ASUU STRIKE: NLC’S CONSTANT THREAT TO EMBARK ON A SOLIDARITY ACTION WITH ASUU, SSANU, NASU AND NAAT WITHOUT ACTUALLY TAKING ANY PRACTICAL STEP IS A DISSERVICE TO LONG-SUFFERING STUDENTS
ERC Urges the NLC and TUC to Name a Day for a Nationwide Strike and Mass Protest Now!
For the umpteenth time, the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has threatened to embark on a one day solidarity action with striking education workers unions (ASUU, SSANU, NASU, and NAAT). This was revealed on Thursday 30 June 2022 by Ayuba Wabba, NLC president, at the opening of the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of the Congress. The NLC president also revealed that all affiliates have been instructed to issue the mandatory notice from next week.
We in the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) welcome this pronouncement while urging the NLC leadership to ensure this goes beyond another mere verbal threat. However we call on the NLC, together with the TUC, not to limit the action to only a national protest but also match it with a 24-hour warning general strike, and begin the immediate preparation and mobilization for the action across all its affiliates as well as civil society partners through public meetings, leafletting and rallies. We specifically call for the convening of the Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) to draw in as many pro-working class, socialist, students, youth and activist groups as possible to aid the preparation for the solidarity action.
However despite welcoming this new declaration, we have to note that this is not the first time the NLC has issued a threat of solidarity action over the current shutdown of the nation’s public universities. Specifically in April this year, the NLC had issued a 21 day notice with a threat to embark on a national strike unless the government convened a high-powered panel chaired by the SGF or the Chief of Staff to resolve the lingering dispute between the FG and ASUU. Not only was nothing heard from the NLC again at the expiration of the 21 day notice, even the nationwide protests which the NLC declared would be held within the subsisting 21 days ultimatum never materialized. No explanation was given by the NLC leadership to thousands of Nigerian students who were already looking towards the NLC for leadership in their quest to put an end to the shutdown of the universities. Just complete silence!
Now, as Ayuba Wabba explained, in a report by Sun newspaper of 1 July 2022, even though the high-powered panel it demanded was convened, this has not in any way resolved the dispute between the striking unions and the Federal Government and this is why it is now threatening another solidarity action. It is our considered opinion in the ERC that the leadership of the NLC needs to be more serious in its salutary effort to intervene in solidarity with the striking unions in their negotiation with government. The methods and approach of the NLC must reflect the urgency of the situation which is that thousands of students are affected by the shutdown of universities and any day the strike lingers is additional prolongation of their suffering and anguish.
Sadly, the strike of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is now in its fifth month while other unions are either in the fourth or third month of their strikes respectively. That the shutdown of the country’s public universities has become this prolonged in a country which can boast of one of the strongest labour movement on the continent is an indictment on the leadership of the two labour centres who have been wielding the strike weapon as a verbal threat meant to simply appeal to the good senses of the Federal Government rather than as a militant declaration of action to defend the interest of public education.
It is a fact that the labour leadership has been toeing a ponderously formalistic, slow, unhurried and illusory approach bordering on constantly seeking more and more dialogue with a Federal Government which has convinced every part of society that not only does it not have any iota of interest in the ongoing strike of ASUU, SSANU, NASU and NAAT, it also has no concern for the future of the nation’s youth wasting away. While the leadership of the labour movement issued the initial strike threat in April, the government carried on as usual with the two key ministers in charge of the strike negotiation, the Labour minister Ngige and the Minister of state for Education, Nwajiuba, going ahead to abandon their duty post in order to vie in the primaries of the All Progressive Congress (APC) to contest for president. The moment these two ministers, who had for months been coaching the striking unions about how Nigeria is too cash-strapped to fund their demands, produced 100 million naira apiece to procure the presidential nomination forms of the APC ought to have been the signal for any serious labour leadership with any modicum of class dignity to pull out of negotiation and call a general strike to shut-down the government of deceit.
Therefore in our opinion, the main reason why the shutdown of the nation’s universities has become prolonged is not simply, as noted by the NLC President Ayuba Wabba, due to the intransigence of the President Buhari capitalist government. An additional factor is the foot-dragging, ponderously formalistic and barren approach of the leadership of the labour movement which does not seem to appreciate the agony and pain of students whose lives are wasting away at home. Just a one day nationwide general strike and mass protest by the NLC and TUC calling on the Federal Government to meet the demands of the striking unions or risk a more comprehensive action can act as a lever to compel the government to grant some concessions.
What is clear so far in the negotiation of the unions with the FG is that the only language the capitalist ruling elite understands is that of militant struggle. Students are already tired and frustrated, and this could predispose some of them to engaging in different social vices. This is one of the reasons why it is crucial that the NLC leadership ensures that this current strike threat is translated into reality.
We however urge that this one-day solidarity action should be the starting point of a series of mass actions until the government is compelled to meet all the demands of the unions and agrees to fund public education adequately. As we have constantly argued, Nigeria is rich enough not only to fund public education adequately but also to provide free, functional and democratically-run education at all levels. The only reason this is not the case is capitalism and the pro-rich and anti-poor policies supported by the major parties of capitalism like the APC, PDP, APGA and all others. Ultimately, we need to build a mass workers’ party with Socialist programmes to take political power and put the commanding heights of Nigeria’s economy under democratic workers control and management in order to make available resources, which are currently cornered by a tiny rich elite and corporations, to fund public education, healthcare and other social services.
Isaac Ayobami Ogunjimi
ERC Deputy National Coordinator
ERC National Secretary
ERC email: [email protected]