Written by Gbemiga Alabi Wednesday, 21 December 2011 21:26
Support the Struggle against the Under funding of Education
By the time the current strike of Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, commenced on December 5 2011, it had been two long years after they had an agreement with the Federal Government. That was in 2009. The 2009 Agreement is actually a review of the 2001 Agreement.
Earlier in September, ASUU had embarked on a one-week warning strike and the union shifted lots of grounds by extending the period for dialogue with the hope that the federal government would be sincere.
Nigerian universities have been on the downward slide for years, same goes for education in general. Funding has continually been cut and the available funds are mismanaged and stolen by highly incompetent and corrupt managements appointed by the government.
Practically all infrastructures have collapsed in the universities, from the lecture theaters to laboratories to hostels to staff accommodation to morale. Thousands of able hands have left the system over the years. The conditions of service continue to collapse.
2009 Agreement (MoU)
In 2001, the government entered into an agreement with ASUU on various issues pertaining to the state of university education. This came into being because of the struggle of ASUU then. It was agreed that the Agreement shall be reviewed every three years.
The agreement was due for review in 2004 but that did not take place until 2007 and the final agreement came in 2009. This was due to insincerity of the government.
In essence, it is still the 2001 Agreement that is still in place ten years after. Within the same period, we have seen a systematic collapse in education. Funding has continuously been cut, intellectually bankrupt management imposed on all institutions, fees introduced and increased arbitrarily, etc. Attacks on trade union rights continue, till date ASUU is still banned in University of Ilorin and the ASUU activists victimized there are yet to be fully reinstated in spite of the judgment of the Supreme Court in their favor.
The major objectives of the 2009 Agreement according to ASUU’s December 2 2011 communiqué are:
“to arrest the rot and reverse the decay in the university system in order to reposition it for greater responsibilities in national development;
“to reverse the brain-drain, not only by enhancing the remuneration of academic staff, but also by disengaging them from encumbrances of a unified civil service wage structure;
“to restore Nigerian universities through immediate, massive and sustained financial intervention; and
“to ensure genuine university autonomy and academic freedom.”
In the breakdown of the 2009 Agreement, ASUU did try to offer several detailed ways out of the crisis but the government have a totally different agenda.
The IMF-World Bank inspired agenda of the government is to destroy education in general. They are committed to cutting funding, commercializing and privatizing it, stifling thinking and creating an environment where mediocrity reigns.
The realities of the day are collapsing education sector and a worrying increase in the numbers of uneducated in Nigeria. The number of Nigerians with a tertiary level certificate is on the decline. This implies a growing reduction in the number of skilled workers.
The reason is not far from the cuts in funding for education and other draconian policies. Today, government allocation to education is as low as 8%. This is contrary to the UN recommended 26%. Even the 8% allocated is grossly mismanaged.
For the 2012 budget, education gets 8.23% about N400.15 billion; this is actually lesser than the amount allocated for education in 2008, as the naira has been devalued from N118.00 in 2008 to over N160.00 today.
Though there had been increases in wages due to the struggles of the ASUU and workers in the university over the years, the wages still remain one of the lowest in the world and is being cut via the devaluation of the naira and inflation.
Working conditions remain terrible and the tools to work are not available. This is why no Nigerian university is listed in the first 6,000 universities in the world. This is a big scandal when one considers the fact that Nigeria has made billions from oil over the years.
The pensions of workers are under attack; there are thousands of university workers, lecturers and non-academic staff, who have retired years ago and are yet to collect their gratuity and pensions. This is one of the reasons why the workers are calling for increase in retirement age. In advance countries workers are calling for the lower of the retirement age but in Nigeria due to the economic crisis and uncertainties workers are calling for the extension of retirement age.
As the government continues to cut down funding for education, the children of the elites continue to travel abroad in thousands to study. Currently, billions of naira is spent on them by their rich parents.
According to the CBN Governor, Sanusi, over N155 billion is spent on the school fees of 71,000 Nigerian students in schools aboard. British schools are said to receive over N88 billion from Nigerian parents as school fees for their children studying in UK schools. Higher education is now an exclusive property of the rich in Nigeria.
Beyond the ‘Agreement’
It will definitely take a lot more than the 2009 Agreement to address the crisis of education in Nigeria, as the reality is that there is a conscious sabotage by the Nigerian ruling class who are mere tools in the hands of their imperialist masters.
They no longer see the need to educate the people or produce more graduates. They are of the opinion that there are too many graduates already and they are not interested in creating jobs or developing the society. They are more interested in sucking blood from the people without giving anything for it. They no longer want funds devoted for social services like education, health care, etc; they want such funds made available to them to loot.
Therefore, a much more political programme and organization is necessary.
ASUU correctly identified the terrible realities facing education and Nigeria in their recent communiqué. This is one of the best and clearest communiqué coming from a Nigerian trade union today.
ASUU correctly identified the class structure of Nigeria and identified the fact that the Nigerian ruling class and their imperialist masters are responsible for the crisis in education in Nigeria.
The struggle ASUU is waging is quite commendable and the entire Nigerian labour & youth movement have a lot to learn from them. Had the leadership of the trade unions been this principled and focused, the Nigerian workers would not be in the current situation.
However, what is at stake remains building a united front of Nigerian workers against the ongoing attacks on the working masses by the ruling class.
United Action Needed!
A joint action of Nigerian working masses and youth is needed to save education. ASUU, NASU, SSANU, and NAAT need to join hands in this struggle, as there is enormous strength in unity.
Currently, the Nigerian students’ movement lacks a national and credible organization. This is because of the hijack of power by rightwing corrupt elements that have nothing to offer. Today, most of the campuses lack independent students’ unions in spite of the fact that students are on the receiving end of the attack on education.
Student activists must not only support the ASUU strike but must build up on the demands of the students and work towards the transformation of the NANS.
The NLC and TUC which are the umbrella bodies for the unions in the educational sector must break out from their shell and lead this struggle.
Start Building a Political Alternative Now!
The current economic crisis manifests itself in all sphere of life and there is no end in sight – both locally and globally. The only reality is that the ruling elites want the masses to continue to carry the burden of the crisis they created. They have no other alternative.
This is why the working masses must work towards taking political power that is the only way the problems facing the society can be genuinely addressed and solved. With the current arrangement, the elites will always come back to implement their draconian policies.
All the current political parties in Nigeria belong to the elite and are bound to continue with the policies of the IMF-World Bank. Even the current Nigerian Labour Party does not represent the interests of the Nigerian working masses.
Therefore, as the Nigerian working masses fight for their rights, they must also aim at building a genuine revolutionary political organization (political party) with a pro-masses program which is socialism.
It is either workers retake the NLP or they build a new party resting on the trade unions and the working masses with a socialist program.
Without taking political power, the crisis in education will never get solved but will get worsened by the day.