(A response to H.T. Soweto and the DSM)
It was Joseph Goebbels, that propagandist of Adolf Hitler who said that, when ‘you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.’ This is why we have decided to respond to H.T. Soweto’s series of essays with the last titled “NANS CONVENTION 2012”. Does the new leadership represent a new dawn for the Student Movement? A whole sub-topic of the essay (“The Left Challenge”) was dedicated to abusing and lying against the SYL, and at a point our allies within the left.
Introduction: the opening of a can of lies
The opening paragraph of the sub-topic says:
“A political review will not be complete without examining the role of the left in the election. Prior to now, Socialist Workers’ League (SWL) whose students and youth wing is known as Socialist Youth League (SYL) had promoted the wrong perspective that all that it requires to reclaim NANS is for the left to mobilize behind a left candidate for presidency of the platform and go to the convention to slug it out with the entrenched right wings. This simplistic perspective equally envisaged the prospect that the left could also declare a faction in the event that it is impossible to win at the convention. This is in spite of the weakness of the left in the Student Movement!”
In which document of the SYL, or at which forum or discussion point did we ever “promote” these DSM-ascribed views? In fact, there were so many people who felt contended at the convention was not it, that we should just declare faction. We said NO to all this and we made it known that contending at the convention was an intervention to engage with the representative layers of students (i.e. SUG leaders) to take back the students movement, within a broader framework of engagement, which primarily includes mass mobilisation from below. This has been the crux of our perspective all the while. In a previous essay, (see ON NANS: LETS UNITE AND RE-BUILD FROM BELOW, as an appendix below), I posted thus:
“SYL cadres have decided to contest elections in the Students’ Unions and NANS. This is a conscious position towards exploring every chance to reach out to, and fight alongside other students’ movements is nothing, if not, a platform of students and for winning youths to the banner of the socialist struggle for social change.”
And we have never moved away in practice from all this. The immediate problem of H.T. Soweto and the DSM like Albert Camus noted is that “those who lack the courage will always find a philosophy to justify it.” That we took the courage to challenge the right wing’s hold on the students movement by mobilising and fighting alongside other radical elements within the left and the mass of studentry with clear programmes of action and perspective is a concrete step at testing the strength and will of the Nigerian students to destroy the enemy within which the reactionary and stakeholders represent. That was just the trench of a battle, within a larger war. We are proud to say that for us, the greater victory, which was establishing a broader layer of progressives within the students ’ unions, was won, with the building of bridges with a number of change-seeking student activists from outside the Zone D of NANS. At the convention, we saw the hold of the state and elite politicians on many Union leaders. We saw, without being surprised, what the rot within the student movement, modernised, advanced and in new fashion. But we also saw, met and fought alongside a few spirited union leaders from different zones of the Association.
What the sectarians forget or never understood in the first place is that; it is always correct to witness and fight alongside, the students (and/or workers), who might not be so “clear headed” as our sectarian “ideologues” might assume they are, but who are ready to fight for change, whenever and wherever they fight. This is the vital lesson from virtually every revolutionary upsurge in history. If revolutionaries are not with and within the inchoate mass at the initial point, even when the popular demands of such broad sections of the people might be limited, revolutionaries will not be able to present more radical alternatives to the people in the course of struggle. This is one of the most salient of the lessons from the Communist Manifesto. “Communists have no other interest other than the interest of the working class”, we do not stand apart from any of the trenches of the struggles of the working class, and in the case of the students’ movement, from any barricade of struggle of the studentry.
On CLAPS & Left Unity within the students movement
In the subsequent paragraph of this particular ERC’s bouquet of lies, referred to at the beginning of this response, “Soweto” further claims that “based on this perspective, the SYL presented a candidate, Dayo Shoyoye (Dee One) for NANS president from the Lagos State University (LASU) and organised a broad platform, Coalition of Left and Progressive Students (CLAPS), to mobilise support for the candidate”. As we have pointed out, above, the perspective that reclaiming NANS merely requires presenting a Left candidate, if it exists at all, exists solely in the heads of members of the DSM, nestle with a number of distortions on how to socialists should work within the working masses towards bringing about a revolutionary transformation of society. There is however also the very big lie about CLAPS, which gives an insight into the sectarian core of DSM’s politics, which goes perfectly with its culture of deceit.
