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Students


25 April 2016

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Education is not Business, Students are not Customers: Building a Fight Back against education attacks

REPORT OF DSM STUDENTS' WING MEETING

By Ibukun Omole

On Friday April 15th the students' wing of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) met. This students' meeting took place on the eve of a DSM National Committee meeting and was attended by 23 students from 8 branches.

The meeting featured students from all over the country, who came together to discuss the future of Nigeria's Education sector and what needed to be done. The theme of the meeting was "Education is not Business, Students are not Customers: Building a fight back against education attacks".

No change in Education

The lead-off on the discussion was presented by H.T Soweto, the national coordinator of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC). Soweto pointed out that since Buhari's inauguration in May last year no fundamental improvement has come the way of ordinary Nigerians including as public education in terms of funding, fees, facilities, teaching and learning conditions. While qualifying the education privatization policies of the Buhari regime as not being fundamentally different from the neo-liberal and anti-poor education polices of the past PDP administartions, he exposed the contradiction entrenched administrations in the high-sounding promises of the Buhari-APC for the education sector.

As it turned out, Buhari's so-called expansionary 2016 budget only offered around a 10 percentage allocation to the education sector. Meanwhile, according to Premium Times (9/2/2016), the Vice President "Mr. Osinbajo's office has more money allocated to it for books than what each of the federal polytechnics in the country are getting for the same purpose. While N4,906,822 was proposed to be spent on books by Mr Osinbajo, the total allocation for books for 11 out of 22 federal polytechnics, which actually have book allocations, was a mere N3,832,038. In fact, of all government-owned educational institutions across all levels, only two got more allocations for books than what was proposed for the Vice President. The institutions are Federal University of Technology, Owerri, N6,886,157; and the National Open University of Nigeria, N6,466,895. The need for this huge book allocation for the vice president's office is even more baffling considering the fact that last year, N7,525,135 was also budgeted for the same purpose".

Some of these promises are recruitment of 500, 000 graduates as teachers, free tuition for 100, 000 students of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and free feeding for school pupils. Going by all the contradictory statements from the government over its social welfare scheme, most of these promises may not be kept. He further exposed why the ones that is translated into policies might not see the light of the day or might not serve the interest of the Nigerian masses salivating for a genuine change in the education sector.

Also "at the basic level of education, conditions are so bad that many pundits have repeatedly called for a national emergency to be declared. At the tertiary level, high fees, collapsing teaching infrastructures, overcrowded class rooms, inadequate staffing and poor welfare conditions on campuses remain the dominant feature. The 2016 budget would see all of these crises unaddressed and in many cases worsened".

Stirring in mass consciousness

According to Soweto "For the past one year, socialists and activists organized around the DSM and ERC branches in the education sector have had to swim against the tide of grand illusion in the Buhari government". But things have begun to change now. There is a stirring in mass consciousness.

He further noted that political consciousness in the education sector is growing rapidly, following the student protests and shutdown of major universities like UNILAG, UNIPORT, AAUA and BSU within a week alongside those schools already on shutdown, over poor learning and living conditions alongside anti-fee hike demands against the sheer commercialization of education in the country. All of these protests show the anger building up on campuses especially as the socio-economic crises of epileptic power supply and fuel scarcity further impacts on the worsening conditions on campus.

He further explicated on the cases of sexism as well as rise of incidents of rape and sexual harassment on campus. There can be no socialist revolution without the liberation of women. Therefore socialists must be at the forefront of campaigns against sexism and the rape culture on campus which further contributes to the discrimination women face in society. He went further to speak on NANS, whose leadership remains dominated by reformist and rightwing elements. All of the conditions in NANS show that we must intensify our campaign for a genuine platform to defend the rights of students and the progress of the education sector.

This requires increasing the scope and activities of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) – the campaign platform formed by the DSM since 2004 to campaign against hike in fees and for the provision of a free and democratically-managed public education.

Socialist change

The fundamental reason why Buhari has not succeeded and will not succeed in bringing real change is because capitalism, the socio-economic system he subscribes to, is fundamentally programmed to return the same outcome: the enrichment of a few at the expense of the mass majority. This is especially true in country like Nigeria which is both under-developed and, like all capitalist countries, dependent on imperialist dominated world economy. Therefore while building the struggle for basic demands against fee hike and poor welfare condition; we must also link the struggle with the need to fight for a democratic socialist change.

Contributors raised both the rich experiences and limitations of student struggles, ranging from disunity between workers and students unions that are supposed to be united towards victory, to the betrayal of union leaders (both student unions and staff unions) while exposing and condemning their followers to victimization, to the undemocratic closure of campuses as a mass victimization (a waste of time) for students and also as a deterrent from standing up to the authorities.

The fear of school closure and disruption of academic calendar arising out of protests continue to act as a counterweight to the radicalization taking place. This situation can only be explained by the enormous rise in the cost of education and fees. This is so much that an average student is often under enormous pressure to graduate within the four or five years of their program.

Contributors also raised new dimensions of struggles especially in the pre-varsity sub-sector, over the commercialization and nepotism with which scarce tertiary institutions' admission slots are given out.

Clarifications were made on why the relationship of ERC members must be remain fraternal but critical of the reformist leadership of unions, while asserting our agitations and positions to the minds of their members. The special contribution of AJ Dagga Tolar, the Chairman of the Nigerian Union Of Teachers (NUT) Ajeromi/Ifelodun Branch in Lagos State, stressed why ERC members should imbibe the reading culture effectively, so as to attain the needed ideological and intellectual depth necessary as soon as possible, so as to lead Nigerian students in the struggles looming over the future of the education sector. He asserted that the rot in the education sector is an exemplification and a reinforcement of the rots of capitalism thus requiring a struggle for socialist change.

To intervene in the process of radicalization taking place on campuses, the meeting resolved to re-launch the ERC's anti-fee hike and education commercialization campaign. This will include vigorous campaign on campuses and a plan for a mass action on June 16, 2016. Long-term resolutions that were made included rotation of the venue of the national student wing meetings, monthly branch reports, circulation of a bi-monthly bulletin, frequent state aggregate meetings (with national interventions), SPN interventions and other traditional programmes of the organization. On the short term, it was resolved that, press conferences, symposiums, paper sales, internal seminars and leafleting should be kick-started to unite all education unions, their demands and their struggles.