Being the text of a press conference addressed by the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) in collaboration with the Lagos State University Students Union on Wednesday 12 February 2014 at the International Press Centre, Ogba Lagos on the crisis at the Lagos State University (LASU)
We welcome you all gentlemen and ladies of the press to this August occasion. Today will go down in the history of our ivory tower - the Lagos state university (LASU) - as a day that we have decided to set the records straight and set a blue print for the development of our great citadel of learning.
The gathering here today has two purposes: (1) the introduction of #SaveLASU Campaign and (2) to shed light on the recent crisis that has bedeviled our great university as well as to discuss and bring to the fore the root cause of this crisis.
Against the backdrop of the recent protest witnessed at the Lagos State University and the injustice done to 1,292 students of the university coupled with the obnoxious policies of the state government and management of the university, underfunding of the university, poor learning environment and other vices that have hampered the university and the students from acquiring quality education, there arose the feeling that something must be done to salvage the university.
It is this feeling that has brought into life a new movement called #SaveLASU which is a movement comprising LASU Students Union, the Education Rights Campaign (ERC), the National Union of Lagos State Students (NULASS), radical and progressive groups in LASU as well as members of the public who want to save LASU from the death pill of fee hike and commercialization. This movement has saddled itself with the sole responsibility of campaigning for the repositioning of LASU for good and restoring it back to the dream of its founding fathers.
It is sacrosanct and germane to note that the organizers of the #SaveLASU campaign have at heart the best interest of not just LASU students (Lasuites) but the youths out there who have been deprived of good and quality education as a result of the obnoxious and anti-poor education policies of the state.
It must be noted that #SaveLASU is not a political group or a secret society, neither do we engage in violent conducts, rather we believe in dialogue as we see it as the best means to resolve conflicts but that does not take away the fact that we also employ the use of intellectual and mass protest, so far it will help us achieve our aims of making LASU a “Citadel per Excellence”.
AN OVERVIEW OF THE RECENT CRISIS
The 22nd and 23rd of January will go down in the history of LASU as days the university witnessed the highest level of protest on its soil. Not that the students just protested out of nothing, the 23rd was meant to mark the beginning of our much awaited 2nd semester examination.
The protest which started at about 11am on the 22nd of January 2014, was meant to be a very peaceful protest. The protest staged by students who have been deprived the opportunity to register for exams after due payment has been made gathered at the senate building to make pleas to the university management to open the exam portal so they can register and sit for their exams. But unfortunately, the plight of 1,292 students of the university fell on deaf ears as the University management considered them insignificant. This led to the protest of January 22nd, 2014.
It is pertinent to note that the Vice Chancellor (VC), Prof. John Obafunwa, who made his exit out of the senate building after the governing council meeting that very day, saw the protesting students and overlooked them as if they were “2nd class” students of the university. Even at this, the students maintained their calm and kept on begging the VC who made his way to his car, kicked a student and instructed his driver to drive on and crush any student that dares to stop his car. This insensitive and irresponsible action of the VC who had at a point called the 1,292 students insignificant, did not go down well with the students and they took to the roads of LASU running after the VC’s convoy. The actions of the VC that very day marked the beginning of the protest of January 23rd, 2014.
We will not bore you with the actions and reactions of January 23rd, 2014 as all these have been conveyed to the media already. But we will like to state here as against the lies and blackmails being circulated by the management through her PRO, Dr, Sola Fosudo, students of Lagos State University are not touts, they are not rogues, they are not thugs, instead, they stood to fight against injustice to a fraction of the student populace, keeping with the belief that “an injury to one, is an injury to all”. It is worthy to note that had the VC being a bit more sensitive to students plight, he would have buried his pride and given to the students what was rightfully theirs, instead he and his team remained adamant.
We are not justifying the violent act of January 23rd 2014. In reality we condemn violence in its totality, but we are saying this could have been avoided if the VC had been less dictatorial and more sensitive to students plight. Even a goat when pushed to the wall, turns around to fight.
THE ROOT CAUSE
Since the state government imposed in October 2011 the draconian increment in school fees from N25, 000 to between N193,750 to N348,750 depending on course of study, the fortunes of LASU as an educational institution began to nose-dive. The increment which has been the bedrock of the collapse and crisis of LASU has not only hampered the progress of the university, but it has also deterred brilliant, qualified but poor youths of Nigeria from getting admission into the university. We believe the fee hike is a death pill and unless quickly reversed, LASU as an academic institution may die.
For instance at the first matriculation ceremony after the fee was hiked which took place on 12th March 2012, only 39.8% (1,951) of the over 4,903 students offered admission turned out to take their oath. About 60% could not take up their admission because they could not afford the fees. This was after the payment deadline was extended four times! LASU used to have over 20, 000 full-time students, today full-time students are only a little above 12, 000. Indeed at this rate especially when the current 300 and 400 level students who are still paying the old fees of N25, 000 graduate, LASU may have less than 6,000 full-time students!
