By Dayo Johnson, Regional Editor, South-West
WITHIN the space of four days, two separate protests rocked Ondo State and shook it to its foundation. Pregnant women and students took to the streets of Akure during the week, to protest against what they termed ‘anti-people policies.’
In fact, security agencies in the state had a hectic time trying to rise up to the occasion.
Pregnant women’s antenatal protest
The first set of people who expressed their displeasure over the state government’s decision to hike fees for antenatal were pregnant women.
In a rare public show, the women displayed their protruding stomachs to express their anger.
The governor, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, who was in Abuja to attend a meeting of the All Progressives Congress, APC, and got wind of the protest, dispatched his Health Commissioner, Mr. Wahab Adegbenro to placate the protesting pregnant women.
The state was grounded for almost four hours as activities at the state specialist hospital antenatal clinic and other departments were halted.
Vanguard learned that the protest by the pregnant women hit the governor so hard that he reportedly vowed that those behind the “unauthorised” 300 per cent increase in medical fees as against what was in operation under the immediate past government, which was free would be dealt with.
Dependable government sources hinted that a high powered panel would soon be set up to probe the collection of unauthorised fees and bills in government hospitals from pregnant women by officials of the Hospital Management Board, HMB and heads may eventually roll if they are found culpable.
Reliable sources within the hospital said that government would be economical with the truth if it is now washing its hands off the matter as the management of the hospital were told in plain language to source for money to run the hospital.
The source, who pleaded anonymity, said: “How do they want us to run the hospitals? Is it with our own salaries or our blood?”
A dependable source told Vanguard that some influential personalities in the state have asked the governor to tread softly as the happenings in the state in recent times, were not only worrisome but could have been avoided if government had consulted widely before reeling out perceived “anti- people policies.”
Outrageous medical bills
While accusing the present administration of milking them, the pregnant women said that they were made to pay “unnecessary and outrageous medical bills” which ranged between N50,000 and N80,000 at government hospitals across the state before any delivery through caesarean section.
One of the protesters, Iyabo Oladele said: “We pay so much medical bills before the nurses are allowed to attend to us at the hospital and they have always had this lackadaisical attitude towards us.
“In fact, there are times they even get us detained inside the hospital or seize our property if we do not pay the heavy medical bills on time after delivery.”
Another pregnant woman, Sharon Arise said that the cost of antenatal services was increased last December while other fees were introduced after the Easter break.
She said most of them have resorted to using traditional midwives and private hospitals because of the outrageous bills and fees. She was quick to point out that officials, in a bid to perfect their fraud, do not issue receipts to them especially after delivery for which they cough out between N50,000 and N80,000.
CMD denies allegations
The Chief Medical Director, CMD of the Specialist Hospital, Dr. Moses Adewole denied any increase in the cost of delivery in the hospital.
“Everything in this country is on the high side and most of the time, we depend on power from power generation set because the power from the national grid cannot power most of the equipment in the hospital and we depend on generator most of the time.”
It was communication gap—Health commissioner
The Commissioner of Health, Dr Adegbenro attributed the cause of the protest by the expectant women to “communication gap.”
Adegbenro said: “The people were not properly briefed about what is going on, but we have cancelled the fee for the antenatal appointment and have reverted to the old system.”
He described the increase in the delivery fee as false saying there was no plan to increase the delivery fee, “there is nothing like N25,000 for delivery, it is false information and the normal delivery fee remains N5,000.”
Students protest tuition fee
While the dust raised by the 300 per cent increase in medical bills payable by the expectant women across the state was yet to settle, the Governing Council of the state-owned Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba, Akoko, stoked another fire by astronomically hiking the tuition fees of the over 19,000 students by over 500 per cent.
The tuition fee was N35,000 before it was shot up to N200,000.
For days, the students, under the auspices of the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS and National Association of Ondo State Students, NAOSS, grounded Akure as they protested against the alleged insensitivity of its governing council.
Students displayed placards such as: ‘Akeredolu must not send us away from school’, ‘No to hike in our school fees’, ‘Education is our right’, ‘Aketi enjoyed free education, he must not take it from us’ and ‘Remove increment or we make the state ungovernable.’
The vexed fees indicated that “Faculties of Arts and Education- Fresh Students are expected to pay N150,000, returning Students: N120,000, Faculties of Science, Agriculture, Social and Management Sciences – Fresh Students: N180, 000, returning Students: N150,000 and Faculty of Law – Fresh students: 200,000, returning students: N150, 000.
Students, Parents protest tuition fees
The students and their parents showed their displeasure by kicking against it. While the state government and the governing council insisted that there was no going back on the new fee regime, the students and their parents have also stood their ground.
The student leader, Oladele Ijanusi insisted that only the fresh students should pay a fee that attracts only 30 per cent increase while returning students pay the former fees.
He said the increment was done “in bad fate” and accused government and the governing council of being insensitive to the yearnings of the students despite the poor economic realities facing the masses.”
Ondo lawmakers back students
Lawmakers in the state have opted to support the students’ agitation even as they directed the governing council to revert to the old fees.
The Speaker, David Oloyelogun said that enough consultations were not made before the new fees were announced.
Dependable sources told Vanguard that the governing council initially recommended N300,000 fees but after much argument, the council settled for N150,000 and N200,000.
Governing Council backs action
Chairman of the Governing Council, Dr. Tunji Abayomi while justifying their action said that the state government spends N5.700bn to run the state-owned University yearly, while the total income of the institution stands at N2.710bn.
Abayomi said that the increment was meant to save the university from total collapse.
Alumni proffers way out
The Alumni association of the institution, in an open letter, on the way forward to the visitor, the management and the students said although the increment was inevitable but that “the current increment is exorbitant, astronomical and unrealistic” noting that it “ought to have been done on instalment and not drastically.
It’s President, Patrick Oluyide and General Secretary Sunday Ogunode asked the management to boost its Internally Generated Revenue IGR.
The alumni said: “It is equally important to note that the current fee of between N23, 000 and N37, 000 charged by AAUA was introduced about 18 years ago at commencement of the University in 2000.”
Why we increased fees—Ondo govt
Defending the actions, the Information and Orientation Commissioner, Mr. Yemi Olowolabi said: “The monthly wage bill for staff and pensioners is about N220 million while the monthly subvention is N150 Million, leaving a deficit of N70 million every month on salary pay alone.
To cushion the effect of the increase in the new fees according to the commissioner include flexibility in the payment of school fees that is payment in two tranches for students that cannot afford to pay, Expansion of the current work-study scheme of the University within and around the University to allow interested students to work two hours in a day to support their education.
Others include establishment of scholarship for brilliant but poor students, Establishment of temporary loan scheme for indigent students, Temporary loan up to half of the school fees to students in need and to be repaid before the end of the semester.
Government added that “such student will be qualified for another loan after repayment and a support of up to 50% of the school fees to assist the physically-challenged students.”