Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre, stood still for many hours yesterday, as over 1,000 university students, lecturers, human rights activists and other stakeholders took to the streets. They staged a peaceful rally to show their displeasure over what they termed ‘poor funding of education in the country.’As early as 6:00a.m, participants began to converge on the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), secretariat annex in Yaba, Lagos, for the protest. The rally eventually took off at 8:00a.m.The nationwide indefinite strike embarked upon by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to protest poor funding of education by the government has been on since July 1.
The protest, organised by the Joint Action Front (JAF), a coalition of students and civil right groups, was led by Comrade Abiodun Aremu. Leaders of the group who participated in the rally included Lagos radical lawyer, Mr. Bamidele Aturu and representative of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), Comrade Chibuzor Asomugha.
Also in attendance were the leaders of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Concerned Students Against Education Commercialization, Education Rights Campaign and others.
The organizers said similar rallies would be held at various zones across the country. Protests would also be staged in Kano, Ibadan, Owerri, Calabar, Abuja and other places.
The protesters, carrying scores of placards with various inscriptions, sang numerous abusive songs to press home their agitations. They did not only sing, they danced with a view to sensitizing the public about their cause.
The students barricaded Ikorodu Road at Onipanu area as they bemoaned their fate. The students also played football on the highway.
The protesters assaulted the Federal Government with the inscriptions on their placards. The inscriptions addressed various issues including alleged government’s insensitivity to the plight of teachers at all levels of education, high school fees and poor infrastructure in public schools.
As this was going on, economic activities on Ikorodu Road were brought to a standstill. The situation led to heavy traffic on the road. Motorists and commuters spent many hours on the road after they were held up in the logjam.
Addressing the protesters at Palmgrove, Comrade Abiodun Aremu described the march as a tip of an iceberg, adding that series of protests have been lined up to force the three tiers of government in the country to jettison their purported negative attitude to the growth and development of education and embrace positive attitude.
His words: “This is just the beginning of a number of protests that we have lined up in the coming days. We are going to be peaceful in all the protests. As you can see today (yesterday), there are no street urchins or ‘area boys.’ The aim is to draw government attention to the numerous problems bedeviling education in the country. We need the support of everybody. If we don’t do this, nobody is going to do it for us.”
Aremu also appealed to necessary stakeholders such as parents, traders, artisans and others to join JAF in the subsequent protests that would be staged in different parts of the country. If this is done, he believed, the government would be compelled to take pragmatic steps to evolve a policy that would transform educational sector in Nigeria.
Representative of ASUP, Comrade Asomugha, in his speech, said: “Education is not only for the rich. Nigerians should wake up and reclaim what belongs to them. We, members of ASUP, have resolved to join the protest to salvage the education sector. We want to identify with the spirit of peaceful protest, which is a veritable tool to fight a just cause.”
He lamented that this feat would remain a mirage if the NLC and other relevant stakeholders would not take the bull by the horn and fight for the rights of the downtrodden.
The aim of the protest, according to JAF, is to draw the attention of government and members of the public to the bleak future awaiting Nigerian children if decisive steps are not taken to redress the problems. JAF further lamented that children of top politicians and government officials are being trained in private schools in Nigeria and abroad with funds allegedly looted from public coffers.
JAF secretary, Comrade Aremu, stated that the protest was organised to force government to pay attention to the universities lecturers’ demands, not to molest anybody. He said the lingering ASUU/FG feud over the non-implementation of the 2009 agreement did not prompt protest but the need to emphasize adequate funding of the educational sector. He added: “We have mobilized students concerning today’s protest; we also plan to make it nationwide.
“Nigerians must know that the politicians (at the presidency, state governments, national and state assemblies), top civil servants, traditional rulers and their cronies of contractors and patrons were beneficiaries of public education. Also, some of them set up private schools and universities in Nigeria and abroad with stolen funds from the public coffers. That is why none of their children are in any public school in Nigeria.
“The case of Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola of Lagos State is the most striking example. He enjoyed free tuition at the University of Benin, without which he wouldn't have been educated. Yet, the same Governor Fashola turned Lagos State University (LASU) into a high cost fee paying university from N25,000 to N320,000, thereby throwing children of the poor who voted for him and who his government refused to pay the N18,000 minimum wage, out of school.”
The National Association of Nigerian Students, also yesterday appealed to the federal government, university lecturers and polytechnic teachers to resolve their face-off for the sake of students. President of NANS, Mr Yinka Gbadebo, told students had continued to be victims of conflicts between lecturers and governments.
University teachers, under the umbrella of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, had on July 1 embarked on an indefinite strike to protest the non implementation of a part of an agreement it had with the federal government in 2009.
THE SUN NIGERIA