A Re-Awakening of Resistance Against anti-Poor Policies

unilag-students.protest

mass protest of Unilag students, after a decade of union proscription.

Recently, there have been series of student’s resistance on different campuses in the country against the universities administrators, government policies and police brutality. There are linkages between these three personifications of oppression that students have been fighting back against.

The universities administrators essentially implement the dictates of their paymasters (the state). And while a governments come and go, they all uphold the interests of the bosses and act as coordination centres at national and sub-national levels for the bosses’ state. The police force, which has murdered students of the University of Port Harcourt and Yaba College of Technology, on their own part, represent the most overt coercive force of the oppressor’s state. They are used in defence of law and order, to try ensure that we do not fight for popular alternatives from below.

The university administrators have been dishing out series of anti-poor students policies (especially increases in school fees) and also attacking the voice of the student i.e. the Students’ Union. Such acts are clearly blatant breaches of the democratic rights of students. Democracy cannot be considered simply as a matter of elections. It has to be about improved conditions of living and voice for the immense majority of the population. It can be won and defended only through struggle, such as those the students have been waging.

We have seen resistance from the students of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko (AAUA), Benue State University (BSU), University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), Yaba College of Technology (YabaTECH), Ogun State College of Health Technology, University of Lagos (UNILAG) and the University of Ibadan (UI). The causes of the student’s protest have not been different.

Essentially, these have been: astronomical increments in fees, bad and inhumane welfare and academic conditions (dilapidated hostel and academic infrastructure), attacks on student activists, and proscriptions of students’ unions.

The Socialist Youth League is of the opinion that astronomical and Mephistophelean increments in fees can never and will never be the lasting panacea to the decaying academic and hostel infrastructure in the university system. Events are proving us to be right because in 2011, at Obafemi Awolowo University, the “acceptance fee” for fresh students was increased from #2,000 to #20,000 under the guise that the university administration wanted to improve the infrastructural facilities on campus.

But there has been no impact felt from the billions of naira generated by the school authorities from the increment, ever since It is now obviously a case of “paying more and getting less”. Comrade Olawale Owolabi aka Ogunruku, a leading member of the SYL was victimized for his leadership role in that struggle. Up till this moment the University administration has been recalcitrant, refusing to reinstate this activist who pursued student’s interest peacefully.

In Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, the despotic university management has shut-down the school. This was after mass action spurred by the death of Ojo Afolabi Daniel, a student of department of Economics Education of the institution, who was involved in an accident but could not get adequate health-care to rescue him from the cold hand of death, as a result of the ill-equipped nature of the university health-care center.

The case of Benue State University (BSU) is the same with that of the AAUA, where a truck ran down students of the institution. They died due to poor response at the equally ill-equipped university health center.

At the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), the students protested against increased tuition fees. The University management decided to crackdown on the students’ resistance instead of even trying to negotiate, reflecting utter arrogance on its part and contempt for the students. The police were drafted in to quell a peaceful demonstration killing Peter Ofurum a promising young student.

The issue at Ogun State College of Health Technology is about the inhumane welfare conditions students are subjected to. The students of this institution revolted against the lack of power supply in the school. The institution’s management closed down and sent students packing by force.

The University of Lagos case is a further demonstration of management’s insensitivity to the plight of students and its highhandedness in addressing issues. The school’s administration did not only shut-down the institution it also banned the students’ union which has only been reinstated recently, after a decade-old proscription.

The latest in this series of attacks by universities and other tertiary institutions’ managements is the ongoing tussle between the management of University of Ibadan (UI) and the students, leading to the institution being closed down twice within the space of barely two months. At first, on March 5, 2016, it was mainly the erratic power supply and epileptic water supply that caused the University administration to close down the institution for two weeks.

By the end of April, the University authorities once again displayed contempt for legitimate dissent when it shut down the school as its response to the students’ protest against appalling welfare conditions which were not attended to after resumption and also demanding the reversal of the verdict of the “Student Disciplinary Council” of the university on the one semester rustication of Michael Tunji Epeti, which was a witch-hunt on the part of the management to cow the students from demanding for what is right.

At the Obafemi Awolowo University, where management led by Prof. Bamitale Idowu Omole, increased fees astronomically in 2014 from #40,000 to over #100,000, a major fightback is looming. The increment, management claimed, is as a result of under-funding of the university by the federal government. But two sessions after such increment there have not been a corresponding improvement in the academic and hostel infrastructure of the institution which was the reason for the increment.

This has led to mass agitation and protests. School closure has not dampened the morale of the mass of students who are determined to fight for a reversal of the draconian fees regime.

Mandela once said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the World”. But, the pro-rich managements of tertiary institutions across Nigeria seem hell bent on doing anything except create an enabling environment for education. The right to dissent is a right that should be encouraged and school managements should be ready to at the very least negotiate with students and have improvements in studying and living conditions of the youth that are often described as the leaders of tomorrow.

With the present scenario under a supposedly “change” oriented regime at the saddle of the present government of the day at the Federal and State levels, we cannot but consider the commitment of the APC government to enhancing education as a big fat lie.

We must commend the recent efforts of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Zone D, for bringing the collective strength and consciousness of the Nigerian student to bear in the different struggles across various campuses, even though there is still much more for it to do.

There is an urgent need to summon an emergency congress of the Nigeria students to discuss and fashion a way out of this imbroglio and we propose that all institutions in Nigeria should decide on a 1-day warning lecture-boycott to make our message clear to the Federal government and schools managements that we want an overhauling of the education system, the recall of all victimized student activists and the reinstatement of all proscribed students’ unions.

Without having any illusion in the government of the bosses, it might also be politically necessary for NANS to also submit a bill to the National Assembly of Nigeria (NASS) restricting the university administrator from attacking the Students’ Union, and mobilise nationally around this demand as a campaign for democratic rights of students.

SYL solidarise with the Students’ Unions under attack by the State and its agents on our campuses (schools’ administrators). We call on them to fight on based on the strength of the students that elected them and to whom they are responsible. The struggle at hand is equally not just one for students’ union leaders. The rank and file students must stand as one until victory.

To the government at the Federal and State level, we demand that, if there is anything more than posturing in the APC’s “anti-corruption” stance, search lights should be beamed on the managements of tertiary institutions across the country. For, while the schools go to rot, those in management are getting fatter from the allocations received for the institutions they rule over like lords of the manor.

DEMANDS

  • All proscribed Students’ Union should be restored unconditionally and university administrations should desist from interfering in the activities of the Unions (UNILAG, BSU, UNIPORT etc.);
  • All increased fees should be reversed to for children from poor working class backgrounds to equally have access to tertiary education, which is a right;
  • All victimized student activists should be reinstated unconditionally. These include: Olawale Owolabi aka Ogunruku,a student of the department of Physical and Health Education, Obafemi Awolow University, who has been suspended since 2011 and Michael Tunji Epeti aka Mote, a student of Petroleum Engineering, University of Ibadan;
  • The probe of the finances of all tertiary educational institutions to ascertain how allocations they have been receiving have been utilized. Students’ unions, trade unions and civil society organisations must be part and parcel of such probe to avoid any cover-up;
  • We call on the trade Unions in the sector (ASUU, SSANU, NATT, NASU, SSANIP, ASUP, COEASU and NASU) in conjunction with the Students’ Unions to declare a state of emergency in the Education sector;
  • We call for the implementation of the UNESCO proposition for the allocation of 26% of annual budgetary provisions to the Education sector.

by Abbey Banjris