ERC’s experience intervening in anti-fee hike struggle at Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State
On Thursday and Friday, January 4 and 5 respectively, three members of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) visited OOU where students are organizing to resist an over 100 percent increase in school fees as part of a nationwide neo-liberal offensive spearheaded by the Tinubu capitalist regime against public university education in Nigeria.
Toheeb Duroorike (ERC Member) reports.
Myself, comrade Eko and comrade Mayowa got to the institution around 12 noon on January 4 with the intention of observing how escalating the situation has gone but everywhere was as cool as a grave yard. We tried our possible best to reach out to the president of the Students’ Union but he was not picking up the call at first but later did and told us he was having a meeting in the Palace with the king of the community. So we had to wait around and used the period to connect with some of the students on campus before the commencement of the Congress.
So far so good we met a student of Islamic studies. We had a long discussion with him about the fee hike, the ongoing struggle and the programme of the ERC concerning the funding of public education. He accepted to join the ERC and even participated in sharing the ERC leaflets and students loan pamphlets on the campus.
Immediately it was 3:30pm we decided to check the campus ASUU branch Secretariat. They welcomed us and had a little discussion with us on how the State Governor has refused to fund the education system of the state. Out of 500 million naira that was allocated to the school, the state government is only paying 72 millon Naira, which is not even up to 15%, and this was the background to the fee hike.
The ASUU chairman, OOU, also discussed about the not so good relationship between the Students’ Union leadership and the ASUU leadership. We responded by urging ASUU not to abandon the students in the struggle as the issue concerns members of staff too. We used the example of a similar fee hike at the Lagos State University (LASU) in 2013 to show that if the fee hike is allowed to stay, lecturers’ jobs could be threatened by rationalisation due to the sharp decline in student population that would follow. Later in the day the Students’ Union held a public meeting, instead of the congress initially planned, where they told everyone to meet at the king’s palace the next day, Friday.
On the second day, we went ahead to meet with the king of the community – the Ebumawe of Ago Iwoye. We got their first and waited for the entire students. Immediately some students came around, we started gyrating, and some other students joined us. This made the Olori odo (youth leader) to call on the King and inform him that students were outside. Immediately, the king asked us to come inside for the proper commencement of the meeting. The meeting started by 12 noon and we had in attendance, the Ebumawe of Ago Iwoye, the OOU Deputy vice chancellor academics, the area commander of police in Ijebu Ode, the Dean Student Affairs of OOU, and the University’s Chief Security Officer.
The King gave his own speech and stated his own concern about the situation. He said he would not want a massive withdrawal of students’ population from the University occasioned by the fee hike as it would affect the economy of the community. So he promised to have a dialogue with the school management to see how they can help students concerning the hiked fees. But it was very obvious even at the meeting that the University management was not ready to change its position. For instance, the institution’s Deputy Vice Chancellor who represented the Vice Chancellor continued to defend and justify the fee hike. He could not provide any reasonable answer to students’ questions. More than 90 students attended the town hall meeting and they all spoke with one voice about their fear of dropping out if the hike fee is retained. At the end of the day, the meeting came to a conclusion. The King promised he would get back to the Students’ Union president on Friday night about a way out and pleaded that students should not cause any problem before then.
While we don’t discountenance the request for the intervention of the King but, as we state in the ERC statement circulated as a leaflet during the visit, it would require a series of mass actions by students themselves to force the management to reverse the fee hike. Therefore the Students’ Union should organize a series of activities such as congresses, rallies, mass protests, leafleting and press conference to press home their demands. There should also be a direct call on staff unions and community people for solidarity and support to the struggle.
By and large, the visit provided opportunity for us to introduce the ERC to the mass of students. We shared all our leaflets and also the pamphlet to students, which were also taken by the King’s secretary and police officers. We collected more than 24 contacts. Going forward, we intend to have a branch in the campus.
We also sold copies of Socialist Democracy (SD) worth N2000 at the ASUU secretariat and gave out two additional papers for the union library. We also agreed to always bring to the union all new editions of our paper. In conclusion, it was a very successful intervention which gives me confidence about the growth of our organization and ideas among the mass of students as the attacks on public education continue to intensify.