Thousands of pupils from public secondary schools in Oyo State yesterday trooped to the streets of Ibadan, the state capital, to protest the state government’s plan to adopt the public-private participatory approach for the management of some of their schools.
The initiative, the state’s public workers had argued, would lead to the commercialisation of public education in the state.
But Governor Abiola Ajimobi had explained that the plan was not aimed at selling or privatising the affected 31 schools.
However, the labour unions in the state said workers would begin an indefinite strike on Tuesday (today) to force government to reverse its decision.
The students’ protest and the workers’ union insistence on the strike had forced the state government to shut down all public primary and secondary schools in the state on Monday.
The government accused the labour unions in the state of engaging pupils to stage the protest.
In a statement by the State communication team, the state government described the decision of the Nigeria Labour Congress to commence an indefinite strike as unlawful and uncalled for.
Earlier, the pupils had taken over the streets as early as 9am, chanting anti-government songs and daring the policemen who were stationed at strategic places to maintain peace and order to attack them.
They attacked the state headquarters of the ruling All Progressives Congress in Oke Ado. They vandalised its properties and beat up the secretariat workers.
Many of the pupils from Ikolaba Grammar School, St. Clegg Girls’ High School, Queen of Apostle Grammar School, Oluyoro Oke-Ofa, Oluyoro Girls’ Grammar School, Ratibi College, Oluyoro Oke-Ofa, St. Patrick Grammar School, Basorun, Christ the King Secondary School, Agugu and IMG Grammar School, Agodi, matched to the state secretariat in Agodi where they made several demands from Ajimobi.
The protesters’ presence forced the security operatives to close all gates leading to the governor’s office, with the state Commissioner of Police, Leye Oyebade, leading the police to prevent them from gaining entrance into the complex.
Apart from asking Ajimobi not to sell their schools, the pupils also demanded his immediate resignation.
They said the state’s education initiative was designed to add to the burden of their parents who were being owed several months of salaries by the government.
However, the protest escalated in some areas of the city as hoodlums hijacked it and unleashed terror on the public and incited the pupils to attack government’s vehicles and public buildings.
Some of the pupils brandished weapons such as double-edged axes, cutlasses and stones.
Schools that did not take part in the protest and destruction were invaded and their pupils were forced out of their classrooms to join the protest.
The state Commissioner of Police, Oyebade, advised the pupils to return home and allow government and relevant agencies to take a decision on the matter.
He said, “Do not take laws into your own hands, especially when the matter is being addressed by the state government. I advise you to return to your schools and face your studies.”
At the secretariat gate, Ajimobi’s Senior Special Assistant, Print and Broadcast Media, Akin Oyedele, also made efforts to calm down the pupils, who laid a siege to the government house, but they refused to leave.
The Chairman of the APC in the state, Akin Oke, condemned the protest, describing the violent attacks on the party secretariat by hoodlums as being sponsored by opposition parties to spite the government of Ajimobi over the proposed education initiative.
In a statement issued by its Director of Publicity and Strategy, Olawale Sadare, on behalf of Oke, the party called on the police to investigate the attacks and prosecute the culprits.
“At about few minutes past 11am, hoodlums which comprised of some pupils of public secondary schools as well as some disgruntled members of the NLC, the Nigeria Union of
Teachers and the opposition parties, stormed our party secretariat at Oke Ado and vandalised everything. They also beat up some members of staff who had to be treated for varying degrees of injuries.
“The hoodlums were harmed with stones, broken-bottles, cutlasses and other dangerous weapons with which they attacked innocent people as well as some private business interests.”
The party urged the workers not to embark on strike but should embrace dialogue.
But in spite of this, the NLC, led by its National Vice-Chairman, Mr. Solomon Adelegan, said that the strike would continue until their demands were met by the state government.
Some of the demands are the withdrawal of all charges against the members of the union, payment of the six months outstanding salaries and pensions and cancellation of the decision to ‘sell-off’ any public schools in the state.
Speaking after his release from Agodi Prison, the state NLC chairman, Olojede, said that the struggle would continue and that the labour action would uphold “the global pronouncement which declares education as a social responsibility of government.”
He also accused Ajimobi of planning to sell the concerned public schools, calling on prospective ‘buyers’ to stay away.
Also on Monday, the NLC chairman in the state, Waheed Olojede, and six other members, Mr. Sikiru Sodo, Oseni Aderemi, Oparinde Kehinde, Falade Akinyele, Ogundeji Kofoworola and Adegbogun Titi, were released from Agodi Prison after they perfected their bail conditions
They were arrested on Thursday and arraigned on Friday for allegedly disrupting a stakeholders’ meeting called by the state government to discuss modalities for the return of schools to their owners under the proposed public-private participatory management arrangement.