ACN WIELDS THE AXE ON PUBLIC EDUCATION IN LAGOS STATE
ACN WIELDS THE AXE ON PUBLIC EDUCATION IN LAGOS STATE
- 725% Fee Hike in LASU!
- Students’ Union Banned!
By H.T. Soweto and Keye Ewebiyi
Babatunde Raji Fashola, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) governor of Lagos state has announced a 725% increment in fees payable by students of Lagos State University (LASU). In response to peaceful protests by students, the university authorities acting out the script of the state government swiftly and in a repulsively undemocratic manner banned the Students’ Union! The highest fee proposed for medical students is N348, 750, much higher than the cumulative annual N18, 000 minimum wage!
This announcement was contained in a document titled “Government’s view on the report of the visitation panel to Lagos State University” released in September, 2011. The document read thus “in view of the enormous financial commitment required to run a University vis-Å•-vis other competing demands in the public sector, Government accepts the recommendation to increase tuition feesâ€¦”
The new tuition fees, which will take effect from 2011/2012 academic session, will have students of Arts/Education, Social and Management Sciences, Law, Communication/Transport, Science, Engineering and Medicine pay N193,750, N223,750, N248,750, N238,750, N258,750, N298,750 and N348,750 respectively as against the present fees which ranges from N25,000 to N62,500. This represents a 725% increase! There are also illegal charges like N15, 000 for Teaching Practice/Field Trip, N50, 000 for Moot Court Fee for Law students, N2, 500 for General Studies, N10, 000 for Caution Fee, N20, 000 for Acceptance Fee, N10, 000 for registration fee amongst many others.
It is ironical that although the same visitation panel recommended “increase in the Budgetary Allocation to the University using the UNESCO benchmark of a minimum of 25% of Annual Budget of the State to be expended on education”, the Lagos State ACN government is only quick to implement the one that suits it best.
In a country characterized by low per capital income with over 80% of the population living below the poverty line, this anti-student fee will force thousands of students out of school while jeopardizing the academic ambition of many others. This will make tertiary education to become the exclusive preserve of children of the rich and the highest bidders. Most students of Lagos State University are from low-income or lower class family. Rich politicians like Bola Tinubu, Governor Fashola and his cohorts do not even enrol their children in the university.
Owing to years of neglect by successive government, Lagos State University is characterized by overcrowded classrooms, inadequate lecture halls, water-logged environment (as a result of poor drainage system), ill-equipped libraries and laboratories, inadequate teaching and non-teaching staff, lack of transportation facilities, poor sport facilities, poor ICT services among others. The government is now trying to use this state of affairs, which was worsened by the Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration of the State and also sustained by Fashola-led government, to justify the increment.
Students must not accept that paying high fees is the solution to the infrastructural deficit in LASU. Rather the only solution to the deficit in quality and infrastructure in the University is for the state government to fund education adequately and democratize the running of schools through the involvement of elected representatives of students and staff unions in all decision making organs. This is the only way to ensure that resources allocated to schools are judiciously used to cater for the infrastructural improvement of the institutions.
ACN ANTI-POOR CHARACTER AGAIN EXPOSED
Coming on the heels of harsh anti-poor attacks (planned removal of oil subsidy and electricity tariff hike) by the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) Federal government, this latest fee increment is beginning to show clearly the consensus of all political parties including the ACN on attacks on the living conditions of young people, students and workers.
With this brutal attack on public education go all ACN’s pretences of being different from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The Chairman Editorial Board of The Nation’s Newspaper (a newspaper under the political influence of the ACN), Sam Omatseye’s efforts in his column to justify the increment was roundly condemned by over 80% of comments on his face book wall. Many people wondered how the ACN which lays claim to the political legacy of the Action Group (AG) and Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) of the first and second republics in Nigeria (parties whose central program was free education) could preside over the whole sale pricing of education out of the reach of ordinary people.
This is not surprising. In 2004, the immediate past Governor, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu hiked the school fees from N250 to a minimum of N25, 000. Yet there was no significant improvement in infrastructure as the University Management mismanaged both subventions and Internally Generated Revenue of the institution.