Today there are several departments at the Lagos State University that have less than 10 students at 100 level. French department for instance has one student in 100 level. Islamic studies has six students in 100 level. Law which is often a faculty with sizeable number of students is dying out in LASU. There are just 15 students at 100 level and 25 students at 200 level of LASU’s Law Faculty! At the Department of Fishery, 60 students obtained admission into 100 level last session. A session after, only 14 out of this are left and out of this 14, only four have registered for the current session. This gives a glimpse of the high drop-out rate as many parents after paying the first fee in 100 level find it hard to continue paying. Therefore for many current 100 and 200 level LASU students, the possibility that they would be able to complete their studies is almost zero. The implication of this on the long run is that such courses or programs would be rationalized while academic and non-academic staff would be retrenched leading to job losses. Already there are rumours that 141 lecturers have already being placed on sack list, the school is only awaiting the right moment to announce this.
The case of LASU is a case of a persistent betrayal, lies and deceit from the Lagos state government. For three years the LASU school fees hike has been justified with lies. We shall provide answers to these lies forthwith.
First and foremost, the state government often argues that it introduced the fee hike based on the recommendation of a visitation panel. This is an hollow excuse because everyone knows that he who pays the piper most often dictates the tune. However even if we could accept the governments excuse it would still not suffice. Yes there was a visitation panel set up on 9th December 2009. Yes there was a report of the visitation panel which recommended fee hike “in view of the enormous financial commitment required to run a University vis-à-vis other competing demands…”. But what the government has refused to say is that the same visitation panel recommended “increase in the Budgetary allocation to the University (i.e. LASU) using the UNESCO benchmark of a minimum of 25% of annual budget of the State to be expended on Education”. Now we ask: why is it so convenient for the government to implement the first recommendation of fee hike? If indeed government was left with no choice than to obey the recommendation of the visitation panel on fee hike, why and how was government able to take the choice of rejecting another recommendation of the same panel which touched on increase of budgetary allocation to LASU? This is what we call deceit of the State government. But this is not all.
Let me remind us that when the Lagos State government introduced the fee hike, the Governor promised to mitigate the impact of the increase on indigent students by provision of bursary and scholarship. However few weeks after, the government reviewed the Lagos State University Undergraduate Scholarship scheme by attaching so much stringent conditions such that less number of students were able to benefit from it. The same government has over the last few years being defaulting on payment of bursary awards to students of Lagos State origin. The combined implication of all these is that students have absolutely nothing to cushion the effect of the fee hike. This in a State where civil servants most of whom have their children in LASU are collecting even less than the N18,000 minimum wage. There are many stories of parents selling cars and other properties to pay their children’s school fees in LASU. This is an injustice we cannot take anymore.
Regrettably this gradual decline, decay and collapse of LASU does not seem to bother the State government. Many members of Governor Fashola’s administration today and those in the State House of Assembly are alumni of the Institution. Therefore LASU should be the pride of the State. It is the only State University. It is a University established to ensure that all people of Lagos are able to access quality tertiary education. It seems the grand plan of the Lagos state government is to destroy the Lagos State University, make it unworkable and non-functional and then sell it off.
Let me serve a note of warning to the State Government. LASU belongs to everybody, not just the State government. If really the grand plan is to destroy LASU in order to sell it, Lasuites will not allow it. Lasuites have vowed to protest and demonstrate until government does the right thing which is to reverse the fee hike so that children of poor working class people of Lagos can have the benefit of university education.
Therefore, we are demanding the immediate reversal of the fee hike because we in #SaveLASU believe this as the root cause of the protest. We also foresee a recurring crisis of this nature if this downward review is not done. A state that generates over N80billion monthly as IGR should not leave the funding of her only university to the fees of the students, rather the State Government should comply with the recommendation of UNESCO that 25% of the states’ Annual Budget should go to education.
We condemn the resolutions of the Lagos State House of Assembly on the lingering crisis in the Lagos State University. We reject the resolutions of the Lagos State House of Assembly, which sought to put the whole blame of the crisis on students whereas the cause is the outrageous fee hike in the institution. Most especially, the statement credited to the Speaker that the ringleaders of the January 23rd, 2014 protest should be fished out is an endorsement of expulsion and suspension of LASU students.
We therefore hold that the resolutions of the Assembly is a dress rehearsal for further attacks on the democratic rights of students of the university and it does not touch on the real roots of the crisis, which is the skyrocketing fees being paid at LASU.The resolutions also kept silent on the reopening of the university.
We call on the mass of the students of Lagos State University to reject the resolutions of the Lagos State House of Assembly as it will lay basis for unwarranted victimization of students, without any effort to resolve the lingering crisis in the university. We call on students of LASU to demand the reversal of the fee hike, the reopening of the university as well as the opening of registration portal without limitation of time, in order for all students to register.
On our own part, we have decided in the #SaveLASU movement to peacefully march to the Lagos State House of Assembly on Tuesday 18 February 2014 to submit a petition bearing the following demands:
v The immediate reopening of LASU and opening of registration portal for students to write examinations
v Reversal of the fee hike
v Adequate funding of the university
v Democratic management of the university
v No reparation be paid by any student
v No victimization in any form of any of our students.
We therefore call on all well-meaning Lagosians, Nigerians, Lasuites, alumni and the world at large, who believes that “Education is a right and not a privilege”, to help form a formidable force against these cabals who wish to price education out of the reach of the poor.
Together in unison we say #SaveLASU! Save the future!!!
Hassan Taiwo Soweto