Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Text of ERC press Breifing in Lagos

Free, quality education is a right, not privilege 22 September 2009 Being the text of a press conference addressed by the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 at International Press Centre (IPC) House 11, Dideolu Estate, behind Sweet Sensation, Ogba Lagos. Ladies and Gentlemen, AS THE NATION CELEBRATES 49 YEARS OF MASS POVERTY, MISERY, DEATH OF PUBLIC EDUCATION, JOBLESSNESS AND UNDERDEVELOPMENT ON OCTOBER 1ST, 2009 We Declare October 1st as a Day of Nationwide Protests and Demonstrations We of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) address you today on salient issues in the Country as the corrupt Yar’ Adua anti-poor government prepares to launch into an orgy of fanfare on October 1st 2009 in celebration of Nigeria’s 49 years of independence. As usual, it will be an occasion for the anti-poor Yar’Adua government - a government that cannot point to any achievement since it came to power in 2007 – to assure traumatized Nigerian working people, students and youth of the so-called magical formulas of its 7-pointless agenda. It is therefore bound to be a celebrative mockery of the consistent impoverishment of the masses and the failure of government in all aspects of life including provision of education, healthcare, electricity, shelter, security etc since 1960 despite the abundant revenues from crude oil sale within the same period. Today Tuesday September 22, 2009 marks the third month since public Universities have been shut down due to Federal government refusal to seek quick resolution to the indefinite strike actions embarked upon by ASUU, SSANU, NASU and NAAT to press home their demands for adequate funding of education, adequate remunerations, genuine autonomy, an acceptable retirement age and better condition of service. As a result of government undue belligerence and insensitivity, students have been forced to stay at home since then. Three months into the strike, there is no hope of resolution in sight. Against the above background, we dare to ask: what have we achieved since independence to justify any celebration of independence? What does a Nation with no electricity, education, health care, pipe borne water and with a perpetually hungry, poor, jobless and homeless population celebrate in its independence? What does a Nation whose leaders travel abroad to treat minor ailments such as headache and send their children to private schools abroad celebrate? The real motivation for the struggle for independence in Nigeria as in Africa and other neo-colonial countries was the need to break free from imperialist domination by establishing self-government to mobilize the resources of the country to develop infrastructures, eradicate mass literacy through education funding and create conditions for general wellbeing of the citizens and economic prosperity. 49 years down the road, none of these glorious reasons why our forbears fought for independence have being achieved even though Nigeria has ten times the economic wealth to do so today. Even some of the achievements of the 50s and 60s like improved education, healthcare delivery, housing and agriculture have been destroyed by the rapacious neo-liberal capitalist ruling class that have held on to power since then. Today, Nigeria is a classical example of a failed state. If we dare look back, we will realize that given the enormous resources that Nigeria gets from crude oil today and the sordid picture of mass poverty and destitution that prevails at the same time, indeed Nigeria was better off 49 years ago. 49 years down the road, 80% of Nigerians are poor, about the same amount of Nigerians especially graduates are jobless, less than 30% of the population have conducive shelter, many companies are folding up in Nigeria leading to a colossal loss of jobs, health sector has collapsed with Nigerians dying like flies from ailments that could be treated in Nigerian hospitals in the 60s while health and education sectors have both collapsed due to poor funding. And when it comes to education, our hearts bleed. 49 years ago, thousands of students irrespective of the size of their pockets had access to education up to tertiary level due to the free education policies of government then. 30 years ago, students had subsidized meals of Chicken, Coffee and tea at University Cafeteria whose services equaled the best restaurant in town. Hostel accommodation was conducive with pillow cases, mattresses, blankets given free. No Nigerian student today has received anything free, not even a free cube of sugar from government. Laundry and cooking which have become the daily chores of Nigerian students today was unheard-off in those days as it was the responsibility of the University management. The condition of learning too was far better without overcrowding in classrooms and with provision of standard laboratories and libraries and a well remunerated staff. Today, the opposite is the case. It is hard for us to reel out the entire list of hardships Nigerian students go through in the education sector today. The best to say is that there is no more public education in Nigeria. Successive government education policies has been privatization, commercialization and underfunding all of which have