First and foremost, it is outright falsification of the facts which DSM cadres are aware of, to claim that SYL formed or “organised” CLAPS for any reason whatsoever. The idea that a broad platform of the Left is a pressing need in the students’ movement is one that has been around for a while. In more recent times, it is a position that has been argued for at several forums, including the anti-imperialist camps organised by Social Action, which SYL has been invited to a number of times. When eventually the idea was to materialise, largely due to the initiative of the CDHR Students’ Activist Watch, and with the support of Social Action, SYL was invited just as the DSM was also invited. In its typical sectarian manner, DSM turned down the invitation. But despite this, HT Soweto submitted an article for the first issue of Thunder Claps, the CLAPS broadsheet. This was published, unedited, a fact which demonstrates the openness of CLAPS, but which Soweto conveniently overlooked in his tirade, as this could buck the logic of his argument.
It would seem curious that DSM turned down the invitation to be a part of CLAPS, despite the closing remarks by the ERC Coordinator, HT Soweto in an earlier posting that “we call for the unity of the left in the student movement around campaigns and actions against education attacks on campuses round the country”. But the reason is actually rooted in the politics of DSM to the effect that it can be part of a “united front” only when it controls the supposedly “united” platform of Left forces. Two examples suffice to confirm this fact.
First, in 1996, the then Militant (which became DSM two years later) invited several Left groups to establish what was known as the “Broad Left Platform” (BLSP). This was at a time that the rot in NANS which we witness today was just beginning to rear its head. Other Left groups took up the invitation. This was despite the commitment of Militant (DSM) to the candidacy of Dare “Above Jordan” Ogunlana (who was presented as a member of Militant, UI branch). There was hope in many quarters that irrespective of the outcome of the December 14 Convention that year, the Left would have a common clearing house for collective intervention in the students movement which had then just started to flounder in a bad way. But once its candidate won as NANS President, Militant/DSM simply closed down BLSP without any discussion whatsoever with any of the groups it had earlier invited to form it.
Second, the Education Rights Campaign was indeed formed by DSM in 2004. But after two years of being nothing but a mere paper tiger, DSM activists reached out to the Congress of Progressive Youths (the group of International Socialists in OAU, Ife and a few other campuses, which along with other similar groups became the Socialist Youth League in 2011), requesting that the ERC be jointly pursued as a campaign. This was welcomed. On the basis of this, in 2007, COPY comrades were very active in the ERC. But when the COPY (SYL) comrades requested that the ERC be democratised and its constitution re-written to reflect the united front approach to building it at the time, DSM/ERC took off without a word. Till date, ERC which campaigns for the democratic right of education remains a very undemocratic campaign which is accountable only to the DSM and not the studentry
It can now be seen why Soweto in a typical DSM manner could not but imagine that SYL “organised” CLAPS because its National Coordinator was democratically elected by the assembly of Left and Progressive student activists (with only DSMites non-involvement, by choice).
Of organising from below versus existing unions & NANS structures
The DSM’s position on “organising” for the rebirth of the students’ movement has one major theoretical flaw. It is flat and linear. As we pointed out in our introduction earlier, the challenge for revolutionary and progressive students is to wage a relentless struggle, ideologically, politically and organisationally with the dominant right wing influence in the students’ movement. This does not in any way negate the perspective of “revolution from below” which SYLers stand for, it rather entrenches it. The blanket view of students’ unions as simply being nests of “rightwing leadership” is also one that is not sufficient and fails to grasp the depth of the crises besetting the students’ movement.
The “students’ union governments” did not just fall from the skies. While the ERC seems to grasp the fact that there has been an “ideological retreat” in the students movement for almost two years now, its view that “consistent attacks by the school management and government against student activists and students’ left organisations” could be the main, even if not the only factor for this is one of those cases where it subsumes the disease as the symptom, instead of the other way round. It is not as if the state and school authorities in years past used to clap for student activists and radical groups.
