Labour and Mass Organisations Should Condemn Attack on Democratic Rights of Students
We of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) condemn the purported proscription of the Students’ Union of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife Ife and the victimization of Union leaders most especially the illegal arrest and continued detention of the Students’ Union President Akinola Saburi.
We observe that for the past 10 months the authorities of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) have been rooting for the total emasculation of progressive students’ unionism on the campus as a result of their intolerance to the students’ radical opposition to neo-liberal policies of education commercialization, hostel privatization and education under funding. In a recent statement in the media and official release of the University, the Vice Chancellor Prof. M.O Faborode had claimed that the Students’ Union has been “hijacked by a few students who introduced radicalism into it”.
This is, in our view, ridiculous and vexatious from the Vice Chancellor of a University supposed to be one of the best in not only Nigeria but also Africa. More than anywhere, a University is supposed to be a market of ideas where students have the rights to hold views different and opposed to that of the management. Unfortunately, what is happening in OAU is a throw back to the dark ages where ideas and opinions are handed down from above.
In furtherance of its evil agenda to gag students, the OAU authorities have set up a “Students Transition Committee” composed of Faculty/Departmental Executives and handpicked students from the halls of residence. The aim of this committee according to the Vice Chancellor is to “review the constitution of the Students’ Union and organize new elections as at when possible”. In a effort to give quasi-legal justifications for this illegal Students’ Transition Committee, the Vice Chancellor claimed that the Students’ Union constitution is subjected to the statute of the University and the proscription of the Union is legal on the basis of the provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which allegedly allows people’s right to freedom of association to be curtailed.
We of the ERC consider this interpretation of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as not only ridiculous but also smacks of utter ignorance of the law. We wish to point out that nowhere in the civilized world has the University authorities or government has the right to interfere in a Union. The authorities apparently referred, albeit with fraudulent interpretation, to the section 45 of the 1999 Constitution which prescribes the conditions for restriction of fundamental rights as any of, (a) “interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health” or (b) “for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons”. We hold that the actions of students of OAU Ile-Ife in defence of the rights and interest to enabling atmosphere for quality education have not warranted restriction of their fundamental rights in the spirit and letter of the Section 45. Besides, it is also an elementary principle of rule of law that the decision to deny or abrogate fundamental human rights is only vested in the courts of justice and not in the Vice Chancellor. To this extent, all the actions of the University management allegedly proscribing the Union and setting up a Students’ Transition Committee is a rape on the constitution, an exercise in sheer illegality and therefore null and void.
A students’ union is a body totally independent in its structure, constitution, activities and interests from the statute of the University. This also holds for workers’ unions everywhere in the world. Section 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which provides the right to freedom of association clearly does not give powers to University authorities to deny students this right
The ERC solidarises with OAU students in their struggle for independent and radical students unionism. We urge them to continue the struggle until victory is attained. We call on staff unions on campuses, (ASUU, SSANU, NASU, etc), virile students unions across the country, NLC, TUC, LASCO, JAF, human rights bodies and pro-masses organizations, nationally and internationally, to condemn the brutal attack on the democratic rights of students of OAU Ile – Ife by the management and support students in their struggle against relapse into fascist, military despotism on the campus.
However, what is happening in OAU is a testament to the fact that unless genuine democracy exists in the education sector with students and staff union representatives incorporated into decision making organs of institutions and education is well funded by the government, unending crisis will continue to ravage our ivory towers. More than ever, it is clear that students and workers are not naturally belligerent but that it is government abandoning of the education sector and draconian policies of school authorities that precipitate protests and strike actions in our higher institutions of learning.
We therefore call on students, youths, workers and pro-masses organizations to resist the anti-poor neo-liberal agenda of making education that of the highest bidder, and agitate for the use the enormous resources of the nation to provide quality education, health and other social amenities for the mass of long suffering Nigerians.