minted policy of stream 2 admission programme. Recall that just in 2014 that Lagos State Government under the administration of Governor Babatunde Fashola reversed the hike LASU fee from N350, 000 and N180, 000 back to N25, 000 due to pressure from the mass protests and agitation by LASU students, staff and civil society organizations. It was this struggle that created the conditions for Lagosians and others to have more access to Lagos State owned public university education. However, five years after this reversal, the LASU management under the administration of Prof. Lanre Fagbohun is set to return LASU and Lagosians to its experience during the period of fee hike with his introduction of N150, 000 tuition fee programme.
(10) LASU receives up-to half a billion Naira subvention from Lagos State Government every month, a sum which is the highest subvention paid by any government in southwest Nigeria. Also, LASU had received 3 billion Naira TETFUND support, this is aside all other internally generated revenue from other programmes and activities in the coffers of LASU. Therefore, given all these resources available to LASU, in contrast to other state owned varsities, the Prof. Lanre Fagbohun-led LASU administration is being callous and anti-people for increasing fees such as graduating students’ service charge, the acceptance fee, introduction of medical fee charge and again introducing a special programme with N150, 000 as tuition fee.
(11) While acknowledging some facelift in the infrastructures of the University, nevertheless we strongly believe that if the resources in the coffers of the University are properly, judiciously and democratically managed to give priorities to students’ and workers’ needs, LASU should have advanced beyond its present state. Presently in LASU, there are no adequate offices for staff, no adequate lecture halls for students, no adequate functional hostels and restroom for students, staff earned academic allowance are yet unpaid, the students-lecturers ratio is widening and overwhelming, inadequate staff in some departments, stoppage of work at the LASU library under construction since 2016. Also in LASU, there are about 23,959 undergraduate students currently battling with the existing infrastructure. This is aside other students doing other programmes such as Diploma, Sandwich degrees and postgraduate studies. All these confirm that the existing infrastructures in LASU are already over-burdened. As such any attempt to introduce new programme without first of all expanding the quantity and quality of infrastructures available in LASU will amount to placing profit ahead of quality education.
(12) Moreso, if the undergraduate students admitted under this stream 2 admission process are going to be using the same inadequate and decaying infrastructures as well as the same inadequate and over-burdened teaching and non-teaching staff then what is the justification for their outrageous tuition fee of N150, 000 while other students pay N25, 000? As far as we are concerned, the stream 2 admission programme, a “discriminatory admission process” which artificially divides students into classes in order to destroy the unity of students and the Students Union, is nothing but a ploy to pave the way for a total increase in the tuition of all students at some point in the not-so-distant future. It is with a view to prevent this disaster that we urge the Students Union and staff unions to condemn this dangerous policy of the University administration. If this fee hike is allowed, then before long LASU will be back to pre-2014 period when the University almost became a ghost town as a result of its rapid loss of new student intakes due to the astronomical fees. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.
(13) The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) stands against all attempts to commercialise education and price it out of the reach of students from poor working class and middle class backgrounds. We demand immediate reversals of hiked fees on campuses across the country. We also demand improved funding of public education at all levels and democratic management of schools and educational institutions by elected committee comprising representative of workers and students unions in order to prevent wastage and mismanagement.
(14) We want to submit that public education remains the responsibility of government to fund by making judicious use of the enormous wealth of this nation. As far as we are concerned, provision of free and functional public education at all levels is possible. The money and other resources required are available. The only obstacle is capitalism – a system built on workers exploitation and profit-making. We need to end capitalism and enthrone a workers and masses’ government armed with socialist policies. Only such a government can take the highly urgent step of placing the key sectors of the economy under public ownership and democratic workers control and management through which Nigeria’s wealth which is currently controlled by a few can then made available to cater for the needs of all.
(15) The ERC is known for always advocating these revolutionary steps as necessary to establish the economic conditions for the provision of free and functional public education to be made possible. We now believe that all the political and economic developments of the past few years including the abysmal failure of the Buhari-APC government of Change fully justifies our argument that no member of the capitalist ruling elite can be trusted to take any of these steps. Only the working class, mobilised and organised under its own political party and with a clear socialist programme can provide a way out.
SUPPRESSION OF DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS ON CAMPUSES
(16) Ladies and Gentlemen of the press, while news reports in recent times have been focused on the rising cases of suppression under the Buhari APC administration, manifested in series of attacks on democratic rights, arrests and detention of activists and journalists, very little attention has been paid to the campuses where dissenting voices of students and staff are being routinely stifled into silence by oppressive managements through sack, demotion and dismissals and rustication of workers and students as well as proscription of unions. The ERC is here to announce to the world that two decades after the restoration of civil rule, our campuses are not free. Rather our campuses continue to be run by despots like open air prisons where the rights to freedom of expression and association are only selectively recognized if not absolutely in abeyance. We will proceed to highlight the situation in just a few campuses just to demonstrate the kind of suppression of democratic rights carried out in these citadels.
