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LASU Crisis In A Neo-Liberal Era

March 18, 2014

This is indeed not a good time for Lagos State University (LASU), the only university owned by the Lagos State government. For three years running, the university has been facing various crises ranging from students’ discontent to industrial disharmony and decaying infrastructure. The university seems to be in serious decline by all yardsticks. Behind these challenges are chronic underfunding of the university, obnoxious hikes in payable fees by students, and lack of democratic approach to management of the university, a disease that is common among Nigerian higher institutions. However, more critically, the LASU crisis is a fallout of the neo-liberal capitalist ideology of the ruling elite in the state, and indeed nationally.

This is indeed not a good time for Lagos State University (LASU), the only university owned by the Lagos State government. For three years running, the university has been facing various crises ranging from students’ discontent to industrial disharmony and decaying infrastructure. The university seems to be in serious decline by all yardsticks. Behind these challenges are chronic underfunding of the university, obnoxious hikes in payable fees by students, and lack of democratic approach to management of the university, a disease that is common among Nigerian higher institutions. However, more critically, the LASU crisis is a fallout of the neo-liberal capitalist ideology of the ruling elite in the state, and indeed nationally.

Currently, LASU is better classified as Lagos State (Private) University, as the school seems to have more traits of a typical private Nigerian university than those of a public university. The fees have been hiked by more than 1000 percent with an average student paying as high as N250,000, as against the previous fees of N25,000. Consequently, a university that used to boost of over 25, 000 undergraduate students and several diploma students is now having less than 13,000 students, with less than 1,300 applicants seeking admission, as against more than 5000 four years ago. It is now a nightmare for an average working class parent to send his/her ward to the only state university.

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The new fee regime has affected quality of education in the university. Many departments that used to admit as much as hundred fresh students are now having less than ten. This has led to the management trying to cut into the welfare of university lecturers, as a way of saving costs. There are also attempt to merge departments, as many departments are now ghosts. All this has worsened the fragile industrial peace in the university. The lecturers in the university, who previously maintained some passivity to students’ campaign against the fee increment, are now becoming concerned as the chicken is coming home to roost. To add insult to injury, the fee increment and reduced student population have not led to any fundamental improvement in infrastructures and facilities. Indeed, things have become worse. According to newspaper reports, many departments still lack all the basic facilities, while morale of academic staff is drastically low, as the university cannot fund their promotion and welfare. This in itself has worsened the horrible sharp practices like nepotism, favouritism, bullying and attack on democratic rights. Currently, some of the officials of the academic staff union, ASUU are facing some form of victimization.

The reigning autocratic culture in the institution led to the recent student protest over inaccessibility to the university online registration portal by students. Rather than accede to the genuine concerns of the frustrated students, many of whom had gone through different experiences to garner the crime-instigating fees, the vice chancellor called the bluff of the students, and invited security agents to attack a peaceful students’ protest. While no one will support destruction of properties, it is a clear fact that the vice chancellor, acting as a bully, instigated the crisis. To many students, the closure of the portal was a deliberate act to deny them registration, as a way of extending their stay in the university, and thus increasing the revenue of the university. Unfortunately, the body language of the vice chancellor and his utterances seemed to give credence to the student positions, as he referred to those who have not registered as insignificant minority. This tend to suggest that the university can afford over one thousand students having an extra year, not because they fail any course, but because they could not access the university registration portal!

Perhaps, the government keyed in to this arrangement; otherwise, the same directive that ordered the vice chancellor to open the portal should have also led to his removal. Indeed, as far as the Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola is concerned, the previous fees of N25,000 is not sustainable and realistic. In a state where the government hardly implements the N18,000 minimum wage, the assertion by the governor that N25,000 – itself a tall order for many families – is too small a fee is insensitive. In a country where more than 70 percent of the population is considered poor, it is definitely unrealistic for a government that allows N250,000 school fees, to consider itself progressive. Interestingly, since the increase of fees from around N1,250 a decade ago to N25,000, no serious improvement in terms of facility and quality has been witnessed. In the same period, several courses were deregistered by the National Universities Commission (NUC) over failure to meet basic standards.