destroyed public education and turned it to the preserve of the rich few. Today, outrageous fees are being charged in primary, secondary and tertiary schools beyond the means of poor working class parents. No Nigerian public University charge less than N5, 000 while some charge as high as N250, 000 in a country where National Minimum Wage is a paltry N7, 500. Yet despite all these charges, infrastructures like libraries, laboratories, class rooms and other basic amenities are missing or decrepit in all the schools in Nigeria while working condition and remunerations of staff is alarmingly poor. This is why quality of graduates has fallen with harmful effect on human capacity and of course economic development. This is why no Nigerian University rank in the first 50 in Africa and 6000 in the world. This is also the basis for the strike actions embarked upon by ASUU, SSANU, NASU, NAAT and NUT. Indeed, 49 years of Nigeria’s independence is an unbroken thread of mass misery, impoverishment and poverty for the working masses, students and youths. While since 1960, Nigeria has generated wealth from crude oil sale alone capable of providing free and quality education from primary to University, these resources have only enriched politicians, multinational companies and top bank executives. The jumbo allowances and other privileges being received by political office holders in the face of mass poverty prevalent among over 80% of the population clearly demonstrate the inequality in Nigeria as well as the impossibility of Nigerian students and youths reconciling ourselves with this unjust economic system. While many analysts have identified bad leadership as the bane of Nigeria’s development, we in the ERC believes that Nigeria’s politico-economic woes has much do with the unjust capitalist economic system being practiced by the Nigerian ruling class. It is the capitalist economic arrangement wherein collectively generated wealth are appropriated by a few people through the policies of privatization, deregulation, commercialization that is responsible for the situation in which over 80% of Nigerians are chronically poor while only a few are rich. OUR CALLS: Against the above background, we regard the Independence Day celebration festivities as a cynical celebration of the poverty and destitution which the mass of people have been consigned to on account of government anti-poor policies. We reject the neo-liberal economic policies of deregulation, privatization and commercialization of the Yar’ Adua government as anti-poor and pro-rich. We declare Yar’ Adua’s 7-point agenda as 7-pointless agenda meant to deepen poverty and misery of the Nigerian working masses, youths and students. We therefore pass a vote of no confidence on the Yar’ Adua government. We believe that free education, free health care, full employment, poverty eradication, provision of decent shelter for all are possible if Nigeria’s resources are well managed by the working people themselves unlike the current situation where the public treasury is looted by the ruling class. We also believe that with a radically different government and pro-poor economic system, it is possible to improve living standards and lift the masses out of the poverty and destitution they have been consigned to since the past 49 years or more. We believe a government that does not care for public education has no reason to remain in power a day longer. More than any other thing, government treatment of the demands of the striking unions shows that the issue of education funding can only be settled in a revolutionary manner. We therefore call for the revolutionary overthrow of the corrupt and anti-poor Yar’ Adua capitalist government and the formation of a workers and poor people’s government that will, through public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy under democratic workers control, use our collective resources to provide free education, health care etc. We urge labour leaders to hasten the process of the overthrow of this corrupt government by building a mass based, working people’s political party that can form a government committed to peoples’ welfare. Against Federal government refusal to meet the demands of the striking unions as well as the death of public education, we regard the Independence Day celebration as a shameless display of a focus less, visionless and failed government. Only equally focus less, visionless and treacherous people especially those who benefit from the current rot will participate in these celebrations with the government. We in the ERC therefore call on all Nigerian students, youths, workers and most especially labour leaders to shun government independence day celebration as a sign of public rejection of the government anti-poor policies of the past 49 years and particularly as a vote of no confidence on the Yar’ Adua government. Instead, we declare a day of nationwide mass action and demonstration in protest against government refusal to sign agreement with ASUU, SSANU, NASU and NAAT, in protest against the chronic underfunding of education, in protest against the N180, 000 which federal government is prepared to impose on Nigerian students, in protest against victimization of students and staff activists and the proscription of students’ unions across the