Like a festering sore, the demonstrations against the hike in tuition fees at the Lagos State University, (LASU) will never go away. In January there was a violent protest that led to the closure of the institution and last Tuesday, the students and civil society groups were at the state House of Assembly to seek the lawmakers’ intervention in the fees crisis. While the students and other stakeholders wait for the assembly to act, IKPO IGBINOBA went to the streets to seek views of Lagosians
Hypothetically, if Lagosians go to the polls today to choose between incumbent Raji Fashola and any other candidate for the plum job, they will vote vehemently against the Governor. His rating in the last few days has dipped abysmally to an all time low. Fashola, once upon a time the darling of Lagosians has suddenly turned the tide against himself by increasing the school fees of the only state university in the state.
The increase was not introduced this year. It was introduced in the 2011/2012 academic session following the recommendation of a visitation panel. But since then condemnations have continued to trail the decision by the Fashola government to jack up the tuition fees by almost 1,000 per cent. There were protests by students and civil society groups when the increase was announced but the government ignored all the appeals to reduce the fees.
The consequence however was the inability of majority of the students admitted not being able to pay their fees while some old students started defaulting in payment. A jinee had been forced into a bottle and a time bomb started ticking and only a matter of time, it would explode. On January, 22, the ticking time bomb exploded.
The Ojo campus of the university and environs were turned into a theatre of war as students went on the rampage over inability to pay the exorbitant fees. Vehicles and part of the university building were torched. The authorities immediately closed down the school to forestall further damage of property.
Last Tuesday, the students supported by the Joint Action Front and Education Rights Campaign took their protest against the exorbitant fees to the state House of Assembly in Alausa. This time round they were peaceful but then their message was same that the state government should revert to the old fees.
Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly, Mr. Kolawole Taiwo, promised they would look into the complaint of the students. Beyond the promise of the legislators, Lagosians are united in the condemnation of government’s attitude to the students’ plight.
Though government has remained silent on the latest development, some officials who didn’t want to be named said the students should forget the issue of reverting to the old fees. “On the issue of school fees in LASU, there is no going back. I do not see the governor reverting to the old fees. After all some students have been paying the new fees”, one official told Blueprint.
The atmosphere on the streets when Blueprint went to town was still charged and one capable of exploding into more protests in coming days if the state government remains defiant. Lagosians who spoke were all united in their opinion in spite of fierce political differences.
Their message: “Fashola must revert to the old school fees”.
A civil servant with the Lagos State Civil Service who didn’t want her name in print pleaded with the Governor to revert to the old fees or risk losing his place in the state’s hall of fame.
According to her, “Governor Fashola achieved a lot in his eight years and without dispute, he is the best governor Lagos state has ever had. But this LASU school fees issue can destroy all his achievements and deny him a deserved place in the state’s hall of fame.”
A dealer in textile materials in downtown Lagos, Mr. Braimoh Ali said the Governor must revert to the old fees because there was no basis for the increase in the first place. According to him, “Why did the governor increase the fees? No reason at all. And where did the governor expect parents who were struggling to pay N30,000 before to get N350,000 overnight? Only politicians who have access to public funds can steal to pay the new fees and not hardworking parents like me. If Fashola wants to leave office with a good name, he should revert to the old fees”.
A commercial motorcyclist, Mr. Reuben Idoko said the Fashola administration would be remembered for its anti people policies.
According to him, “Fashola’s government has been hostile to the poor from the beginning. See the way he banished us from the metropolis to the rural areas where we hardly make enough to feed ourselves. With the hike in fees, Fashola doesn’t want the poor to send their children to the only public university owned by the state”.
A member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Isiaka Agbolade in Agege area, said he was sure Fashola won’t revert to the old school fees. Instead, he believes a PDP government if voted into power in 2015 will revert to the old fees.
“The Fashola government won’t change anything about the fees. The government has a habit of not listening to the cry of the poor so Lagosians should not expect this government to revert to the old fees. If Lagosians want a government that will put the common man first ahead of selfish interest in the state, then they have to vote for the PDP”, he said.
On this issue, Lagosians have spoken with one voice and the Governor knows what he wants to be remembered for. There is still time for him to act in the interest of the Lagosian and also in his own interest.