A students' activist group, Alliance of Nigerian Students against Neo-Liberal Attacks (ANSA), has condemned the expulsion of six student activists of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO). ANSA's condemnation was conveyed via a statement jointly signed by Sanyaolu Adejuwon and Adeyeye Olorunfemi, Coordinator and National Secretary respectively.
ANSA described the expulsion as despotic and unacceptable, as it exemplified the deployment of vindictive high-handedness to subvert legitimate demands of students of the institution. The expelled students had participated actively in the protest against arbitrary increment of fees. ANSA, therefore called students of the institution unite and demand the reinstatement of the expelled student activists.
"We forthwith, seize this medium to join the mass of students of the institution in calling for the immediate and unconditional reinstatement of the expelled activists and reversal of the increased school fees. We also demand the cancellation of all the illegal and arbitrary charges including the fraudulent course registration charges viz the dubious N10, 000 late registration fees," ANSA said.
On 17 February, FUTO students protested the arbitrary hike in school fees and the imposition of other charges by the university management. Specifically, the students protested, among other policies, the dubious course registration fees, and N10, 000 late registration fee. ANSA explained that the decision of the university management under Professor Francis Eze, the Vice Chancellor, to introduce course registration fees is alien to the country's university environment.
"The students of the university are made to pay the following course registration charges every semester, which are in addition to the astronomically increased school fees: ENG103: N3, 000; ENG101: N3, 200; CHEM101: N2, 500; PHY101: N4, 000; BIO101: N4, 000; PHY207: N1, 600; MTH203: N1, 500; ENX: N3, 800 and the seemingly endless list goes on for all courses offered by the students of the said university," said ANSA.
It noted that the listed charges are in addition to the acceptance fee which was hiked increased from N25, 000 to N42, 500 and hiked medical charges from N1, 000 to N3,000.
"All of these absurd fees are to be paid in complement to the astronomically hiked school fees, which vary with the individual course of study. For instance; students of the department of Geology had their school fees increased from N30, 000 to N64, 100. In the same vein, the overhead fee increment was outrageously hiked from N27, 000 to N55, 300," noted ANSA.
The protest provoked the Vice-Chancellor into inviting armed policemen to forcefully break it up. Professor Eze followed this up by ordering the closure of the school without attending to the issues raised by the protesting students. What followed, said ANSA, was the establishment of a vindictive panel with the brief victimizing the leaders of the legitimate protest.
“The kangaroo panel subsequently found them guilty on trumped up and baseless charges. The students, numbering up to six intelligent bright minds, were on this unfounded basis expelled,” noted ANSA.
The expelled students, all of whom are in their final year, are former Students’ Union officers. They are Onuoha Elvis, former union Secretary- General; Odunze Ebuka, former Welfare Officer; Ogbonna Collins, former Public Relations Officer; Mmadu Nnamdi, former Director of Transport; Ugwu Okey, former Director of Sports and Megwa Kenneth, a student activist.
ANSA said the various attacks on and neglect of the country’s education sector was not unexpected, especially given the measly sums allocated to education in the budget.
“The disgraceful allocation of a derogatory sum of N50billion as the capital fund to the entire education sector has now proven to be nothing but a silent concession from the government for willing, thieving and undemocratic administrators of tertiary institutions to consider a neo-liberal option of generating funds internally, especially through overhead fee increment. They immediately seize this opportunity to as well impose several arbitrary charges that would, in the long run, find their ways into private pockets just like the bulk of the increased fees,” reasoned ANSA.
The group also argued that the failure of fees’ increment to solve the problems in educational institutions is an uncomplicated indication what the FUTO authorities did was a fraud. The group also condemned that silence of staff unions, notably the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in the face of attacks on and neglect of the educational sector.
ANSA called on National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), students’ unions, ASUU, the organized labor and civil society groups to support the campaign to end the attacks on FUTO by Professor Eze. The group also restated its demand for the unconditional reinstatement of expelled student activists and the reversal of all increased fees.
“We demand an end to the fraudulently imposed charges and we also maintain that management respects the right of students to protest policies that infringe on their very existence on campus. While we call for the upward funding of the education sector, we also call on anti-graft agencies, including the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), to immediately probe the spending and management of the funds generated or remitted into the purse of the institution,” ANSA concluded.