By Dayo Johnson, Akure
Students of Ondo State owned tertiary institutions stormed Akure, the state capital, on Wednesday, ventilating their anger over alleged hike in their tuition fees.
Efforts by the leadership of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) to resolve the crisis over the hike in tuition fees with Governor Rotimi Akeredolu had ended in a stalemate with NANS officials alleging Akeredolu walked out on them.
The officials wanted the governor to intervene by directing the management of their respective institutions to reduce the fees.
The state government had increased the school fees by about 200 per cent in 2017, saying “the initial rates operated under the previous administration were unsustainable”.
The protest by the aggrieved students took a dangerous dimension when they clashed with policemen.
The lockdown of the state capital affected vehicular and business activities.
Among the three institutions owned by the state government whose students participated in the protest are those of Adekunle Ajasin University Akungba-Akoko (AAUA) and Ondo State University of Science and Technology (OSUSTECH) Okitipupa.
The protest led to the closure of the two institutions by their respective management which asked the students to continue their mid-semester break.
They were to resume last week but the management of both schools announced the indefinite postponement of resumption.
The Acting Registrar of AAUA, Opeoluwa Akinfemiwa, directed that students should stay away from campus until further notice.
On its part, OSUSTECH, through the Registrar, Felix Akinnusi, announced the extension of the
the school’s mid-semester break.
The students of both institutions had been scheduled for resumption on May 20.
Irked by the indefinite postponement of resumption, which the students believed was targeted at frustrating their agitation, they mobilized and stormed the state capital which they locked down.
Placards carried by the students had inscriptions such as, ‘No Reduction, No Resumption’, ‘Akeredolu, Reduce or Resign’, ‘Education Must Be Free’, ‘Say No To N250,000 ‘
The Students Union President of AAUA, Samuel Adesomoju, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard, insisted that “the protest would continue until Governor Rotimi Akeredolu reduce the fees”.
Adesomoju said, “The current fee regime of N250, 000, which has been in place since last year, has not brought infrastructural development to the institutions.
“We are telling Governor Akeredolu that our school fees must be reduced because there will be no resumption if the fees are not reduced.
“It is our right to have education but the governor is gradually taking it away from us with his policies.
“If the governor wants to generate revenue, he should look elsewhere and not our schools.
“We are sending him a clear message that we will not leave the streets until he reduces the fees and he should not have in mind to open the schools without reduction. We are going to resist it”.
Equally speaking, a former NANS official, Kowe Odunayo, lamented the hike in school fees, adding that the students’ body would resist by all means the move by government to commercialize education in Ondo.
Odunayo said, “Education is our right and we are here fighting for it. We want to put it to Governor Akeredolu that if he does not reduce the fees, there will not be resumption.
“We read that during his time in the university, if their (undergraduates) chicken was not enough, they fought. In essence, they fought for chicken and not school fees. “Unfortunately, this set of people who enjoyed those things then cannot provide education.”
Storming the palace
The protesting students who visited the palace of the Deji of Akure, Oba Ogunlade Aladetoyinbo, asked the monarch to prevail on the governor to reduce the fees.
The protest staged by the students, which commenced as early as 730am, however turned bloody when armed policemen were deployed to the scene.
Major streets such as Oba Adesida, Oyemekun and Arakale were barricaded by the students who vowed that the protest would continue until Akeredolu intervened.
Policemen deployed to halt the protest fired tear gas at the students and when the protesters were undeterred, they reportedly fired gunshots into the air.
Some miscreants who joined the procession reportedly threw stones at the policemen.
There were injuries on both sides as the clash lasted for about an hour after which the students retreated.
Police spokesperson, Femi Joseph, accused the students of being violent during the protest by smashing windscreen of vehicles and damaging other valuables.
He described as false the claim that policemen attacked students during the protest.
According to him, the state Commissioner of Police earlier met with the students’ leaders on the need to be civil and show maturity during the demonstration.
He added that the state government and the authorities of the institutions equally met with the students on the issue of the hike of tuition fees.
“Despite all these, they took to the streets and we have been managing the situation for days until they became violent and started destroying valuables.
“They went wild and caused a lot of damages. They attacked everything in sight including motorists and our men in uniform.
“We cannot sit down and allow things to degenerate into an orgy of violence. So we decided to disperse them”.
Adesomoju, the President of AAUA Students Union, AAUA, described the tear-gassing of the protesting students as “inhuman”.
He said the protest had been peaceful until the police attacked students, noting that “the attack by the police was callous and an oppression of the students.”
The student leader went on, “This is unjust and it is inhuman and students of both AAUA and OSUSTECH have all been at home for three weeks now. We are saying no to the hike in tuition fees in our universities by Governor Akeredolu’s government.
“We have tried all we could to make the governor understand us but he has failed to listen.”
Meanwhile, the management of AAUA has denied a hike in tuition fees.
Akinfemiwa, Acting Registrar, said, “There is no new increase of school fees in AAUA. The current school fees in AAUA range between N80, 000 and N150, 000 and the students are allowed to pay twice i.e. between N40,000 and N75,000 per semester”.
The management of OSUSTECH also maintained that it had not increased school fees and had no intention of doing so.
Acting Registrar Akinnusi said, “It should be noted that the current school fees regime being paid in OSUSTECH had been on since the beginning of 2017/2018 academic session.
“The University Management is therefore surprised to see the University Students going into the streets to agitate for reduction in the fees payable in the institution.
“Management learnt that it was because their colleagues at Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba Akoko were demonstrating on the issue of School fees, that they too also decided to go on the streets”.
The Akeredolu government, on its part, denied that tuition fees in Ondo tertiary institutions had been increased, noting that the last time any hike was done was over one and a half years ago.
It said that what the students were engaging in “looked like students protest but more like a move sponsored by some people”.
The state Information and Orientation Commissioner, Yemi Olowolabi, said, “Reports indicated that students are protesting because of hike in tuition fees in our tertiary institutions. This is far from the truth because there has not been any increase in tuition fees in any of our tertiary institutions.
“You will recall that about one and a half years ago, the Governing Council of AAUA, led by Dr. Tunji Abayomi, reviewed the school fees and the students took to the streets for days.
“The governor was not in town at that time and the moment he returned, he called a meeting of stakeholders.
“The governor pleaded with the Governing Council at the meeting to review the fees downward and, not just that, he pleaded for the students to pay twice.
“The highest school fees payable in all our institutions is N150, 000.Those studying law and sciences are the ones paying N150, 000 but those in humanities are paying about N70, 000.
“At that meeting, all the parties agreed that the fees should be reviewed and they were given the opportunity to pay twice.
“But is it not curious that barely one and a half years later, the students are protesting as if there is a new increase in the fees?”