Reported By: Emeka Emmanuel
As the Nationwide ASUU strike persists to the 9th week, JAF in collaboration with many other bodies has taken to the street to register their displeasure thru rallies. Emmanuel Ahanonu was there during the South-south region rally at Calabar;
Anger was visibly written on their faces, they converged in hundreds; some in uniform showing where they belong, they came from various parts of South-South Zone; their voice could clearly be heard from afar as they echoed their solidarity voice in one accord “Education must be funded! Education must be funded!! Education, Education, Education must be funded!!!” was their song. They are the members of unions in the Education sector (ASUU, NASU, SSANU, NAAT, ASUP, SSANIP, COEASU, SSUCOEN, NUT, NUCJ, civil society groups, human right activist groups, non-governmental organizations, Nigeria Students right movements, and other unions. Joint Action Front (JAF) led the march. The march was all-encompassing as it afforded the Professors, Doctors, well meaning Nigerians and students to chart a course; that the Federal Government should save Nigeria Educational system through funding.
They all converged at Botanical Garden Park Mary Slessor Avenue around 8:30am where they continue their song till 9:20am when they set-off for the great march. Also presence was channels TV, GALAXY TV, Silver Bird TV, NTA, numerous print media outfits.
They display hundreds of placard with numerous inscriptions that highlight why they gathered: “Nigeria is not broke!!! Where is the N2.6 Trillion paid as oil subsidy for undelivered fuel?”, “Nigeria govt, show concern, Education is a right to citizens”, “FG Na Bunsen Burner we know, no bi stove and Candle”, “Save Education in Nigeria, do what is right”, “Public schools are dying”, “say no to the death of public universities, it is your right”, “FG, stop deceiving the public, implement agreement with ASUU now”, “ASUU must call nationwide mass actions now”, “Government imposed SUG must go!”, “where is the rule of law? Implement agreement with ASUU, ASUP now”, “Nigeria is not broke, where did the CBN Gov get N620B he gave banks”, “stop looting in the Houses and fund Education” among others.
The almost 5 hours march equally affected movement in the entire Calabar metropolis. The march started from Botanical Garden around 9:18am till 1:52pm when it ended.
Besides sensitizing the public through the heavy speaker mounted atop of a vehicle, flyers and banners pass the remaining message as each group has its own manifesto and agitation captured therein.
“The Nigeria Students Right Movement” in her demand as shown in its banner requests “FG to implement 2009 agreement with ASUU”, “44 detained UniUyo Students demand justice”, “stop killing Nigeria students”, and “Education is a right”. In addition, the “Education Rights Campaign” in its banner agitates “Govt must implement agreement reached with ASUU ASUP SSANIP SSANU NASU NUT, for adequate funding of Education and Democratic Management, for joint struggle of education workers and students while JAF in her own banner decries “Arise Nigerians, to save public Education!, FG and state governments must IMPLEMENT AGREEMENTS reached with ASUU, NASU, SSANU, NAAT, ASUP, SSANIP, COEASU, SSUCOEN, & NUT!! EDUCATION IS A RIGHT!!!”
As the march grows, the mass enlarge as other well meaning Nigerians abandoned their chores and join the march.
The mob marched through Target Street to the ever-busy Nelson Mandela Street and cut through the famous Watt Market which is the biggest Market in Calabar Metropolis.
Event took another dimension at Watt Round about as Dr Oku Ita (JP) of Theater Art Department, Unical took hostage of public attention as he grabbed the microphone and started dishing out interior Efik language on “why we are rallying”. From the faces of old market women to that of the kids; you can see signs of total comprehension and sympathy. He talked for about 20minutes and the march continued, this time, through Calabar Road till they reached Mary Slessor beginning from where they navigate to the Etim Edem Motor Park which is equally the biggest and the only public park in Calabar, directly opposite the famous State Cultural centre.
The mob march round the park and Comrade Abiodun Aremu talked to the public (this time, with Pidgin English) on why they decided to march. He told them that the insensitivity of the government as regarding the Educational sector will likely cost this country greatly if those that care don’t force the government into living up to expectation by revamping the moribund and cosmetic Nigeria Education. He noted that those in power are very okay with the situation because their children are either in foreign university of in private varsities in the country. Aremu also made it known that most of the private institutions in the country were built by those in power with stolen public fund. He summed that the march must continue across the federation until “FG act sensibly”.
