Students of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO) have declared readiness to vigorously challenge the decision of university authorities to expel 15 student activists who participated in February’s protest of the hike in tuition fees and the 17 February deadline for the payment of tuition fees. In addition, they also railed against bank charges on the campus.
According to the students, by 12 noon on the deadline day, the university management had imposed a N10,000 fine for default despite seeing a massive crowd of students in front of the campus branch of Diamond Bank, opposite the University Senate Building, waiting to pay their fees.
This recalcitrance of the school authorities angered the students, who called, unsuccessfully, on the students’ union leadership to intervene. The refusal of the students’ leadership to intervene resulted in an invitation to the immediate past executive officers of the Students’ Union Government, who led a peaceful protest.
The protest was, however, broken up by officials of the Department of State Security, who arrested and subsequently detained some of the past SUG executive members, led by Comrade Ogbonna Collins popularly known as “FUTO-Rochas”, a 500-level student of the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture. Collins is the immediate past Public Relations Officer of the SUG. The incumbent SUG President, Akano Nnaemeka, had gone on a popular radio station in Owerri to dissociate himself from the protest, despite admitting that he was aware of it being planned and having been contacted by his predecessors to show leadership. Mr. Nnaemeka is believed to be working with the university management because of his brittle academic records.
Three days after the peaceful protest was broken up and Comrade Ogbonna was arrested, the students launched a violent protest during which parts of the university Information Communication Technology Building were torched. The students alleged that since the appointment of Professor Francis Eze as the Vice Chancellor, all the fees in the university have gone up and students are being compelled to pay bank charges of N2,500 to Diamond Bank, the only bank on campus. The bank, obviously overwhelmed by the over 35,000 student population, was unable to cope with the deadline for payment of fees as announced by the university management.
Some students told SaharaReporters that most of them have no university identity cards, despite having paid for such. They further alleged that they are compelled to pay for ICT on the grounds that the university would provide Wi-Fi, but the university failed to do so. Regardless, fees for services not provided were equally increased.
SaharaReporters gathered that the FUTO Senate sat on 30 March and resolved to expel Comrades Collins, Mmegwa Kenneth, Ugwu Okechukwu, Madu Nnamdi, Onuoha Elvis and Odunze Ebuka among others from the institution, a decision the students have vowed to challenge with all legal means.
These are not the best of times for student activists, given the tendency of university authorities to muzzle legitimate and peaceful dissent. The University of Lagos recently rusticated some students for participation in a 2015 protest over deplorable conditions of halls of residence.
Last week, an attempt by the students to get explanation for the rustication got the university authorities to have 13 students, including Femi Adeyeye, arrested and arraigned before a Lagos Mobile Court.