One issue that has been the bane of the Babatunde Fashola-led Lagos State Government is no other than the hike in tuition fee at the Lagos State University (LASU).
From a modest sum of N25, 000 per session that students were struggling to pay by 2010, the LASU Visitation panel, led by Hon. Justice Olaseinde Silva recommended an increment of between 750 to 1000 percent, pegging fee for medical students to N348, 750, Engineering N298, 750, Core Sciences N258, 750, Communication/Transport N238,750, Law N248, 750, Social/Management Sciences N 223,750 and Arts/Education N193, 750.
As expected, the increment was greeted with an initial resistance both from the students and the general public but waned after a while, given the impression that the students had no qualms with the fees, based on measures such as bursary for indigenes and scholarship for indigent students put in place by government to cushion effects of the hike.
Just a year later there was a resurgence of protests among the students and civil societies when new students who are affected by the new fees were to write their examination. Vice chancellor of the university, Professor John Obafunwa had ordered a shutdown of the online registration portal when all the students were yet to complete registration process for the semester examination.
The VC was also quoted to have said 11,300 students registered and that the remaining 1,292 students crying foul were not only in the minority but would also have to carryover the courses.
It was a pile too bitter for the students to swallow. The consequence was mayhem, with the VC at the receiving end, leading to closure of the school. Since then it has been one protest after the other, with the students, attributing their inability to register on time to lack of capacity to pay the fees.
Some were alleged to have dropped out of the school as a result of the high fees. We gathered that the student population in some of the departments; Engineering in particular has reduced to an embarrassing proportion.
But the VC debunks this claim in an interactive session, noting that claims of students dropping out as a result of the new fees was unfounded.
“We went back to the University to look at them. Of course, we found some of them were not even students of LASU. We saw some who actually dropped out, but because they did not meet up with the appropriate CGP. We found that some people had actually collected bursary and scholarship and either dropped out or still did not pay,” Obafunwa explained.
But at a symposium on ‘How Fee Hike and Commercialization Kill Public Education, LASU as a Case Study’, National Coordinator, Education Rights Campaign, Comrade Taiwo Soweto re-emphasized that 1,292 Students of the Lagos State University (LASU) have not been able to pay the new school fees.
According to him, parents of those who have been able to pay the latest fees do so at great difficulty, adding that some sold personal vehicles while others have to take loans from cooperative society to be able to pay fees for one semester. Besides, he added that only a little over 200 students have been able to obtain scholarship from the Lagos State Government. For him, indigenes of the state who have been able to obtain bursary do so with a lot of rigour.
Also speaking on the subject, President National Union of Lagos State Student, Mr. Mademaku Abayomi said two categories of scholarships are available at LASU, one administered by the institution which has a GP of 4.5 and another administered through the state government with a GP of 3.5. He explained that condition for qualifying for the scholarships have become very tough since fees were increased in LASU. As for bursary, he said, law students and those reading medicine are entitled to N80,000 per session, N65,000 for students in humanities and N40, 000 for those in the department of education adding that the bursary is insignificant compared to fee of over N200,000 paid by students per session.
He alleged that many who apply for the bursary are denied while those who qualify are either not paid or paid in trickles. For him, the way forward is for the Lagos State Government to scrap the bursary, scholarship and revert the hike in school fees in LASU. Son of the late Human Rights Activist, Mr. Mohammed Fawehinmi threw his weight behind this argument, noting that the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola has no option but to declare free education in Lagos State for all level, stressing that the governor and his late father benefited from free education.
Also speaking, President Global Education Consultant, Mr. Sunday Fayose explained that asking students in LASU to pay fees is nothing but double taxation since their parents pay taxes to the state government. For him, the state government owes it a moral responsibility to invest public fund in education the way it is investing it on roads and other infrastructures. But while the argument raged, the state government came out and announced that it was already considering a review of tuition in LASU and it appeared that the duration tarried for too long for the students to bear.
What followed was a series of protest by the LASU chapter of the Academic Staff Union of University(ASUU) who embarked on indefinite strike to press home their demands for reversal to the old school fees paid among other issues and demonstration by students and consequent blocking of roads to register their displeasure over delay in making pronouncement on the issue.
Eights students of the school were arrested, arraigned and charged on one count charge of breach of public peace, having gone berserk unleashing terror on residents. The eight students were Olamide Bolarinwa, 23; Oludare Olayinka, 18; Victoria Oni, 18; Timilehin Fatukasi, 19; Babatunde Bolarinwa, 24; Taiwo Ajayi, 24; Olatimihan Taiwo, 20, and Segun Akani, 27. The Chief Magistrate, Mrs. Eniola Fabamwo however granted them bail in the sum of N10, 000 each, with one responsible surety.
This incident seemed to have infuriated the students who stormed office of the Lagos State Governor a day after in what has been describes as an unprecedented drama.
They not only blocked entrance to office of the Lagos State Governor with luxury buses in the Bus Rapid Transit(BRT) scheme – they also came with cooking utensils, made fire in front of the office and cooked beans in preparation to pass the night outside.
Speaking on that faithful day, President Student Union Government (SUG), Mr. Nurudeen Yusuf called on the Lagos State Governor to practice the manifesto of the All Progressive Congress(APC) who has promised free education from primary to tertiary level.
“It should start from Lagos State, which is the base of the party. It was from Lagos State that the APC was established before going to other states. Governor Fashola should come out and tell us what we are supposed to pay. We cannot wait again. It is taken too long.
“Our school is shut down. Everything has turned upside down. Students are dropping from the university on a daily basis. We decided not to engage the party leaders because the people in government do not understand any language. The only language they understand is protest. They have been promising that they will get back to us soon and very soon. Any time can be soon. So, we do not want to engage the leaders of the APC”, he said, adding that students have resolved to fight this struggle on their own.
“We are a pressure group. We are a pressure group in the country. We can do this alone. We do not want any person to fight for us. We voted for Governor Fashola. We voted for all members of the State House of Assembly. As a result, we think he can help our situation. He has always promised us better rewarding future.
How can we have a rewarding future without education? He has denied us good education. He has neglected the law that created LASU. We wanted to go to court. But we decided not to go to court because we need to resolve this issue. Governor Fashola has violated Section 3(1) of the law that established the institution. The section states that the university should be made available for all people irrespective of their socio-economic background and status. Now, the governor has made LASU the University of the Rich”, he said.
The student repeated their protest a day after, but this time they were prevented from having access to the Governor’s office, but they were very clear with their demands that they will only pay N46, 500, nothing more. They warned the governor against allowing the LASU incident to rubbish his record of performance in Lagos State. “What would you be remembered for after leaving office?”, the students queried, last Friday at Alausa.
So as the Lagos State Government deliberates on the reports submitted by the committee set up the by the Lagos State Executive Council on Monday, a drastic reduction in the fee or a revert to the old older might just be the panacea to what has been a perennial problem in LASU and save the APC from imminent humiliation in 2015.