Nigeria: Soweto massacre anniversary arrests – 4 activists freed

Struggle for decent public education continues

Hassan Taiwo Soweto (National Coordinator, the Education Rights Campaign), Chinedu Bosah (National Secretary, Education Rights Campaign) Usman Oloyede (Former PRO, NANS Zone D) and Debo Adeniran (Chairman, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders) were released on bail today at the Sabo Police Station, Yaba Lagos. Soweto and Chinedu are also members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM – CWI in Nigeria)

They were arrested yesterday, 16 June 2009 at Yaba while protesting against the underfunding of education by the Yar’ Adua capitalist government. 16 June 2009 is the 33rd anniversary of the Soweto Masacre in 1976 when the then South African Apartheid government unleashed terror on black youths protesting against imposition of racial measures in the education sector. Hector Pieterson – a 12-year-old boy – was shot dead by the Aparthied Police. Over the next two days, over 600 people including children and youths had been killed and injured as the protest swept over South Africa.

Students and youths under the auspices of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) chose the 33rd anniversary of the gruesome massacre to begin a nationwide protest against under-funding of education, especially the low allocation for education in the 2009 budget. Just before the protest started, a contingent of heavily armed policemen, numbering about 100, had gathered at the gate of Yaba College of Technology (YABATECH) presumably to stop the protest. From indications, the policemen were invited to brutalise the protesters, numbering about 25, by the Management of YABATECH with the willing help of the Acting DPO of Sabo Police Station, Yaba Mr. Tony O.A, and the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Marvel Akpoyibo.

The manner in which the arrest was made shows clearly that it was premeditated. The claim of the Police and the Yabatech Management was that the protesters wanted to disrupt the campus. Actually, the protest was billed to take off from Yabatech front gate, but a combination of factors, including the unwillingness of the right wing union leadership of the institution and mobilisation of police to the campus gate as early as 8am, dissuaded the protesters. Instead of Yabatech gate, the protesters started at Jibowu and marched through the road in front of Yabatech towards Herbert McCauley way, from which point they planned to visit other institutions around Yaba and Akoka communities. The protesters only stopped briefly at YABATECH gate to address pressmen who had gathered there in expectation of the protest, after the address the protesters continued on their march towards Herbert Macaulay way.

But as they reached Herbert Macaulay way, Debo Adeniran (Chairman, CACOL) who had been invited as a guest speaker, was arrested. A few minutes earlier, Chinedu Bosah had been harassed while distributing press statements to the press and circulating leaflets to the motorists and passers-by. Some copies of the statements and leaflets were snatched from him. Within a split second, the policemen swooped on the remaining protesters who had by now reached the side of Herbert Macauley way and were waiting to cross. Hassan Taiwo Soweto was arrested; the public address (PA) system, with which he was addressing the crowd, seized and dragged to a waiting Police van. Also arrested at the same spot was Usman Oloyede (former PRO, NANS Zone D). The rest of the protesters scampered across the road with the police in hot pursuit. Chinedu Bosah was arrested, cruelly handcuffed and hit on the back with riffle butt.

After this, police took the arrested activists in two vans with sirens blowing wildly to Area C Command, Iponri where they were detained until about 8am this morning. At about 8am, they were transferred to Sabo Police Station, Yaba where a one-count charge: “conduct likely to cause breach of public peace” was put to them. They were then taken to the Chief Magistrates’ Court, Yaba, for arraignment but the judges and magistrates were at a seminar and so were not sitting. They were then taken back to Sabo Police Station Yaba where to their surprise they were released on bail to their lawyers, including Segun Sango. They were asked to report daily at the Police Station until the case is settled.

The protesters were brutalised for their condemnation of the 2009 budget and its meagre allocation for education. One key demand of the protest was that the government should increase its allocation for education to at least 26% of the budget as recommended by UNESCO. According to the 2009 budget signed into law by the President in early March this year, 7.2% was allocated to education while the salaries and allowances of 17, 474 political office holders totaling N1.13 trillion, dwarfs the combined allocation to education (N224billion), Health (N103billion), Transport (N38billion), works, housing and urban development (N208billion). This is alongside the huge spending on defense.

The protest, which was held successfully in two states (Osun and Oyo States) in Nigeria, had other demands including the call for reinstatement of all victimised student and staff activists, restoration of banned students’ union bodies, provision of quality education at all levels, democratisation of decision-making processes in schools and public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy under the democratic control and management of the working class people.

