We have received reports on the latest developments at the OAU in Ife, Nigeria, from the students involved in the struggle. In spite of a determined effort by the student leaders to stop the massive fees increase, because of many factors, not least the totally treacherous role of the student leadership nationally (NANS), for now the authorities have managed to impose their measures. But this is not going to be the end of the story.
The leaders of the student union at the OAU in Ife, Nigeria, have been putting up a heroic struggle to stop the draconian measures imposed by the university authorities. In particular, the struggle was aimed at stopping the huge increases in fees the students will have to pay. (See Appeal for solidarity against further repression of Nigerian students - The case of OAU-Ife, and Fee-hike season in Varsities: the OAU Ife story, for more details).
Five student leaders in Ife have paid for their militant stance with suspension from their courses. This means they will not be able to attend lectures for a session and this will further delay their finishing their degree courses. The police have also threatened one of the students with arrest. This is the response of the university authorities in a country that claims to be democratic. How really democratic it is can be seen from the electoral farce earlier on in the year (See Nigerian 2003 elections - Workers need their own party to put an end to this sham "democracy")
Ife can be considered to be the vanguard of the student movement at this stage. Unfortunately the national leadership of the students, embodied in the NANS (National Association of Nigerian Students) has played a very bad role. The NANS leadership consciously betrayal the movement and they refused to mobilize nationally. The fact is that the clique at the top of NANS was totally bought off by the state. This was in fact one of the measures taken by the government to try and isolate Ife. Thus the present NANS leadership cannot provide any basic leadership to the students' movement. This presents the students nationally with the urgent task of completely overturning the present leadership and replacing it with people who genuinely defend the ordinary students on the ground and who will not behave in an opportunistic manner and allow themselves to be bought off by the state.
Another factor in the isolation of the militant students at Ife was the gradual collapse of the strikes of the lecturers and non-academic workers. This inevitably played a limiting role on the preparedness of the whole of the student body to fight. We have to also add that the collapse of these strikes cannot be isolated from the reactionary role of the leadership of these trade unions. They proved incapable – or unwilling - to unite the workers and lecturers in the struggle. Also, the national leadership of the unions in the NLC did not help matters. They chose to keep well away from this struggle. This is logical if we consider that during the recent elections they basically backed Obasanjo, the President of Nigeria and his bourgeois cohorts rather than stand their own candidates and give the workers a voice. The authorities are now preparing a major attack on those workers who refuse to go back to work and we may be facing another round of sackings.
Another important factor in weakening the student movement was the long period of closure of the campus. The authorities replied to the lecturers and non-academic staff strikes with a total closing down of the campus. Their tactic was to wear down the workers involved in the strike. The campus at OAU was in fact closed for eleven months and so the students were forced to stay at home for months awaiting the decision of the authorities to reopen. This long stay at home proved to be a major limiting factor in the struggle against the fees.
Upon resumption, all these factors come to play a limiting factor. The resumption was in fact a major attempt by the Obasanjo regime to smash the strikes of the university staff. In the end the policy of divide and rule (helped by the lack of fighting leadership of the union leaders) together with the corruption of the leadership of some of these unions, particularly the non-academic and NANS, paid off.
The tactic of the authorities was to stagger the return of the students to campus. The first students to be called back were in fact the first year students, the freshers. It was basically a "salami tactic" attacking the students layer by layer. This was aimed at avoiding a militant action by the mass of the students. It gave very little time to the student union leaders at Ife to campaign among the students and make them aware of what was at stake.
Thus a layer of these students started paying the new fees. This had the effect of isolating the movement. It was in these conditions that the authorities felt they had the advantage and thus they immediately drafted in the armed police with the view of smashing and arresting the leadership of the movement. The Obasanjo regime is in fact providing the universities with huge resources to smash the anti-fees struggle of the students, and the strikes of the workers and lecturers'. They are ready to use crude force if necessary.
In these conditions the anti-fees movement at Ife was open to immediate attack. That is was why the leaders of the OAU student union were victimized on the very first day the picketing started. Quite a lot of the students, including the returning students, have now paid the fees. The university used all dirty tricks in the book to make this possible.
The movement against the imposition of fees is currently very weak nationally; thanks also to the behaviour of the NANS leadership and the Ife students have been isolated. The regime has succeeded largely in increasing school fees across the country.
This does not mean the end of the struggle. It is a temporary setback that to a certain degree was unavoidable, given the circumstance and the nature of the national leadership. This is forcing the student leaders at Ife to review the situation and prepare for future battles. It is clear that the authorities at Ife want to smash the student union completely. Ife has always been one of the most militant campuses in Nigeria. It has always given a lead to the rest of the country's students.
The authorities want to remove this thorn from their side. This must not be allowed to happen. The task now is to patiently explain to the students what has happened and why, and to then to prepare for the future. Part of this preparation involves a struggle to change the NANS leadership nationally.
We have to understand that this is not going to be the end of the story. New fee hikes are inevitable in the future. What is at stake is the ability of ordinary working Nigerians to be able to send their sons and daughters to university. It will be the poor who will be hit hardest by these increases.
In the short term the battle now turns to the legal side. This would involve organizing a legal defence and political campaign against the draconian policies of the regime. This is going to involve time and money in going to the courts to get the suspensions lifted. So we would ask all those who supported us during this struggle to get ready for a further campaign once the legal battle gets off the ground. We must not allow this case to be buried and for these students to be victimised! We will inform you of further developments on this front.
We will also have to strengthen our links with the workers' unions on the campus and discuss with them the lessons of their experience. We are all under attack here, students and university staff.
The attack on the students is not an isolated incidence. It is part of a more general attack on the workers and youth of Nigeria by the Obasanjo regime. They are under pressure to pay the interest on the debts they have with their imperialist backers. Thus they are also preparing a new round of increases in the fuel price soon. This would mean that the honeymoon with the labour leaders would go sour and a new wave of struggles would open up.
June 21, 2003.