…How students staged violent protest against new education policy
From Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
The face-off between labour leaders and Oyo State government over new educational initiative degenerated in Ibadan on Monday June 6. Like a ragtag army, secondary school students staged violent protest in different parts of the city.
The protesters shut down Ibadan metropolis for many hours as they barricaded major highways in Agodi Gate, Government Secretariat, Mokola, Oke Bola, Oke Ado, Molete and so on. They also vandalised private and government property.
The students carried dangerous objects, obstructing flow of traffic and driving away students of other schools to join the protest. They shouted unprintable and derogatory words against state officials.
The students that protested at Oke Ado hurled stones on the vocational training centre established by Governor Abiola Ajimobi. They also moved to the residence of Chief Obafemi Awolowo at Oke Bola in Ibadan, where they tore off the image of Governor Ajimobi on the billboard in front of the house.
The mob also torched the office of wife of Oyo State governor, Mrs Florence Ajimobi. At the time the students arrived at the place, the gate of the office was locked. But they forced the gate opened and hurled stones on the place. One of the policemen in the office was said to have been injured by the stones thrown into the compound by the protesters.
The students also moved to the government Secretariat in Ibadan and vandalised all the decorative bulbs, among other things in front of the Secretariat.
The Commissioner of Police in the state, Mr. Leye Oyebade, however, came to the rescue as he addressed the students in front of the government Secretariat. He appealed to the students not to take laws into their hands, saying it was a misinformation that government wanted to sell their schools.
One of the students, Ajegbenje Elizabeth told Sun Education: “Information that reached us was that Ajimobi has sold all our schools to private owners and we will start paying not less than N30,000 as school fees per term.”
Another student, Hammed Olajide, said some persons came to schools, beat them and drove teachers out of class to embark on the protest.
On the same day, the National Secretariat of Nigerian Labour Congress, in conjunction with the Oyo State chapter of the NLC ordered workers in the state to begin an indefinite strike with effect from Tuesday June 7.
The National Vice chairman of NLC, Mr. Solomon Adelegan, gave the directive after a congress held at the labour secretariat in Ibadan. The strike, he vowed, would continue until the demands of the union were met.
The demands included withdrawal of all alleged trump-up charges levelled against the leadership of labour in the state, payment of six months outstanding salaries and pension for workers, and rescind its decision to purportedly sell off public schools in the state.
Following the violent demonstration, Oyo State Government ordered the immediate closure of all primary and secondary schools in the state as a way of protecting lives and property of the entire citizenry.
Former Minister of Education, Prof Tunde Adeniran, in an encouter with Sun Education, said he was caught among the protesting students and his car was virtually smashed.
“I have not looked into the issues involved. The only aspect that bothered me is the orientation being given to school children; the violent tendencies. It is sad. It portends a very dangerous future, when students at that age could result to violence and believe that it is through violence that they can get whatever they want.
“The vehicle I was in was virtually smashed by those children. I keep praying for them, their parents and this country. I felt sad and very bad. The children that should be oriented against violent tendencies are now using violence as a means of pursuing certain goals. I don’t think that is good for our country,” Adeniran stated.
Investigation by Sun Education revealed a frosty relationship between Oyo State Government and the leadership of Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) in the state, following the proposed public-private participatory management of some public secondary schools in the state.
The labour leaders described the proposed policy as a gimmick to privatise, sell or commercialise public secondary schools in the state.
But Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji Ismail Olalekan-Alli, said the policy was not a return of schools to missionaries, commercialisation of education or privatisation of schools, saying: “It is intended that less than 10 per cent of the 631 secondary schools in the state may be involved in the participatory venture, rather than the erroneous impression that education in the state is being privatised wholesale.”
The labour leaders in the state, however, insisted that the policy was nothing but a way to sell public secondary schools in the state, and take public education out of reach of the masses. They questioned why government would place an advertisement and call for a non-refundable sum of N250,000 for expression of interest in the schools that might be ceded for partnership.
Disruption of Educational Stakeholders’ Forum
But a new twist was introduced to the contention on Wednesday June 1, 2016. The government had slated an education stakeholders’ forum for the day, and had invited stakeholders to discuss the proposed educational innovations on the effective management of schools in the state through public and private participation.
The Secretary to the State Government, Olalekan-Alli, said all interested, experienced, capable and relevant individuals, corporate bodies, foundations, alumni associations, and organisations, among others, were invited to the forum through the mass media and specific invitations.
“This was intended to enable government present its proposal, listen to their proposals, contributions, criticisms and opinions to ensure an adequate collaborative process in furthering the educational advancement of our children. This is also in line with modern trends,” he said.
As the programme was about commencing, hell was let loose at the Western Hall, Secretariat, Ibadan as members of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), All Nigerian Conference of Principals (ANCOPs) and other interest groups stormed the venue and disrupted the forum.
The protesters booed out government officials and journalists from the venue and turned the chairs and tables at the venue upside down. The stakeholders already seated before the disruption included the Archbishop of Methodist Church Nigeria, Ibadan Diocese, Most Rev Kehinde Stephen and other notable Christian and Islamic clerics.
Others include Olalekan-Alli, Chief of Staff to Governor Abiola Ajimobi, Dr. Gbade Ojo; and the Oyo State government communication team, led by the Special Adviser on Communication and Strategy, Mr. Yomi Layinka. The forum could not hold on June 1, though it was rescheduled for June 7.
