We should expect more student protests, say academics

Without greater financial support for higher education from the Nigerian government, academics believe the prolonged student unrest over fee hikes will continue, and possibly become a fixed feature of the higher education landscape.

At the University of Jos, what are referred to as ‘school charges’ have been increased from NGN27,000 (US$75) to NGN45,000. At the Adekunle Ajasin University in Akungba Akoko in Ondo state, where anti-riot policemen opened fire on protesting students last month, injuring at least one person, tuition fees, now ranging between NGN120,000 and NGN180,000, have been hiked by over 500%, according to a news report.

Uncertainty over the fee increases dates back to January 2015 when Professor Julius Okojie, then the executive secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), sent a letter to vice-chancellors of federal universities conveying the decision by President Muhammadu Buhari to increase fees. Buhari is also the Visitor of all federal universities.

In the letter, the NUC head stated inter alia that “a committee comprising the NUC executive secretary, chairman and committee of pro-chancellors, and chairman and committee of vice-chancellors was mandated to review and harmonise the schedule of miscellaneous fees and charges in all federal universities”. Furthermore, all governing councils of federal universities were mandated to implement a phased increase in student fees.

University authorities failed to implement the instruction in 2015 out of concern to avoid a series of crises on the country’s campuses. At the time, Nigeria was suffering a massive economic downturn characterised by rampant job cuts, high inflation rates and a drop in the value of the local currency.

On 12 February 2018, concerned about the dwindling financial fortunes of the universities, the committees of pro-chancellors and vice-chancellors sent a delegation to the presidency with a view to requesting an increase in the government’s subventions to the universities.

Refusing the delegation’s request, Buhari’s vice-president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, appealed to university leaders to “think out of the box”. Having little choice other than to increase fees, the stage was then set for a potential showdown between cash-strapped institutions and struggling students.

The University of Jos is a clear example of an institution suffering the effects of a perpetual crisis over inadequate funding. Since 2012, disruptive student strikes have been common. At the University of Port Harcourt student protests against fee hikes and other charges have become an annual event.

Like a contagious virus the wildcat student protests have spread to the University of Ibadan, Nigeria’s oldest university. There, the vice-chancellor and student leaders have taken to the media to state their diametrically opposed views on the fee increases, particularly as they relate to medical courses. While students complain about a lack of transparency from the institution, the institution in turn blames lack of government funding.

In exclusive interviews with University World News, a number of academic staff members expressed the view that in order to address underdevelopment in Nigeria, the government must fund its universities.
  • • Dr Abubakar Yagudu, political science department at Bayero University, Kano, said Nigeria could have missed the opportunity to modernise through education. “The future scientists, policy-makers and innovators are now being deprived of sound and quality education. They are pricing education beyond the limit of those who truly need it but cannot afford it. We should expect serious and mass student uprisings in virtually all our public universities due to the irresponsible education policy of the political class and its unwillingness to fund it in keeping with international standards,” he said.

  • • Dr Ayinla Adekanye, forestry department of the Federal University of Technology, Makurdi, said investment in education must be “a deliberate national agenda because a country of illiterates shall remain backwards and this is what Nigerian rulers seem to be asking for. The student protests will continue until the unproductive Nigerian ruling class is ready to do the needful.”

  • • Professor Chanchai Abraham, department of law at Benue State University, said the Nigerian state was “inviting anarchy, destruction and complete underdevelopment through under-funding of education. Students and all Nigerians must rise up now or resign [themselves] to backwardness.”

  • • Professor Jerome Isiah, department of economics at the University of Calabar, said serious countries who understand what a university is all about have solved the problem of university funding. “Underfunding of university education in Nigeria portrays the failure of our political class. Students must take their fate into their hands. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

  • • Dr Gwang Torn, department of sociology at the University of Jos, said: “There are fundamental questions we must answer. Can Nigerians pay the school fees of their wards without stealing? The answer is No! Are there students who have left the universities because they could not pay the school fees? The answer is Yes! Nigeria is then sitting on a keg of social anarchy that will explode soon.”

  • • Professor Ibrahim Gandido, department of political science at the University of Maiduguri, said if Nigeria is to truly compete in the knowledge-driven global economy, investment in higher education cannot be negotiated. “The negative attitude of the political class to meaningful development creates underdevelopment. However, we should expect more protests from students and possible closure of the universities at the regional and federal levels.”

  • • Dr Abiona Alamu, department of engineering at Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomosho, said the funds recovered from corrupt politicians should be invested in university education. “Unless the government of Nigeria commits itself to this project, we are likely to witness more student unrest.”