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Socialist Democracy Feb - Mar 2003

 

OAU Closure: The Issue At Stake

By Mojeed Ibrahim

The students of Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife have been out of classrooms since June 2002 and the authorities have announced the new regime of fees with the introduction of new charges and increase in the payable fees.

The students are supposed to have resumed since September 2002. The perpetual closure is as a result of different developments that have cropped up. These developments stem from the characteristic crisis of the education system ranging from misappropriation, dishonesty and insincerity of the government, administrative insensitivity to the under-funding. Specifically, the industrial actions embarked upon by the non-academic staff unions and the academic union at different periods are responsible for the closure.

In August, 2002 the university's chapters of Non-Academic Staff Union and Senior Staff of the Nigerian Universities went on a joint strike to demand payment of their 30 month long due (examination allowance) entitlement. They alleged authorities to have misappropriated the funds meant for that purpose.

When this strike was called off and the authorities intended to reopen the school, they could not do so because the Academic Staff Union of Universities had ordered its members to withhold the results of the students for the previous semester. ASUU exploited this action to force the authorities and the government to replace the two steps that were cut from their salaries. The authorities argued that the scrapping of the two steps was as a result of a circular issued by the minister for education, Dr. Babalola Borisade. 

However, in spite of this circular, the authorities of some universities paid the normal salaries while some including those of OAU Ile-Ife did not. The lecturers considered the action of the government arbitrary and as a slap on their face in that it amounted to demotion of every lecturer by two steps and more so since the original salary that had already been implemented before the issuance of the circular, was a product of roundtable between the ASUU and the government. 

The government has now ordered the replacement of that two step, but this after the academic staff had gone on a total and indefinite strike over the non-implementation of the June 2001 agreement between the government and the ASUU. The agreement contains allocation of 26% of the annual budget to education, recall of the unjustly sacked 44 lecturers at University of Ilorin, special funds for the state universities from the federal cover, etc.

By now, there is no end in sight to the on going ASUU strike as the dialogue between the union and the government has yielded no fruit. This implies that students of OAU Ile-Ife will stay much longer at home, in fact until further notice. However, at present, they are not alone as they have been joined by the students from other universities.

Whenever, the school is re-opened, the students of OAU Ile-Ife have to contend with the question of the school fees. To the authorities the increment has come to stay and in fact they have refused to dialogue with the students union despite the willingness of the later. They have been using the closure of the school as a threat to enforce the implementation of the policy. It can be recalled that earlier in September an impression was created by the authorities propaganda machinery that the students' union was the obstacle to the reopening of the institution due to its resolve to fight against the obnoxious increase in fees, in order to divide the rank and file of the students and weakened their collective resolve against the policy. It took no time before the truth came up.

Although, the efforts of the students' union leadership so far as regards the struggle against fees are commendable, they have to intensify its mobilisation and campaign on this so as to properly educate and sustain the steadfastness of the students who are obviously are tired of the prolonged stay at home and may have been thinking of backing out of the struggle. The students will have to be made to realise that the struggle can be won only if the they take the pain to take last step towards the total victory. 

A mass movement of the students on resumption will make it clear to the university authorities that the students are serious on their resolve to fight to the last. As stated earlier authorities may threaten to close down the school again if we protest, we should refuse to be bothered and carry on. That is a pointer to the victory. It should be noted that balance of forces between authorities and the union will determine the outcome of the struggle..

The union leadership will also have to enlighten the students on the need to appreciate the essence of the current ASUU struggle which is revamping of education with proper funding, justice for their colleagues in UNILORIN, among other legitimate demands. The students ought to fight along with the staff and not unduly attacking them.

However, the union should also agitate for the need for a joint action of all students and the staff unions within the university system. It is only the alliance of the oppressed strata of any society, led by focused working class leadership with anti-capitalist programmes that can fight and win a better living conditions and welfare for the people on a lasting basis. Moreover, the Federal Government will not have the cause to blackmail any union as being fighting for their selfish interest alone.

 

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