An education-focused advocacy group, Education Rights Campaign (ERC), has called on the government of Kogi State to meet the demands of striking workers in the state’s education sector to ensure the resumption of academic activities in state-owned tertiary institutions. The group also condemned the Governor Yahaya Bello-led Kogi State government for its continued indifference to demands spelt out by the staff unions in all the state-owned institutions, who have been on strike for 93 days.
ERC’s position was made known in a statement signed by Mrs. Usman Teresa, its Kogi State Coordinator. The group, in addition, demanded improved funding of public education and provision of adequate teaching facilities at all levels of education in the state and condemned the violent police violent repression of students who protested, on Monday, the continuous closure of their schools.
Three of the protesting students, ERC noted, were arrested and later released.
“For us in the ERC, the arrest is unlawful and a violation of the students’ fundamental rights. If the Kogi State government does not want protest, all it has to do is to meet the demands of the striking education workers, so that students can resume their studies,” ERC stated.
The group put the blame of the striking workers’ intransigence on the state government, saying its insensitivity has hardened the position of the striking workers.
“Students have been at home for over three months now, many of whom have missed their chances for mobilization for National Youth Service, yet with no hope in sight for even the next batch. Even law students are already missing the chance of going to the Law School,” explained ERC, which noted that state-owned tertiary institutions have been on strike since the 16 January with the exception of Kogi State University, which joined on the 3 February, over arrears of salary owed them by the government.
The group, therefore, called on the government to immediately pay all arrears of salary and pension of workers and retirees in the state, institute measures to ensure the security of students’ welfare and academic activities from further delay and disturbances and raise education funding to 26% of the budgetary allocation as recommended by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Education in the state’s 2017 budget, ERC noted, was allocated 6.5% of the budget. The group also demanded a more transparent school management system to block corruption and ensure that funds allocated, together with Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), are judiciously used for public education.
The ERC group said it is convinced that the state government has enough resources to meet the striking workers’ demands, given that it received bailout totaling N40billion from the Federal Government. It noted that the demands made by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and other staff unions in the state-owned tertiary institutions are what a serious government should have no difficulty in meeting. The government’s failure to meet demands, said ERC, shows it as one without respect for education and the welfare of workers. The group also stated that it has been the practice of governments in Kogi State to falsely claim that low budgetary allocation from the Federal Government is the reason for their inability to provide free, functional and qualitative education for the people.
“We had seen, in the past, situations where primary and secondary school students protested to support their teachers when they embarked on a strike that lasted about a year. It is our contention that the state government has not shown enough concern about the three-month-old strike because politicians’ wards are not affected by the strike. Most moneybag politicians often enroll, using stolen public funds, their children in expensive private tertiary institutions both within the country and abroad while leaving the children of the working class and poor masses to struggle to acquire education in schools that are not fit for learning. This is a signal that unless students are prepared to join forces with the striking staff unions to force the State government to meet their demands, there will be no hope of when the strike will come to an end,” stated ERC.
The group called on workers in the state to be united and take the struggle to the next level by organizing a mass protest to compel the government to meet the striking workers’ demands.