From Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
On Monday, April 11, 2016, students of Benue State University (BSU) trooped out in their number in protest of what they termed high increase in school fees which had been approved by the Management of the institution.
That morning, the visibly angry students blocked the entrance of the two main gates leading to the university and prevented both staff and any other persons that had business with the institution from entering the premises. Some of the students who spoke with our correspondent on the condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation insisted they would not leave until the fees were brought back to the former rates.
For several hours on that fateful day, they stood by the gate, though peacefully while security operatives had a hard time convincing them to return back to their homes. The protesting students held palm fronds and leaves to signify mark of the death of the university even as others carried placards which read: “School fees increase will promote prostitution” “We cannot pay N25, 000 for acceptance fee” “PDP is Better Than APC Change” as well as: “Ortom, Bring Down our school fees” among others.
The students wondered why the increase in fees in the face of the economic hardship being faced by every Nigerian especially now that the government of the day is still grappling with payment of salaries to civil servants. One of the students who simply gave his name as Sunday said he had to join the protest because two of his sibling who secured admission into the university this year may not be able to resume because of the high charges.
Sunday who is a final year student of the university explained that his parents were civil servants with the state government and had not received salary for some months now. “My siblings and I have been doing menial jobs to raise some money preparatory for our resumption. I do commercial motorcycling, my sister who just secured admission works in one of the entries in town. We were doing all these to source for money so that we can go to school. What do we do now that the fees have been hiked?”
They were determined to pursue their agenda to a logical conclusion and so, remained at the gate for several hours until the institution’s management, led by the Deputy Vice Chancellor administration, Prof. Julius Ashiko came to address the students. Addressing the protesters, DVC Prof. Ashiko tried frantically to calm the students by explaining that the Vice Chancellor and Governor Samuel Ortom who is the Visitor to University were away from town that day.
While appealing to the students to sheathe their swords, Ashiko stated that their demand for an immediate downward review of the charges would not be possible that day but assured that their message would be communicated to the appropriate quarters for a positive action.
Prior to that day, the Vice Chancellor of the University, Prof. Msugh Kembe had modified the rumour making the round the state about the increment in the fees students were supposed to pay by insisting that the newly imbedded fees were only conditional charges which would be paid once throughout their stay in school.
The Vice Chancellor had during a Press conference, last week, informed that the new rates were only conditional charges and not school fees and would only affect the newly admitted students of the school while returning students would still pay the old rates.
While announcing that the first semester of the 2015/2016 academic session would commence on Monday, April 11, the VC said the upward review of conditional charges became necessary in order to shore up the internally generated revenue of the school to meet with the ever increasing cost of running the university on a daily basis.
He stated further that it was for this reason that the management of the school sought and obtained the approval of the state government for an upward review of conditional charges that he emphasised would only affect new intakes and graduates.
Education Review learnt that by this new charges, Acceptance fee that was hitherto N5, 000 will now go for N25, 000 while certificate fees which used to be N5, 000 would also go up to N25, 000. Hostel fee would also move from N1, 800 to N5, 000 among other charges. He disclosed that although 15,000 students passed JAMB and the institution’s aptitude test, the school cannot admit more than 6000 of them because of its carriage capacity.
“15,000 students passed JAMB and our aptitude test but our carrying capacity was 5,400. JAMB has now increased it to 6000 leaving out a balance of 9000 who cannot be admitted even they passed.” Kembe noted noted that at the moment, the Law Faculty of the school could be de-accredited because about N119 million was needed for the accreditation. Education Review gathered that the Governor, Samuel Ortom had shortly before he traveled to China, directed the management of the University, BSU, Makurdi to review the conditional fees charged fresh students of the institution.
Governor Ortom gave the directive during a meeting with the Vice Chancellor of the University, Prof. Msugh Kembe and student union officials of the institution at the Benue Peoples House, Makurdi. He said the decision to ask the BSU management to review the fees charged new students was in view of the current hash economic realities that have placed parents and guardians in a difficult situation. The Governor however urged the students to remain law-abiding and cooperate with the state government and the management of BSU in their efforts to reposition the institution.
Earlier, the Speaker of House of Parliament, BSU Students’ Union, Comrade Joseph Kaanher Orsaar, had appealed to Governor Ortom to intervene in the matter as many parents could not afford the new fees charged by the institution. When Education Review checked with the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the University, Mr. Terzungwer Tsevanger, he informed that the new charges had been put on hold pending when the school management deliberated on the matter. He said it is until the management meeting that the portal would be opened again and that the students would know exactly how much they would be paying.