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16 June 2018
On the occasion of this year's "Day of the African Child" celebration which has been marked every year since 1991 on June 16, the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) calls for improved funding and provision of free, functional and democratically-managed public education at all levels and respect of democratic rights in all education institutions as the only way to ensure Nigeria's teeming youth population is not left behind.
We declare the paltry allocation to education in the 2018 budget at both federal and state levels a betrayal of Nigeria's children and youth and demand immediate upward review of the budget to ensure that public education receives nothing less than the 26% budget allocation as recommended by UNESCO.
But without respect of democratic rights, freedom of speech and association, the goal of education will not be achieved. This is why the ERC also use this occasion to demand the immediate and unconditional reinstatement of all politically victimized students in tertiary institutions across Nigeria particularly Omole Ibukun and others at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Kunle Adebajo of the University of Ibadan who was suspended for writing an article on facebook etc. We also demand restoration of banned students and workers unions, a firm policy against sexism and respect of democratic rights on campuses.
June 16, 2018 also marks the 42nd year anniversary of the notorious SOWETO massacre of June 16, 1976, when school students were gunned down by the repressive South Africa's then apartheid regime. The Education Rights Campaign commemorates this historic event, especially because it contains great lessons for Nigeria.
The tragic consequences of anti-poor capitalist policies of governments at all levels have made Nigeria one of the worst places to be a child. A huge layer of Nigeria's population is under the age of 25 yet there is no provision for expansion of public education. Primary and secondary schools are overcrowded without adequate teachers, facilities and instructional materials. Not surprising therefore that Nigeria accounts for the largest number of out of school children globally with around 10.5 million children out of school. The pro-establishment education policies of the Buhari/APC regime and state governments controlled by APC, PDP and APGA have seen school fees increased as education, more than never before, is being priced out of the reach of poorly paid parents. Instead of protesting the underfunding of education, managements of schools have resorted to squeezing dry the pockets of poor Nigerians. Students who witnessed their colleagues dropping out of school due to previous increments have taken to protesting these inconsiderate policies of education administrators but they have been met by brutal repression.
Take for example, at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Omole Ibukun (the national secretary of the Education Rights Campaign) and three other student leaders have been placed on suspension over spurious charges, which were leveled against them due to the radical roles they played in the struggles of students on that campus. The Students' Union on the campus was equally banned. Following this gross abuse of human and democratic rights of students, the management of the institution has intensified its anti-students' policies – around 70% of the student population were recently evicted from the University hostels without any plan to expand the hostel facilities on the campus.
OAU is not alone in this culture of repression among school authorities. When the University of Ibadan increased hostel fees earlier this year from N14,000 to as much as N40, 000, the authorities responded to the protest of the medical students that this policy affected by closing down its college of medicine. Couple of days ago, the same management suspended a student journalist, Kunle Adebajo, for an article he wrote as far back as 2016 which was critical of the policies of the university. Managements of schools are apparently united in stamping out dissent on campuses and rendering impotent the student unions that should be acting as a traditional platforms for advancing the interests of Nigerian students.
There is no end in sight to the implementation of anti-student policies on campuses. This means that the attendant victimization of students and banning of unions equally have no end in sight. This is why Nigerian students should learn from the heroic deeds of South African students who shook the foundation of apartheid in 1976, and effectively inducted a new generation of young people into the anti-apartheid struggle.
We hereby call on Nigerian students to form a united platform of struggle, and link together the isolated struggle on campuses, with demands for immediate halt to increments, and reversals of recent increments in fees, including demands for immediate reinstatement of victimized students and unbanning of students' unions. Just as the workers of South Africa supported the 1976 Soweto uprising, education workers' unions like ASUU and NASU as well as the wider labour movement should support the struggle of students against undemocratic attacks and for upward funding and democratic management of the education sector.