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We say no to anti-students’ union bill-For Full Respect of Students’ Rights to Independent Unionism

December 5, 2009

We Nigerian students under the aegis of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) hereby condemn the “Students’ Union Activities (Control and Regulation) Amendment Bill 2008” which is currently before the National Assembly. This is because the bill is anti-student, undemocratic and vindictive.

Of course, we in the ERC agree that there is the need to review the law which regulates the activities of students unions in the education sector. However, we believe this should not be for the purpose of imposing on students more undemocratic and vindictive laws but to relax the stifling atmosphere of terror, victimization, tyranny and despotism which previous laws like the ‘Students Union Activities (Control and Regulation) Act 2004 (which this bill aim to amend) has created on the campuses. We believe that education can only thrive and make the country better for it when students, an integral part of the society are allowed to freely associate and express themselves as a universal democratic right. This is because this will empower students to fight for adequate funding of education, defend democratic rights and fight against corruption and mismanagement which now pervades government at all levels and the managements of institutions of higher learning.

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Robust, independent and radical Students’ Unionism is also the panacea to cultism on the campuses. Unfortunately, the general aim of this bill is to impose on students undemocratic and vindictive laws which will emasculate the Students’ Unions and make them incapable of defending students against the anti-poor education policies of the government. Its specific aim is to gag students and bind the hands of students’ unions so that they will not be able to fight against government plans to increase fees on campuses and the abysmally low allocation to education in the 2010 proposed budget.

To start with, the amendment bill 2008 claims for itself two conflicting, contradictory and divergent purposes. One, the bill wants to “Empower Institutions highest Governing body to sanction students and bodies”. Two, the bill also want to “Remove clauses which infringe on the fundamental human rights of students”. We say both these aims are conflicting because the only result of empowering institutions highest body to sanction students and their bodies is the absolute denial of students the basic democratic and fundamental human rights set forth in the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

At the end of the day, this bill has confirmed our worst fear. This is because the Students’ Union Activities (Control and Regulation) Amendment bill 2008 while it removes a clause (Section 1) in the ‘Students Union Activities (Control and Regulation) Act 2004 which makes students’ unionism voluntary now added more than five other sections and subsections containing several clauses which makes nonsense of the right of students to independent unionism and empowers the Governing council to suspend and expel students and students unions at will while vesting on the Visitor to the institutions the final decision on such matters. Weighed on the balance of logic, this bill before the National Assembly will injure students fundamental human rights more than the 2004 Act has done.

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Section 2 (1) of this amendment bill 2008 states that “As from the commencement of this Act every student of every Institution of higher learning in Nigeria shall have the right of participation in all legally recognized students’ union of his/her choice”. This to us amount to nothing when juxtaposed with several other clauses that brazenly violates students’ freedom and rights.  
We also believe that all other provisions set up in the amendment bill 2008 are so undemocratic and vindictive that they will eventually make the exercise of the right of all students to participate in a Students’ Union of their choice set out in Section 2 (1) above impossible or dangerous to exercise. This is because these provisions gives unnecessarily vindictive powers to governing councils in contravention of the Act setting up the Universities to regulate, expel and suspend students. If these provisions are not deleted from the bill and replaced with democratic ones, students’ unionism will become a dangerous activity on our campuses with dire implications for students and activists who wish to use the union to defend their interests.

These undemocratic, illegal, vindictive and unacceptable provisions include:
(a)   Section 2 (2) which states that “Nothing in this Act shall prevent any governing council, the highest decision making body or any authority or person in charge of any institution of higher learning from regulating the activities of the Unions”.
 (b)   Section 4 (1) of the amendment bill 2008 which empowers a Governing Council “Whenever it is of the opinion that public interest or public safety so demands, suspend for any specified period of time, remove or expel any student (whether undergraduate, postgraduate of otherwise) from any University or institution of higher learning or similar institutions”.
(c)   Section 4 (2) which states that “The powers conferred on the Governing Council, the highest decision-making body or any authority or a person in charge of every institution of higher learning in Subsection (1) may be exercised by that body provided that any student affected by subsection 1 may within 28 days on receiving notification to that effect make representation to the Visitor to the Institution, whose decision on the matter shall be final and conclusive”.
(d)   And Section 5 (1), (2) and (3) all empower the Governing Council to suspend or proscribe the Students’ Union.