OAU, UNILAG, UI and FUOYE
(17) We note with anger how the rights to independent Students’ Unionism has been truncated and several other injustice done to students at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), University of Lagos (UNILAG), University of Ibadan (UI) and the Federal University of Oye Ekti (FUOYE) where at least two (2) students were killed during a protest against poor electricity supply by security agents attached to Erelu Bisi Fayemi – the wife of the Ekiti State Governor.
(18) This year makes it the second year that the OAU Students Union, once the most vibrant students union in the country, was proscribed by the University authorities as a result of the union’s defence of students’ interests. Also several students’ activists have been victimised in the University through deactivation of the students account on the University portal and a climate of fear looms over the campus because of the oppressive policies that the University administration have implemented to bludgeon students into submission.
(19) It is the same situation at the University of Lagos where the Students Union remains proscribed since 2016 years after it was banned as a result of students protest over harsh welfare conditions. Up till today, Femi Adeyeye, a prominent student leader in the protest, has not been allowed to return to the University to conclude his academic programmes. Similarly at the University of Ibadan, the students union was banned in 2016 following students’ protests over the non-delivery of identity cards that were paid for, among other welfare problems, while the union president, Ojo Aderemi, was rusticated. As a result of public pressure, the University management eventually announced this year that the institution would lift the ban on union activities. However the Union president, Ojo Aderemi, remains rusticated up till now.
(20) At the Federal University of Oye Ekiti (FUOYE) where two students were killed during a students’ protest over welfare conditions, the ERC find it disheartening there is an attempt to simply cover up the issue and move on. Weeks after the incident, nothing more has been heard. This is unacceptable. The blood of the murdered students demands justice! As far as we are concerned, Erelu Bisi Fayemi stands accused for unleashing her security agents on harmless students simply demanding improved electricity supply to their hostels.
(21) We hereby restate our demand for the setting up of a public panel of enquiry, democratically constituted by elected representatives of trade unions, students union and civil society to determine the remote and immediate causes of the incident and the culpability of Erelu Bisi and other members of her staff involved in the killing of the students. In addition, we also demand the immediate recall of all rusticated students activists. Also we demand restoration of banned Students Unions in OAU, UNILAG and other campuses and respect for the rights of students to independent, democratic and mass-based students unionism free from interference by the management.
VICTIMISATION OF WORKERS IN LASU, LASPOTECH AND AOCOED
(22) While above we have condemned victimisation of students for defending their rights and that of their colleagues to better welfare conditions and affordable education, it will interest you to note that workers are not also spared in the wave of suppression sweeping through the education sector. In three public tertiary institutions owned by Lagos State, Lagos State University (LASU), Lagos State Polytechnic (LASPOTECH) and Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education (AOCOED), scores of workers activists and leaders are facing victimisation and attacks for exposing corruption in the system, opposing management’s anti-worker policies and for defending the rights of their members.
(23) In LASU, three leaders of the ASUU of the Lagos State University (LASU) branch have been unlawfully dismissed. They Are: Dr. Anthony Dansu – Secretary of ASUU LASU, Dr Adeolu Oyekan – Assistant Secretary ASUU LASU and Dr. Kemi Abodunrin-Shonibare, Treasurer of ASUU LASU. They were dismissed over purported “unauthorized removal, retention and dissemination or publication of official confidential documents.” In truth, the lecturers were dismissed for exposing the arbitrary promotion of the present Vice Chancellor of the institution, and his lack of qualification for the office he presently occupies. They are also being victimized for standing firm against the undemocratic, anti-worker and anti-poor policies of the Prof. Lanre Fagbohun-led administration of the Lagos State University (LASU).
(24) The dismissed staffs who are leaders of ASUU LASU had alleged that the promotion of the VC was wrongfully backdated to 2008, six years before his promotion was actually approved on May 7, 2014 by the university’s governing council. They provided the institution’s governing body with documents to back up their allegations. Rather than take seriously the allegations against the Vice Chancellor, the University went after the staff who reported the anomaly. They were charged and convicted before the institution’s governing board for calling the university’s attention to its dirty secret. Immediately after the dismissal of the trio, the authorities compelled all members of staff to sign an oath of secrecy, effectively outlawing freedom of expression and promoting the university as one Mafian organization. We consider as disgraceful a university community demanding “secrecy” and “loyalty” in an academic environment that ought to thrive on freedom of information and expression. The action of the university’s Governing Council runs contrary to the principle of the Freedom of Information Act, which has legalized free access to, and use of official documents by Nigerians for purposes of transparency and public accountability. No entity should encourage these values more than a university community.