Prof. Wuruji of Unical Faculty of Law speaking with a correspondent at Watt Roundabout during the rally noted that “we are out today to let the people of Nigeria know that public education is collapsing or has collapse absolutely and if nothing is being done to reconsider that. Most of us at our own level today are beneficiaries of public education system; either funded by the public (tax payers money) or by the missionaries at little or no cost but today, our children can no longer have education at their door step but rather what we are doing now is going to private schools; system that will look stanpediously. Before, those who are in private school were looked down as those whose parents cannot gain meaningful education but today it is the other way round. Universities has been closed down for almost 2months now, government is not addressing the issue, rather what we are told is that the government will release N130b to fund education when the same government has realized that what is needed to fund it is N1.3 trillion which will be provided within the next 3years and they agree that they will be releasing N400b every year, today, we are being told that it is N130b. the question is if you have a child who has been diagnose of a disease that needs surgical operation and you are giving that child Panadol and telling that child ‘don’t die’, can we say you are paying attention to that child? Definitely not!, so what the government is doing today is still paying lip service to funding education in Nigeria” he fumed.
Answering if what lecturers are dragging is not more of their personal gain, Prof. Wuriji said “it has nothing to do with salary absolutely, we are talking about poor facilities; classroom, students hostels. If you go to Calabar today (let me take my own university for example), accommodation you have was built when the entire student population was 2,000. Today, we are over 30,000, competing for that hostels accommodation that is what ASUU is talking about, not our salary. We are talking about revitalizing the structures facilities so that our children when they are in classrooms some will not be climbing on top of the others, that is what we are talking about”. Prof. finally set instances when the Nollywood, Banks, Aviation and textile companies (which incidentally are all private enterprises) had problems and the government brought money and bail them out. He finally blasted Gov. Babatunde Fashola for his insensitiveness in bloating the fees for LASU students when he (Fashola) himself was a product of public school that spent little or nothing during his days.
Furthermore, according to the JAF memo signed by its Chairperson Dr. Dipo Fashina and Secretary Comr. Abiodun Aremu on why unions go on strike noted that “the unions in education sector are not making fresh demands. Each time any of the union goes on strike, it is because the federal and state governments FAILED to IMPLEMENT agreements they freely entered into and signed with any of the unions”. Thus, the memo insist that “central to save public education is to INSIST that Government in Nigeria MUST Fund EDUCATION in line with international standard of 26% and make Education tuition-free at all levels”
To show that the issue that cause the protest cuts across religion, the mob marched from Etim Edem to Gbogo-Biri Street which is exclusive for Hausas in Calabar. There, another drama unfolds as Alhaji Abubaka Sir Abdulahi, the secretary of Hausa-Fulani Muslim community in Cross River State took over the scene with Hausa language to communicate to his brethren on why Hausas joined the march. Hausas around the territory could be seen in their hundreds gathering to hear from one of their leaders. From there, many youths joined the march and the mob proceeded thru Barracks Road to Eleven-Eleven Junction.
They further move through Moore Road to Club Road and meandered through leopard town which bordered Naval Base, U. J. Esuene Stadium and government House. The movement was heading to Governor’s office before another drama ensued. Some Armed Police & Army that overtook those rallying few minutes after reaching the gate of Governor’s office suddenly turned back, this time, joined by more Armed forces and started coercing those in the peaceful rally to turn back that the Governor wasn’t on seat, their voices could be heard as they dish orders to press crew that “if I see that your camera up, I will smash it” and likes. It took well over 9minutes augment with some Professors and Doctors before they could be convinces that the march is just to pass-by.
As if the explanation is not well convincing, the mob had up to 4 vans filled with Armed Forces that escorted them till they disperse several hours later.
The mob defiled the continuous Calabar rain and continued their march thru Diamond Hill and busted at Murtala Mohammed High Way. It was at this point that more groups join the march, most outstandingly is Socialist Party of Nigeria who equally shared in the plight of marginalized nature of Nigeria State. Although, there were disagreement as to whether the socialist party will not turn the march into a political affair but it was instantly resolved albeit not without exchange of some hot words.
Because of the absent of the only state owned Television station (Cross River Broadcasting Corporation) among the TV stations covering the movement, the mob decided to march to their office. They marched thru IBB Way to CRBC where they met the gate of the corporation under locks and key. After several minutes of sensitization in their station, the workers decided to take some clips through the barricaded gate.
