How we were arrested and brutalized for demanding adequate funding of education
We, comrades Hassan Taiwo Soweto (National Coordinator of the Education Rights Campaign), Chinedu Bosah (National Secretary Education Rights Campaign), Usman Oloyede (Former PRO NANS Zone D) and Debo Adeniran (Coordinator of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders) were arrested on June 16, 2009 while protesting for adequate funding of education and released on bail today at around 1:40 pm at the Sabo Police Station, Yaba Lagos.
Our crime was that we dared to protest against the under funding of education by the Yar’ Adua capitalist government. June 16, 2009 is the 33rd anniversary of the Soweto Massacre in 1976 when the then South African Apartheid government unleashed terror on black youths protesting against imposition of racial measures in the education sector. Hector Pieterson – a 12-year-old boy – was shot dead by the Apartheid Police. Over the next two days, over 600 people including children and youths had been killed and injured as the protest swept over South Africa. Students and youths under the auspices of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) chose the 33rd anniversary of the gruesome massacre to begin a nationwide protest against low allocation to education in the 2009 budget. Unfortunately, the Yar’ Adua government behaving much like the Apartheid government in South Africa in 1976 ordered heavily armed police men to attack and brutalize us.
Right before the protest started, a contingent of heavily armed policemen, numbering about 100 had gathered at the gate of Yaba College of Technology (YABATECH) presumably to stop the protest. From indications, the policemen numbering about hundred were invited to brutalize the protesters numbering just about 20 by the Management of YABATECH with the willing conspiracy of the Acting DPO of Sabo Police Station, Yaba Mr. Tony O.A and the Lagos State Commissioner of Police Mr. Marvel Akpoyibo.
The manner of the arrest shows clearly that it was premeditated. The claim of the Police and the Yabatech Management was that the protesters wanted to disrupt the campus. Actually, the protest was billed to take off from Yabatech front gate but a combination of factors including the unwillingness of the right wing Union leadership of the institution and mobilization of police to the campus gate as early as 8 am dissuaded us. Instead of Yabatech gate, we started our protest at Jibowu and marched through the road in front of Yabatech towards Herbert Macauly way from where we planned to visit other institutions around Yaba and Akoka community. We changed the venue of our protest because we wanted to avoid any clash with the Police. We only stopped briefly at YABATECH gate to address pressmen who had gathered there in expectation of the protest, after the address, we continued on our march towards Herbert Macauley way.
THE ARREST AND BRUTALIZATION
But as we reached Herbert Macauley way, Debo Adeniran (Coordinator of CACOL) whom we invited as a guest speaker was arrested at the tail end of the protest. Few minutes before then, the National Secretary of the ERC Comrade Chinedu Bosah had, unknown to us, been harassed while distributing press statements to the press while the press statement was snatched from him. We therefore paused in confusion of the ensuing brutality. Within a split second, the policemen swooped on the rest of us who had by now reached the side of Herbert Macauley way waiting to cross. At that spot, the National Coordinator of the ERC Comrade Hassan Taiwo Soweto was arrested; the Public Adress System (PAS), which he was holding seized, he was slapped on the face several times and dragged on the road to a waiting Police van. Also arrested at the same spot was Usman Oloyede (former PRO, NANS Zone D). The rest of the protesters scampered across the road with the police in hot pursuit. Few minutes later the National Secretary of the ERC comrade Chinedu Bosah was arrested, cruelly handcuffed and hit severally on the back with rifle butt with his clothe torn from his body.
After this, the Police took us in two vans with siren blowing wildly to Area C Command, Iponri where we were detained in filthy cells till about 8 am this morning. All through the time, we had not eaten and remained hungry till the next morning. They denied us food despite our incessant complaint. At about 8 am, we were transferred to Sabo Police Station, Yaba where a one-count charge: conduct likely to cause breach of public peace was preferred against us. Then we were taken to Chief Magistrate Court Yaba for arraignment but fortunately; the Judges were at a seminar and so were not on seat. We were then taken back to Sabo Police Station Yaba where to our surprise we were released on bail to our lawyers (Barrister Segun Sango and two others). We were asked to report daily at the Police Station until the case is settled.
We have taken the pains to explain the details of our arrest so that the Nigerian public can view our story in comparison with the brutality meted on us by the Police on the instruction of the State commissioner of Police. We place the responsibility for our brutalization on President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua, the Lagos State Commissioner of Police Mr. Marvel Akpoyibo, the Acting DPO of Sabo Police Station, Yaba Mr. Tony Haruna and the Olubunmi Owoso – the embattled Rector of Yaba College of Technology. We deny the charge preferred against us because it is scandalous to a government, which touts its respect for rule of law.
WHY WE WERE BRUTALISED
We were brutalized for our condemnation of the 2009 budget and its meager allocation to education. One key demand of the protest was that the government should increase allocation to education to at least 26% of the budget as recommended by UNESCO. According to the 2009 budget signed into law by the President early March this year, 7.2% was allocated to education while the salaries and allowances of 17, 474 political office holders totaling N1.13 trillion dwarfs the combined allocation to education (N224billion), Health (N103billion), Transport (N38billion), Works, housing and Urban development (N208billion). This is aside the huge allocation to defense.