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Currently too, there has been degeneration of existing facilities in the varsity in spite of the increase of fees by one thousand percents. This again shows that aside the issue of funding, gross mismanagement of meager funds is another major plague afflicting our ivory towers. It is not uncommon to see university administrators procuring the best of exotic cars for themselves, while facilities like laboratories, libraries, etc are in dilapidated conditions. Meanwhile, at the slightest excuse, students and their poor parents are made to pay exorbitantly for this kind of mismanagement. This also underscores the lack of democracy in the management of educational institutions allows corrupt officials to get away with crimes, even under academic garbs.

The governor was further quoted to have posited that, while free education was practicable during his time as a student in the 1980s, the current increased student population does not support free education. By this, the governor was rationalizing education commercialization. However, the governor failed to inform the public how he arrived at the conclusion that there are now too many undergraduates. In Lagos alone, there is dearth of medical personnel. According to global standard, a doctor is expected to care for a thousand citizens. But in Lagos State, with more than 17 million people, there are less than 800 doctors in the employment of the state government, meaning there is just a doctor to about 20,000 Lagosians. If Lagos State University graduates 1000 medical students yearly, it will take about 20 years to meet international standard, assuming against reality that the population of Lagos would remain constant. Yet, school fee for medical students in LASU is close to N400,000! Also, Lagos public schools are notoriously overcrowded, with as much as over 100 pupils in a class even when national standard recommends less than 30 pupils to a teacher. This shows that tens of thousands of teachers are needed to standardize education in Lagos. Yet, undergraduates studying education in any Lagos tertiary institution will pay as much as N100,000; in LASU, it is around N200,000.

Behind the theory of artificial surplus of undergraduates and graduates being propagated by the governor and his ilk, is the neo-liberal, anti-developmental ideology of current set of capitalist ruling class across the country. As against the orientation of politicians in the 1950s to very early ‘80s, who had vision and projection of development, the current set of political elites are rooted in neo-liberal capitalist ideology that prioritizes shrinking of social sector budgets in order to guarantee adequate profits and wealth for the very few super-rich. While politicians of yore, despite their capitalist ideological limitations, committed adequate resources to social services the current set of bankrupt ruling class prefers to cut to the bone social sector budget and create armies of unemployed, mostly unskilled, who will scavenge for few jobs, as a way of driving down wages. This on the other hand will provide opportunity for the few rich to gain more profits, through diversion of public funds to private businesses under the guise of encouraging investment. This is why, despite a huge shortfall of skilled labor for critical sectors, governments deliberately create artificial surplus by refusing to employ few graduates available. This is with the aim of turning these sectors to private hands to make huge profits, by driving down wages and privatizing services. The latest Job-to-Coffin scandal of the Immigration Service’s Aptitude Tests is part of this mindless policy of governments at all levels.

While neo-liberal capitalism is a global phenomenon, it is more grotesque in the underdeveloped economies like Nigeria. Corruption aside serving as a potent driving force for the deepening of neo-liberal policies is also being aided by these policies, as monies meant for development of social infrastructures are diverted to private ends through dubious means, not the least, bogus salaries and allowances for politicians. This explains why Lagos State government sees nothing wrong in increasing fees in its only university by 1000 percent, even when cost of living has soared. The same university was established by the Lateef Jakande/UPN Second Republic government to provide almost free education for its citizens, as a way of getting out of the colonial legacy of few educated elites. Unfortunately, the current set of ruling elites, despite over 50 years of independence, is throwing society back into the colonial era.

While Lagos prides itself as a mega-city, it is indeed a backward contraption. Lagos State population is 150 percent of Cuba's, yet Cuba is far more advanced than Lagos State. There are 47 universities and 23 medical schools in Cuba, which provide completely free but internationally recognized standard education. Indeed, over four thousand European and North American students received standardized but very subsidized higher education in Cuba. The same Cuba has one of the highest populations of medical personnel in the Caribbean, who are deployed, through intellectual tourism, to neighbouring Latin American countries. In spite of the huge investment in education, Cuba, which is under economic sabotage of the USA and her allies since early 1960s, is still able to provide jobs for most of its citizens. While Cuba’s GDP for 2012 stood at around $72.3 billion, Lagos own stood at more than $90 billion. Yet, while education and healthcare in Cuba are free and qualitative, Lagosians could hardly afford basic social services.

