•As students warm up for fresh showdown
•Say issue of school fees hike unresolved
BY OLASUNKANMI AKONI
GOvernor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, weekend, approved the sum of N51 million for the repairs of damaged property and facilities in Lagos State University, LASU, which was incurred in the wake of students’ unrest on January 23, 2014 over the closure of the institution’s portal.
The governor also directed the immediate re-opening of the institution from Monday February 24, (yesterday) in the overriding best interest of the students.
However, this development did not augur well with majority of the students who felt the major problems of hike in tuition fees had not been addressed by the government.
Origin of the crisis
The problem started in September 2011 when government, through a white paper, announced increase in the tuition fees. This led the students to stage a violent protest. Subsequently, government clarified that the increment would only be paid by fresh students.
In a special bulletin from the office of the Vice Chancellor, Prof. John Obafunwa, at the end of an emergency meeting of the school’s senate, the authorities, announced exemption of old students from the proposed fees.
The state government had directed that prospective students of Arts/Education should pay N193,750; Social and Management Sciences, N223,750; Law, N248,750; while those in Communication/Transport, Sciences, Engineering and College of Medicine are to pay N238,750, N258,750, N298,750 and N348,750 respectively as against what was obtainable then which ranged between N25,000 and N62,500.
Even then, the fees were to be paid in two installments, 70 per cent in the first semester and 30 per cent in second semester.
Governor Fashola while clarifying the increment, explained that there was no basis for the violent protest that trailed the hike.
According to him, the state government decided to increase the tuition fees in order to raise the school to international standard. “The state government has done everything possible to ensure the school is not a glorified secondary school it was hitherto called. We ensure accreditation of most of their courses. In fact, 85 per cent of their courses have been accredited and the remaining will soon be accredited. “The school employed more lecturers to strengthen the standard of the school so that a graduate of LASU can compete with graduates of any university in the world.”
Recent crisis: In a fresh crisis, LASU authorities, early February, ordered immediate closure of the institution following violent protests by the students over closure of the school’s portal denying most of them the opportunity to register for the semester examination. Several properties worth millions of Naira were destroyed in the process.
In a swift reaction, members of the state House of Assembly summoned the state Commissioner for Education, Mrs. Olayinka Oladunjoye; Special Adviser to the Governor on Education, Mr. Fatai Olukoga; the Governing Council, management staff of the Lagos State University and the institution’s Students’ Union to appear before it.
The situation was brought to the notice of the House at a plenary session, under Matters of Urgent Public Importance by the Chairman of the House Committee on Education, Science and Technology, Hon. Wahab Alawiye–King (Lagos Island State Constituency II).
To halt the crisis, Alawiye–King appealed to the school authority to reopen the portal for two days to enable the students register and take examinations.
He said if students were to commence the second semester examination two weeks after resumption but without necessary registration, no student could write the exams.
The issue generated heated debate at the plenary as the lawmakers saw the issue from different perspectives which almost resulted in open disagreement compelling the Speaker, Rt. Hon. Adeyemi Ikuforiji, to call for a short-adjournment to enable the lawmakers resolve the issue at a parliamentary session which lasted for over an hour.
Ikuforiji, on resumption of plenary, announced the decision of members to invite the above mentioned stakeholders.
At the stakeholders’ meeting, President Students Union Government, SUG, Miss Mojirade Hassan, told lawmakers that th students’ protest to register their displeasure over the closure of the portal was hijacked by unknown hoodlums.
Hassan explained that the issue got out of hand after the affected students staged a peaceful protest to the school Senate building to appeal to the management to re-open the school portal for them to register.
Reopening of school portal
She also pointed out that despite all the pleas by the affected students for the portal to be re-opened, the VC and other management staff turned the deaf ear to the pleas of the students, ignoring some of the students who knelt down to plead.
According to Mojirade, several meetings were held with the Vice Chancellor to ensure that the portal was re-opened to students who were ready to pay the stipulated fees. “The school management closed the portal but students were still paying and they could not access the portal to register.
“When some of the students approached the Chairman, Governing Council, Mr. Bode Augusto, he was telling them of the financial problems being encountered by the school. I told the VC that we want to meet with him and he told me that if it is about the re-opening of the portal, he would disappoint me.
“I begged the VC to re-open the portal for just two hours and I informed him that the affected students had threatened to protest if the portal is not re-opened but he said; “They should go ahead, they will meet there.”
“The protest in front of the House was peaceful because the students were only carrying placards and they did not even sing. Some of them even knelt down to plead, but when the VC and other management staff came, they didn’t address them but drove away from the scene.
“The students, seeing this, took to the streets and I still called the VC to let him know that the issue had gone out of hand but he told me to pacify the students. I told him it had gone beyond what I could handle. It was then he told me that he had involved the Department of State Service, DSS. If the VC had addressed the students, the issue wouldn’t have degenerated.
“The protest was hijacked by hoodlums because we saw some yellow buses coming into the school and in the process, some people were snatching phones and a phone belonging to one of my members was stolen and when we called the line, the person said he’s not a student of LASU and that we should come to Alagbado to collect the phone,” she added. Earlier in his comment, the VC, alleged that some of the students chose to be negligent and that was why they failed to pay and register. He explained that the portal was closed and re-opened several times and some of the students still refused to register.
“The issue is beyond the closure of the portal because I witnessed what happened and if not for God, we would have been talking of obituaries this morning. The question is do we really want a new LASU? What we have done is to instill discipline in the students,” Obafunwa added. To tackle the matter, the House set up a committee to looking into the issue and bring its report within two weeks.
However, the governor directed the school to re-open yesterday with final year students while the school’s portal would be re-opened for two days on February 24 and 25 for the final year students. The final year students’ examination will start on the March 3, while fresh students will commence registration on March 10, 2014. Other categories of students will resume on April 1, with the portal opened for them on April 1and 2.
Students hint of further trouble
Reacting to governor’s announcement, the students said apart from opening the portal, the issue of hike in tuition fees would continue to lead to clashes between the authorities and students.
According to one of the students, who simply identified himself as John; “Whether the portal is reopened or not there will still be students’ unrest over tuition fees as many indigent students will still find it difficult to pay the high fees. What we (students) need from government is to review downward the tuition fee considerably to make it affordable for the generality of the students and their sponsors.”
Another student, Tajudeen, wondered how an administration that claimed to be people friendly in terms of welfare could approve such an astronomical increment in school fees despite the dwindling economy of the country. “Where do they want us to get that money from? Do they want us to go and rob? Many of us are on self sponsorship without help from anywhere. Lets see how this will play out without reduction in school fees.”