In Support of Workers’ Strike in Oyo State Tertiary Institutions to Save Right to Education

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All members of Academic and non-Academic staff unions in all tertiary institutions owned solely by the Oyo State Government (with the exception of The Polytechnic Ibadan) have been compelled to embark on another round of strikes, beginning between 2 May and 27 June 2018 for being owed between 26 and 8 months of unpaid salaries.

While members of the staff unions in the College Of Education, Lanlate, who are being owed 26 months unpaid salaries downed tools on 2 May 2018 on account that they could no longer fund transportation costs to work, other unions in other institutions commenced their latest round of strikes on 27 June 2018.

The other institutions where members of the staff unions are on strike are Oyo State College of Agriculture and Technology, Igbo-Ora (being owed 20 months salaries), Emmanuel Alayande College of Education, Oyo (being owed 14 months salaries), Oke Ogun Polytechnic, Saki (being owed 13  months), Ibarapa Polytechnic (owed 8 months).

The strike is being prosecuted under the leadership of the “Joint Action Committee (JAC) of Trade Unions in Oyo State Owned Institutions” formed by five trade unions in the above-mentioned institutions. They are the Non-Academic Staff Union, NASU; Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union, COEASU; Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, ASUP; SSUCOEN and the SSANIP.

The root cause of the strikes is traceable to the policy of the APC-controlled Oyo State Government to de-prioritise and commercialise education by initially stopping subventions altogether and later reducing subventions to 25 per cent of personnel costs.

The Government, by a circular released in January 2016, announced the zero-subvention policy by which each institution was directed to self-finance its needs, including payment of salaries, from internally generated revenue (IGR).

The policy of zero and/or 25 per cent subvention meant that each institution would be compelled to raise school fees and reduce staff strength.

From the point of view of the implications of zero percent (or 25%) subvention policy, the struggle of the workers (teaching and non-teaching staff) is actually to save education in Oyo state, as a fundamental right, protect jobs/prevent increased rate of unemployment and guarantee access to education by the children of the poor.

The staff unions in tertiary institutions in Oyo state therefore need the support of all other unions, including segments of the press with public interest focus or social conscience, nationally and internationally. The JAC of unions in Oyo State tertiary institutions must not be allowed to be defeated.

Currently, the unions are under siege. The authorities in individual institutions have issued circulars threatening mass sack if they fail to resume work. In other situations, queries are being issued to union leaders in their personal capacities for roles they play in their capacities as union leaders. Indeed, some of the queries are based on absolute falsehood and fabrications.

However, we are convinced that the workers shall win if only they remain resolute. They gave the required notice (or ultimatum) for strike action under the law. The struggle of these staff unions is just and legitimate. Whilst the Oyo State government illegally buys exotic cars for the Government-created multiple traditional rulers against the tradition of Ibadan, the same government has refused to fund education. By the Government’s self admission, the coronation of the said government made traditional rulers alone gulped at least hundreds of millions of Naira not originally appropriated through the due process.

Not long ago, funds of the state government were used to celebrate a colourful  wedding ceremony of the child of the Constituted Authority of Oyo State, even at a time several persons were killed by boko haram insurgents and/or segments of herdsmen who have transformed into murderous terrorists. Similarly, in an obscene manner, the Oyo State Government used Oyo State funds to establish the Technical University under a so-called Public-Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement, with facilities better than what obtains in any of the existing institutions in Oyo State.

No citizen of Oyo state, working or retired, Governor or messenger, permanent Secretary or office clerk can afford to sponsor any child to attend the Technical University of Oyo state, unless such a person has looted public funds, considering the fees being charged. In other words, the wealth that belongs to all the people of Oyo State has been used to enrich business friends of those who control power in Oyo State in the establishment of the Technical University.

There is a groundswell of anger against the establishment, the Constituted Authorities, in Oyo State. All that is required is a working people leadership that can canalise the grievances of the marginalised segments. The JAC strike may be a big opportunity for the labour Movement to humiliate the so-called change government of the APC in Oyo State rather than allow the staff unions to be humiliated and defeated.

That victory of the JAC is possible as can be seen in the fact that the Oyo State Government was compelled to, in principle, abandon its zero per cent subvention policy in favour of 25% subvention to meet personnel costs, even though the percentages of subventions given to individual institutions vary in reality.  The change of policy from zero percent to 25% subvention was made possible by the heat created by earlier mass strikes and widespread condemnations by the labour Movement in the country generally.

We call on the Central Labour Unions, the NLC and TUC, as well as the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and sections of the media with social conscience/commitment, to rally round the JAC at this critical time. The JAC must not be allowed to be defeated. It would be a setback for other unions and democratic forces that use the strike option to advance their interests, if the JAC is defeated.

We encourage members of JAC in their individual unions and collectively to embark on peaceful rallies in their various campuses, towns and in the city of Ibadan, in addition to the stay-at-home method adopted so far. Such peaceful open mass actions would serve to help raise the morale and resolve of the strikers and at the same time provide an opportunity for members of the public to actively identify with the cause of the strike. Section 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, allows peaceful protests/revolt against governmental policies that have negative impacts on people’s interests. I am personally prepared to join such open peaceful mass actions to save tertiary education in Oyo State.

The strike by the JAC in Oyo State is another opportunity to remind the working people of Nigeria to rebuild their political platforms, the Labour Party, the NCP, Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) and other pro-labour coalition fronts to organise and seize political power without having to be looking up to working people’s class enemies in the bourgeois Ruling parties to solve societal problems.

I am fully aware of the problem posed by a small segment of the National leadership of a party like the NCP in entering into an alliance with the shrine of anti-people forces, the PDP which is not different in any way from the APC that has ruined Nigeria, perhaps in worse fundamental proportions than the PDP in its three years of being in control of power at the Federal Government level  However, the leadership challenge in a party like the NCP is temporary. The history of a party like the NCP in supporting working people’s struggles cannot be erased by the temporary setback of a section of its leadership. The forces in the NCP remain some of the most reliable allies of organised labour in resisting the avalanche of attacks being launched against the poor in society by the APC, not only in Oyo State but indeed, nationally.

Let all democratic forces within and outside Oyo State, nationally and indeed internationally, solidarise with the JAC of trade unions in Oyo State Owned Tertiary Institutions. Supporting them to victory would mean preserving them as a bulwark of support for other trade unions in the future. But allowing them to suffer defeat would deepen despondency rather than raise hopes for the possibility of victories in collective peaceful mass actions.

Dare to struggle, Dare to win!

by Femi ABORISADE

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