From Ikeja to Ile-Ife, we talk to students about why they are angry

by Adedayo Ademuwagun

This year, there have been several student protests in the south-west concerning tuition, from Abeokuta to Ikeja to Ile-Ife.

In Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile Ife, the struggle began at the start of the second semester in June. The university management increased tuition by more than double and students refused to accept the increment. So they held demonstrations on campus and around town, and eventually the management closed the school.

In Lagos State University (LASU), there was a revolt after the school shut down the online registration site and prevented students from registering after deadlines had expired. The students blamed the high tuition for the late registration, and protests broke out.

In Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ogun, students were protesting the ‘high’ tuition and demanded a reduction to N50,000. A week ago, there was a demonstration in Abeokuta, the state capital to compel the government to do the reduction. After a meeting with the student leaders and a one-week truce, the government closed the school indefinitely and clamped down on further protests.

The protests in those schools have produced mixed results so far.

In OAU, two months after the protests and consequent closure of the school, the management has reopened the school and students have resumed. They seem relieved to be able to continue their studies again.

The OAU SUG president, Isaac Ibikunle, told YNaija, “We’re not satisfied with this outcome. We still want the reduction, and for now we’re taking the matter to the student union parliament and then we will likely call for a general congress. But this is just a temporary delay. The LASU struggle lasted three years. We’re going to continue and use every legitimate means possible. But for now we just want our students to resume and get back to their classes.”

In Ogun, the state government has announced a 60% flat reduction in tuition in all the state-owned tertiary schools, but the students in OOU are not satisfied and want it brought down specifically to N50,000.

However, following the school shut down effective this Monday, the students have relaxed and it appears the uprising has been quelled. But Taiwo Ogunjimi, a student activist and a frontline member of this movement says, “Of course we are angry. Why should the governor lock down the school because we asked for a reduction and asked that it be implemented this session?

“For now, we are meeting and making consultations, but we will definitely respond. We will fight this and win. One thing we are sure of is that we will achieve this reduction and ensure it is effected this session.”

So far, the LASU struggle has been the most successful — from the students’ viewpoint.

The university pushed up tuition by 1000% in 2011, and for three years it managed to contain the dissent. But this January, the registration issue sparked a riot that led to subsequent demonstrations, and eventually the government reverted the tuition to N25,000.

The protests have been led by the SUG in those schools and have had popular student backing. In OOU, thousands of students took part in a demonstration in Abeokuta last week.

Distrust among students

However, distrust has been a problem. In OAU where the struggle has been quite unsuccessful, students are disappointed in the SUG handling of the issue and think they may have been compromised. There is talk about bribery and conspiracy.

Bayo, an OAU student, said, “Honestly, we just fought for a lost cause. There has been no reduction after all.

“At first, when the increment issue came up, we all were lamenting and we wanted it to be reversed totally. We wanted total reversal and we fully supported the SUG.

“But at some point, rumours started flying around and stories popped up that student leaders were secretly paying their fees. Then the Omisore bus gift story came in too and then rumours came out that the house was divided. That was when we started losing faith in the SUG. They sold us out. They’ve lost face with us.

“In my own class, you’ll get serious tongue lashing if you mention ‘struggle’. Honestly, all we want to do now is finish our studies.”

Some students have purportedly been treated unjustly for spearheading or participating in these revolts. There have been reports about schools threatening movement leaders, police arresting students and locking them up without a conviction.

In Lagos, some students were arrested during demonstrations and locked up. They were later charged to court for breach of peace.

In OAU, Ibikunle says some movement leaders (including himself) have been served “provisional” rustication letters.

“The school said the rustication will take effect if we continue to lead or take part in this movement,” explains Ibikunle.

In Ogun and Lagos where the government has agreed to some kind of reduction or reversal, some people think the move is political and done in the interest of the governments’ public image, considering the coming elections.

But the Ogun state commissioner of education, Segun Odebola, refutes this viewpoint.

He tells YNaija, “People who say things like that are entitled to their opinion. For us, it is about good governance and not politics. As we speak, God knows who will be the governor in 2015.”

Meanwhile, Halimat, a student at LASU says, “Well I think this whole thing is just politics. This is just for propaganda for the upcoming election in 2015.

“We’ve been fighting for this reduction thing for a long time, but they only cut off 43.5 percent at some point until people started reacting. The press wouldn’t stop printing and writing about all their atrocities, which already spoilt their image. So they were just looking for a way to win back some love.”

The governments and the universities say that the tuition increment is to improve the system and upgrade standards. But some students are cynical about this idea.

“Back then in 2007-2010 when tuition was N25,000, LASU was pretty good,” Halimat says.

“Besides, the Lagos government makes a whole lot of internal revenue. Why can’t they spend some of that money to keep the fees low and make it more convenient for students in the state schools to pay for their education?

“The standard of university education would be much better if our government spent enough to fund education. Just look at the yearly budgets and see what percent the government sets aside for education.”

In a recent press release, the OAU registrar D. O. Awoyemi says that for the past 10 years, the students have paid relatively cheap fees, which the university finds unsustainable.

Students in the sciences used to pay N7,800, while medical students used to pay N12,800.

Awoyemi says, “These charges, paid by students for over 10 years, were justifiably considered by Senate, at its meeting of May 6, 2014, as not only anachronistic, but totally out of sync with the economic realities of present-day Nigeria, especially for a 21st century university that constantly endeavours to produce top-rated students that are trained to be employable in the intellectual market of the 21st century.

“[We] need [more] resources to purchase chemicals, consumables, modern laboratory equipment, current books, periodicals and journals, the continuous provision of electricity, potable and clean water.

“Furthermore, the new charges have become necessary in view of the high cost of running the University and to ensure that our students are provided qualitative and competitive education in an enabling academic environment.”

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