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SOCIALIST DEMOCRACY Special Bulletin 1st March 2003

Education Workers’ Strike:

Federal Government Must Honour Agreements

* Joint Action Needed For Total Victory

Since 29th December 2002, academic activities in all universities have been halted as a result of industrial action embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). The ASUU decided to embark on the strike to demand the implementation of the June 2001 agreement signed between it and the Federal Government.

The agreement basically centres on funding, the allocation of a minimum of 26% of the annual budget to education in line with UNESCO recommendation, funding of rehabilitation of students' hostels, classrooms, laboratories, workshops, municipal facilities like roads, water, electricity and other teaching and research facilities plus assistance to state universities through project funding and other forms of intervention.

The agreement also provides that there would be a separate salary structure for academics i.e. (UAPS)(4.1.1); genuine autonomy based on the laws of universities and democratic governance, and that no single academic staff will be victimized for participating in the strike that led to the signing of the agreement.

In addition, the non-academic staff unions, NASU and SSANU are on industrial actions to equally compel the government to honour agreements it entered into with them.

The government has since flagrantly violated the agreements. For instance, the budgetary allocation to education thereafter has even been less than the previous one before the agreement with ASUU and it has progressively declined. 7.0% was allocated in 2001, 5.9% in 2002 and 1.83% is proposed by the government for 2003 in its appropriation bill currently before the National Assembly. Moreover, in relation to the unjustly sacked 44 lecturers of University of Ilorin, the government has not only repudiated the agreement, it has also openly aided and abetted the sustenance of their criminal and unjust persecution by the then despotic vice- chancellor of the university, Shuaib Oba Abdul Raheem and General Salihu Ibrahim, the Pro-chancellor and a former Chief of Army Staff. This is to mention but a few.

ASUU has also accused the government and its officials (those of the ministry of education and NUC) of corruption and mismanagement of funds meant for the universities. For instance, N1.3 billion of the stabilisation funds, originally meant to create for shortfalls in budgetary allocation, has been mismanaged by government officials and spent on frivolous activities. Government and its agents have not successfully explained this allegation, while ASUU has substantiated its claims with facts.

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) declares its full support for the struggle of the academic and non-academic staff of universities. We call on government to accede to the demands of the striking lecturers and honour the agreement it willingly reached with ASUU in June 2001 on all the points earlier raised. This is the only honourable way to bring an end to the ongoing strike action which has paralysed academic activities in the nation's universities for some time now. It is also one of the means of bringing to an end the incessant strike actions, hinged on similar demands by ASUU and some other unions in the education sector, a phenomenon which leaves most students and parents as well in a state of frustration.

However, it is instructive to state that while the struggle of ASUU is necessary and commendable, the task of revamping of education must be shouldered by every staff union in the sector (i.e. ASUU, ASUP, COEASU, SSANU, NASU, SSATHURAI, NUT etc.), along with the Nigerian students. There should be joint action among the staff unions and the students. This will lead to the formation of a formidable force that can give the required strength to the struggle. In the meantime, ASUU and the other unions should take the struggle beyond the four walls of campuses by organising public rallies and symposia in order to enlist physical participation of the working people and to mount political pressure on the government.

This government's brazen and shameless violation of the agreement is not unconnected with its characteristic contemptible attitude to the education in line with the IMF/World Bank dictated neo-liberal policies of privatisation and commercialisation of education and other social services.

Our institutions lack adequate and necessary facilities for qualitative studies like libraries, laboratories, classrooms, decent hostels, computer facilities, portable water supply, etc. The institutions are run like military barracks with brazen infringement on the democratic rights of the students and members of staff to freedom of expression, association, independent unionism, etc. The calling for the return of police posts back to campuses by the Committee of Vice-chancellors is a pointer to the fact that various school authorities are hell bent to suppress popular and genuine struggles of students and workers for better academic and welfare conditions.

Contrary to ASUU demands and that of Nigerian students, the government has resolved to shirk its social responsibility of adequate funding of education and it has created basis, through deliberate under-funding of education, for the authorities of institutions to impose various obnoxious charges and fees on the students. This has been making education the exclusive preserve of children of the few rich, the privileged and treasury looters. Moreover, the sorry state of our institutions, from the primary to tertiary, is not a concern to the governments since members of the capitalist ruling class can afford to send their wards to private schools or abroad to acquire good education.

The government claims that there is no money to fund the implementation of the FGN/ASUU agreement and similar other agreements it reached with other unions in the education sector, and to adequately fund the universities and the education sector in general. This claim is false. The truth is that the government being a government based on the selfish capitalist monetarist ethos it does not prioritise the education of the Nigerian youth. The government does not see education as capable of yielding immediate financial returns that can be looted and converted for private purposes like the oil industries and other key sectors of the economy. Therefore, the government invests less in education and calls on parents to shoulder the huge burden of educating their wards. But education is the responsibility of government to be paid for from our collective wealth and not that of the parents who are not economically empowered.

Numerous workers have been sacked due to government's claim of inability to pay wages. Those still at work are paid pitiable wages. The pensioners too are owed backlog of salaries and inflation has eaten deep into the incomes of the working people. These are compounded by government's policy of privatisation of public utilities and commercialisation of social services including education, as dictated by IMF/World Bank and other imperialist forces, where in the productive sectors of the economy are placed in the hands of a tiny few officials of government and the ruling class to the detriment of the poor working majority. At the end, social services like education, health, housing, etc are reserved only for the highest bidder. All these are because our government is a capitalist government that places profit of a few before the welfare of the majority.

This is further buttressed by the fact that while government claims there is no money and the universities are left to decay, public officials (elected/unelected) live fabulous ostentatious lifestyles with fat salaries and allowances with a coterie of aides, special advisers, special assistants, hangers-on, while billions of naira are daily looted, squandered and wasted on frivolous activities that do not fundamentally affect on the living condition of the poor working people for the better.

Therefore, as ASUU and other staff unions along with the students are fighting for proper funding of education, the sight must not lost on the fact that corruption and mismanagement is another phenomenon that has compounded the crisis of the education sector. Therefore, we must equally demand for democratic management of our institutions with the elected representatives of the students and academic and non-academic staff.

Ultimately, the struggle must be linked with the overall struggle of the working people against the entire IMF/ World Bank induced neo-liberal policies of deregulation of essential services, privatisation of commanding heights of economy, commercialisation of social services, devaluation of Naira, etc. The struggle must be equally elevated to political realm for a socialist reconstruction of the society as against the exploitative, oppressive anti-people and pro-rich system called capitalism.

Under a socialist system, education would be made free at all levels and funded by government from taxpayers' money. It would not be difficult to generate the resources to fund education and other social services like health because the key economic sectors of the economy now under the private control of a few individuals will be taken into public ownership and democratically controlled by the working people themselves. Production would be expanded and geared towards satisfaction of the needs of the people and not the profit of a few as it is presently the case. Consequently, there would be jobs for all employable citizens, all of whom will be paid living wages. The socialist workers’ and poor farmers’ government would massively invest public resources in public education, democratise the system, guarantee the democratic rights of staff and students and repeal all undemocratic laws.