Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM



Right Wing Leadership Emerges Amidst Violence

HT Soweto

Different rightwing factions of the leadership of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) came together recently to hold a convention of the association. This convention has come about two years after a similar convention produced about five factions each claiming leadership of the association.

However, not one of the five factions stood for a radical programme of struggle against education commercialization, under-funding, fee hike and attack on the democratic rights of students and workers. In the last general elections, these factions grouped around different political parties and candidates of the corrupt capitalist ruling elite despite the anti-poor character of these candidates and parties. Having made millions of Naira from their support of anti-poor politicians and since a new election is four years hence; they apparently saw no reason why they could not unite to elect a new leadership for the Association. This does not however suggest that new, unprincipled factions could not emerge given the fact that the so-called unity was not borne out any principled stand.

This confirms what the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) has always said. We had consistently argued that these factional differences is not about ideas or programmes to defend students against neo-liberal onslaught on education but about personal enrichment at the expense of students. One of the factional “presidents” of the Association, Jude Imagwe, reportedly got N20 million for supporting the candidature of President Jonathan in the last election!

The ‘unity’ convention which was held between Wednesday 27 July and Tuesday 2nd August 2011 in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State was not unique in anyway. Similar ‘unity’ conventions had been held in the past which produced deeper factionalisation. The only interesting feature of this convention is that only one leadership has so far emerged. Other contenders for whatever reason have not done the expected, which is to mount the soap box and declare themselves true winners at the convention. Unfortunately however socialists and genuine student activists must not for once toy with the illusion that this shows that NANS is on the path of radical recovery.

The convention was anything but democratic or free and fair. One, the Convention Planning Committee (CPC) was set up bureaucratically. Not surprising it had as its Chairman and Secretary respectively such odious figures as Ali Kano and Yinka Dada (a.k.a Saddam); both non-students and the latter a one-time corrupt and pro-capitalist factional “president” of the Association. Students who are real members of the Association were not involved in the planning of the convention nor in determining the candidates.

Candidates for elective positions had no mandate of students of their schools through their students’ unions. By the NANS constitution, students unions are the members of NANS and not individual students, hence constitutionally, participation in NANS elections should be on the basis of the nomination of candidates by their respective students unions. In fact, most candidates only declared their interest on the day and ground of the convention. Since no mass campaign strategy on campuses took place in the run up to the convention, students were unaware of the contestants and had no opportunity to verify their programmes. In this scenario the so-called senators, who are purportedly official delegates of the students unions, merely voted in exchange for money from contestants most of whom were sponsored by state governors and politicians. In short, students were schemed out in every way from the minutest involvement in the organization of the convention thus blocking the possibility of socialists and radical student activists using the convention to campaign for a fighting and radical NANS.

Against the above background, the convention was marred by violence in which two cult groups, the Aiye and Vikings confraternities, armed with machetes, axes and guns engaged in a violent clash. Only the intervention of the Joint Task Force (JTF) – a military outfit formed by government to combat militants in the Niger Delta creeks – saved the day but not before about 7 students had been reportedly injured. From reports, the clash occurred was over the disagreement on the sum of N30 million due to be released to the leaders of the Association by the Bayelsa State Governor, Timipre Sylva! Eventually the Governor who reportedly came to the convention ground in the evening donated the money to the Convention Planning Committee (CPC) while also giving each Senator N10, 000 aside from the over 200 free hotel rooms they enjoyed for their accommodation.

At the end of the convention, a right wing leadership emerged under the leadership of the new NANS President Mohammed Dauda a.k.a Capone from the University of Jos (UNIJOS). The question however is what should be the attitude of socialists and genuine student activists towards NANS and particularly the new leadership? Can NANS still be reclaimed and built as a fighting student’s platform given the hijack of the leadership of the Association by pro-capitalist elements for years now and the virtual destruction of the democratic structures of the Association?

Given the background against which the election was conducted and the antecedents and characteristics of the elements constituting the new NANS leadership, it goes without saying that this leadership is bound to be pro-capitalist in its outlook and politics. This means that it will prove incapable of providing a serious fighting strategy to mobilize students in a fight back to defeat education cuts and defend victimized students activists and proscribed unions on campuses. Therefore socialists and genuine student activists must continue the campaign for a mass-based, democratic and fighting NANS without for a moment falling under the illusion that the current elements in leadership are fundamentally different from the past rightwing and openly pro-state elements that have occupied NANS leadership in the last 10 years.

Right before the convention some student activists, several of whom are collaborators in the Education Rights Campaign (ERC), came under the illusion that all that was needed to reclaim NANS was for genuine student activists to organize and ‘hijack’ NANS by declaring a faction. The basis for this is of course the frustration of many genuine student activists at the corruption of the leadership of NANS and their abandoning of students struggling on campuses against fee hike, attacks on democratic rights and proscription of unions.

For us in the DSM however, such an organizational, and in some ways bureaucratic, method however will only lead to a dead end. Only a method that gives mass of students the leading role in seeking to reclaim their Association and build it as a mass-based and democratic fighting platform for the defense of their interest can succeed. More importantly is that this method betrays a misunderstanding of the dynamics behind the decay and degeneracy of NANS. Indeed if all that was necessary to reclaim NANS was for a handful of student activists to declare a faction, NANS would have been reclaimed a long time ago when student activists were still strong in terms of numbers, left organizations and political influence on campuses.

The huge anti-socialist propaganda which began with the fall of the Soviet Union in early 1990s coupled with violent repression of left activists and organizations by then military government and school authorities was a key factor that created the basis for the victory of right wing and pro-state elements in 1994 and their continuous stranglehold on the national leadership of NANS till today. Now we are faced with a situation wherein NANS has deteriorated further into a rotten leadership of right wing elements and violent cultists totally cut off and having no real connection with the mass of students. For years now, all local unions have stopped paying the mandatory capitation fee or membership dues through which NANS activities used to be funded.

Nevertheless the right wing elements continue to wield enormous influence in NANS. This is not just because of the enormous funding and patronage they receive from members of the capitalist ruling elite and politicians but also because the local unions which are at the base of the student movement have grown weak and decayed over the years. Most local unions have lost their democratic structures like congresses which students and activists could use to put pressure on the NANS leadership to fight on issues of underfunding, fee hike and democratic rights. Today a majority of the local unions are dominated by pro-capitalist elements that are not much different in outlook and attitude from the corrupt NANS leaders while most left organizations on campuses have been destroyed through persecutions and victimizations.

Therefore reclaiming NANS requires a patient and painstaking re-building of the local unions to make them mass democratic platforms of struggle through which students can fight against fee hike, victimization and for better welfare conditions and linking this with the necessity of building NANS as a fighting national student body capable of leading Nigerian students to fight against neo-liberal education policies. It also requires building organizations like the DSM and the Education Rights Campaign (ERC). It is through this that it can be possible to carry out a successful campaign for the building of NANS as a mass-based and democratic fighting platform and for the defeat of the cultists and pro-capitalist elements currently holding sway in its leadership.

However given the total destruction of the democratic structures of NANS and the distrust with which students and the public generally view it, it is not altogether impossible that a new national student body could arise in future, perhaps starting on a regional basis or as a campaign combining one or two unions around programmes of struggle. Armed with correct methods of struggle around issues of education cuts, victimization and democratic rights, this kind of platform can quickly become widely accepted by mass of students as a credible alternative to the discredited NANS. Therefore while campaigning for the reclaim of NANS, socialists and genuine students must equally be prepared for this kind of development politically and organizationally.