From the letters and spirits of the bill, which is meant to cripple students’ union activities, the following observations, among others, could be readily drawn:
 (1) The bill does not give room for fair hearing and violates Section 36 of the 1999 constitution, (2) the Governing Council will in all ramification be biased since it is mainly peopled with appointees and close friends of the government, (3) it is calculated to whip  students to submission and to swallow all manners of draconian policies such as astronomical hike in fees and (4) it would take away the rights of Nigerian students to freedom of expression and association as enshrined in Sections 39 and 40 of the 1999 Constitution respectively.

We consider it illogical and incongruous to empower a body (Governing Council) to solely decide what is in the public interest and safety when in actual fact majority of its members are not elected, and thereby owe allegiance to the government of the day and not the public (students, workers and the general public).  The same body is equally empowered to accuse and adjudicate at the same time, thereby throwing away the universally accepted principle of independence and impartiality to the wind. It is draconian to say the least for the Governing Council to be given the power to take a decision without giving student(s) fair hearing and also expect to sit on an appeal of the same case. In a scenario like this, injustice will become the order of the day.

We wish to put it on record that the cause of crisis in tertiary institutions is not the presence of virile students’ unionism but government habit of imposing anti-poor education policies on students, coupled with despotism of the management of tertiary institutions. Against this background, the Students’ Union Activities (Control and Regulation) Amendment Bill 2008 since it seek to put more powers in the hands of the Governing Council to victimize student activists is bound to create more intractable crisis on campuses.
OUR PROPOSALS: Instead of empowering the Governing Councils to victimize students, we propose that all the undemocratic provisions indentified above must be deleted and replaced with provisions that capture the following points:
(1)   Full democratization of the decision-making organs of Universities and other institution of learning through the involvement of elected representatives of students, staff unions, parents and the host communities in the senate, Governing Council and other organs vested with the duties of running the schools. This only can guarantee judicious use of funds and also conducive learning environment.
(2)   All offices in the Management of the Universities and institutions of higher learning must be elective with opportunity given to students, staff and the campus community to democratically determine those who should run their affairs.
(3)   The financial status of the Universities and all institutions of higher learning must be open to the public most especially members of the campus community. Such financial statements must be published, audited and probed from time to time.
(4)   All vindictive disciplinary panels must be disbanded. The process of applying discipline must be democratic through the involvement of representatives of students and staff unions in fact finding and disciplinary panels.
(5)    All politically victimized student and Staff Union leaders must be reinstated. Notable cases are Akinola Saburi, Orgumah Andrew Segun and Muyiwa Aderibigbe who were former leaders of the Students’ Union of the Obafemi Awolowo University and have been expelled for several years now because they kicked against the excesses of the Authority of the University. Also, the case of the sacked 44 lecturers at the University of Ilorin must be resolved in order to relax the atmosphere of terror on the campuses.

If this process is combined with radical steps by the government to invest heavily in the education sector (26% UNESCO recommendation), the perennial crisis of students and management conflict which has become the hallmark of the education sector would come to an end. The National Assembly has a responsibility to stave off the crisis which the anti-Students’ Union bill portends by throwing it into the trash can, where it rightly belongs. We hope wise counsel would prevail on the National Assembly.

In conclusion, we call for the reversal of all fees particularly the recent astronomical increment of fees to as high as N120, 000 at the University of Ado-Ekiti (UNAD). We also reject the 2010 proposed budget on the basis of the abysmally low allocation to education. We consider this a breach of the agreement signed with ASUU, SSANU NASU and NAAT in which the Federal government agreed to progressively fund education up to 26%. We are alarmed that while the total size of the 2010 proposed budget is over N4 trillion, only a paltry N249 billion was allocated to education, which is about 6%. Whereas in the 2009 budget, whose size was N3.1 trillion, a total sum of N224 billion was allocated to the education sector representing about 8%. What this means is that even though the size of the 2010 proposed budget increased by 29%, allocation to education only upped by a fraction while at the same time there were no noticeable increase in allocation to other vital sectors like health, works, housing etc. In other words, there is a decline in allocation to education as a percentage of the total 2010 proposed budget compared to 2008 and 2009 when Nigerians are expecting a fundamental increment in order to arrest the rot in the educational sector.

We of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) vow to fight the anti-student union bill and the 2010 proposed budget to a logical conclusion. We shall also mobilize Nigerian students nationwide to resist these anti-student policies of the federal government. As Nigerian students, we cannot and will not tolerate the under funding of education and unwarranted assault on our fundamental human rights to freedom of expression and association. 
_______________________                                             ________________________
Hassan Taiwo Soweto                                                      Chinedu Bosah
National Coordinator                                                         National Secretary


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