ERC statement issued at a press conference, attended by 16 media organisations, held on June 17 2008 at Conference Room, Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), Soji Adepegba Close, off Allen Avenue, Lagos State.
EDUCATION UNDERFUNDING AND INCREMENT OF FEES
NIGERIAN STUDENT SAY ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
We Declare July 16, 2008 as a ‘National Day of Action’
We of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) – a radical association of Nigerian students committed to the struggle for free and quality education in an egalitarian society – welcome you as well as our members, sympathisers and collaborators that have made it a point of duty to be present at this historic press conference.
It is historic in the sense that it is holding at a period when the traditional fighting platform of Nigerian students - the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) – has collapsed ideologically and its self-imposed leaders have maintained criminal silence despite the barrage of attacks on students’ right to quality education. This press conference therefore represents a bold resolve by Nigerian students to shake off the age-long lethargy inflicted on the student movement by years of the ideological degeneracy of the NANS but to continue to fight and resist every government neo-liberal policies on education.
Consequently, we Nigerian students under the aegis of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) publicly declare July 16, 2008 as a ‘National Day of Action’ for Nigerian students including primary and secondary school pupils to organise political actions viz lecture boycotts, protest marches and demonstrations on campuses and schools across the federation. The aim is to raise awareness about the chronic under funding of education by the President Yar’ Adua government whose budgetary allocation to education this year is a paltry 8.2%, the spate of fee increments across campuses as well as victimization of students and workers activists. We therefore urge all progressive student unions and radical student associations to commence immediate mobilisations through symposia and rallies to sensitize Nigerian students and to organise lecture boycotts and protests on their campuses and schools on July 16, 2008. We call on staff unions in the education sector as well as organized labour to support the July 16 mass action by declaring solidarity strike actions so as to make the day successful. The central demands of the day of action are:
WHY THE NEED FOR A NATIONWIDE MASS ACTION?
The crisis in the education sector is deepening and there is a need for urgent radical intervention if we must save it from imminent collapse. From primary to tertiary education, the story is the same, as everywhere there is serious infrastructure decay. Our heart bleeds as we have observed that Nigeria is making huge money from the crude oil boom, at least 2 million barrels of oil is sold on a daily basis at record high prices (about $150 per barrel) without anything concrete to show for it. It is obviously unacceptable to Nigerians for about 10 million Nigeria children to be out of school. It is equally a disgrace that Nigeria currently harbours the fifth largest number of illiterates in the world estimated at 23 million.
In our primary and secondary schools across the federation meaningful learning has been eroded with total absence of basic facilities. Our teachers, lecturers and non-academic staffs like other workers in other sector have been reduced to collecting poverty wages on earth and have been asked to go to heaven to collecting their balance. How would one explain a situation where our universities can only accommodate 5% of our youths? Even the 5% learn in deplorable conditions as our higher institutions lack basic facilities like adequate lecture halls, well-equipped laboratory and library etc. Hostels in a few campuses where it exists are in such deplorable conditions fit only for pigs.
Despite all the above, virtually all tertiary institutions with the full backing of the government are making the matter worse by hiking fees thereby depriving more youths from getting higher education. For example, in LAUTECH fees was hiked from N6, 000 to N40, 000; Olabisi Onabanjo University-between N68, 000 and 261, 000; Auchi Polytechnic-between N22, 000 and N30, 000; Nigeria Law school fees has been hiked to N230, 000; students in Osun State University (UNIOSUN) – a University that has no functional facility or permanent staffs - were asked to pay between N150, 000 to N300, 000 etc. As we speak, the Osun State government is warming up again to increase fees by more than 2000% in both the State’s colleges of education in Ila and Ilesa respectively. This was revealed in a meeting between the Commissioner of education in the State and student union leaders on Friday 13th June 2008. We in the ERC vow to resist these fee increments, which in our opinion are vexatious, unjustifiable and completely inhuman. Equally, we condemn the acts of victimisation of genuine student activists being carried out by authorities in virtually all higher institutions. We hereby demand unconditional reinstatement of the 12 suspended students leaders rusticated by the management of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU). We also call for the restoration of the Student Unions in OAU, U.I, OSCOTECH Esa Oke, OSPOLY Iree purportedly banned by the management of the various institutions. We warn other school authorities to hands off student’s union bodies or else be prepared to confront the mass of Nigerian students.
PUBLIC RESOURCES FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION
The ERC is miffed when our “leaders” claim that there is no money to properly fund education and other sectors of the economy. This is a crude lie. Nigeria is fabulously rich enough to fund free and quality education without hassles. But the problem is that the government and politicians subscribe to the neo-liberal capitalist idea that education and other social amenities must be provided for profit purposes and not as a social responsibility of the Nation to its citizens. This explains why education in the 2008 budget is allocated N210 billion while, according to the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), a whooping N4.5 trillion is allocated to pay salaries and allowances of just 17,474 members of the executives, law makers, political office holders and appointees at federal, state and local levels. This is just one out of the hundreds of instances of wastage and corruption through which resources that can be used to fund education are systematically siphoned. As far as Nigerian students are concerned, the situation where a paltry N210 billion is allocated to the education sector – a huge sector which includes millions of students and thousands of staffs at all levels - while N4.5 trillion is allocated to just 17,474 politicians in 4 years is the greatest fraud and inequality in history. However, this is aside brazen looting of the treasury.
We maintain the position that as far as these policies that enriches a tiny few while the vast majority wallow in poverty, education crisis will be further deepened while other social amenities will also rot. To provide money to fund education and other social amenities, we in the ERC demand that the wasteful jumbo salaries and allowances being paid to political office holders at all levels must be immediately reduced to the wage rate of an average skilled worker, while other proven expenses that are not wasteful and privileged should be taken care off by the state. If this is done, the total wage based on the average wage of skilled worker cannot be more than N100 billion (in 4 years for 17,474 office holders), thereby saving a huge N4.4 trillion. All other proven expenses that are not wasteful privileged can be taken care off by public purse. This if judiciously used can ensure renovation of all dilapidating buildings in the nations primary and secondary schools as well as provision of standard hostel accommodation, libraries, laboratories and lecture theatres on campuses.
Aside these billions of Naira of monies looted from the treasury are still lying fallow in private pockets. Despite the grand standing of the EFCC and ICPC as well as the saintly claims of President Yar’ Adua to rule of law and due process, full blown corruption continues while those caught are treated with kid gloves. To provide resources to fund education and other social amenities, we in the ERC also call for the immediate recovery of all monies looted from the treasury especially those that occurred under the 8 year rule of former President Obasanjo, the $400 billion looted so far by successive governments and politicians between 1960 and 1999, which includes the $12 billion oil windfall under Babangida regime and the $5 billion looted by the Abacha government and adequate punishment meted out to them.
We believe that the struggle for free and quality education cannot be won without a revolutionary transformation of society. As we have pointed out earlier, education is widely viewed by the Nigerian capitalist ruling class as business thus necessitating the neo-liberal education policies of commercialisation and privatisation. Private interest reigns supreme as public and collective interest has been completely relegated to the background. Only a government formed by the poor working masses themselves can be able to ensure that education as well as other social services are free and accessible to all. We therefore call on the NLC, TUC, ASUU and other pro-people organisations to build a New Mass working Peoples’ Political Party to fight for system change. This is the only way out of the vicious cycle in which the nation is trapped.