THE other day, Governor Babatunde Fashola retraced his position on the school fees saga that has paralysed the Lagos State University these past months. It is not a victory for the students, neither is it a victory for ASUU and SSANU. It is also not a victory for the parents of the students.
It is a victory for our fragile democracy. It is a triumph of the will of the people, after more than one year of struggle: brave, peaceful, focused and determined protest, without violence and coercion, save for a few scuffles here and there when area boys tried to hijack the process. It is the dawn of a new era for the Nigerian people. The message is that given enough time and latitude, the Nigerian democracy will sort itself out as we grow in it. Our politicians and ‘militricians‘ must, therefore, allow this democracy to take root, allow it to grow at our own pace. Rome was not built in a day.
The Lagos State government and other participants in this crisis have shown to all that you do not need violence to force the government to make a change. It has also shown that an unpopular law or decree, no matter the level of force backing it, can never work if the people are determined not to let it work. That is the case of the fees increase in LASU.
Once again, we must give kudos to all parties concerned; all is well that ends well. Democracy is not always about right, it is not always about morality, it is about what the people want. This angle has the backing of the Holy Book, the Bible. Before the coming of King Saul, the Israelites had always been ruled by anointed servants of God, beginning from Moses, through Joshua to Samuel.
Despite the good performance of Samuel, the people still craved for a king. When the pressure became much, the Almighty God yielded and directed Samuel to do according to their wish. That was how Saul was anointed and made king. The story and the end of King Saul’s reign was also well documented in the Bible. It was a calamity.
The interesting thing about democracy therefore, is that even though it is not always about what is right, it can be corrected through the people’s will when they discover that the decision taken is not working,using the same process that brought it about. It is assumed that the majority decision is always right; so it is a self- correcting mechanism.
Lagos State is the pace setter for development and innovations amongst all the states of the federation. It is the model for almost every aspect of governance. In fact, most states are still battling to keep the standards in the judiciary, revenue administration, transport management, urban management and development, waste control, health, traffic control etc; they have gone very far.
We cannot take it away from Fashola: he has done exceedingly well. His attempt to make Lagos an elite state is what has caused him the most problem with the masses. His policies do not seem to favour the low wage earners who are in the majority. Many have been frustrated out of their businesses, while some have died of hypertension. He was rumoured to have said that he does not buy low cost cement in the market, therefore, he cannot build low cost houses. The climax of his harsh regime was the illegal deportation of so called ‘undesirables’ from Lagos, the consequences of which is still reverberating till today.
Any government, no matter its good intention, that does not factor in the interest of the ordinary man in its decision making process will always face stiff resistance, especially in a truly democratic setting.
The decision of the Lagos State government to increase school fees was badly timed; it got the full resistance of the people, and the opposition PDP in the state were waiting to capitalise on this in the 2015 elections. Arising from the outcome of the Ekiti election, Adams Oshiomhole was compelled to recant on his sacking of erring teachers in Edo State; Fashola’s LASU decision cannot also be distanced from the on going political current.
If the Lagos State government had succeeded in enforcing the payment of the hiked school fees, it would have had a band wagon effect on other state-owned institutions. At the federal level, a minimal increase was tested at the Universities of Lagos and Ife: the resistance was very stiff. In fact, Unilag had to withdraw theirs in less than a week; that of Ife ended in a stalemate.
The Nigerian people are facing very harsh economic realities: the security challenges in the North have shut down so many businesses; people can barely manage to eat or take care of their children’s education. Though the country is awash with private universities, Dr Dele Sobowale’s recent analysis in the Vanguard has shown that most of them lack applicants because the school fees are out of the reach of the average Nigerian.
The government must, therefore, begin to think of better ways to generate revenue to fund our various tertiary institutions. The budget for education must be increased because a sound education for the children is a sound investment on future development of the country. A country’s future survival is dependent on the education of its children. Sending children abroad to study is not the answer as they will not be properly grounded in the peculiar challenges facing our country. The challenges confronting nations differ according to environment, geography, culture and other factors. When our children are sent abroad to study, they find it difficult understanding country’s problems and what solutions to proffer. Let us build our educational institutions and restore the past glories. We cannot do this slashing the education budget, instead there should be increases, especially in the areas of research and development. We have the man power potentials; our challenge is in the area of effective management of these potentials. Our leaders must not always think of themselves alone, the overall picture must be paramount; there must ba a balance; if the rich are happy and the poor are not, there cannot be progress.
Finally, I must also note here that getting the best comes with some measure of sacrifices; people always refer to the success story of Singapore and the effective management style of their leader Lee Kwan Yew. He made some hard decisions that were sometimes oppressive to the people’s interest. There is no victory that comes without a price. If the people are given proper orientation on the success of a project destination and they buy into it, making them to follow becomes easy.
But, when you see glaring ostentatious display of wealth and waste and stealing on the part of government officials, when you find contemporary counterpart states and the Federal Government managing to subsidise education, such policies like that of the lagos state school fees increases will not be accepted by the people, no matter how good the intentions.
A leader that does not give way to the peoples wish, will fail. Fashola has learnt his lessons, especially as the 2015 election draws near.
Sunny Ikhioya, a commentator on national issues, wrote from Lagos.