Students of the Federal University located in President Goodluck Jonathan's hometown of Otuoke in Bayelsa State, on Thursday protested what they described as a hike in school fees, harsh learning environment and high-handedness of the institution’s authorities.
The students claimed that their school fees had been increased to N85,000 for their members in the Humanities, and N90, 000 for science students, questioning why the management was deviating from the objective of increasing access to university education as the government claims.
They stated that no other federal university, including those established at the same time as theirs, charged such fees.
They also cited other problems in the institution, including poor hostel accommodation as well as lack of electricity and potable water.
They described the management’s insistence that there will be no Students Union activities in the institution as ‘draconian and unacceptable’ in a democratic dispensation.
They also said that they were being constantly intimidated by soldiers drafted to guard the private hotel of Patience Jonathan, the First Lady.
The students also criticized the six-month compulsory break which the management asked them to embark on as an elongation of their stay in the university.
A female student who pleaded anonymity told SaharaReporters: "We want the school fees to be reduced to tally with other federal universities,” stressing that second year students of other universities are paying N35,000 while FUO students have to pay N85,000.
"We want the educational system to continue the way it is to enable us proceed to Year Three. We have been in Year One since 2012. Despite the fact that we didn't join the ASUU strike, they refused to allow us to make progress.
"They refuse to allow us to have the Student Union Government (SUG) so that we won't be able to speak out. We have been in Year One since 2012…since we gained admission into this university. Now they are asking us to go for another six months’ vacation".
The students, whose action paralyzed all activities at the institution, took to the streets of Otuoke chanting songs and condemning the leadership style of the management. Carrying placards, they marched from the main campus to the administrative blocks of the university. They also barricaded the gates of the administrative blocks and called on the management to rethink its policies.
It was gathered that they had previously embarked on a similar protest when the soldiers beat up a student for refusing to fetch water for a soldier.
About four truckloads of policemen were drafted to the area to quell Thursday’s riots and restore peace.
In a statement, the Vice-Chancellor of the university, Prof. Mobolaji Aluko, denied any increases in fees, noting that the schedule of fees currently being paid by ALL students was published on the university website (http://www.fuotuoke.edu.ng/) and communicated to students over 10 months ago.
“After operational experience with Pioneer (First Set of) students whose total fees (including accommodation) was N45,000, the University has separated accommodation fees from other fees, and made a distinction in fees between Science/Engineering students and non-Science students,” he explained, adding that this is standard practice in all universities worldwide.
“First-time-in-College (Freshman) fees include N18,000 of Acceptance Fee (N15,000), ID card (N1,000) and certificate verification (N2,000) charges which are paid only once in a student's university life-time, and are not paid by returning students,” he said. “Consequently, after the first year, the differential fee between Pioneer and Non-Pioneer students in the same course is N4,000.”
The vice-chancellor also addressed the other concerns of the students. The full text of his statement is below:
FEDERAL UNIVERSITY OTUOKE
OFFICE OF THE VICE-CHANCELLOR
January 23, 2014
NOTICE TO STUDENTS
Dear Students of Federal University Otuoke:
The concerns of students as aired in your "demonstration" earlier today are noted. They are hereby addressed as follows:
1/ University Fees and Charges
A/ There has been no increase in fees as alleged. The schedule of fees currently paid by ALL students was published on the University Website (http://www.fuotuoke.edu.ng/) and communicated to students over ten months ago.
B/ After operational experience with Pioneer (First Set of) students whose total fees (including accommodation) was N45,000, the University has separated accommodation fees from other fees, and made a distinction in fees between Science/Engineering students and non-Science students. This is standard practice in all universities worldwide.
C/ First-time-in-College (Freshman) fees include N18,000 of Acceptance Fee (N15,000), ID card (N1,000) and certificate verification (N2,000) charges which are paid only once in a student's university life-time, and are not paid by returning students. Consequently, after the first year, the differential fee between Pioneer and Non-Pioneer students in the same course is N4,000. (see attached)
D/ These fees will remain as published for the foreseeable future.
2/ Water, Electricity and Cooking in Hostels
A/ The University is completely committed to providing university-subsidized accommodation to as many students as possible, particularly Fresh students. This accommodation is a privilege, not a right. Currently, all five but one of our hostels are rented at high rate.
B/ Provision of comfortable learning and bed spaces, and of reliable and adequate electricity and water in our lecture halls and hostel, is our goal. While quite challenging, the university will continue to strive to improve upon the current situation. The University currently runs six diesel generators (of a total of 800 KVA), and two more are upcoming to bring the total to 1000 KVA (1 MW). The prohibitive cost of diesel makes it incumbent to ration electricity supply. We are committed to providing electricity in academic areas during week-day from 8 am to 8pm, and in hostels from 8 am - 10 am, and 4pm - 8pm seven days a week. Until municipal (non-generator) electricity becomes available and reliable in Otuoke and the university environs, we can do no more.
C/ We forbid cooking in hostels due to insurance and sanitation concerns. Catering services (upon payment by students) have been contracted out. Students who insist on cooking are welcome to find alternative non-university accommodation
3/ University Calendar a.k.a "Merger"
Any information that students have about the merger of two sets (2nd and 3rd Sets) into one is at this time a rumor, a notion frowned upon seriously in Bayelsa State Government officialdom. Nevertheless, there is a national mandate to REGULARIZE university calendar ASAP, so that it runs Sept/October to June/July, in order to make room for July to September Summer period for Lecturers' research and rejuvenation, and student internships. This is according to global practice. Plans to ensure this regularization are being worked out, and any information about any commitment to a particular new calendar is premature.
4/ Clearance, Registration, Fee Payment
Until you have matriculated, you are not a student of this University. That requires that new students must be cleared, registered and must pay their fees at the earliest possible time before they assume university residency and participate extensively in university student activities. Returning students are also urged to pay their fees and charges speedily, but classes will not be prevented until three months into the first semester, during which time instalmental fee payment is permitted. Opportunities to apply for and receive scholarships should be taken advantage of.
I wish to express my profound appreciation to all of those students who have behaved responsibly and eschewed any aggressive behavior or violence. Any thuggish behavior, donning of cult-like attire or face painting is un-FUO-student-like.
Our doors will always remain open for consultation.
Best wishes all, as I once again welcome you all to a new academic session.
Prof. Mobolaji E. Aluko