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Socialist Democracy 2010


31 March 2010

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2010 BUDGET: Another round of anti-poor attacks on education

Nigerian Students Should Reject the Budget

Fight for Free and Public-Funded Education

By H.T. Soweto

In line with the neo-liberal and anti-poor tendency of the Yar' Adua capitalist government, the 2010 budget has been presented to the National Assembly since late 2009 for passage. In this budget, a mere 6% was allocated to education despite the crying needs of the sector.

This latest attack on students' right to education is no less ominous to the already worsened condition of millions of working and middle class parents than the deregulation of the oil sector. Both aim to hand over vital sectors to shrewd businessmen and corrupt politicians for profit making. The first implication of the 2010 budget, even as it has not yet been passed, is the rising wave of fee increment across campuses. Without mincing words, this fees increment is just the starting point of a generalized neo-liberal offensive by the government against public education.

The paltry allocation to education in the 2010 budget is a sharp reduction from the 7.2% allocated to education in the 2009 budget and goes contrary to the agreement reached with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) and National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) last year. According to the agreement signed between the Federal government and ASUU, a sum of N1.52 trillion is to be spent to fund all Federal Universities between 2009 and 2011 while N3.7 million per student is to be spent to fund each State University within the same period. Other points of the agreement include yearly increased budgetary allocation to education to a minimum of 26% by the State and Federal Governments and recommendation that each University Governing Council should set-up a Budget Monitoring Committee comprising elected representative of Congregation, Senate, ASUU, SSANU, NASU, NAAT and the Students' Union 'to help in enforcing discipline and ensuring budget performance'. Despite the limitations of this agreement, if the government is committed to improving the prostate conditions in the education sector and implements them, the education sector will surely wear a new look.

Unfortunately and from all intents and purposes, this is not even being contemplated let alone being intended by the Nigerian capitalist ruling class as the allocation to education in the 2010 budget and the new wave of fee increment clearly demonstrates. This therefore places huge task and responsibility on the staff unions, NANS, students unions, pro-student organizations like the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) and other student groups to lead a nationwide resistance against the neo-liberal attacks on public education.

However, the basic obstacle to any serious struggle against fee increment is the official leadership of students at all levels. Leon Trotsky once said that the problem of the world working class is its leadership. This statement is true for both the student and labour movement in Nigeria. While Nigerian students have demonstrated their readiness to struggle as the resistance to fee hike in UNN, AAU and LASCOHET confirms, the backward and reactionary elements in the leadership of most Students' Unions in Nigeria and the equally rightwing and state-sponsored elements in the leadership of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) have continued to act as stumbling blocks to the full expression of students' potential to struggle. In the few schools where real protest have been staged against fee hike this year, the resistance has always been dis-organized, fitful and incoherent with the Student Union leadership only leading the movement reluctantly and half-heartedly.

Much more disgusting is the attitude of NANS which at its December 2009 convention split into factions. None of this five or so factions is playing any serious role in the on-going resistance against fee hike on campuses just like the immediate past NANS leadership did not play any progressive role in all the important struggles against education commercialization last year including the four-month strike of education workers. It seems the current factions of NANS are afflicted by political rigor mortis making them incapable of doing anything, including executing the barest official activity like holding regular meetings. Weighed down by their illegitimacy, the leaders of the factions have refused to call Senate meetings (delegate meetings of Students' Union representatives) where issues of fee increment and 2010 budget could have been debated and practical actions decided. This loss of initiative by the NANS leadership has, even while the struggle against fee hike is still in its first phase, gravely isolated the resistance of students.

This therefore raises the need to rebuild NANS as a viable fighting platform of Nigerian students. Of course this will entail building a movement of students to dislodge the current set of opportunistic and rightwing elements from the leadership of NANS and their replacement, through democratic elections, of radicals and socialist leaders who alone have the scientific understanding of the struggle and the will to lead students to fight without succumbing in the face of repression or selling out. Nonetheless, even as it is currently constituted and despite its consistent betrayal, should any faction of NANS take the initiative to issue a call for a one-day nationwide warning lecture boycott and mass action and takes steps to mobilize for it, it is possible that mass of students having no other alternative platform to fight fees increment will respond enthusiastically. In this kind of situation, socialists and radical student activists will play crucial roles in propelling the struggle forward, in organizing it and in preventing a betrayal of the struggle by the NANS leadership.

Socialists will also canvass the following set of demands for the struggle viz: (1) Immediate reversal of fee hike (2) Cancellation of all fees (3) Full implementation of the 2009 FGN/ASUU, SSANU, NASU and NAAT agreement (4) Payment of N40, 000 Cost of Studying Allowance (COSA) to all Nigerian students in higher institutions (5) 26% budgetary allocation to education (6) Nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy under control and management of elected committees of workers and experts as a basis to mobilize huge resources to provide free and functional education at all levels (7) Reinstatement of all victimized students and workers activists (8) Full rights of students to independent unionism and (9) Repeal of anti-Students' Union Decree 47, 1989 and its proposed amendment. At the same time, socialists and radical student activists will utilize the struggle as an opportunity to begin mobilization for drastic reorganization, unification, redirection and rejuvenation of NANS into a truly mass-based, democratic and fighting student platform capable of mobilizing Nigerian students to align with Nigerian workers for the ultimate struggle to chase out the corrupt capitalist looters out of power.