Generally, for revolutionaries that can see beyond their noses, radical alternatives and politics faced a period of retreat both nationally and globally as capitalism’s dog-eat-dog ideology of neoliberalism brought about an avalanche of attacks and pro-establishment ideas. It is not only the occupiers of students’ union offices or the NANS executive committees at national, zonal or state Joint Campus Committees that have moved from being (relatively) progressive. On the contrary, the situation is much more complex than this.
SYL understands the complexity of the current situation and realises the need for radical students to be able to organise and agitate, concurrently, within: the mass of students; with students’ unions, as much as possible, and; within the NANS structures at all levels. We have no illusion that students’ unions could quite often “betray” the students, but a deeper issue is even that there are increasing numbers of schools without students unions and most of the schools where the rank and file have spontaneously revolted are schools without unions.
The impression that SYL ran a campaign without public agitation with regards to the pressing issues of students’ rights could not be further from the truth. In the months running up to the Convention, SYL, as an organisation, and in collaboration with a number of other Left bodies and students’ unions organised a series of symposiums and rallies in schools such as OSCOED Ilesha, Federal Poly Ede, Federal Polytechnic Offa and Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti. We also participated in programmes organised by other organisations including ERC. A significant number of the participants at its October 1, symposium in Ife were SYLers. It is also interesting to note that the first bombardment of the OAU Ile Ife management towards reinstating the students union was in the form of a NANS Zone D rally after which the Zone D Asst Secretary, Awo Sam (an SYLer) mobilised from hall to hall declaring that NANS would make the school ungovernable if the union is not unbanned.
Socialist activists who have any sense of dialectics must learn to situate strategy and tactics within a broader understanding of the current situation. It is also important that we do not have a linear or one-dimensional approach to organising. To the extent that most of the Left groups in the country remain largely limited to the South West of the country, building from below, as a major strategy requires finding and building relations with genuinely committed students’ union leaders from other zones. NANS Conventions and activities remain veritable grounds for establishing links with such student activists from other parts of the country that are also not happy with the way things are and seek clarity on the way forward.
Allegations of state support
It would have been apt to simply dismiss the claims by Soweto that SYLers “compromised in practice by involving the “underhand dealings with anti-poor positions or “progressive” political parties and politicians in a bit to garner support strong enough to confront the entrenched right wing elements who in most cases count on the support of the PDP”. Nothing could be further from the truth. SYLers and the SWL as a whole have never refrained from pointing out the anti-poor policies of the state governments run by parties like the ACN and even the LP which we are active in, within the South West.
While two of the former student activists that are members of SWL work as public servants within the states where the ACN constitutes governments, to describe them as “some known cohorts of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) governments in the South West”, is indeed shameless on the part of Soweto and the ERC. The plank of the SYL campaign was a programme of struggle and our constituency comprises students and the working people, not members of the ruling elite.
We declared our intention to contend at the Convention seven months earlier and our position was clearly spelt out then thus:
SYL cadres have decided to contest elections in students’ unions and NANS. This is a conscious position towards exploring every chance to reach out to, and fight alongside other students. This is based on our belief that the students’ movement, is nothing, if not a platform for fighting in defense of students and for winning youths to the banner of the socialist struggle for social change” (SW 001, May-June 2012)
When a socialist organisation sees itself as the socialist movement it cannot but run into the alleys of sectarianism such as that which DSM lives in. This is understandable, even if unfortunate. But to make lies a regular staple is a shameful accompaniment of this dance of their emperor without clothes. This is the summary of how far DSM/ERC has fallen from its far from Olympian heights in the first place.
This response must conclude by noting that sectarianism is “infantile disorder” as Lenin correctly describes. It happens mostly when revolutionaries substitute their consciousness for that of the masses, and out of frustration, always blame the masses whenever they fail to fight or could not finish a fight, instead of fighting alongside the masses without relenting, as the undaunted tribune of the working people and youth. We said it several times; it is the mass of studentry (just like the case of working class) that only have the potential to revive the students’ movement. Ours as a revolutionary organisation is to always be critically involved at each and every barricade of the students’ struggles. This is the only way the students movement can be rebuilt and active strata of the present generation of students made to understand that their episodic struggles have to be tied to a broader struggle for revolutionary change, as the students movement up to the mid-1990s realised.
