Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

2017 Budget and the State of Public Education: Students Need to Rise and Fight!

2017 Budget and the State of Public Education: Students Need to Rise and Fight!

By Ibukun Omole ERC National Secretary

The 2017 appropriation bill for the education sector demonstrates the fact that the Muhammadu Buhari-led APC Federal Government has no plans to salvage the education sector. About N540.1billion, less than 10% of the budget, is being proposed for the education sector at a time government’s debt to the public universities alone is to the tune of N660billion, let alone other education institutions. Of this, recurrent expenditure will gulp N398.01billion.

For the biggest economy in Africa, the minimal concession to the 26% UNESCO education funding benchmark is not even a target. In terms of capital funding for social sectors, the education sector got the least funding of N50billion in the 2017 budget (aside N92billion for Universal Basic Education Commission), a little above only the Niger-Delta Ministry and the Federal Capital Territory.

This paltry amount is meant to cater for 36 federal universities, 25 federal polytechnics, 22 federal colleges of education and 104 federal unity schools. Meanwhile, recent discoveries have it that the amount of recovered loot that the EFCC have failed to remit is about N1.9 trillion. Yet the FG continues to fend of unions of workers that they owe allowances with the excuse that it has no money to pay them.

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) whose members have reportedly been on half-salary since December 2015, is currently being owed earned allowances and accumulated arrears by the FG to the tune of N619billion – a figure higher than the entire amount voted for education in the 2017 budget. The union may go on industrial action any time soon. Similarly the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) is being owed N20.8 billion in arrears. At the same time, most state governments owe education workers at all levels of education.

Because of underfunding, public tertiary institutions now devise all kinds of means to increase their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). This IGR drive is the reason behind the recent wave of fee increments across the country and the poor welfare conditions that students suffer. With the level of fee hike and education commercialization, one would have expected that big battles would have broken out on campuses. Unfortunately this is not so because the students unions and most importantly the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) have been rendered impotent by the betrayal and cowardice of their leaders.

As a result of the weakness of the students’ movement and the defeat of past struggles, students are unable to realize the confidence to rise up and fight back. In a few campuses that students have tried to organize and fight, they were betrayed by right wing Students Union and NANS leaders.

A result of all of these experiences is the present state of consciousness on campuses reflected in a significant section of students seeing struggle as ineffective and something that often achieves nothing except unnecessary closure and prolongation of the academic calendar. For many of these students, their attitude is simply to do what they have to do on campus and graduate on time. Unfortunately, the problem does not end with graduation. As tens of thousands graduate every year, they are being hit by the reality that there are no jobs out there. Just like its predecessors all the Buhari administration has to offer in terms of job creation are the many underemployment schemes that have failed to kick-start effectively like the N-Power scheme. This therefore puts young people in an exceptionally desperate and hopeless situation.

Together with increasing commercialization of education is victimization and clampdown on democratic rights on campuses. University of Lagos, Kwara State Polytechnic and University of Ibadan are some of the few campuses where students have recently been placed on suspension and expulsion for criticizing the authorities or resisting anti-poor policies. In fact, so brazen have the authorities become that they now query students and suspend them for putting up posts on facebook critical of their policies.

All of these point to an urgent need to rebuild the students’ movement especially the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) as a genuine and democratic platform of struggle to defend students’ interests. In the meantime however, organizations like the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) as well as other newly emerging campaigning platforms can play a lot of role in helping to organize students to fight back. Some of the important struggles of the past few months in UNILAG, LAUTECH and TASUED were led by campaigning organizations. Despite the current situation, if these organizations can unite to launch a campaign for a day of mass action involving lecture boycott and protest to resist fee hike, victimization and to demand improved funding of education and democratic management of schools, they can get a significant echo.