President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s body language about the onset of a strange season of skyrocketing tuition fees has shown no definite commitment to stopping the uncharacteristic commercialisation of Federal-owned universities and unity colleges. That is very unfortunate. Worried about the development, university teachers’ umbrella organisation (ASUU) has warned that the troubling innovation would force 70 percent of students to drop out. In essence, they would become internally displaced students.
Ironically, for all the faults of former President Muhammadu Buhari and his learn-on-the-job Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, this perfidy did not happen under their watch.
Granted, The Presidency has issued statements on the matter. However, where such official pronouncements should have reaffirmed the ruling APC’s welfarist mantra, they spokesmen conveyed unbelievable equivocation. Such “official” statements have neither been convincing nor consoling to citizens.
Students of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) read the lips of the administration, caught the fire and took to the streets. Who will blame them? Their current Vice Chancellor reportedly has sold off or leased out part of the stadium, while franchising out some hostels to private entrepreneurs. Why? Management insisted on that route to fund the university in view of dwindling funds from the government.
After increasing fees to N140,000 and above, UNILAG suddenly imposed N50,000 in charges. This happened in a school where students last year paid N20,000. Not done, the school pushed another N20,000 onto the already scandalous increments.
One student cried out: “This is a university where I entered with just N15,000 in 2021!”
For final-year students in the Arts and Social Sciences faculties, a breakdown of the fees shows:
· Utility Charge –N20,000
· Undergraduate Convocation Fee –N30,000
· Undergraduate Obligatory Fee –N140,250.
One student said: “This amounts to adding insult upon injury. We students were already fighting against the sudden imposition of over N100,000 on our school fees that used to be no more than N19,000. Suddenly, the next thing we hear is that the VC has introduced fresh fees.
“This is very inconsiderate of a public institution where the government says it practises free education. Even some state-owned institutions do not charge a fraction of what they are telling us to pay now.”
One student lamented: “A country where the minimum wage is N30,000 has no business with hiking fees to N215,000, it has no business with hiking fees of accommodation to N140,000… The cost of transportation, feeding, research and project is also there. To come to the University of Lagos, you should be budgeting at least N1 million in three months.”
Similarly, the Federal Government under Tinubu jacked up fees in “UNITY SCHOOLS” by 145 percent from N45,000 to N100,000.
With UNITY SCHOOLS and UNILAG serving as the model of the new normal, what the Tinubu administration has demonstrated is that it will take nothing less than a full-blown Alli-Must-Go type of crisis to extract the Nigerian youth’s right to education. The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) has sworn to fight. Clearly, a crisis brews in the pipeline.
Similarly, the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC-declared strike against the government states that one reason for workers’ agitations concerns the increase in university and unity school fees. Although the ballooned price of fuel fuels Labour’s battle-cry primarily, the increase in school fees contributed a major trigger.
Remarkably, The Presidency has justified the newly-imposed fees. It took sides with the Shylocks and rolled out PR for university administrators and the Federal Ministry of Education that runs the UNITY SCHOOLS. The government says the new fees mirror the country’s current “economic realities,” economic realities instigated by poor government policies and policy somersaults.
Recognising that the world “OWES” the coming generation and the youth education, the UN recommends to countries a benchmark of 26 percent of annual budget on education. E get why!
Conversely, over the years, Nigeria’s budget for education has gone south. In 1999 down to this time, the government has fallen short of the minimum of 26 percent stipulated by the UN.
Meanwhile, Nigeria’s Constitution says in 18(1-3a-d):
“Government shall direct its policy towards ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels. Government shall promote science and technology. Government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy; and to this end Government shall as and when practicable provide (a) free, compulsory and universal primary education; (b) free secondary education; (c) free university education; and (d) free adult literacy programme.”
At some point in their lives, the President, governors, legislators, ministers enjoyed free education at the expense of the Nigerian state. They enjoyed free, qualitative and affordable education. In addition, some got bursaries. Some secured scholarships for local and foreign education. Now they come to power and seek to rob others of those inalienable rights.
This is pure Boko Haram mentality. Boko Haram translates to “Book is taboo,” a satanic ideology that has emptied over 2,000 schools and resulted in over 1 million education-displaced, out-of-school children in the North. The Boko Haram mentality makes modern education not only undesirable but unaffordable and dangerous.
The Boko Haramic mindset is an undiluted disdain for and apathy to education. It first played out in Lagos, where Tinubu has been the Lord of the Manor from 1999 till date. What other mindset could have, since 2017, despite public outcry, forced a 1,000 percent increase in fees paid at the Lagos State University (LASU)? Is this reflective of Tinubu’s innate disdain for affordable education?
However, the country cannot afford to subsume its educational policies to the whims and caprices of one individual.
To whom much is given much is expected. Even if only from 1999, Nigeria has given much to Tinubu, and opened for him vistas of opportunities that have propelled him to the Olympian Heights. Young Nigerians deserve no less from him.
For many youngsters, in view of expensive tuition in private universities, the more budget-friendly state and federal universities have provided the only hope of tertiary education. Now, those youngsters have been robbed of their last choice and chance of affordable education.
Yes, it will take state funds to run things, but the end justifies all the sacrifice. China propelled itself into the second largest economy in the world today due to the benefit of massive education of the youth. Studying in Brazil is free from kindergarten to doctorate levels. The package includes free healthcare and free feeding for students. Same thing obtains in China and other developed nations, where free funding of education has propelled scientific, technological and socio-economic advancement. Such societies recognise that education is what the society owes the youth. It is not a privilege, it is a RIGHT. And both the United Nations and African Charters on Human Rights recognise it as such.
In some countries, private university students get government bursaries and scholarships to pay their way. In the absence of this facility these days (forget the half-hearted, superficial pronouncement on the students’ loan), the government must find a way to fund Federal-owned universities and secondary schools. Carelessness to this matter has led to the incessant strikes by lecturers, who try to extract the minimum from an uncaring government.
Going forward, Nigerians expect the Federal Government to reverse the atrocious increments and issue an unequivocal “order” to return to status quo IMMEDIATELY. For students and their parents, this Boko Haram nightmare must end.
OBOAGWINA IS AN AUTHOR, JOURNALIST AND PUBLISHER, REACHABLE VIA: [email protected]