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NIGERIAN STUDENTS’ MOVEMENT IN PERSPECTIVE

BY KOLA IBRAHIM
February 15th, 2008

This article is an edited version of an article written on the state of NANS in 2006 in the wake of the decaration by the Hembe-ed NANS leadership for Obasanjo’s life presidency. It is reproduced here in the wake of the coming NANS convention which has been postponed three times.

Without mincing words, the state of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) is nothing to write home about. The Nigerian students’ movement has lost all the radical fibres it was formerly recognized for. The media is replete with news about treachery of various layers of NANS leadership; from giving awards to politicians and businessmen to issuing out statements in support of one politicians or party to another. Even before this time, the NANS leadership had identified with various anti-student, pro-establishment policies including acceptance of the hostel privatization and N1000 compulsory insurance policy of the federal government and the insurance agencies, with the Hembe-led NANS leadership’s declaration for Obasanjo’s third term being the peak of this treachery. Not only this, it had at various times recognized through giving of awards to, anti-student moneybag politicians who have at one time or the other, individually or severally supported policies and agenda that put money out of the pockets of the poor people of Nigeria to those of the already super-rich. In short, it has become another pawn in the chessboard of the ruling class while standing against everything that NANS originally stood for. To day, there are more than four secretariats of NANS each seeking patronage from politicians. Though a so-called Unity Convention has been organized, but it will only justify the fraud of the existing elements laying claim to leadership.

However, to be fair with these leaderships, their predecessors had laid a solid foundation for this “historic” sell out. One could vividly recall the reactionary, pro-state positions of the Tony Nwoye, Daniel Onjeh, Segun Olaleye, et al, who all sold out Nigerian students away to the corrupt and backward set of ruling class in place today, just to satisfy their pecuniary interests while Nigerian students are being daily attacked through the commercialization and privatization of education policies among other anti-poor policies of the Obasanjo government and it clones in states. In fact, one can trace the history of ideological death of NANS to the 1994 convention in which power was taken away from the hands of the undemocratic ex-Stalinists to the hands of the reactionary, pro-state elements, who banked on the general dissatisfaction of the student activists with the undemocratic means in which the organization was being run (by the ex-Stalinists) to entrench themselves in the leadership, adequately supported with funds and logistics by various government agencies.

Aside the NANS national leadership intellectual collapse, the various structures of NANS – Zonal, State Joint Campus Committees and even, each students’ union – have either sold out to managements or politicians or lack the requisite intellectual wherewithal to lead successful and genuine struggles of students. Just few days ago, I attended a parliamentary session of one of the polytechnics in Osun State, and it was regrettable that students’ unions will be approving traveling allowance for a NANS trip when they were actually conveyed to the botched convention free of charge. Yet, during the radical days of NANS, the Nigerian students’ movement is not only known for fighting for its members but also that of the workers and other oppressed strata. One could easily recall the anti-SAP struggles and the anti-military struggles. Then, you have no business in being students’ union activist without having a leftist leaning; without having any ideological understanding of the society. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union which many uninformed ex-Stalinists could not explain at the as being a product of the undemocratic and bureaucratic nature of the leadership of the Soviet Union, the best of the then student activists dissolved into human “rightism” while the reactionary layer become agents of various governments at all levels. Successive student activists could not see any true example of a genuine ex-NANS activist but those who have turned their radical credentials to means of survival.

Coupled with this is the collapse of the genuine leadership of labour movement which would have mobilized the power of Nigerians masses – including students to fights successful imperialist governments in Nigeria since independence. The lack of the ideological base of the human rights organizations on the campuses and their failure to give a scientific economic cum political analysis of the Nigerian state led to their isolation from other mass organizations including workers’ movement and subsequent infiltration of their organizations by the pro-state elements. While the former led to lack of a holistic manner of struggling by genuine students’ leaders which make them to adopt sectarian, anti-working class and anarchistic methods of struggling; the latter led to degeneration of these organizations in many campuses leading to sell out among students’ activists who rise to union offices through the credentials of these organizations but sell students out to the management and the state, thus signaling the collapse of many students’ unions. Added to this is the conscious role of the school authorities and the state in destroying the legacy of genuine students’ unionism either by buying over of students’ leaders or using naked force like the cultists, police and victimization as in OAU now) to deal with genuine student activists. The fisrt attempt is the Abisogun Panel set-up by Babangida junta to curtail radical students’ activism, which made students’ unionism voluntary thus making the generation of fund through students by unions (which remit some percentage to NANS) to be difficult thus giving excuses to opportunist and reactionary leaderships of NANS to turn to politicians for fund, thus laying the basis for NANS collapse. This also found its resonance in the structures of NANS. We are witnesses to how the special assistant to ex-President Obasanjo on students’ matters, usually comes to NANS convention to bribe senators and use brute force of the state to stop genuine student activists from raising their voices against bad governmental policies.