Contending at the Convention was an action with much more significance than the bid for NANS President, but that bid gave contention a pulse. What we demonstrated clearly was that there could be alternative to the right wing that has dominated NANS, from within the students’ movement. And we marched and fought proudly alongside a wide network of the Left and progressive students and groups, a number of which we were meeting for the first time. The SYL candidate was the only real political opposition and that is why we were attacked all through. He was also the only candidate backed genuinely by a Students’ Union (LASUSU). Despite winning the elections, the right wing’s legitimacy remains battered by our contention at that convention.
We greatly appreciate the Left participation in that election, and collectively for the progressive strata of student activists and organisations, it opened new doors of struggle. Let the secretarians know that it is better for the left to unite and strike together for we are all paddlers in the same boat. We must uphold that democracy we preach and avoid the melodramatic comedy where a sect feels it is the Lord of Revolution. We stand for the unity of Left and progressive students and will continue to work assiduously in CLAP, while opposing mechanical unity in a fashion that detests the real maxim of “the unity of struggles”, or such that the DSM is wont of “forging” i.e. for when it suits it and that it can be in control of. Sects such as DSM should note that we will never urge the “students to join us in a fightback”. Rather, we will always be there to inspire and join students’ fight back, anywhere and everywhere.
Nothing shall discourage us!
Kunle Wiseman Ajayi
On NANS: let’s unite and re-build from below!
by Kunle Wizman Ajayi
Since the late ’90s, revolutionary socialists and activists, have correctly argued that the series of sham students’ leaderships in the country represent a great decline of the National Association of Nigerian Students. These have been comprised of persons with such questionable titles as “stakeholders”, “NANS pensioners”, “la pako lords” etc. It even got to a time when each of the thieving political parties of bosses had their own NANS structures and factions. Liberal bourgeois journalists have even had to criticize the once vibrant and progressive students’ association. An example of this is Reuben Abati (who is now President Jonathan’s spokesperson) who wrote an article titled “Was that NANS?”
Many other radical unions, groups, and individuals who used to be fraternal friends of NANS have also openly and practically dissociated themselves from her. These actions might seem right. But it would not be correct for us to give up hope that the earlier heritage of NANS in defense of students’ rights and for a better Nigeria could be rebuilt. To do this as revolutionary socialists and progressive activists, we have to move beyond criticizing to intervening.
OUR INTERVENTION: THE TASKS AND CHALLENGES
In 2007, Socialist youths and students took the initiative of forming a national united front platform to campaign for the revival of radical traditions in the student movement. This was the Education Rights Campaign (ERC). The campaign’s earliest efforts were successful as a spirit of radical struggle returned to the students’ movement.
Great efforts and actions were taken in collaboration with students’ leadership who bought into our political ideals. The Education Rights Campaign rested on inspiring action at this point in time and many supporters and friends were won over. The ERC, until last year, built and activated a new consciousness of radicalism on many campuses. But now, the ERC cannot be found in its traditional roles initial character as a united front platform of students’ revolutionaries has been abandoned.
Since last year, SYL cadres have been involved in debates within the League and other comrades in the students’ movement about possibly building an alternative national students’ organisation to the now reactionary NANS. In doing this, SYL has been conscious of the fact that such would be no mean task and would equally require the revitalisation of radical union traditions on various campuses.
Osun state NANS Joint Campuses Committee is now regarded as the most active and radical organ of NANS in recently times. This largely is the result of SYL interventions which upholds work in different campuses and combining these to build broader networks and organisation of student activists and unions across schools.
ON NANS ELECTIONS, NACONS, AND CONS
SYL cadres have decided to contest elections in students’ unions and NANS. This is a conscious position towards exploring every chance to reach out to, and fight alongside other students. This is based on our belief that the students’ movement, is nothing, if not a platform for fighting in defense of students and for winning youths to the banner of the socialist struggle for social change.
