Over the past few days, the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile Ife has been agog with agitations and protests by students over plans by the Management to hike fees in the University.
According to the details of the plan, the hike will affect mainly fresh students who will be required to pay as much as N80, 000 and above. This is aside from the mandatory N20, 000 acceptance fee which was increased some 3 years ago. Students equally protested then but all they got was the proscription of the Students Union and victimization of their union leaders and activists.
The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) joins OAU Students to say no to this increment because it is anti-poor, unjust and unacceptable.
Besides it is a slap on the collective intelligence of students and their poor parents for any management of public University to contemplate increment just when the sum of about N200 billion won by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) at the end of their strike last year is being disbursed for funding of capital projects in the Universities. OAU is a beneficiary of this grant.
We call on the Prof. Tale Omole-led management of the University to immediately perish the thought of increasing fees. If the University management however decides to go ahead, the consequence will be massive and prolonged resistance.
Perhaps never in the history of Nigeria since the period immediately after independence has the need to reposition and make public education available and accessible to all irrespective of social status being more urgent. In the North East of Nigeria, a violent group called Boko Haram is burning schools, slaughtering school boys and abducting school girls all in an effort to discourage and destroy what they call “western” public education. The narrative of this murderous campaign goes far beyond the physical reality of burnt schools and abducted girls.
The truth actually is that for far too long modern education which is a gateway to a good job and civilized existence has been the exclusive preserve of the Northern capitalist ruling elite. This has made what Boko Haram describes as “western” education to appear in the mind of many poor Northern youth as a privilege of a few and not the right of everyone. At the same time often a significant part of many education syllabuses politically reflect the views of the ruling class and sometimes also imperialism. This is why the ERC has often held on to the belief that after all is said and done, Boko Haram insurgency is a creation of Nigeria's capitalist system and the yawning inequality it has caused in our society. The only effective antidote to Boko Haram insurgency and other violent groups is the expansion of access to public education, provision of jobs and guaranteeing of a decent future for all.
Against this background, the implication of hiking fees in a Federal University like OAU is grave. For a long time, the University with its relatively low fees has presented many students from poor working class background with an opportunity to have a chance at University education. Increasing the fees will definitely cut off this opportunity, drive a majority of prospective students from the institution and end the dream of many. Of course, it need not be stressed that it is this same pattern of alienation of the mass majority from education and other social services that prepared the ground for the rise of Boko Haram in the North East.
However it seems to us in the ERC that what the Boko Haram violent insurgent group plans to accomplish in the North East is essentially what the OAU management also wants to achieve by hiking fees beyond what poor Nigerians can afford. It is the duty of the students as well as staff unions of the Obafemi Awolowo University not to allow this.
We believe that education is a right, not a privilege. We are sure that Nigeria is rich enough to fund education adequately without putting the burden of fees on students and their poor parents. The only obstacle to this is the corruption of the ruling elite and the anti-poor system of capitalism. This is why, to permamently win our demands, we need a working people's political alternative to end capitalism and enthrone a democratic socialist Nigeria.
The ERC will, alongside students, parents, community people and workers in the education sector, continue to resist attempts to price education out of the reach of poor Nigerians. The OAU Management will be saving itself a lot of trouble if it honorably reverses its plans to hike fees.
Hassan Taiwo Soweto Michael Ogundele
National Coordinator National Secretary