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Socialist Democracy June-July 2018


8 June 2018

Print | Text only print | Facebook  Twitter

2018 BUDGET DEEPENS UNDERFUNDING OF PUBLIC EDUCATION

  • For a United Struggle of Students and Workers to Demand Better Funding of Education
By Wole Olabanji, ERC National Mobilisation Officer

The National Assembly has passed the 2018 Appropriation Bill on Wednesday, 16th May 2018. The budget failed to take into cognizance the problems of fee hikes, accommodation crisis and moribund teaching facilities that are bedeviling public-owned education institutions and students. When the President submitted the 2018 Appropriation Bill in November 2017, a meagre N605.8 billion was earmarked for the funding of the education sector i.e. the totality of our primary, secondary and tertiary institutions. The allocation made to the education sector by the executive branch of the federal government amounted to 7.04% of the total budget. This was a far cry from the recommendation of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that developing country like Nigeria should fund their budget with at least 26% of their annual budget.

The Nigerian ruling class is surely united in its nonchalant attitude towards the future of this country, not to speak of the education of children of the poorly-paid but working masses. This was exactly what was reflected in the amendment made to the 'budget Bill' by members of both chambers of the National Assembly. According to premiumtimeng.com of 16th May, the federal parliament only increased the budget by N500 billion, of which a meagre N15.07 billion of this was added to the education budget of N605.8 billion as earlier proposed by the Buhari administration.

WHAT THE BUDGET MEANS

What does this budget mean for average people, students and education workers? The crisis in the education sector, characterized by moribund facilities and increase in school fees, would continue in aggravated forms. Fees will skyrocket. There is also bound to be more assault on the democratic rights of students. This means more activists will be victimized and more unions will be banned. The meagre education budget would also mean that the federal government would not be able to fulfil its agreements/promises with staff unions like ASUP, ASUU and NASU which could soon plunge tertiary institutions into protracted halt of academic activities.

The attacks on students and their poor parents in the University of Ibadan, Obafemi Awolowo University, Adekunle Ajasin University and several others are only a tip of the iceberg of anti-poor policies that are going to be unleashed in the months to come. At the University of Ibadan, "the Senate had recommended increment in hostel fee from N14, 000 to N30, 000 for main campus and N40, 000 for College of Medicine with effect from 2017/2018 academic session." (A report by Sun Newspaper of 20th May, correctly titled "the fee hike war").

When medical students protested the callous decision of the UI management to increase fee, the management shut them out of the school. The same jackboot method of clamping down on students' agitation was repeated at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, where the administration, in connivance with the Police, jailed five students who were protesting against a new, harsh hostel accommodation policy at a prison facility in Ile-Ife. At Akure, the capital city of Ondo State, students of Adekunle Ajasin University, who protested against an outrageous 250% increment in their school fees which meant that some students who were paying N28, 000 would pay as much as N150, 000 were shot by police who opened fire on them and apparently deployed to the venue of the protest based on the orders of the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu.

VICTIMISATION OF ACTIVISTS AND BAN OF UNIONS

The trend of crisis in tertiary institutions would become aggravated in coming periods. At the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, for example, Omole Ibukun (a member of the Democratic Socialist Movement) and four others have been placed on suspension over spurious charges, which are leveled against due to the leadership role they played in the struggles of students. The pattern of response to students' agitation by the various school managements is similar and characterized by methods ranging from suspension of activists who are leading the struggle, employment of police and other uniformed agents of the state to disperse students' struggle, including proscription of students' unions. This is why a national campaign is needed to defeat the attacks.

The conscious insincerity of the Buhari government was reflected in the announcement by the Federal Executive Council that tuition fees remains outlawed in the country, which the media misreported as a 'new policy that cancelled payment of fees.' There is no doubt that the announcement was a conscious propaganda by the FEC, because managements of various federal government-owned tertiary institutions charge up to hundreds of thousands of naira in miscellaneous fees (fraudulently misnamed as ICT fees, development levy etc.) that include everything but tuition. If the FEC had sympathized with the Nigerian poorly-paid but working people, it could have ordered for the immediate stoppage of the fraudulent charges that institutions are charging at various institutions that sometimes run into hundreds of thousands per students. The 2018 budget only further shows the hypocrisy of the Buhari government. This is why students' activists, progressive education workers and conscious students generally must unite in struggle against the anti-poor policy of the Buhari-APC regime.

FOR A NATIONALLY-COORDINATED STRUGGLE INVOLVING STUDENTS AND WORKERS

With a bold and coordinated struggle, there is no doubt that the struggle against fee hike and for better funding of education can be won. The Education Rights Campaign (ERC), a campaign platform of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), has taken a step in this direction by launching a national campaign against policies of the state and education authorities that endanger public education. As recent struggles in 2018, in Ife, Akure and Ibadan, have showed, students can be easily clamped down on if they are isolated.

We call on genuine students' activists on all campuses to join us in the ERC to build a mass campaign against the consistent effort of government to price education out of the reach of the common man. Education workers' unions like ASUU must support the struggles of Nigerian students in order to save public education from imminent collapse, because it is only a united struggle of both teachers, students and parents that can expose the government and compel it to take funding of education seriously.

Conclusively, the ERC strongly believes that Nigeria has enough resources to provide free education at all levels. The only obstacle is capitalism. This is why students and education workers ought to link their struggle against education attacks with the need for the working class to take political power. If the commanding heights of the economy are collectively owned and democratically managed, then more money would be available to invest in public education and other vital social services. Therefore, the struggle against education attacks can only attain permanent victory if it leads to the replacement of capitalism with a democratic socialist system.