Buzz by Olumide Iyanda
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It took a while coming, but students of the Lagos State University (LASU) finally shut down parts of the state for hours on Tuesday, June 3, 2014 as they publicly protested the fee regime introduced by the administration of Governor Babatunde Fashola. Blocking the often busy Lagos/Abeokuta Expressway, the students kicked against a purported 30 per cent reduction in school fees announced by the school authorities. For them, it is N45, 000 or nothing.
Although men of the Area F Command of the Nigerian Police Force led by their Divisional Commander, Emmanuel Ugwu, managed to douse the tension eventually, eight students were arraigned before an Ikeja Chief Magistrate Court the next day over breach of public peace. They were accused of allegedly hijacking a LAGBUS vehicle with registration number SMK 719 XK, belonging to the Lagos State Government.
Protesters had on May 1 stormed the Workers’ Day rally at the Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos to demonstrate against the hike. They came with placards bearing captions that condemned the Lagos State Government. But for the intervention of men of the Nigerian Police, Fashola would have been mobbed. LASU students however distanced themselves from the May Day protest. Nurudeen Yusuf, President, LASU Student Union Government (SUG), argued that his fellow students could not have protested during the Workers’ Day celebration.
Hear him: “We were aware of the protest, but deliberately were not part of it because we already had a protest on March 31 with the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) where we addressed the governor on the increase in tuition fees and the governor asked us to draft a proposal. On April 3, we had another meeting with the governor where he told us to check the breakdown of the fees and check where there can be reduction, after which we were asked to come up with a proposal. I took the report to my state cabinet and government council.
“Sequel to that, we had a meeting on campus with all of our students on April 7 seeking their opinion on what the content of the proposal should be. After the meetings, and observing series of opinions, it took five days to draft the proposal, and then we submitted it on April 26. We are still waiting for the response of the governor. It will be dishonourable on our part, if, after submitting the proposal, we still embarked on a protest.”
He stopped short of calling the protesters meddlesome interlopers when he said, “it is an aberration for JAF to discuss with the students without the permission of the students’ union; so we led a protest to JAF on April 30 to make them realise that we are not part of any protest they intend to carry out. We are still expectant of the governor’s response, as we proposed a total of N46, 500 for returning students and N65, 500 for the fresh students at the meeting we held.”
Expectation, they say, is the mother of all frustrations. Not even assurances by Fashola on Friday, May 30, could stop the students from eventually taking to the streets three days later. The governor had told a gathering of media executives that his administration is “not inflexible and where we see the need for adjustment or amendment, we will do it, so that they might understand it better”. Similar sentiments were echoed on Wednesday, June 4 by the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Lateef Ibirogba, and his Transportation counterpart, Kayode Opeifa, at a press conference on the lingering crisis.
“We want also to put on record that government has agreed with the students on a couple of palliatives to make it better and easier for them to pay the fees,” Ibirogba said. Opeifa, who is also chairman, ad-hoc committee on LASU school fees, noted that there were some agitations when fees were introduced in the institution three years ago, but after some time the issue subsided, and in the last two years there had been no problem as the students have been paying. He added that no LASU student participated in the last protest over the fee increase. The commissioner was proved wrong the same day as the students took their protest to Fashola’s office in Alausa. They arrived in two BRT buses and other vehicles. This time they came with cooking utensils, firewood and beans, which they cooked to the dismay of government and security officials at the Lagos Secretariat.
Unlike what the government wants the people to believe, there is a problem in LASU. The students want the government to revert to the agreement made by the students on April 7, 2014 to pay N46, 500 as tuition, but that is not music to Fashola’s ears.
With noticeable drop in in standard almost all the departments in LASU, very few can fault the government’s stand that students should pay the fees. The point of disagreement seems to be how much.
Founded in 1983 as a multi-campus, collegiate and non-residential university by the administration of Lateef Jakande, LASU has over the years been home to students from high and low places. Desirous to make it competitive and attractive to more people, the state executive council introduced tuition three years ago. But the amounts specified for different categories of students appear to be an over-reaction on the part of the government. The tuition fees in the new regime include: Social Sciences N223, 750 for fresh students while returning students pay N121, 750; fresh Law students pay N250, 750, while returning students pay N206, 250; fresh Communication Science and Transport students pay N238, 750, and returning students pay N198, 250; while fresh Science students pay N258, 750 and returning students pay N216, 250. Fresh Engineering students pay N298, 750 “because of the heavy instrumentation involved”, while returning students pay N256, 000 including accommodation.
Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana, having looked at the figures, said not too long ago that “it is unjustifiable that the civil servants at Alausa who worked for the state to generate over N20 billion internally generated revenue (IGR) monthly but earn N18, 000 as minimum wage will not be able to train their children in the Lagos State University.”
A more modest fee, which is inflation adjusted perhaps every three years, may bring peace back to the institution. Besides, it will take more than an injection of cash (payable by students) to lift the standard at LASU. A first class university must have first class administrators. The right administrators must put in place to manage man and money. Members of Fashola’s cabinet and aides who graduated from the school would probably have gone on the street if something close to the present fees had been introduced in their days.
Fashola came to power with a Yoruba slogan, Eko oni baje o, which translates to Lagos will not deteriorate. Our prayer now should also be that LASU oni baje o!