It is in this light also that we disavow sectarianism. This is why we strongly believe that the unilateral declaration by comrade “Liberty” from UNLORIN of the formation of one National Congress of Nigerian Students (NACONS) is a step in the wrong direction. You cannot declare an alternative students’ platform without the students themselves. Doing that is pursuing a vain course. Our position here does not mean we would not support a new platform for students. No. We do not fetish “NANS”, because of its legacy from a now distant past. And with its current state a radical alternative could very well become inevitable. But it will come out of struggle, which would win a critical mass of students’ unions to that perspective and not mere declarations.
AND SO; UNITE & FIGHT, NOW!
One way or the other, the reactionaries in NANS are united. This was shown in the structures since the Unification Election that produced Mohammed Dauda last year in Bayelsa. We progressives must learn from this action. We must struggle to unite by organising and fighting together from the very roots of the campus. Revolutionaries must use this opportunity to defend the political gains of the January Uprising against Fuel Subsidy Removal.
We in the SYL believe that progressive youths and students need to consciously build a united front that is devoid of the sectarianism and isolated radicalism that has been the bane of the Left in the students’ movement, even with the recent Education Rights Campaign which somewhere along the line became the “project” of just one group. The time is now to unite to build a democratic, students-based and revolutionary students movement. Right from below -hostels; lecture rooms; halls- to the state and national levels. Revolutionary students must unite and return back to our traditional role of fighting for the basic and humanitarian ethos of education, and other socio-political issues that affect us as a people. Let’s do it NOW!
published in: Socialist Worker Issue May-June 2012
NIGERIAN STUDENTS FIGHT BACK!
KUNLE WIZMAN AJAYI
Just like the proverbial animal that’s been chased to the wall, Nigerian students in many campuses, are fighting back. They are demanding a fundamental change on education policy in the country. They are demanding Education Reforms involving reduction in the high fees; qualitative and conducive learning conditions; democratisation of decision-making processes on campuses to include inputs of students; independent students’ unionism and adequate funding of education. These demands, of course, are genuine and correct. But the ruling class has not only ignored their genuine cries, they have engineered repressive measures to prevent and shut all dissenting voices. Many Students’ Unions have been banned, and education massively underfunded. This has long ago drawn us to that inevitable conclusion – this system of ‘greed and power’ will never fund education appropriately. This is capitalism’s character everywhere in the world. Until students go to the streets to demand their rights, in a highly organized manner, there will be no change.
The peak of students’ struggle in recent time was the Unilag Students’ protest against the arbirary name-changing to Moshood Abiola University by President Jonathan on May 29. For three days, Unilag students (without a students’ union for the past 8 years) occupied the streets of Lagos, demanding an immediate reversal, fighting arms in arms with their teachers and all other education workers. At the end, the students beat the FGN to a retreat. Of course, the Socialist Youth League’s press statement, which was widely circulated aptly captured the UNILAG students’ struggles, that it was ‘A FIGHT FOR DEMOCRACY!’ That protest imbued students with a lot of confidence and inspired them for more struggles. The point must however be made that the protest was the climax of a united action amongst all the education workers, and students especially, for the democratisation of decision-making in our educational institutions, as enshrined in the 2009 ASUU AGREEMENT WITH the Federal Government.
Some days later, Great Ife students also displayed their preference for mass action as they sharply forced their management to a retreat over compounded Examination Time-table. It was another display of the capacity of students to openly unionise and fraternise even under the most repressive atmosphere.
