UNIBEN: HOW STUDENTS CAN DEFEAT EDUCATION UNDERFUNDING
By Bestman Michael
There is so much to learn from the struggles and consolidated victory UNIBEN students have won in recent years. From it, we can safely conclude that only through struggles can there be hope for the total defeat of education underfunding in the educational sector.
The cries for the revitalisation and proper funding of education have been intense. Somewhere, you hear students are on the street, with demands, against the profit-oriented, anti-student, and anti-poor attacks of management. In other cases, lecturers or non-academic staffs are on strike against non-payment of salary and the underfunding of the education sector. These crises are enough to show how much education, by an extension (basic, secondary schools, etc), in Nigeria, has collapsed.
In a place like UNIBEN, students have clamoured for better learning & a conducive living environment, and affordable quality education. There are inadequate lecture and residential halls. Most of the infrastructural facilities are in a terrible state, haven fell into disused and unrepaired. Ceilings are broken, cracked and collapsing walls, fallen perimeter fences, and sadly, hostels are not secured.
Incidents of stealing are growing on-campus hostels, a shoddy surrounding, and bushy and uncleared grasses becoming safe havens for snakes. Interestingly, it was one of the reasons the protest in 2018, in UNIBEN, broke out against the Prof Orumwense-led administration that had five student union leaders rusticated.
Following the #ENDSARS protest in 2020, and the involvement of the student in their numbers, who were then at home following another long spade of strike action by ASUU and actively participating. Returning back to campus, it was to directly result in a growth in the curve of student activism both directly and indirectly. With students back on campus in 2021, the media was awash with headlines of protests breaking out.
There was TASUED over the alleged arrests of their colleagues; there was OAU over the death of a student as a result of adverse health centres in the universities. Not just in Nigeria, the world over, protests from the rank and file students had broken out: there was the sit-in over sexual abuse by Warwick University students; there were a series of protests by pupils in schools in England over climate change, and the list goes on. This in itself is an indication of the desperation to turn education into a profit raking venture by capitalist profiteers all over and the resistance of students and youths to this continued denial of access to education as a right to all.
Everywhere, in Nigeria, public education is monetized. Increasingly it is becoming difficult for students from a working-class background to freely and easily access the necessary quality education both for their future development and upliftment of society, and a huge burden for their parents and guardians. With these students left to either pay expensively or are given a choice to leave if they can’t afford it.
This was the scenario that played out in UNIBEN after the Salami led administration within two weeks added a #20,000 late fee charge. Sadly, this is a federal university. A case that contradicts Section 18, subsection 3 (c) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution: “free university education”. Then, we can better understand why there is bound to be an increase in social vices.
Not to mention the economic crises that working-class parents and students have to face: the rising price of commodities, non-payment of salaries, the failure to implement or review minimum wage with inflationary rate, poverty, unemployment, and so on. So, poor working-class students are placed between struggle and survival.
However, in all of these, one thing should be noted: every struggle, though nationally or relatively applied, is common. Hence, it means to defeat education underfunding, in Nigeria, students should unite their forces with the teaching and non-teaching unions. It means a total revitalisation of student unionism and activism on campuses, consistent student congresses to discuss the way forward and raising clear demands.
In the last five years, depression, suicide, and distorted mental health have been high— even among students. It is all interlinked to how the economy is structured and managed. It is why Aishat died in OAU. There was negligence by the government over health. During the pandemic, this was further exposed— plus, the series of strikes by Residential Doctors.
Somewhere in Ekehuan Campus, UNIBEN, students complained about ‘bad’ water and snakes. Other times, it is about the epileptic or inconsistent power supply. Even, sickness overlaps either one complaint here or another there. There is little few or no doctors even in the health centres. Not to mention sick beds or drugs. It is clear, therefore, that the system of capitalism is rooted in crises— the root cause of education underfunding: profit first, needs later. This must be defeated.
Sadly, what is even taught in schools as knowledge cannot stand any serious critical scrutiny even on the basis of the day to day experiences of the working masses, it wonders why there is a growing notion among a layer of youths that “school is a Scam” But it is capitalism and it manipulative instruments of divide and rule through all strata of the economy to sustain itself. It is why most students perceived themselves to be against the ASUU strike, without the realization that the success or failure of the strike will impact the quality of their education and have a direct bearing on their future and fortunes as well.
It is why lecturers task students to pay exorbitantly over handouts, textbooks, and so on.
It is the reason many have lost hope in their dreams. Or, while a person who studied medicine works in a factory. Or, a graduate is still unemployed. It is why most students want to become another Dangote or Otedola and live in luxury even if it means killing, exploiting, or maltreating people. It is capitalism: the reason why a profit-oriented government will never want education to be free, qualitative, and accessible at all levels— hence, the underfunding of education.
Like Aj. Dagga Tolar states in his song-poem title ‘Philosophy of Fallacy’ that: “they teach we of the doctrine of turn the other cheek by Jesu Christ/But they do not teach we Malcolm X liberation by every means necessary… /Suffering people/ they teach we philosophy of fallacy/ They do not teach suffering people/philosophy and history of the resistance of suffering people…”
The truth from the above is that the system of capitalism must be overthrown. It is hinged on exploitation, privatisation, and commercialisation of every commanding sector of the economy— education, inclusively. Hence, struggles in the educational sector must be unified. It is this unity that strengthened the #ENDSARS protest despite religious, ethical, or tribal differences. It is what shapes class consciousness and strengthens its growth and the identification of a common class enemy.
Beyond this, it is clear that the only way forward for the revitalisation of the education sector would be the nationalisation of all sectors under the democratic control and management of the working class. Universities’ senates would function more effectively for the interest of all if democratically constituted with representation from students, academic and non-academic unions, stakeholders, school representatives, etc.
However, it is important to reiterate that the victory in UNIBEN over the late fee charge is a step in the right direction for every working-class union. It shows that when we dare to struggle, unanimously, we dare to win. Hence, the banner for a socialist economy could be raised high. Why? Like the slogan of the 1917 Russian Revolution, “all power to the Soviet”. Like Karl Marx in Communist Manifesto, the working class has no country. So, they have nothing to lose than their chains. This is exactly what the education sector needs if it must survive.
Workers both teaching and non-teaching alongside students and parents with their organisations, united in action and resistance against capitalism and the desperation of the ruling elites to make education another profitable venture for capitalist sharks. Stepping up their resistance to politics and being rid of capitalism as a system.