To avert another industrial crisis at the Lagos State University (LASU), the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) calls on the Lagos State Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola to immediately and without further ado reverse the astronomical fees of the University and meet all demands of students and workers unions in the University.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) LASU chapter has issued an ultimatum to the government to meet its demands failing which the lecturers will embark on strike after 30th April 2014. This was after sufficient warnings had been issued over the last few months to the University authority on the various demands of the union which borders on the University's fee hike and welfare of its members.
Having lost about three months this year alone to crisis, it will be completely insensitive if the Lagos State government fails to meet the demands of ASUU and avoid the strike.
This is why we call on the Lagos State government to stop the "hide and seek" game it is playing and take the only honourable path opened to it which is to reverse the fee hike and increase the funding of the University in order to address the infrastructural deficit of the institution.
As we have made clear severally, the major interest of the ERC is a LASU that is affordable and accessible to all Lagosians and Nigerians. This kind of LASU is unachievable on the basis of the present level of fees. Governor Fashola has at different fora made the point that the University's fees were hiked to such criminal levels because of the State's desire to transform LASU from a glorified secondary school to a world class University.
While we will like to see LASU transformed into a world class University, we do not agree with Governor Fashola that this is only possible on the basis of hiking fees. We believe that if the resources of the State are judiciously managed and corruption and habitual use of state resources to enrich political godfathers and business cronies stopped, there will be enough money to fund LASU and all other state-owned institutions adequately. Unfortunately, it appears that Governor Fashola lacks the political will to stop the corruption in his government in order to find the money needed to fund LASU and other social services.
Whereas in the 70s and 80s when most of Nigeria's leaders went to University and studied under conditions far better than what obtains now, it was not on the basis of astronomical hike of fees. It is public knowledge that Governor Fashola graduated from the University of Benin. It is equally public knowledge that public Universities in that period charged low fees despite their high standards and compared to the situation today.
Today Governor Fashola is asking children of civil servants who earn N18,000 monthly minimum wage and poor masses to pay between N193,750 and N350,000 as school fees in a University established with taxpayers money. We say no to this. We cannot agree that the children of workers and poor people should be banned from benefiting from University education just because the Governor wants to transform LASU into a world class University. While we agree that there can be no University created for the poor alone, we respectfully ask Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola not to also turn LASU into a University for the rich alone but leave it alone as a public University it was created to be.
That one of the key demands of ASUU is for the reversal of the outrageous fees is another confirmation that the mass majority of people in LASU are opposed to the policy and that the position of the state government that the fee is irreversible is a minority position supported only by members of Fashola's kitchen cabinet and the House of Assembly members.
Since January 22, 2014 when the ERC together with other forces launched a campaign to fight for the reversal of LASU fee hike, the cacophony of voices calling for the fees' reversal has increased. Indeed if a poll is conducted in Lagos today, we are confident that a majority of Lagosians will openly vote for reversal of the fees.
If therefore the Lagos State government is truly democratic, it should not be difficult for it to bow to the force of public opinion by immediately reversing the fees.
We in the ERC shall continue to campaign for the reversal of the hiked fees because it is anti-poor and also because we are convinced that Nigeria is endowed enough to provide free, functional and democratically-managed education at all levels. It is the ruinous and anti-poor capitalist policies supported by all ruling political parties including the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressive Congress (APC) that are responsible for the paradox wherein despite the huge resources at the behest of Nigeria, our education system is broken and a majority of our people are poor.
Together with our campaign for free education, the ERC shall also fight for a socialist alternative to the capitalist rot. We urge students, workers and all Lagosians and Nigerians who share in our passionate belief that LASU hiked fee is anti-poor and must be reversed to join hands with us in actualising this demand.
Hassan Taiwo Soweto