At Federal Polytechnic, Offa, students have had to defend their freedom to public gathering and expression. On July 11, members of the CDHR on that campus, with support from the mass of the students, successfully defended their right to gather and discuss on ‘CORRUPTION IN NIGERIA INSTITUTIONS, A CHALLENGE FOR NATIONAL SECURITY’ at the popular Olawoyin Hall. The symposium was an intellectual forum where ideas were cross-fertilized and the way forward analysed. Kunle Wizeman of the SYL, representing Com. Femi Aborisade, the Editor-in-chief of Socialist Worker, spoke on the effects of corruption on the society at large, and the importance of fighting the venom from its roots – ‘authority stealing.’ Taiwo Otitolaye, the former UAD convener also discussed the topic with other speakers. The over 200 students’ gathering came to the conclusion that independent actions of students across the country must be intensified in order to fight alongside the working people towards uprooting capitalism, and replacing it with a more democratic system where impunity is taboo as the major sectors of the economy would be placed in the hands of the public and managed democratically by the workers themselves.
Many more of these public gatherings and discussions have been held in many other campuses like Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba (AAUA); Osun State College of Education (OSCOHEALTH), ILESA (where students forced the management to break the evil ‘bureaucratic bottlenecks’ and won, for the first time, the effecting of the long approved NYSC mobilisation rights for qualified students). Lagos State University (LASU) has been the centre stage of resistance, as the ACN-led misgovernment in Lagos turned Education to a bazaar where the poor become spectators. The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) held its symposium right on that campus and the attendance was superb and historic!
LASU AND EKSU FEES: FLASHPOINTS OF EDUCATION FOR THE RICH
As part of the anti-poor policies of Governor Raji Fasola in Lagos, the tuition fees of students of LAGOS STATE UNIVERSITY (LASU) have been increased to a rocket high rate of 725%, from N25,000 to between N193.750 and N348.750 per session. In LASU, at the matriculation day on 12th of March 2012, only 1,951 students out of over 4,903 (or 39.8%) offered admission turned up for oath-taking, all because of the economic hardship imposed on students.
The Government of Governor Kayode Fayemi of the ACN-led Ekiti State government has increased the school fees by 100% in the Ekiti state University. The implication is that students who were paying N50,000 before will now be paying between N93,000 and N191,500 per session, depending on courses being offered. It is obvious that an average Ekiti state worker cannot afford to pay the fees. Though students resisted these policies but the state brutality, arrest and detention of students’ leaders, the victimisation of Students’ Union leaders and activists forced the repressive policies on the students.
Aside these official hikes, many other obnoxious fees and levies have been imposed on students, which have made education in Nigeria a ‘NO-GO-AREA’ for the poor. One of these is ‘ACCEPTANCE FEES’ that has been introduced by several institutions, including Federal institutions. This is so ridiculous that when faced with the fact that it is being collected at OAU, IFE early last year, Yayale Ahmed, a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, denied ever hearing such before. Such denial shows how barbaric the fee is. Yet other heinous fees like ICT FEES; SIWES e.t.c are still being collected.
Also, pre-undergraduate fees like POST-UTME and other fees charged in all the Centres For Distance Learning in various institutions show that the ruling class is bent on using all measures to keep young people from poor families away from having access to education.
Nigerian students must kickstart the process of a nationwide mass struggle to save our lives from being destroyed as ‘education is the key of life.’ Nigeria has more than enough resources to give education to every Nigerian, from cradle to grave, as provided under S. 18(3) of the 1999 Constitution. Aborisade posited recently that ‘Nigeria is an oil-rich country. According to IMF, over $700bn had been realized in oil revenues alone since 1960. Eighty-five per cent (85%) of this sum accrues to only 1% of the population and about 40% or more of the national wealth has been stolen.’ He also quoted Ribadu as asserting that ‘Between 1960 and 1999 Nigerian officials had stolen or wasted more than $440bn.That is six times the Marshall Plan…’ ‘This is the total amount that was used to rebuild the whole of Western Europe after the massive destruction produced by the 2nd world war.’ How will they fund education when they continue to loot the country, milk our resources dry and sell them cheaply to the multinationals, and then adopt the bestial Imperialist policy of privatizing everything, including education! That is the evil in the Oronsaye Panel Recommendation. We must organize a practical NO to it now.
Let us dare to struggle to defend our future.
published in Socialist Worker October-November, 2012
 We present below two of articles that amongst others clearly stated our perspectives on the way forward in the students’ movement, well before the Convention, as appendices.