•What authorities did wrong and how govt. can stop the riot from spreading to other tertiary institutions in Nigeria
By Chika Abanobi
Last week, violent protest that seemed to have been driven to the innermost part of the tertiary institutions students’ psyche, showed its bloody face again, when it swept through University of Lagos (UNILAG), Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba, Akoko (AAUA), Ondo State, University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) and Benue State University (BSU), and leaving in its trail, battered bodies and dashed hopes.
It started with the University of Lagos (UNILAG), where students, frustrated by poor electricity, water and transport services, as a result of the fuel crisis, embarked on three-days protest to demand for the university management’s intervention. The intervention, when it came, led to the shutting of the university.
A circular issued by the management hinged the closure on need to forestall breakdown of law and order as a result of difficulties faced by the large number of students living off campus to attend classes due to the lingering fuel crisis. “Senate noted that the problem of poor municipal service is a national issue that the governments at both state and federal level are addressing,” the circular added. “A decision to re-open for normal academic activities will be made as soon as municipal services improve.”
In a swift reaction, the students debunked the content of the circular as telling half the truth as it failed to mention the issue of poor power supply from the university generating sets and what they termed unwarranted exploitation by the UNILAG Ventures, the university business subsidiary in charge of production and marketing of UNILAG water and bread.
“A bag of pure water on campus is N200 (an investigation by Education Review found this to be true), whereas we buy outside for N100,” Mohammed Olaniyan, the President of University of Lagos Students Union (ULSU), complained in an interview with journalists. “The UNILAG bread is N250, but we buy outside for N200. We asked questions from the school management why other people are not allowed to bring in water and bread. But the school refused to answer us. We say no to monopoly.”
On the problem of poor inadequate power supply, Olaniyan admitted that “the issue is a national challenge and it does not affect UNILAG alone. We are aware of this. But we have questioned the management of the school on generators. There are four spaces for generators on the campus, but we only have two that provide 30 per cent of power to the school. We asked about the two remaining generators and why they had not been moved in after they had been paid for since December 2015, but we didn’t get any answer.”
When Education Review placed a call, followed by a text, to Toyin Adebule, the UNILAG Public Relations Officer, with a view to getting him to respond to these allegations, he initially did not respond. But when he called back, one hour or so later, he noted that he would not like to address the issues raised, on the phone. “You will need to come in person to the university campus,” he said before ending the telephone conversation.
But if UNILAG protest was about “water, water, water, everywhere” on the university campus without a drop to drink (apologies to Samuel T. Coleridge), because of exorbitant/exploitative price, AAUA’s own which took place the same day UNILAG students were asked to vacate the campus, was caused by the unfortunate death, in a motor cycle accident, of their colleague, Ojo Afolabi Daniel, a 200 level student of Department of Economic Education, Faculty of Education, who was said to be on his way to the first semester exam.
Though he was rushed to a local hospital from where the university management took him to Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Owo, when his condition became critical, he, nonetheless, lost out in the battle to stay alive. Following his death, aggrieved students who learnt of it decided to express their grief by trooping to the streets to disrupt traffic flow, especially on the Ikare-Akungba Road, on which the university is located, and to cause mayhem by allegedly looting market stalls in communities around the university and destroying the university gate and other school property.
In a circular issued by the Acting Registrar of the university, Mr. Sunday Ayeerun, the management not only suspended the on-going exams but ordered students to vacate their halls of residence immediately. “Students would be informed when to resume for the completion of their on-going examination at a later date,” the statement added.
Of all the riots, the bloodiest appears to be that of University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), where three students including a final year student of Faculty of Management Science, Peter Ofurum, lost their lives during a violent protest against an alleged hike of tuiti on fees to N45, 000 although a source close to the university management told Education Review that it has more to do with students’ bottled up anger about many of their colleagues not being able to pay up this time around owing to the crushing financial situation, arising from non-payment of their parents’ salaries, than from the increment introduced last year.
“Think about it. If they didn’t protest last year when it was introduced, there was no reason to protest this year, except, perhaps, for the economic downturn in the country where a lot of parents are being owed five, six months arrears of salaries,” the source said.
Reacting to the incident, the Vice Chancellor of the university, Prof. Ndowa Sunday Lale, insisted that the protest that led to the death of the student, was meant by his enemies and detractors whose identities he refused to disclose, to sack him from office. Right now, human right groups and organized and labour unions that include Occupy Nigeria Season 2, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Civil Liberty Organisation, South-South, Niger Delta Students Union Government (NDSUG), are calling, not only for investigation of the protest but also for the removal of Prof. Lale.
Like Lale, the Federal Government believes that there’s something to the protests than meets the eyes. Unconfirmed reports said that operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) have been dispatched to forestall plans by student union leadership in other tertiary institutions, to stage similar protests in their domains, as the first anniversary of Buhari administration approaches (It will clock one year in office on May 29).
But education experts and free education advocates/activists interviewed by Education Review, believe that government and university authorities will need to do much more than sending DSS operatives to effectively keep in check the restive spirit of students.
“The recent uprising of students is an indication of the depth of discontent on campuses towards the rising cost of education, rising cost of living, terrible welfare conditions and the anti-poor and exploitative “cash and carry” education policy of management of tertiary institutions without regard to the increasing economic hardship that students and their poor parents have been facing over the last 10 months or more,” Hassan Taiwo Sowote, National Coordinator, Education Rights Campaign (ERC), insists.