Therefore, Nigerian students’ movement must start afresh and build a new organizations that will base itself on the idea of transformation of the society from this man-eat-man, decadent neo-liberal system that prioritize profits for the rich few against the welfare of the working people including the students; to an egalitarian system where the wealth of the country will be collectively used for people’s need as against that of imperialism and its hangers-on in the country’s polity. The genuine activists remaining on campuses must stand up and build a new pan-Nigerian students’ movement that will not only defend the rights of Nigerian youth to free, well funded and qualitative education with democratic impute of the workers’ and students’ unions in the running of the education sector but also link its struggle with that of other sections of the oppressed layers –workers, artisans, professionals, etc and defend people’s rights to better socio-economic system that will defend people’s welfare. The present NANS is not sacrosanct; it was also an offshoot of other students’ organizations – WASU and NUNS. The present NANS has played its historic roles and it is now serving as fetter to the struggles of the Nigerian students and people. Building a new national students’ movement require organizing a national campaign against the plans of the government to commercialize education and hike fees across campuses. This campaign will link genuine activists in unions and organization together. The fact that virtually no students’ union in the country has condemned the present madness going on in NANS is a reflection of the degeneracy that has eaten deep into students’ movement. Therefore, building a new pan-Nigerian students’ movement mean building a genuine students’ structures in each campus. The planned NANS convention, where unity or schist, will never change the rottenness in the structure, it will only accentuate it. Furthermore, an ideological rebirth is necessary for a genuine students’ movement. The current situation where the market neo-liberalism has become the idea of governments, which has meant privatization, commercialization and cut in social spending, need to be resisted by a radical socialist oriented perspective of Nigerian students which will defend free, functional, publicly funded education system, healthcare, job for all and adequate wages and pension for all coupled with nationalization of the economy under the democratic management by the working people themselves.

This is the time when Nigerian students ought to be asking why Nigeria will be wallowing in unimaginable wealth (over $200 billion since 1999) and yet the capitalist government could not provide free, qualitative education to its citizens which has led to just ten percent of Nigerian youth being in schools. Rather than for government to fund free and qualitative education, it has continue to starve it more of funds while encouraging private individuals (majority of them, politicians and government lackeys) to gain huge profits from government-induced public education collapse. This contradiction requires a solid, consistent and radical students’ organization that will be able to expose and raise the banner of the progressive unionism. We must also know that the demands of students are also political because the present age government is one whose ideological basis is rooted in scrupulous globalized capitalist neo-liberalism and the invisible hands of the market and imperialism. This crooked government, while it continues to regenerate itself in brazen corruption, will continue to stand for imperialism; stand against public education, social welfare, etc. Therefore, the new Nigerian students’ movement, if finally formed should link up with other pro-people and working class organizations to provide the requisite leadership and the radical working people’s party that will champion the demand for massive funding of social services – free education, free health, adequate wages and pension, clean water, cheap and public transportation, mass and cheap housing, job for all, etc. if the nation’s economy is nationalized which will provide enough fund, that is currently being held by just 1% of the population who are controlling 80% of the nation’s wealth. Though, there is also a rightwing movement going on in British students’ movement which tends to sideline the mass of students while giving the organization to the capitalist government, but this is being challenged by progressive students’ organizations in Britain . The examples of 2006 French movement where students played major roles along with workers, in battling Dominique Villepin’s anti-poor labour policy and the mass movements of students against education commercialization in Greece are signs of what a genuine students’ movement can achieve if it bases itself on genuine ideas.


IBRAHIM KOLAWOLE (kmarx4live@yahoo.com )
EDUCATION RIGHTS CAMPAIGN (ERC)
Obafemi Awolowo University , Ile-Ife


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