Vigilance required from LASU students and workers to ensure that victory is permanent
The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) wholeheartedly welcomes the reversal of the astronomically hiked fees of Lagos State University (LASU) by Lagos State Governor, Fashola. The Governor made this known at the 19th convocation ceremony of the University held on Thursday 7 August 2014.
However eternal vigilance is now required from LASU students and workers to ensure that this victory is permanent. This is important because the experience of Okada (motorbike taxis) riders and other oppressed masses in Lagos is instructive to note that the Lagos State APC-led government is a viciously anti-poor government that can grant concessions in the run-up to elections only to withdraw them once they have comfortably returned to the saddle.
Equally instructive is the fact that right at the convocation ceremony where Governor Fashola announced reversal of the fees, protesting members of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) who were demanding improvements in their working conditions were tear-gassed. This should be a warning to all LASU students that regardless of the reversal, the anti-poor mentality and mindset of the Lagos State government remains unchanged. The ERC therefore calls on students to actively support the members of SSANU and every other union agitating for improvement in their conditions because without these unions’ solidarity, the struggle for reversal of the fees would not have been won.
In any case, the ERC considers the decision of the Lagos State Government to reverse the fees as a vindication of our uncompromising demand for immediate and unconditional reversal of the anti-poor fees. This was not an easy or benevolent decision on the part of the Lagos State government. The State government was forced to concede by an unrelenting and prolonged mass struggle which saw many students brutalised, arrested and detained. Indeed, for Governor Fashola and as he made clear on many occasions, the fee hike was a forgone conclusion.
However, as the ERC often told the students of LASU, no mountain is immovable once the people are resolved and resolute to move it. Not for one moment did the ERC lose hope that it was possible to win total reversal of the fees. Our hope and enthusiasm was based on the complete unpopularity of the fee hike among Lagosians and Nigerians as well as our undying faith in the capacity of working people and students to change their conditions if they so will it. Indeed to show the power of the working class, the strikes of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) LASU chapter and the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) LASU chapter were additional pressures that compelled the government to concede. This is why the ERC often canvasses for the unity of education workers and students to struggle for their rights.
From September 2011 when the anti-poor Lagos State government jerked up the fees of LASU from N25,000 ($ 156) to between N193,750 ($1,210) and N348,750 ($2, 180), the ERC had been playing frontline roles in campaigning for the reversal of the fees. However in January 2014 in the aftermath of a protest by 1,292 students who were denied access to examinations due to inability to pay the criminally high fees, the ERC played a pivotal role in launching a broad platform called #SaveLASU Campaign Movement which comprised the Lagos State University Students Union (LASUSU), National Union of Lagos State Students (NULASS) and radical students of the University.
It was under the #SaveLASU campaign with ERC playing a leading role that the struggle to reverse the fees began. A protest was held to the State House of Assembly on Tuesday 18 February 2014. Also a public symposium was held which had the likes of Barrister Mohammed Fawehinmi as a lead speaker. Also a roaring social media campaign under the hashtag #SaveLASU was launched all of which combined to force the issue of the fee hike to the front-burner such that the State government could not ignore the issue much longer, especially in the run-up to the 2015 general elections.
No matter how the Lagos State government may want to present its decision to reverse the fees, it is obvious that this is a crushing defeat for the government and the All Progressive Congress (APC) and their cynical policy of playing "progressive" while implementing right-wing and anti-poor policies.
Indeed the public needs to remember that this present victory was heralded by series of small retreats by the State government. After the ERC and #SaveLASU had succeeded in forcing to the front-burner the issue of fee hike as the central cause of the militant students’ protests of January 22 and 23, 2014, the State government decided to drop its agenda to victimise students and charge reparation fees. Instead, the government announced the release of a sum of N51million Naira to repair all University properties allegedly damaged during the protest. That was the first victory. The second victory came much later on Wednesday June 11 2014 when the State government agreed to reduction of the fees ranging from 34% to 60%.
However, despite all these concessions, the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) and the #SaveLASU Campaign Movement remained resolute on the demand for total and unconditional reversal of the fees. We believed that the starting point for LASU to become affordable for all was for the criminally hiked fees to be reversed completely without conditions. We also believed that Nigeria and indeed Lagos was rich enough to provide free, functional and democratically-managed public education at all levels. Unfortunately what has made this impossible despite the huge and inestimable resources at the behest of Nigeria is the neo-liberal and anti-poor capitalist philosophy of the APC and PDP ruling elite who see education not as a social responsibility but as a profit venture.
We wish to congratulate all LASU students and workers for this victory. We thank all members of the #SaveLASU Campaign Movement, the Lagos State University Students Union (LASUSU), the National Union of Lagos State Students (NULASS), Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) LASU chapter, Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) LASU Chapter, all other staff unions in LASU, Joint Action Front (JAF), civil society organisations in Lagos, professional bodies, CLEEN Foundation and Barrister Mohammed Fawehinmi, electronic and print media as well as many others that space may not permit us to mention for their support and roles they played. This victory is for all people who believe in the principle of free, public-funded and democratically-managed education.
The victory against this LASU fee hike is a single important event in the student movement over the last decade. Students at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU) and other campuses where fees have been hiked have a lot to learn from the struggle in LASU. One central lesson they must learn is that struggle pays and that when the oppressed masses fight for their right, they can win.
However the struggle to make education affordable and accessible to all does not end with this victory. So far anti-poor political parties like the All Progressive Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) continue to determine our fate, there will be no end to anti-poor policies like fees hikes and education commercialisation. Indeed, this current victory in the struggle for reversal of LASU fees will be immediately threatened if the APC and/or the PDP come to power in Lagos in 2015.
Permanent victory can only be won in the struggle for free, functional and democratically-managed public education when we rid ourselves of these anti-poor political parties and instead put in power at the States and Federal level a genuine political party that represents the interests of the workers, poor masses, youth and students. This is why the ERC is supporting the formation of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) launched by the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) and which is currently seeking registration from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). We urge all those who laboured day and night to campaign for the reversal of LASU fees to join us in the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) so that together we can work for the total and complete liberation of Nigeria from the stranglehold of capitalism.
Hassan Taiwo Soweto