The Struggle Before Us: Charges from the Tower of the Fourth Estate

On the 10th of June, when school resumed, we, as students of the University of Ibadan, were reminded that our struggles were not just against the spiritual principalities in high places but also against forces in this world out to jeopardise our common interest. From the unwarranted and unjustified exploitation of freshers by transporters and vendors alike to the outrageous increase in school fees by over 300% by the school management – under the guise of reduced funding from the government and worsening economic conditions – the struggle has never been more pressing.

A rule observed in nature is that the weak, i.e., those lower down the various power hierarchies, either cower and live alone in fear or are bound together in groups for a better chance at survival. Right after the Industrial Revolution, the latter became the course of action for those seemingly lower down in society’s power hierarchy, and unionism was born. From the 18th century till now, unions have played a crucial role in safeguarding the interests of their members.

In this article, as students of the University of Ibadan, members of a union ourselves, we would be looking at the struggle before us as students and those things we are expected to do for ourselves as the union and what we hope the union does for us. 

The Struggle

The issue of school fee increment has lingered over the head of the UI’ SU since the latter part of Adewole ‘Mascot’ Adeyinka’s tenure about two years ago. At the time, the Management advanced her arguments to justify increasing school fees. Inflation, ever-worsening economic conditions, and the reduced funding provided by the government towards public educational institutions were some of the reasons put forth by the management for why an increment is warranted. Despite the excellent job of negotiations and different drives for a compromise and amicable settlement by the Students’ Union, the management’s approach towards the students’ plea on the issue has continually been an unrelenting superior to a voiceless slave. “Manage what you get or leave!”

Even last year, powerless in the light of the government’s injunction halting a further increase in fees, the university went ahead with a pseudo increase by introducing ‘Studio Levy’ and ‘Laboratory Fees’, increasing the Technology Fee and introducing a ‘Utility Fee’. Despite several meetings arranged with the management and even a town hall meeting between the VC and students, it all ended up more as a talk down than a real conversation. 

Now, the management has implemented an astronomical increase in school fees. We have a situation whereby students who struggled to pay N30,000+ for bundled fees must now pay over N100,000+ for the same fees. All this is expected within seven weeks, with a fine of N20,000 for not paying within the deadline. Indeed, the situation is a mouthful. 

Our Fight as A Union

In light of the above, the first thing to be said is that, indeed, we sympathise with the university management as regards some of the valid issues raised. Agreed, over the years, the Nigerian government has been progressively lackadaisical towards those social services it is constitutionally obligated to provide for its citizens. The government’s general attitude towards education, healthcare, and workers’ welfare, amongst others, has truly been abysmal. As ASUU and the NLC have reiterated continually, it behoves us all as citizens to lend our voices and call the government to caution.

Additionally, it is sad that the National Union for Nigerian Students (NANS) has been reduced to a gathering for political jamboree, only active in political sycophancy and electoral mobilisation. Here, people who are no longer students strive to hold tight to the leadership position, all because of political benefits. It is sad because, ideally, the struggle before us extends beyond being a University of Ibadan issue to one for national action as the government’s attitude towards education affects all Nigerian students. At times like these, it should have been NANS organising to make the government account for shying away from its responsibility towards education. However, since the money for education is siphoned into wasteful political spending, which still trickles down to the pockets of those in NANS, their voices have been bought. It is shameful that NANS would encourage a walk to applaud the government that would not finance education adequately for setting up loans. 

While we agree with the management on the lack of proper funding from the government, we strongly disagree with the move to make innocent students pay for the government’s misgivings. Just like the unions to which they also belong — ASUU, SSANU & NASU — said to the government when it wanted to use the justification of the hardened economic times to jeopardise the welfare of their members, we as a union are compelled by all good reasons to say the same to the school management. 

An increment, no matter how little, is in no way justifiable. As it stands, the salary of an average staff in the university would not even suffice to cover fees if they had two or more children in this school. We are reminded that when this University was to move from its temporary location at Eleyele to its current site today, the land was not bought at a cost from the common people. Rather, it was given to the university. Now this same university, which has the sweat of the commoners for its foundation, and even those who, as commoners, were able to pass through this same university, wants to shut the doors of education to the children of common people under the guise that “Education is expensive”. So much for helping enshrine the right to learn, as the university anthem says. 

It becomes an issue of what psychologists call “Fundamental Attribution Bias” if the same people who go to lengths in their respective unions to protect their member’s interests then turn around to say that students are not justified in demanding the same. The people who are the management today were the students of yesterday, and they take pride in how they asserted their power even during the military regimes to protect their collective interest as students. Therefore, it is only fair that students are not now suppressed by them in courts of unfair hearing under the cloak of a student disciplinary council. 

Final Words

In light of the above, it is paramount that the current Students’ Union leadership, from the eight elected to the Kunle Adepeju Building to all students’ leaders in their various capacities, be continually proactive in the issue of the school fees increase. This is a time as a union where we all must unite. At this time, away from self-interest and personal sentiments, we must ensure that all our efforts are geared strongly towards the union’s best interest. The union leadership must be ready to intelligently and bravely employ all measures available in this current situation and not shy away from doing what must be done. 

Finally, as students and members of the union, we must always remember that we are the union, and the union is us. The struggle is not just left to the union’s leadership; in all the little ways we can help, we all must be ready to make the effort for our collective victory. The union’s position on the school fees issue remains that we all, freshers and staylites alike, should RESTRAIN from paying the current school fees displayed on our portal. At the same time, the leadership keeps up efforts to get the management to heed reason and review the current school fees increment. And if the time comes for further action, we must remember that the true strength and power of the union lies in us collectively as members standing together, and we must trust and stand behind the judgment of those we have elected as leaders.

Emmanuel Utibe

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