Rage in Ogun over school fees

In this write-up, SAM AWOYINFA examines the contentions surrounding students’ agitation for reduction in school fees in Ogun State

When the Ogun State Governor, Ibikunle Amosun, recently announced a 40 per cent reduction in tuition fees of the state’s tertiary institutions, not many thought it could lead to a round of protest. While some students from some institutions in the state appreciated the gesture, some others felt it was just a ‘political gimmick and a belated gesture.’

The two sides of the divide subsequently took to the streets of Abeokuta to express themselves.

The first set was on a solidarity visit to the Oke Mosan office of the governor to express its appreciation for the ‘reduction in school fees.’ Among the first set were students from the Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, Abeokuta, Tai Solarin University of Education, Ijagun, Gateway Polytechnic, Igbesa, and other polytechnics. Surprisingly, the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, which is not state-owned, also paid a solidarity visit. The students were received at the arcade ground in front of the Governor’s Office by government officials that included the Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, Mr. Olusegun Odubela, and Special Assistant to the Governor on Students’ Affairs, Mr. Clement Olusegun.

Odubela, while addressing the students on behalf of the governor, said the Amosun administration would remain committed to the welfare of students, pointing out that the foundation laying for modern hostels in the MAPOLY, which would be completed within six months, would be done in September. Also, students under the aegis of National Association of Ogun State Students had earlier commended the efforts of the governor.

The President, Students’ Union Government of TASUED, Sunday Osai, said the governor has done well, adding that they appreciated his effort. On his part, President, FUNAAB SUG, Awosanya Olaleke, said although the reduction did not affect them but it was positive development.

However, just as this set of students was about leaving, another set of students from the Olabisi Onabanjo Univeristy, Ago Iwoye, protested along Abeokuta roads, asking for a further reduction in the fees. Led by their Student Union President, Segun Ifade, the students addressed journalists at the Iwe Irohin House, Oke Ilewo. Apart from asking for fee reduction, they wanted the implementation to start this academic session and not next year as announced by the government.

Some of the students were armed with placards with various inscriptions. Some of the placards read: ‘No reduction in 2013/2014, no vote,’ ‘Amosun reduce our school fees,’ ‘SIA must obey now,’ ‘Bring down our fees.’

Ifade said, “Even if it’s going to take us one month or more than that, we are not going to leave the Governor’s Office premises until the governor attends to us. Enough of deceit. Why the political reduction of school fees when election is forthcoming? No, we shall not accept the dubious offer. It is a political reduction instead of proper reduction. Our demand is simple: we want a breakdown of our tuition fees. Also, we want the reduction to be implemented in this session, it’s as simple as ABC.”

They also argued that it was belated because, according to the students, the governor had promised to reduce the fees since 2011.

The protest took a violent dimension when MAPOLY students, who were returning to their campus, ran into the OOU students around Kuto Roundabout, and it became a free-for-all. Four students were injured in the melee.

The OOU students slept over in Abeokuta and continued their protest early on Friday morning, disrupting free-flow of traffic along major roads leading to Governor’s Office. Most hit was the Presidential Boulevard, where the students pitched their camp. The protest assumed a frightening dimension when the students got exuberant and were trying to pelt security operatives, riot policemen and the men of Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps with stones and other objects. They equally began to vandalise vehicles and destroy properties. Taxi drivers, newspapers vendors and other traders who have shops around Kuto area scampered for safety. Riot policemen fired canisters of teargas to disperse the students.

But this action was like adding fuel to fire. The students regrouped and went wild, chanting ‘war songs’ and refused to leave the boulevard.

They ultimately got the attention of the state governor. The governor first held a closed door meeting with their leaders and later addressed the students at the MKO Abiola Stadium, Kuto. While he condemned the unruly manner they had employed to press home their demands, Amosun warned them to be wary of being tools in the hands of politicians.

He said, “The whole educational system in the state had collapsed when the present administration came on board and we have to start from somewhere by making both primary and secondary education free and heavily subsidise tertiary education. We are Ogun State, the first to have access to western education and where things are done with enviable standards. No Ogun student is expected to behave in an unruly manner. I am your governor, I will discuss with you even 100 times as long as you are ready but I will not discuss with students protesting on the streets. I am not happy with the way you are seen on the streets disrupting the peace of others.