country, in protest against the jumbo salaries and allowances being awarded to politician while the mass of workers and poor people exist on a paltry N7, 500 national minimum wage, in protest against inequality in Nigeria where over 80% are poor in spite of the huge revenues from crude oil sales, in protest against all government neo-liberal policies of deregulation of the oil sector, privatization and commercialization all of which have deepened the misery of the mass of working people, students and youths. We are organizing the nationwide mass actions in conjunction with Coalition of Radical Students Unions (CORASU), Committee of Students’ Union Presidents (COSUP), some progressive NANS leaders, National Association of Nigerian Female Students (NANFS), Nigerian Youths in Motion (NYM) as well as other progressive students unions and groups. We call on all Nigerian students and youths to gather for mass procession in Lagos and Benin on Thursday 1st October 2009 by 8am at Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Secretariat, 29 Olajuwon Street, Yaba and the front gate of the University of Benin respectively for protest actions. We call on Nigerian students and youths to also organize similar actions every where they can. As we have pointed out earlier, this protest is a vote of no confidence on the Yar’ Adua government and a demonstration of the fact that we want an immediate end to Yar’ Adua’s ignoble reign. However, we wish to clearly state that these nationwide protest on October 1st is a prelude to a protest march to the National Assembly in Abuja once the Assembly resumes from recess. Previously, the ERC had called for a protest to the National Assembly on September 28 2009 but due to the refusal of the Assembly to resume from recess possibly for the fear of Nigerian students, we have decided to wait patiently until resumption is announced. If they so choose, the Assembly can decide to delay its resumption till next year but we wish to assure all the lawmakers who are complicit with the Yar’ Adua government in refusing to sign agreements with the striking unions thus keeping Nigerian students at home that whenever they resume, Nigerians students will be at their front gate. Conclusively, we must also warn the Federal government that nothing it does can stop us from continuing the fight for public education. As far as we are concerned, the struggle for free and quality education is a life and death battle. Yet our methods of struggle remains mass actions including protests and demonstrations. We say this in reaction to the latest attempt by the Federal government to criminalize our struggle by the faked kidnap attempt of the Education Minister Sam Egwu and Minister of Labour and Productivity Prince Adetokunbo Kayode allegedly carried out by 3 undergraduates in order to compel government to resolve the on-going strike. Despite the attempt to use the kidnap case to garner sympathy, we in the ERC in keeping with Late Chief Gani Fawehinmi’s death wish call for the immediate removal of Sam Egwu for gross incompetence demonstrated in his poor handling of the on-going strike. We will not dwell on the easily deducible facts that the kidnap if, it was ever attempted, was not induced by any political motive nor one as honourable as resolving the ongoing strike but by cold financial calculations of demanding ransom. As far as we are concerned, it is the opulent lifestyle of corrupt Ministers like Sam Egwu and Adetokunbo Kayode who habitually flaunt stolen wealth in the face of mass poverty that is responsible for this and other kidnaps that have happened. But the Federal government wants to use this to blackmail the striking unions and Nigerian students. We in the ERC do not believe in kidnap, bombings, assassinations or any other form of individual terrorism as a method of struggle. We believe only in mass actions, protests and demonstrations and this is the method of struggle that will soon consign the Nigerian exploitative capitalist ruling class to the dustbin of history. DEMANDS: (1) Federal government must sign and implement all agreements reached with ASUU, SSANU, NASU and NAAT as condition precedent for academic activities to resume. (2) No to proposed N180, 000 fee increment. For the cancellation of all fees including the exorbitant law school fees. (3) For the Federal government to Pay N40, 000 Cost of Studying Allowance (COSA) to all Nigerian students in tertiary institutions to offset the cost of textbooks, accommodation, feeding, upkeep, transport etc. (4) Funding of education up to 26% of budget as recommended by UNESCO. (5) Provision of free, functional and compulsory education at all levels. (6) Democratization of the education sector with the involvement of representatives of staff and students unions in all decision making organs of the education sector and running of schools. (7) No to arbitrariness. We call on the Lagos State Government to halt the imposition of Prof. Lateef Hussain as Vice Chancellor on LASU staff and students. (8) Recall of all victimized students/staff activists and restoration of all banned unions. (9) Public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy under the democratic control and management of the working masses. Thank you for Reading

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