The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) has always argued that there is no fundamental difference between the ACN and the PDP. They defend the same neo-liberal and anti-poor policies of removal of fuel subsidy, deregulation, fuel price hike, education commercialization and privatization of public assets. Political stalwarts of the ACN are as corrupt as politicians of the PDP as the recent corruption trial of Bola Tinubu reveals.
The ACN in Lagos stand the risk of diminishing its support base or even defeat in future elections going by its relentless implementation of brutal anti-poor policies. The last Local Government elections recorded one of the worst turn out in election as majority of people showed their disillusionment in the political party by staying indoors.
Anti-poor parties like the ACN are only still in power, despite mass anger at their policies, mainly because of the absence of an alternative political party representing the working class, youths and the poor. This is why the DSM is campaigning for the building of a mass-based and democratic working class political party, based on the trade unions and the popular masses, to provide a political way out of the crisis of capitalism in Nigeria. With public ownership of key sectors of the economy linked with a socialist plan, Nigeria’s resources are more than enough to provide free and functional education at all levels. Not the PDP or ACN, only a government formed by the party of the working class and poor masses can implement such a programme.
THE FIGHT BACK HAS BEGUN
Students of LASU have already drawn a line in the sand. On Wednesday 19 October, masses of students led by Students’ Union leadership staged peaceful rally on the main campus of the university. On Thursday 20 October, examination was boycotted by protesting mass of students. Threats by the University Management to force students back to class to write the GNS paper failed entirely.
Academic activities were effectively paralyzed as students locked the administrative building of the university and shut down the power generating set. This was followed by a five-hour long mass protest along the Lagos-Badagry Expressway. The students in their thousands carried placards which read “No to Fee Increase in LASU”, “We can’t pay for what we don’t get”, Fashola is an anti-poor, anti-student Governor” etc. They received support from market women, youths, okada riders, artisans and traders. There was another boycott on Tuesday, 25 October, 2011. Instead of examination, thousands of students trooped to media stations to register their displeasure. Despite efforts by some Television Stations to blackout news of the protest, the protest still enjoyed coverage by the print and electronic media.
Pressured by the mass demonstration, the Lagos State House of Assembly led by Rt. Hon. Adeyemi Ikuforiji on at the sitting of the house on Monday, 24th October, 2011 discussed the students’ protest and decided to summon the State Commissioner for Education, the Special Adviser on Education and the Acting Vice-Chancellor of the University to the next sitting.
On Wednesday, 26th October 2011, mass of students trooped to the State House Assembly Complex to observe the business sitting of the house where the summoned public officers were to be heard. At the end, the house set up a committee to look into the fee crisis within two weeks and make recommendations. The committee is composed of two members of the house, the Special Adviser on Education, Permanent Secretary of the State Ministry of Education, the Acting Vice-Chancellor of the University, the University Registrar, a representative of the Parents’ Forum, the Students’ Union President and the Speaker of the Students’ Parliamentary Council. DSM members in LASU intervened in the struggle with leaflets and actively partook in the rallies and demonstrations.
A PROGRAMME TO SUSTAIN THE STRUGGLE
The DSM calls on students of LASU to continue to resist the fee hike with boycott, protest and demonstration. They must continue to disregard the purported proscription of the students union in the university by the management at the behest of the Fashola government. Young people and students must resist the glaring insincerity of a ruling class which bails out banks while imposing ever higher school fees on students and taxes on poor people. There is an urgent need for a programme of action including media campaign, rallies, public meetings and student congresses to sustain the resistance.
Similar outrageous fee hike have been introduced in other public tertiary institutions in the state like AOCOED and LASPOTECH. This why we urge the LASU Students’ Union not to accept its illegal and undemocratic proscription by the school authorities but to begin to build links with other Students Unions in all the tertiary institutions in the State around a programme of joint struggle. An open appeal needs to be made to the Staff Unions (ASUU, NASU, NAAT and SSANU) and the trade unions to openly condemn the fee increment and the ban of the union and also give active support to students in struggle.
Just as the strike of education workers was openly supported by students last year, so also do students struggle against hike require the open support and practical collaboration of education workers. Joint rallies, public symposia and meetings need to be organized.
Against the background of the degeneration of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), there is also the urgent need to begin to rebuild the Students’ Unions and make them real democratic and fighting organs of students through which a national movement against education attacks can be built and from which the NANS can be reclaimed or a new mass-based and fighting national students’ platform emerge.