From CRBC, Mr. Okonette Ekanem maned the microphone and continued sensitizing the public on while the march should be for all hence the notched-headed Nigeria Government will never respond until the 90th minutes. The mob march further, this time thru Mariam Road passing through NRSC and 13brigade Akim Barracks to Mary-slessor from where they finally converged back at Botanical garden after almost 5hrs march.
Speaking to our correspondent during the march, Alhaji Abubaka Sir Abdulahi, said that “we are outside today not to make any trouble to make the government know their responsibility, I am a product of public school but today I can’t even send my wards to public school and I don’t have the finance to send them to Ghana and we are doing this march on behalf of all Nigerian. If the public schools are not funded, automatically, we the less-privileged, our wards are being deprived of being educated; being one of their own citizen right.
On the part of Ini-Ibeghe Effiong, the National President of Nigerian Students Right Movement who led his group during the rally, “we stand by ASUU and we insist that the strike should go on until the FG meets the demand of ASUU. We are insisting that a government that enters into an agreement has the obligation to respect and implement that agreement and we are saying that we Nigerian students demand justice for the students of Uniuyo that were arrested; the 44 of them, we demand that they should be released and compensation paid to them, we demand that those who are killing Nigerian students should be brought to justice. We stand by our lecturers in this struggle because we believe in the future of this country”.
Speaking about NANS in the ongoing strike, Ini-Ibeghe fumed that “NANS as we have today is fighting for its own interest; we don’t have a NANS that can speak for the students of this country, and we say enough is enough, they (Government) should allow NANS to speak for the students, NANS no longer represent the students and that is why we are saying enough is enough!
In exclusive chat with Comrade John Ukam (who is representing Congregation in CRUTECH Governing Council), he narrated why he, among others must continue for fight for the people’s right because of how the government of Nigeria has continually exalt themselves in ignorance and insensitivity in matters of education, he quarried the rationale of the government in claiming that Nigeria is broke because education sector is at stake. He even doubts the future of the country as the so called leaders continue in the deceit and trickery.
In his words “it is normal that when a society grows irresponsible, those who are awake should wake them up. It is a natural responsibility of a government to educate the people because every aspect of the government is educational process”.
Adding to this, Okonette Ekanem, a senior lecturer in Political Science Department of Unical who was very instrumental during the rally said that “although, the ongoing strike is based on the funding of the University and Polytechnic education but the more fundamental area of funding is the primary and secondary education which generate the products which the University education now continue to train to the highest possible level of manpower development. So, it is the totality of the neglect of education as a system, not just the tertiary education that is my own concern. So the JAF on whose platform I stand has articulated this on various platform and in various documents that unless and unless the public itself rises up, the government does not seem to be in any hurry to do anything about it and there is a limit to what we can expect from anybody sending his child to Ghana, it is also shameful because in the 80s, Ghanian lecturers were everywhere teaching from tertiary to the Kindergarten until something was done there; government turned things around, the people in the university refused to go and teach and there was two years of strike, there was no education, that is government was forced to rehabilitate public education in Ghana which is now a self heaven, a kind of paradise for people to rush to, yet Ghana’s economy is not as much as Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom put together, and they are relaying on World Bank loan, why can Nigeria that has 100times much money than Ghana be sending their children to Ghana and why must people be making guy because their children are schooling in Ghana?” He quarried.
“This protest is the demonstration of the frustration of the people; it is to demonstrate that the people are tired of the neglect of education, where money is diverted from public education to fund private schools. So, this is to draw attention of the public who are not aware and the attention of the government that it is not finished yet, that we will fight till the very end, we will fight until serenity returns, until Nigerians become beneficiaries of public education which is what is benefited anybody that is occupying any reasonable position in Nigeria; in the public, in the private, in the bureaucracy, in the government and everywhere, even in diplomatic mission, they are all product of public education, why must this generation be denied that? I was a beneficiary, I was self-sponsored. If University education was as expensive as this who am I to have gotten it? Nobody paid for my fees. This generation must benefit from what we had benefited” he summed.
Cross section of other students who spoke with our correspondent during the rally expressed their disappointment in the government of the country and charged the rulers to note that neglecting public school is an indication of failed administration and as such should urgently reconsider their stand.
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