(25) Similarly, at the Lagos State Polytechnic (LASPOTECH) where workers of the institution have embarked on series of actions including strikes and protests to demand improved working conditions and to oppose the tyranny of the Polytechnic administration, about 9 workers cutting across the three staff unions in the Polytechnic have been unlawfully dismissed. They are: Olorunseun Anuoluwapo (ASUP), Badmus Mutiu (ASUP), Abudu Rasheedat (SSANIP), Adeniji Yusuf (NASU), Talabi Babatunde (NASU), Semiu Okanlawon Fasasi (NASU Chairman), Mrs. Yemisi Olabisi (NASU Secretary), Mrs. Muinat Abimbola Ogunbambi-Ibrahim (NASU) and Mrs. Afolabi Abisola Temitayo (NASU).
(26) Also at AOCOED, about 4 workers have being victimized. This victimization ranges from compulsory retirement to demotion. They are: Ombugadu Adewunmi Kafayat – Chairman, Senior Staff Union of Colleges of Education, Nigeria (SSUCOEN), Bola Agemo (SSUCOEN member) who was demoted by two grades, Afolabi Michael (Assistant Secretary SSUCOEN) and Afis Ogunade (General Secretary, SSUCOEN) both of whom were also demoted. Their crime, reportedly, was their refusal to provide minutes of the union congress meetings to the management and Governing Council of AOCOED. One in particular, Bola Agemo was reportedly demoted by two grades for allegedly sharing an information he saw on social media.
(27) The ERC condemns the vicious victimization of staff union leaders and activists in the above-listed three institutions and demands their immediate and unconditional recall. The ERC believes that the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-olu who is the visitor to these institutions is failing in his duties for largely showing indifference or lack of interest in the developments in the three institutions. This indifference being shown by the Governor is what is fuelling the feeling that the despots running the three institutions like military formations actually have the support of the Governor for their despotic actions and attack on democratic rights. Also several efforts by the unions in these institutions as well as Civil Society Organisations to seek the intervention of the Lagos State House of Assembly have yielded very little. We call on the Lagos State government to reign in the despotic managements in the three institutions in order to prevent the ongoing agitations of workers from snowballing into full blown crises that may further affect the calendar of the institutions.
(28) We therefore call on the NLC, TUC, ULC and the wider labour movement to solidarize with the struggle of workers in LASU, LASPOTECH and AOCOED by declaring solidarity actions like a one day strike and mass protest in Lagos state in order to compel the state government to accede to their demands.
SEXUAL HARRASSMENT ON CAMPUSES
(28) We will like to end this press conference by making some comment on the sexual harassment raging across campuses. We condemn the rampaging sexual harassment on campuses and demand serious investigation of all cases and the stiffest punishment for perpetrators. Unfortunately, management of public educational institutions are populated by sexual predators who cannot be expected to pursue these cases with vigour. Indeed on many campuses like UNILAG and also LASU there are in place indecent dressing laws and other codes of behaviour which are motivated by the unreasonable arguments of sexual predators that the way women dress or where a woman is found at any particular time of the day or night justify sexual harassment or rape. We therefore demand that for cases of sexual harassment, an independent committee made up elected representatives of students, gender rights groups, staff unions and school officials be set up with the powers and responsibilities to receive reports and allegations, investigate cases, recommend punishments and also offer psychological, medical and other support to victims.
(29) At the same time, we wish to note that sexual harassment is itself a product of a patriarchal and capitalist society that objectifies women and reinforces women oppression. This is why sexual harassment does not only affect female students; it also affects female lecturers and women in all work places and jobs. In fact gender oppression also manifest in terms of women being paid less than their male counterparts despite possessing equal qualifications, lack of adequate support during pregnancy and child birth, discrimination from attaining certain career progression as men etc. Therefore, only solutions that go to the root causes can actually begin to fundamentally change the situation for women and girls.
(30) This is why for us in the ERC, alongside fighting for justice for victims, we also demand provision of decent and improved hostels with good sanitary conditions to ensure that female students are not exposed to health hazards, a secured University environment to ensure that female students and female workers are free from assault including rape, end to laws like indecent dressing laws which legitimizes the unreasonable argument often favoured by sexual predators that women invite rape by the way they dress etc., reversal of fee hike, a halt to pro-capitalist education policies like commercialisation and other policies that deepens gender discrimination. Instead we demand the provision of free education at all levels to ensure male and female gender have equal access to public education and halt to the practice common among poor families whereby the girl child is often asked to stop school to enable her male siblings to attend schools, restoration of students unions to give students a voice. We also demand free and functional healthcare and decent jobs in order to ensure women have the economic power to determine their own life and future. These are some of the demands that the students and staff unions ought to be putting forward today to ensure that the debate over sexual harassment moves beyond the “cold rooms” towards winning real improvements that can begin benefit women and girls on campuses.
(31) We thank you all for your patience. We want to assure you that we intend to go beyond words in fighting on each of the issues we have discussed today. This is why we have launched a national campaign to begin to take actions on all of these issues. This press conference is one of the activities of this national campaign. Other activities to come are symposia, public meetings, protests and demonstrations. We enjoin you to continue to follow our activities and assist us in our objective of fighting for a free, functional and democratically managed public education system.
Solidarity for ever!
Hassan Taiwo Soweto