In a story that SaharaReporters has paid close attention to over recent months, the on again, and off again, talks, street demonstrations, student occupation of university buildings, and a battle of words between the Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife officials, and students fighting off tuition and fee hikes, remain at a stalemate.
Those students attending Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife have essentially been ‘shut out’ by the officials, with no sign of a compromise on the horizon. To many, the story is convoluted with charges and counter charges from both sides airing out in the public arena, over draconian fee hikes only few students can afford. With the academic season up in the air, there is no sign of a new deal. Nor is there a sign of a compromise on the table that could bring the conflict to an end. What is clear is that the conflict has had a damaging affect on university academic proceedings across Nigeria. The conflict here is a kind of microcosm of student and university officials across the country.
A statement obtained by SaharaReporters, for the first time tells the story of embattled students to ‘air out’ their views and concerns in this long running fight. Here is that release below.
“Great Nigerian people and gentlemen of the press, on Wednesday, 18th June 2014, the management of Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife decided to shut down the university community on account of 'violent protest' by Great Ife students. Members of the public should not be deceived by this propaganda, which is built on blatant lies and distortion of obvious truth. In reality, the autocratic closure of the university is intended to break the resistance of students against an astronomical, inconsiderate increment in fees. This closure threatens the democratic advancement of the Nigerian society, and indeed is a militaristic relic haunting the voice of the majority, harmless and poor citizens. Our union condemns, in strong terms, this vicious closure and we demand for immediate reopening of the university.
“It is therefore pertinent that we give our explanation of the OAU situation – which was directly caused by the astronomic, inconsiderate and criminal increment in fees. On May 6, 2014, the Senate of the university approved an increment in fees, which saw the fees of fresh and returning students raised by over 200%! Our congress immediately analyzed the reasons adduced by the university management –the underfunding of education by government and the rising cost of education. While we agree that education needs proper funding to assure quality, we reject the wretched university philosophy that poor parents and students should fund university education. From our standpoint, Nigeria is unimaginably wealthy to appropriately fund university education, instead of further aggravating the burden of our poorly-paid working parents – whose little income is constantly ravaged by galloping inflation.
“While we have painfully watched in intense fury the wealth of this country arrogated to selfish politicians – and most times looted with impunity – we however reject taking responsibility for this failed polity. Instead we have severally appealed to our management to join us and give us unflinching support as we declare resistance against an anti-poor, pro-rich government. Alas! The OAU management is not only determined to frustrate our struggle against this wickedness, it has also decided to wage a war of calumny, lies and distortion against our cause. However, we are not surprised with the solidarity our management is giving to the Nigerian government, because this management, in its own capacity, reflects the misrule, high-handedness and crass autocracy pervading the Nigerian society. In 2011, this same management increased acceptance fee from N2, 000 to N20, 000. And 3 years after, with over N300 million generated from this fraudulent source, the university is yet to record substantial development in areas of academic and welfare infrastructures. Yet, amid this, the university went ahead to squander university fund, N500 million specifically, on a swimming pool project as the water supply system of the university remains a typhoid and skin-diseases haven for students.
“Despite faulting the logic of this increment, elected officers of the union still reached out to the university management for critical appraisal of the fee regime. While at a point, our congress conceded for a 5% increase, the university management stubbornly maintained its “no review” stance and threatened frantically to close down the university if students resist the fee regime. However, the union still seized every opportunity with the university management for discussion, between May 6 and June 14, over this issue of increment. It was this harsh, unyielding stance of the university management that instructed our Congress, on 15th June, 2014, in deciding that the Vice- Chancellor should be invited to address the Congress of students over the continual rejection of our demands. As a Union, we have decided to embark on constitutionally warranted actions to press home our demands. And all of these actions, such as mass protests and road occupation, have been carried out peacefully. In fact, staff unions on campus had not only declared support for our actions, they have also joined our protests in spirit of solidarity to help confront this monstrous policy.
“Aside the fact that this occupation was peaceful and supported massively by staff and students, our students also showed a high level of maturity as they resisted provocation by security operatives of the university community. Our demonstration on Weds June 18th was as peaceful and smooth as usual. However, it was just six hours into the protest that the university senate decided to shut down the institution indefinitely upon allegations of violent and disruptive protests by coordinated Great IFE students that were rather playing, singing and dancing at various points in the university campus. The management declared our maiden resumption congress as illegal when the idea of legality of our right to gathering cannot be determined by it. It claimed that the university senate was burnt by the vice-president with a gas filled cylinder when she actually prepared puff puff for obviously hungry students with a gas powered stove at motion ground. Our students’ union even disclaimed the propaganda of our actions being violent by giving statements to that effect immediately the closure declaration was made.
“We demand a total reversal of these fees as rate of stealing has sky-rocketed on campus, finalists are being made to pay under duress for fear of not having elective courses to register or not getting accommodation. Our security report files are increasing daily and the management said that 97%of poor Nigerian parents have paid the money when only 22% privileged few and those that can borrow have paid in reality.
“A congress of Great IFE students held in the wee hours of Wednesday after the occupation and the news of closure decided thus:
That Great IFE students peacefully continue to occupy the university campus as we are not leaving the campus.
That on total reversal we stand.
That there should be an upward funding of education by the federal government.
That all charges against indicted student activists be withdrawn.
That a non-victimization policy be entrenched by the management.
That the struggle continues with externalized, national actions despite the closure
“Conclusively, as of today Thursday morning, soldiers and policemen have been deployed to the university main gate to assault students while SSS officers have been recruited and planted amidst students to effect quiet and orchestrated arrest of union leaders. Also the university has followed this wickedness up by instructing workers in sensitive departments of the university such as power house, water department, health centre, butteries and markets to shut down so as to frustrate students who reside on the university campus. Our union condemns this onslaught, and we remain undaunted in our struggle against oppression of the poor. We however seize this medium to reiterate our commitment to this struggle against increment in fees and immediate re-opening of the university.
The above statement was signed by three key members of the student union that includes, Shittu I.Olatayo, the Secretary-General; Bamidele Oludare J., the union’s P.R.O., and by Ibikunle Isaac, the Student Union President.