The protest was led by the NLC Chairman in Oyo State, Mr. Waheed Olojede and state chairman of NUT, Mr. Niyi Akano. Olojede asked the present administration to go back to what led government to take over mission schools in 1974. He said the labour union was informed on May 25 through an advertorial of the Oyo State Government that the government invited expression of interest of individuals, missions and other stakeholders for partnership and ownership in the conduct and administration of secondary education in the state.
“This quickly attracted the attention of the labour congress, having considered the government attempt of sales of schools as barbaric in the 21st century.
“Of recent, Oyo State Government came up with a policy of bringing parent participation in education; go out and do your survey, you will agree with me that between that time and now there have been a lot of dropouts because of the parents who could not afford to pay N1,000. If at the level of government schools, parents cannot pay N1,000, you will have to tell the government to convince us they can now pay N30,000 to N40,000 as school fees.
“The missions, perhaps because of the advertorials of the government, that have purchased applications forms at the rate of N250,000 should go back and collect their money because we are not ready to sell our schools. The schools in Oyo state belong to all of us; they don’t belong to the government alone and we are all stakeholders.
“The public schools still remain ours and government should go ahead in fulfilment of the provision of UNESCO recommendation to continue to provide education and provide necessary infrastructural materials for schools, that is the responsibility of the government.
“We are going to the streets to sensitize the citizenry to kick against this new policy. We consider this policy obnoxious and barbaric. We are calling on the government of Oyo State to rescind its decision and allow the public schools to remain. We will continue with our struggle and bring government to its knees in realisation of the fact that education for all is a responsibility for all.”
Also, the NUT chairman, Niyi Akano, explained that the government did not carry teachers along in the process, adding that the protest was organised to show their grievances with the policy of the government.
“We have never seen any invitation from the government for a roundtable. We just saw the advertorial on the pages of newspapers and since we were not carried along, we don’t know what is happening. When government wanted to introduce the fee of N1,000 for PTA fund, we were carried along and we looked at the situation and the issue was approved.
“We all went to public schools and if we should say there is no more public schools in Oyo State, that means we are depriving many children from having secondary school education, which is very dangerous for our community and the state. We don’t want any public school to be sold in the state,” he stated.
Invitation, Arrest and Arraignment of labour leaders
On Thursday June 2, 2016, seven labour leaders in the state were arrested by the police for the roles they allegedly played in the disruption of the education stakeholders’ forum.
Those arrested were the NLC Chairman in the state, Mr. Olojede; Vice Chairman, Mr. Titilayo Sodo; Secretary, Mrs. Kofoworola Ogundeji; the Auditor, Mr. Kehinde Oparinde; as well as Sikiru Bayo, Oseni Aderemi, Falade Akinyele, and Adegbogun Titi.
The NLC treasurer, Mr Bosun Daramola, said the labour leaders were invited by the police for a meeting at 10am on June 2, noting that the police seized their phones immediately they got to the meeting.
Meanwhile, the arrested labour leaders were on Friday June 3, arraigned before an Ibadan Chief Magistrate Court in connection with the disruption of the education stakeholders forum organised by the state government.
The prosecution counsel, M. A Ojeah, preferred six-count charge against the accused, which bordered on alleged assault on the Secretary to the Oyo State Government, destruction of property, disruption of stakeholders’ meeting, chasing out participants, unlawful assembly and acts capable of breaching public peace.
The charge sheet stated that the accused allegedly destroyed chairs valued at N1million; disturbed public peace; assaulted the Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji Olalekan-Alli and ‘beat him with sticks,’ thereby causing him bodily harm; threatened the governor while holding meeting with stakeholders and assembled in an unlawful procession to the Oyo State Government Secretariat, carrying Nigeria Union of Teachers banners and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 88.
They were arraigned before Chief Magistrate, A.A. Adebisi. All the accused pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The defence counsel prayed the court to grant the accused bail because the offences were bailable and pleaded for the release of the phones of the accused seized from them.
But the prosecution counsel opposed the application, saying though the offences were bailable, the accused caused bodily harm to the SSG, who was on admission in a hospital, and they possessed international passports, which they could use to travel out of the country. He also said the seized phone should not be released to the accused because they would serve as exhibits.
The court, however, granted them bail in the sum of N200,000 with a surety that possesses a national identity card or voter card. The court also ordered the police to return their phones to them and adjourned the case to June 24, 2016, for trial.
But the accused were remanded in Agodi Prisons in Ibadan when they could not perfect their bail conditions. They were in the prison custody till Monday when their bail conditions were perfected.
Govt allays fear of sack
The government debunked insinuations that its new policy on education would privatise its secondary schools. The Special Adviser to the Governor on Communication and Strategy, Mr. Yomi Layinka, explained that the proposed partnership would not lead to retrenchment of teachers.
Layinka said the public had been fed with half- truth and outright falsehood by a few uninformed individuals and organisations. He assured the people of the state that Governor Ajimobi would not take any decision that would be against the overriding interest of the public.
“We are only going into partnership with these bodies who might meet the criteria for return of such schools. We are not selling our schools. In fact, we might end up returning not more than 20 out of our 631 secondary schools that were originally owned by missionaries and communities”, he explained.