The main difference between Cuba and Lagos is the ideological orientation of government. While the ruling class in Cuba, despite its limitation is rooted in radical social democracy and nationalized economy that prioritize adequate and better living conditions for the majority; Lagos ruling elites and Nigeria’s capitalist class, on the contrary are rooted in scrupulous neo-liberal capitalism, albeit a neo-colonial version, that ensure perpetual misery for the majority in order to guarantee ostentatious lifestyles for the few super-rich. Only a neo-colonial ruling class will believe that in the twenty-first century, fewer of its citizens should be educated.

The LASU crisis again points to the sameness of ideology and policies of Nigerian capitalist ruling elites, irrespective of their different colorations. Save for media hype and whitewashing, an average Nigerian can hardly distinguish between any of them. Lagos State has been under the rule of the same band of politicians since reemergence of civil rule in 1999, yet tertiary education is in worsening crisis. The same only state university built when Lagos population was less than a quarter of its current size still serves the state. Worse still, access to the university has dwindled with the constant increase in fees, even when quality has not improved. Yet, the state has earned nothing less than N4 trillion (more than US$25 billion) as revenue in the past 15 years. When the former Lagos governor and leader of the opposition party APC, Senator Bola Tinubu, asked Nigerian students to march to Aso Rock during the last six-month strike of ASUU, he forgot that he was not that different from the Abuja rulers. His government hiked LASU fees from around N2,500 to N25,000. Today, one of the campuses of Lagos State Polytechnic, now houses private television linked to ruling politicians in the state.

The LASU fees and crisis also underscores the need for students to be organized, and build a pan-national movement against Nigerian ruling class’ attacks on public education, especially commercialization and privatization of education. The current state of National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), with its ideological bankruptcy and treachery of its leadership across board, show the fundamental challenge before students to rescue their organization from total collapse, by building mass movements across campuses. An indication of the crisis in student movement is the failure of solidarity of Nigerian student movement against the LASU fees. A genuine pan-Nigerian student movement would have seen the LASU fee hike as a precedent of what the ruling class has in stock for Nigerian students. Moreover, staff unions, especially ASUU, consciously need to cultivate progressive relationship with student movement. The failure of staff unions in LASU to openly oppose and fight alongside students helped the LASU authorities and the government to implement the policy. Currently, lecturers and other staffs are facing various attacks including possible retrenchment and career stagnation. Only joint efforts of students and staff can successfully defeat anti-poor government policies. Any belief that the misery of a section of the oppressed can be blessing for another is a dangerous pipe dream.

Conclusively, the LASU crisis has shown clearly that Nigerian ruling elites are united in their neo-colonial and neo-liberal capitalist policies. Therefore, unless the working and oppressed people build an alternative political platform, with clear socialist programmes that prioritize the welfare of people as a basis of governance; they can never get from under this system. Labour movement, being the most organized platform of the working and oppressed people, needs to take the lead in this process. The current odious relationship of various sections of labour leadership with the ruling class is a fundamental hindrance to building a fighting platform of the oppressed against attack on social welfare by capitalist rulers. The condemnable silence of the leadership of labour movement in Lagos State, including NLC, TUC, NUT, NASU, SSANU, etc on the LASU fees and subsequent crisis, is a clear reflection of this. A 24-hour warning strike, accompanied with mass mobilization of workers, youth, students, artisans, etc, would have sent appropriate message to the Lagos State government. Maybe we will hear them on May Day!
Kola Ibrahim
State Secretary of Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), Osun State
P.O. Box 1319, GPO, Enuwa, Ile-Ife, Osun State.
08059399178, [email protected]


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters

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