“The central message from all the protests that have broken out over the past few days is that students are saying that public education is not a business and they should not be treated as customers. And this exactly was the attitude of the UNIPORT authorities which told students who had not paid up their fees that they would not be allowed to write examinations.”
Sowote posits further: “Education is a constitutional responsibility of government to the people and no one should be turned away or made to drop out on account of inability to pay. Like the UNIPORT students argued, where does the university expects their poor parents who are being owed salaries for five or six months to find the money to pay their fees? This is aside the fact that at N45, 000, UNIPORT charges the most expensive fee among federal universities in Nigeria.And it is this same mood of opposition to exploitative education policies that you find among protesting Benue State University students and their counterparts at the University of Lagos. For instance, the acceptance fee that was increased in BSU is even an illegal charge. So the debate is not even whether the increase is too much or not. The debate is that this fee has no valid justification and is simply charged to exploit students and poor parents. How can you charge someone who paid for WASSCE, UTME and Post-UTME another set of fee in order to accept him or her? This is fraud, obtaining by trick! The VC and all VCs who charge these fees on campuses should be jailed!
“The case of UNILAG is even more pathetic. To be clear, UNILAG is an example of all that is wrong in a university system where boosting the IGR (Internally Generated Revenue) is given more priority over the core responsibility of the university. Through a complex system carved out by the authorities to build its IGR, UNILAG students are virtually fair game for exploitation of all kinds. To survive as a student in UNILAG, you need double the pocket money that a student in another university can manage for a month. Everything is expensive, from sachet water to the cost of photocopy. And one of the fundamental reasons is that vendors on the campus pay enormously for rent of shop spaces which they often have to sublet from middlemen and women who use their connections to get the shops first in order to give it out at double or triple the price. To make ends meet, these vendors in turn pass on the cost to students. So you have a system in UNILAG where students are cash cows to be milked dry by the management and its minions. But these are not all. There are also cases of poor hostel facilities, epileptic power and water supply all of which have made life hellish for Akokites. These were some of the issues that caused the protests last week and all of these conditions exist in many degrees on all other campuses including polytechnics and colleges of education. So we should be prepared for more protests that would inevitably break out.”
Asked to advise the authorities concerned on what steps to take, Sowote said: “My simple advice to government and university authorities are: meet all demands of students. There is no other way to address a revolt than to meet demands of aggrieved people.”
“Current students restiveness across the nation, though not a new phenomenon, has become very worrisome,” Prof. Kayode Ajayi, of Department of Educational Management, Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, admitted. “Generally, we might say it’s a reflection of what is happening in the larger Nigerian society – the general malaise/decadence plaguing the nation. The university system is a microcosm of the larger society; so, whatever happens in the larger society is bound to affect the situation in the university system.
He explained: “People are becoming very restless as a result of the hardship they are going through. No fuel, no electricity supply, spirally inflationary trend, financial distress, unemployment, armed robbery attacks and general insecurity etc. We have nothing good to show the younger generation as it sees no hope or light at the end of the dark tunnel. The frustration experienced makes them to become impatient and intolerant of any little inconvenience.
“Besides, the leadership styles adopted by many heads of our tertiary institutions leave much to be desired. As a result of inexperience and lack of tact, many don’t know how to handle student matters. They do not take pre-emptive measures and they are intolerant of criticisms. Furthermore, the facilities in many of these institutions are over-stretched leading to congestion, dilapidated and rickety structures, poor maintenance of facilities, etc. These are just a few of the challenges we have in the education sector which are causing our students to embark on what they know best to do-ALUTA.”
“To me this is not unexpected considering the fact that the level of education is fast deteriorating at all levels in Nigeria,” Dr. Muhammad Maina of Department of Agricultural Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Bayero University, Kano, said. “The condition of Nigerian education system is really sympathetic. We are keeping students who are already aware of international standard of student welfare, and they are watching online how campuses operate while we still maintain old campuses with no modern infrastructure coupled with rigid system. It’s quite frustrating. Basic campus infrastructure such as water, light, internet connections, transportation systems, and conducive accommodations are not available or completely dilapidated.
“The present economic hardship, rigid academic system, high expectations and low performance by the authorities are some of the predominant causes of this present chaos on campuses. In my view, this trend of crisis can be curtailed by government immediate intervention to provide good learning environment for the students nationwide. There may be spread of this crisis across the country if authorities shun their responsibilities at this moment. Urgent redress from relevant authorities will make a difference and university authorities need to organize lectures to call the attention of students on how to demand for their rights without hampering academic activities on campus.
“The universities are supposed to be the hallmark of the society, therefore chaotic campus means defective system which bring us back to the curriculum. Curriculum is supposed to be a ‘throbbing pulse of a nation’ but why do our students always fail to conduct themselves well when it comes to demanding their rights? So the whole scenario are a two-way thing: while providing immediate and short-term solution to the lingering problems on one hand, on the other, there are urgent and intense need to harness long-term solution by implementing most recommendations made by many scholars on revitalizing Nigeria’s higher education system especially those presented at the 2014 National Education Summit held in Abuja.”