“There are better ways to channel your grievances. I am a student-friendly governor. I was not the person who increased this school fees you are talking about. Even this reduction we are talking about was not arrived at with violence but after deliberations with your leaders which lasted for about two months. You should fight any government that wants to bring division into your midst as students or use you for political reasons.”

Opposition parties have started to pick holes in the reduction of school fees, describing it as a deceit.

The campaign organisation of a governorship aspirant on the platform of Labour Party in Ogun State, Mr. Gboyega Isiaka, has described the reduction of school fees in state-owned tertiary institutions “as another deceit from a drowning government, employing all political gimmicks to seek an undeserved re-election.”

A statement signed by the Director, Media and Publicity of the campaign organisation, Mr Ifekayode Akinbode, noted that the reduction “was not just a deceit which cannot change the dwindling fortunes of the government but a panicky measure that exposed the shallowness of Amosun’s administration.”

According to the statement, “During his campaign in 2011, he promised the electorate especially the students that if elected, he would drastically reduce school fees. This made unsuspecting students to vote for him but he reneged in his promise. Students that gained admission that year would certainly not benefit from the policy if it would be implemented at all.

“Even the purported new tuition fees where medical students would be paying N176, 596 each and students of Faculty of Arts would pay N81, 112 each is considered too high.”

The Peoples Democratic Party in the state also described the gesture as “good but belated.”

In a statement signed by its state chairman last week, Mr. Bayo Dayo, the PDP said, “Our attention has been drawn to the eleventh hour decision by the state government to reduce school fees payable by students of state-owned higher institutions. Although it is a good move, it is clearly belated. We also see this gesture as part of the measures to hoodwink the electorate in the state in the countdown to the 2015 poll.”

A former governor of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, a Peoples Democratic Party governorship aspirant in the state, Mr. Abiodun Akinlade, and the state chapter of National Association of Nigerian Students have flayed the closure of the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, by the state government.

They described the action as a sign of weakness, intolerance and failure of the Amosun-led administration to explore dialogue as a tool for conflict resolution. The state government had ordered the closure of the institution on Saturday through a statement issued by the secretary to the state government, Mr. Taiwo Adeoluwa, to “forestall breakdown of law and order.”

Adeoluwa alleged that the students rejected all entreaties and concessions made to them by the government on their various demands concerning further reduction of school fees in state-owned tertiary institutions.

It will be recalled that the OOU students had held a two-day protest two weeks ago, asking the governor to further review the school fees downwards. This protest came a few days after the governor announced a reduction in school fees in all state-owned tertiary institutions, which was about 61 per cent across board.

Daniel during a rally held by Labour Party at Ota in Ado Odo/Ota Local Government, on Sunday, chided the state government for using riot policemen to disperse the students, arguing that his administration never witnessed any student unrest.

He said, “There was no single occasion during my administration where police harassed students. I sympathise with the students and I want to appeal to you, don’t let anybody waste your lives.”

On his part, Akinlade, described the closure as a sign of weakness and failure to explore dialogue.

In a statement issued by him on Sunday, he said: “We considered the decision of the Ibikunle Amosun-led government to shut down Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, as a sign of its inability to meaningfully engage the students who are rightly agitating for concessions as regards their school fees. In other climes, when students embark on such demands, government dialogue with them and both arrive at a consensus. But in Ogun State, the reverse is the case. No doubt, this government is weak in its exchange of ideas with the people of the state.”

The state chairman of the National Association of Nigerian Students, Mr. Ogunsola Okikiola, in a statement, described the closure of the state-owned institution “as the provision of temporary and wrong solution to a permanent problem.”

Okikiola said, “The leadership of NANS/JCC Ogun State disapproves the decision of the state government to close down one of our state own institutions, the premier university in Ogun State. Okikiola, who said the closure would disrupt the academic calendar, pleaded with both parties to return to the dialogue table and resolve the issues.”

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