We have repeatedly called on the government to make adequate funding available to education. This has also been the substance of the strike actions of ASUU and other Staff Unions overtime. Unfortunately, our calls have been ignored. For instance, we submitted a petition to the Minister of education calling government on this issue in April 2009 without any response. To add insult to injury, the Executive Secretary of the National University Commission (NUC) declared recently that students must pay N150, 000 as school fees. This showed to us clearly that the government was not prepared to yield. Faced with this intransigence of the government, the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) issued a call to all students and youth to begin nationwide mass protest and lecture boycott from June 16, 2009, which is the anniversary of the Soweto massacre in 1976 in South Africa. Numerous posters and leaflets were produced and massively posted in schools across the Nation.
Now, the claim of the Police is that the Student Union leadership of Yaba College of Technology said they were not informed of the protest. This is a mischievous lie meant to cover the tracks of the Yabatech union leaders who have been bought over by the State government and the Management of Yabatech. Not only did we hold discussion with all union leadership including the Student union of Yabatech, we of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) together with the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Student Union called all unions and student organizations to an “All Nigerian Students Conference” on June 6, 2009 in Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife to discuss the mobilization for the protest. It is on record that the Student union leaders of Yabatech ignored this conference because they were not prepared to challenge government neo-liberal policies on education. But the conference had in attendance representatives of about 11 tertiary institutions, 18 delegates from organisations and groups and leadership of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) Zone D, leaders of the Joint Campus Committee (JCC) in Osun and Oyo States. There, our call for mass protest starting from June 16 was supported by all delegates gathered.
Therefore the claims of the Yabatech student union leaders and the Police are irresponsible and untrue. We have only taken the pains to answer these claims because the opportunism of right wing union leaders must be exposed to the government if the student movement must be salvaged from state agents masquerading as union leaders. We believe that Yabatech students have the responsibility of questioning their leaders over their despicable betrayal of the cause for adequate funding of education.
OTHER AREAS WHERE PROTEST HELD
We are happy to announce that while our protest was disrupted in Lagos, in other states across the Federation, the protest was massively successful. In Osun State, over 4000 students of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile-Ife answered the call of the ERC to boycott lectures on June 16 2009. After the lecture boycott, students from the University mobilized in buses to Osogbo where they joined students from other campuses for a joint protest. Although there was heavy presence of Police also at the venue of the protest and in fact comrade Kola Ibrahim and few others were briefly arrested but they were released immediately after which the police numbering hundreds and led by the State Commissioner of Police monitored the protesters as they marched for about 7 kilometers to the State House of Assembly where they submitted a charter of demand to the state government for onward transmission to the Federal government. In Oyo State where about 25 students protested, the protests was also successful although the Police did not allow the students to submit the charter of demands to the state government. Also, protest and other activities held successfully in Uniben in Edo State, Adekunle Ajasin University Akungba Akoko in Ondo State and in Uniport.
WE REMAIN UNDETERRED
We commend all Nigerian students that answered our call and protested across the Nation. We also thank civil society organizations, our lawyers, Nigerian students and the media for their support and concern for our welfare while we were detained. The June 16 action is just the beginning. The response of students to our call shows what can be achieved with redoubled efforts and mobilizations. With the objective situation created by the economic crisis of world capitalism and its severe implications on the living standards of youths and working masses in a neo-colonial country like Nigeria, the movement we are building will grow in leaps and bounds. The arrest notwithstanding, we shall continue to mobilize for mass actions, protests demonstrations and lecture boycott across the country until all our demands are met. We shall communicate the public very soon about the next line of action to take while we promise to continue to be peaceful and organized in subsequent protests in spite of provocations and brutality from the Police.
Our demands once again are:
(1) We call on the Federal government to increase the budgetary allocation to education to at least 26% of the budget (around N800 billion) by way of supplementary budget. If our opinion is sought on how to raise money to increase the allocation to education up to N800 billion demanded, we will suggest that the government should reduce the unjust salaries and allowances of political office holders from N1.13trillion annually to N25 billion annually and the reminder of 980billion should be channeled to education, health etc. At this rate, political office holders will still enjoy a high living standard commensurate to the current prosperity of our economy
(2) Scrap all fees including law school fees as it denies millions of potential lawyers the opportunity of attendance due to its prohibitiveness.
(3) Payment of N40, 000 Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) annually to Nigerian students in all higher institution of learning to offset the cost of books, transportation, feeding and accomodation.
(4) Immediate recall of all politically victimised student and staff activists. They are Akinola Saburi, Orgumah Segun and Muyiwa Aderigbe in Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Tairu Jeleel, Osanyintade Tolulope, Adewetan Vincent, Aremo Gbenga and Omotayo Charles in Adeyemi College of Education Ondo, Comrade Nkoyo in Petroleum Training Institute Warri, the 44 lecturers of University of Ilorin sacked since 2001.
(5) Immediate restoration of all proscribed student unions in University of Ibadan, Adeyemi Colege of Education Ondo, Osun State Polytechnic Iree, Petroleum Training Institute Warri, University of Lagos etc.
(6) Release of 27 soldiers illegally sentenced to life imprisonment for protesting the brazen theft of their allowances by the Military High Command.
(7) Halt to the JTF invasion of the Niger Delta
(8) Provision of free, compulsory and quality education at all levels
(9) Democratic running of all educational institutions with the involvement of elected representatives of student and staff unions in all decision making organs like governing council, senate etc.
(10) Public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy under the democratic control and management of the working people.
Hassan Taiwo Soweto Chinedu Bosah
National Coordinator National Secretary