The protesters also demanded the immediate and unconditional release of 27 soldiers who have been unjustly sentenced into life imprisonment for embarking on peaceful protests over their lawful salaries and allowances that had been embezzled by some military officers, and an immediate end to attack by JTF on the harmless residents of the Niger Deltan communities.

In Osun State, over 4,000 students of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile-Ife went on lecture boycott and held a protest march on the campus in support of the ERC’s Day of Action and on local demands for improvement in water and electricity supply as well as for the reinstatement of victimised activists (Akinola Saburi, Orgumah Andrew Segun and Muyiwa Aderibigbe).

While the lecture boycott was on some students of the University mobilised in buses to Osogbo where they joined students from other institutions in the state for a joint protest to the State house of Assembly to submit a charter of demands to the state government to be passed on to the Federal government. There was also heavy presence of police at the venue of the protest and in fact comrade Kola Ibrahim (member of the DSM) and 3 others were briefly arrested but released immediately. The police, numbering hundreds and led by the State Commissioner of Police, monitored about 100 protesters as they marched for about 7 kilometres to the State House of Assembly. In the course of the protest march a rally, addressed by various speakers including Waheed Lawal, Chairman, Campaign for Democratic and Workers Rights (CDWR) Osun State, Alfred Adegoke, Coordiantor, DSM Osun State, Rufus Oyatoro, Chairman Labour Party Osun State, Kola Ibrahim and other student leaders, was held at the Correspondents Chapel Osogbo.

In Oyo State, where about 25 students protested, reports stated that the protesters were not allowed togain entrance into the Government House to submit their charter of demands. There is no report of any arrests. Also, activities held in University of Benin in Edo State and Adekunle Ajasin University Akungba Akoko in Ondo State

The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) began organising resistance against the budget in March this year, starting from 18 March when the ERC held a press conference, calling on the government to increase spending on education. Also, a petition was also submitted to the Minister of education calling the government’s attention to these issues.

Thereafter, the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) issued a call to all students and youth to begin nationwide mass protests and a lecture boycott from 16 June 2009, which is the anniversary of the Soweto massacre in 1976 in South Africa. Numerous posters and leaflets were produced and widely posted in schools in the Southwest, South and a school in Eastern part of the country. Due to shortages of money, it was impossible to reach out to more schools in the East and the North.

To mobilise change-seeking activists within the student movement, the Education Rights Campaign (ERC), together with the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Students’ Union organised an “All Nigerian Students Conference” on 6 June 2009, which attracted representatives of 11 tertiary institutions, 18 delegates from organisations and groups and the leadership of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) Zone D, as well as leaders of the Joint Campus Committee (JCC) in Osun and Oyo States. There, the decision to hold a mass protest starting from 16 June was given further support, with the JCC of both Oyo and Osun and the leadership of NANS Zone D promising to lend support.

This agreement of support notwithstanding, the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) has frequently made it clear that the leaders of NANS at all levels are corrupt, isolated from students and unwilling to challenge government’s neo-liberal policies on education. The mass of students and activists at the conference berated the NANS leaders in speeches and contributions but the conclusion of the conference was that the 16 June day of action will be the litmus test for the NANS Zone D leadership. Therefore, the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) and the NANS Zone D were asked to mobilise for the protest and submit a joint charter of demands to the government of each state where the protest would take place.

Our arguments about the unwillingness of the NANS leadership at all levels to struggle have again been confirmed by the 16 June protest. In Osun State where the protest was massive, it was due to the immense mobilisation efforts of the ERC. Also, in Ondo, Lagos, Edo and Oyo States, where protests and other activities were held, this was due to the active efforts of DSM and ERC comrades. Even the NANS Zone D Coordinator was absent at the protest in Lagos for reasons yet unknown.

The arrests notwithstanding, we shall continue to mobilise for mass actions, protests demonstrations and the lecture boycott until our demands are met. The 16 June action is just the beginning. The response of students to our call albeit confined to certain parts of the country, shows what can be achieved with redoubled efforts and mobilisations. While we shall continue to persuade elements in the NANS leadership to struggle, it is crystal clear that the struggle for adequate funding of education can only be won by organizing students from below under an alternative platform of struggle like the Education Rights Campaign (ERC). With the objective situation created by the economic crisis of world capitalism and its severe implications on the living standards of youths and working masses in a neo-colonial country like Nigeria, the possibility of building a movement of youth and the working masses exist. Only a clear headed, focused, sacrificing and ideological leadership equipped with the philosophy and methods of Marxism is needed in the student movement and the labour movement to unite the economic demands of the masses with the political demand for the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of a socialist society where resources will be publicly owned, controlled and managed by the working people as against the anarchy of capitalist production.

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June 2009