STRIKES in Universities: Shutdown of Public Universities: Hold Buhari Government Responsible
ERC Calls for Solidarity Actions from Labour and Students to Compel Government to Meet Demands of Striking Unions
By Ogunjimi Isaac Ayobami, ERC Deputy National Coordinator
For about three months now, public Universities have been shut down due to strike actions of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Senior Staff Association of Universities (SSANU), Non Academic Staff Union (NASU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT). Instead of finding ways to meet the demands so that students can resume classes, the Buhari government is not bothered.
All that preoccupies the regime now is the next general elections. For instance while our Universities are shut down and students time being wasted, Labour Minister, Chris Ngige, whose Ministry handles industrial matters, has declared his interest to run for president and is one of those spending a princely sum of N100 million to procure the nomination forms of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC)! That a minister of the government could afford this is itself an indication that the problem is not lack of resources to meet the demands of the striking unions. if Nigeria’s wealth is actually used to fund public education, healthcare and basic services, how would politicians have enough to steal to support their profligate lifestyle?
It is for this and other reasons that the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) hereby places the blame for the strikes by eight weeks on the nonchalance of the Buhari All Progressive Congress (APC)-led Federal Government which failed to utilize the preceding months of warning strikes to enter into sincere and genuine dialogue with the striking unions. We call on Nigerian students and parents to hold the government responsible. By its action, the Buhari APC government has shown beyond all doubts that it is an anti-student and anti-worker government.
We sympathize with the mass of Nigerian students who may have to stay at home longer than necessary. As things stand today, students are faced with the possibility of losing an entire academic semester to the strikes. This is unacceptable. In 2020, students lost entire academic session to lockdown over the Covid-19 pandemic. The consequence now is that several students will spend upward of 6 to 7 years for a 4 year academic programme. This is not something that is palatable especially for working class and poor parents who have to suffer before they can afford to pay the exorbitant tuition fees and upkeep of their wards.
The impact of the ongoing disruption of academic calendar on students has been devastating. According to Guardian newspaper of 8 March 2022, Henry Ehis, a 300 level student of Department of Actuarial Science, Faculty of Management Science of the University of Jos, reportedly committed suicide due to the strike. This is one death that deserves the outrage of all students, parents and the working people as a whole.
This is why Nigerian students cannot allow the Buhari Government to get away with this absolute irresponsibility and nonchalance. We commend students for the pocket of press conferences, protests and demonstrations which were organized by NANS and Students Unions over the course of the past one month. However, as the old adage goes, he who harbours lice cannot do without bloodstained fingers. We hereby enjoin students to mobilize for another phase of action which should include a one-day nationwide demonstration and protest marches to State Houses of Assembly across the 36 states of the federation and the National Assembly in Abuja. The immediate aim of these protests which must be organized well-coordinated and peaceful should be to occupy the assemblies in order to call on the lawmakers to act on the plight of students.
Students should not make any mistake of thinking this is a struggle where they can afford to be neutral. While the strike affects students and impedes their progress, the reality is that the essence of ASUU’s struggle and incessant strikes of other unions is to push back successive capitalist government relentless efforts to hand over the running of public university education to private profiteers. If it was not for the strikes of ASUU since the early 1990s, together with occasional resistance by Nigerian students, by now, attempts might have been made to sell several of the public universities to private profiteers and no children of working class and poor people would have been able to gain admission in these schools because of the exorbitant fees that would have been charged.
So, in a way, and here lies the paradox, many of the students who are in public universities today and are affected by the ongoing strikes would not have had the opportunity of applying let alone gaining admission into the public universities if not for ASUU strikes and struggles since the 90s. Therefore, for Nigerian students to blame ASUU and other unions for incessant strikes is to blame ASUU, for instance, for its struggles that make university education affordable today. Rather than blame ASUU and other unions, what we need to do as students is to join hands with the unions to fight and defeat the government’s anti-poor educational policies. In fact, students’ direct intervention in the impasse through protests and demonstrations can compel government to quickly meet the striking union’s demands and reopen the campuses.
As far as we are concerned in the ERC, we are confident that Nigeria’s resources if democratically and judiciously managed can be enough to meet the demands of ASUU, SSANU, NASU and NAAT, fund public education adequately and eradicate fees at all levels. If we consider the enormous billions of naira that are daily stolen by corrupt capitalist politicians in Nigeria and also cornered by private businesses through government contracts and policies, we would know that availability of resources to meet striking unions demands is not the main problem. Rather, the main problem is the greed and profit-motive of the corrupt politicians and the capitalist system. This is why side by side with fighting against all attacks on public education and anti-poor educational policies, the ERC also campaigns for the abolishment of capitalism and the enthronement of a workers and poor people’s government armed with Socialist policies under which key sectors of Nigeria’s economy will be placed under democratic workers control and management in order to ensure that Nigeria’s wealth is made available to fund public education, healthcare, generate gainful employment etc.
However, we call on ASUU, SSANU, NASU and NAAT not to make their strikes a stay at home action. They should organise a series of mass activities like leafleting, symposium and protest marches to mobilize and sustain mass support for their demands and thereby mount pressure on the government.
It is also imperative for the NLC, TUC and the wider labour movement to organise a series of solidarity actions in order to help force the government to meet the demands of the striking unions and save public university system.
We urge NANS, students’ unions and Nigerian students as a whole to begin to mobilize for a one-day nationwide protest and occupation of NASS and State Houses of Assembly in furtherance of the following cardinal demands:
(1) The meeting of the demands of ASUU, SSANU, NASU and NAAT and the immediate reopening of campuses
(2) No to any attempt to force, harass, intimidate or victimize striking education workers and protesting students. The right to protest and strike must be respected at all times.
(3) Sack of the Ministers of Education and Labour for mismanaging the strike and delaying resolutions of the key issues in dispute
(4) Immediate government subsidy to cover losses in rent incurred by students while the strike lasts
(5) Increase in the budgetary allocation to education
(6) Emergency budgetary provision to carry out immediate public works programme to upgrade teaching and living facilities in all schools
(7) Reversal of all hiked fees
(8) Restoration of all banned students unions and reinstatement of all politically-victimized student activists
(9) Democratic management of all schools through involvement of elected representatives of students and all staff unions in all decision-making organs.
(10) Transparency and accountability by the university administrations of the monies and resources accruing to them from the government and other sources.