Nigerian secret police invite activist to “parley” regarding anti-student loans campaign

Hassan Taiwo Soweto, the National Coordinator of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC), on iBrandTV (centre) to talk about the state of education and the new ERC pamphlet "Ten Reasons Why Tinubu's Students Loan is a Scam"

On Thursday 14 December 2023, a day after the public unveiling of our new pamphlet “Ten Reasons why Tinubu’s Students Loan is a Scam”, operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS), the secret police of the Nigerian state, reached out via a phone call to comrade Hassan Taiwo Soweto, the National Coordinator of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) inviting him to a “parley”. A certain Paul Okilo who initiated the phone call and presented himself as the Director of the DSS, Ikeja Local Government, made it clear during the conversation that the invitation is connected to the ERC’s ongoing campaign against President Tinubu’s Students Loan and the general anti-poor education policies of the administration.

As a campaigning organization with a track record spanning years of genuinely defending the interests of Nigerian students and education workers, we will like to assure the gentlemen and ladies of the DSS that we are in no way averse to answering questionings regarding our ideas, programmes and activities. Therefore, as we have nothing to hide we are open to the aforesaid parley and are ready to make ourselves available provided the DSS is prepared to send a formal invitation and also permit the presence of our lawyers at such a parley. We make this request due to the track record of Nigeria’s brutal capitalist state which is known to engage in disappearing activists and those who oppose governments policies. Meanwhile, a formal invitation can serve as assurance to our members and supporters who have every reason to fear for our safety.

Having said the above, we note with great concern the revelation made by Okilo during the phone conversation that the DSS is engaged in active surveillance of the ERC and that our activities are regularly infiltrated by its operatives posing as activists. According to Okilo, the latest of such a surveillance operation was at the media event held on December 13, 2023 at the International Press Centre (IPC) Ogba Lagos where we unveiled our pamphlet which exposes Tinubu’s Student Loan policy as a scam.

Since this revelation, we have carried out internal investigation and reviewed videos and pictures of several public meetings that we have held during which we have uncovered several instances of surveillance and infiltration of our meetings by the DSS. For instance, our investigation revealed that DSS operatives had embedded themselves into nearly all our public meetings and media conferences since July of this year when we launched our campaign against the Students Loan Act. The agents infiltrate these meetings by presenting themselves as journalists and in more than two instances, a DSS operative infiltrated our meetings by impersonating the Take it Back (TIB) – a movement led by African Action Congress (AAC) Presidential candidate and activist, Omoyele Sowore, who has been under state persecution for over 5 years now. We immediately sent his pictures to leaders of the TIB who claim that not only is he not a member but that they actually know the individual to be a DSS operative. Further investigation revealed that this individual had also infiltrated meetings of other left groups and coalitions including the Joint Action Front (JAF) and public meetings of the UNILAG Students solidarity group.

As far as we are concerned, these actions of the DSS are entirely uncalled for and unethical especially after over two decades of a hard-won civil rule. For the information of the DSS, the ERC is not a terrorist organisation. We are a body of activists openly organizing and campaigning to ensure that students from poor homes are able to have access to quality education. Our activities are conducted openly and in orderly manner and our opposition to any government policies are based on facts and evidence. Protests and demonstrations which we regularly call for are covered by relevant sections of Nigeria’s constitution which guarantee to all Nigerians the right to freedom of assembly and expression.

On the basis of the foregoing, we must express our unequivocal displeasure at the unwarranted surveillance of our organisation by the DSS and warn against any plan to harass our members or disrupt our meetings. We are equally concerned about the motive of the DSS and its operatives when they infiltrate our meetings. We have no way of knowing what any of its clandestine operatives bring with them into our meetings and whether they act as agent provocateurs. We therefore urge members of the public to hold the DSS and the Nigerian state responsible should any act of violence occur at any of our public or internal meetings as well as the premises of our office.

While we are not unaware of the authoritarian tendency of any capitalist government with anti-poor policies, we note that the manner of the criminal surveillance of the lawful activities of our organization is reflective of the degree which the Tinubu-APC led government is prepared to go in repressing the opposition. We understand that Tinubu, aware that he was elected by under 10 million voters, is wary of how the majority of the 220 million Nigerians view his rule. We maintain that it is the democratic right of Nigerians to openly criticize any policy of government, especially an anti-poor one as the Student Loan which is pretentiously designed for the primary purpose of further commercializing education.

Student loans campaign

As part of our campaign for the adequate funding of education, we have over the past months openly criticized the Students Loan scheme and called for its rejection because it is a justification for the introduction of criminal hike in school fees which, among other things, deny students from the poor and working-class families access to higher education. Through our publications and media engagements, we have also proved that the conditionalities attached as requirements to obtain the loan, make it inaccessible to the bulk of students from working class families seeking higher education.

In the pamphlet titled “Ten Reasons Why Tinubu’s Students Loan is a Scam”, that we launched on December 13, we faulted the premise of the government’s argument to further commercialize education, which is that the country is too poor to fund public education. We outlined in detail how cutting the profligate cost of governance in addition to the nationalization and democratic control of the commanding heights of economy could free money to fund not only public education but also healthcare and other basic social services.

A responsible democratic government would have taken a careful look at the propositions made by our organisation with a view to meeting them. But the government in its usual manner  has instead subjected our activities to criminal surveillance. We have no doubt that the invitation of our National Coordinator, Hassan Soweto, for a “parley”, is an attempt to intimidate us and gag our voice. We shall not be intimidated by the DSS invitation and increasing state repression of democratic rights in Nigeria. Rather we shall continue to organise and mobilise Nigerian students and education workers against the anti-poor and pro-rich educational policies of the government.

We hereby call on working people and youth to prepare to struggle firmly to resist any anti-poor policy and attack on democratic rights by the Tinubu-APC led government. We appreciate the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) for their show of solidarity in this campaign against further commercialization of education. We also call on other education workers unions, pro-masses organisations, students and youth groups and the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) to lend their voices and weights to this campaign to rescue public education from total collapse as obviously intended by the capitalist ruling elite in Nigeria.

 

 

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