BY LAJU IREN
It is often said that the adage, ‘whatever goes up must come down,’ does not apply in Nigeria. This is especially true when it comes to increase in the prices of goods and services. So when the Lagos State University, LASU, had its three-year long fee hike reversed from as high as N350, 000 to the previous amount of N25, 000, it caused jubilation for students and parents alike.
The fight to reverse the increase in fees was not an easy one. Some dropped out of school because they could not afford to pay. Many who considered entering the University did not even bother to pick LASU. There were protests both within and outside the school campus. The media- newspapers, radio stations, television and even new media-was awash with comments and campaigns. The University was shut down on a few occasions. It took all these and more for the state government to finally relent.
But since last November, there has been massive outcry from some quarters in the LASU environment from individuals who say that they are now being victimized for their role in compelling the State Government to reverse the exorbitant fees.
The Chairman of the LASU Chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Dr. Adekunle Idris is one of such people who were vocal during the three-year struggle. Soon after the LASU fees were reversed, his doctoral certificate was also reversed. Prof. Tunde Fatunde, who wrote and published an open letter to Gov. Babatunde Fashola concerning the then exorbitant fees was placed on interdiction and is now being paid half his salary.
A student activist, Adeyemi Onikoro, who played a leading role in the #SaveLASU campaign, was made to face the University’s disciplinary committee for participating in peaceful protests. He told Saturday School Life, SSL, that some members of the committee told him off the record that he might be suspended for one academic session. Although the university claims to have other reasons for its actions, these individuals, and the unions that represent them, say that they are being victimized by the school management.
Idris told SSL: “My PhD thesis was adjudged one of the best in my class, that is why this does not make any sense. The laws of the University are very clear on withdrawal of certificates. Senate can only withdraw certificates if it is found after a proper investigation, that the holder of the certificate behaved dishonourably. In this case, they withdrew the certificates of fourteen of us before a panel was even set up. As far as I know, eleven of the fourteen have had their cases reversed, so it is remaining I and two others.
The Vice Chancellor, Prof. John Obafunwa should not bring disrepute to the image of the university simply because he wants to get back at one person. The certificate, especially the PhD certificate is the bedrock of any university. If you withdraw it without due process, you will cause people not to have respect for the LASU certificate. The Lagos state government should please call Obafunwa to order.
It seems that we have someone who does not have the time to run the University in the way that it should be run because he is too busy in his other position as Chief Medical Examiner of Lagos state. This same VC told us that we should go to court if we like, but that we would be in court for ten years. That is why we want to make sure we try our case in the court of public opinion.”
In an earlier report, the VC had said he was neither responsible for the award nor the withdrawal of the certificate, since it was normally the university senate that handles such matters. He said the university, in 2004, approved three Ph.D programmes in Business Administration, Management, and International Business. He said Dr Adekunle Idris’s Ph.D was withdrawn because it bears ‘Ph.D Business Administration (Marketing)’, whereas ‘Marketing’ was never approved by the senate.
However, at a press briefing last year, Idris insisted that he was admitted for Ph.D Business Administration, saying “Marketing is a specialised field under Business Administration.” He also said when the school decided to offer him a certificate that bears Ph.D Business Administration (Marketing), it was not in his place to protest, especially since such certificates had been awarded to some lecturers before him.
“They cut my salary in half, if that is not victimization, tell me what it is.” These were the words of Prof. Fatunde when he was asked if he could think of any other reason why he would be placed on interdiction.
According to him, the university’s defense for its punitive measures is a seven year old memo. He said: “Seven years ago, as Chairman of Information and Communication Technology, I was copied in a memo about a project by an architect. The project was one that never took off. It was a project proposal to build a five star ICT hotel in the university. I responded to the memo then. ICT is under the office of the Vice Chancellor, so the memo and the responses to it are still in the archives of the VC. At that time, the VC was Prof. Lateef Hussein. Soon after I published that article in the papers, and the fee hike issue was resolved, I got a memo from the current VC asking me to reply to that seven-year old memo. I simply replied telling him that I had responded at that time and the response was in the archives of the VC’s office. After that, the VC got the Registrar to say that I had been rude to him, and should be put on interdiction. Interdiction implies a criminal charge. It implies that such a person has committed a criminal offence within or outside the university. I have done no such thing.”
Onikoro also made his case to our reporters. He said: “After a peaceful protest in 2012, the school set up an investigative committee, which then forwarded its report to the disciplinary committee. I was called to face the disciplinary committee and questioned about my involvement in the protest. Although the committee has not officially got back to me, there are unconfirmed reports that I might face some punitive measures. My participation was not at all militating. It was a peaceful protest; every Nigerian has the right to that, all long as it does not adversely affect law and order. I’d like to believe that the committee is just delaying for cogent reasons. It would be unfair if I am punished, especially because of the state government’s non victimization clause for those involved in the struggle.”
Students now pay N25,000 as fees at LASU. Soon, they might forget that there was ever an astronomical rise in fees. But for these persons, it might take a much longer time to forget.