30 December 2018

Nigeria: Strikes, Sex-for-Marks Scandals, Fee Hikes, Others Characterise Nigerian Tertiary Education in 2018

Across Nigerian campuses, in the year 2018, stories around incessant industrial actions by workers, sex-for-marks scandals, increase in tuition fees and victimisation of students gained prominence in media reports.

STRIKE ACTIONS

Strike actions have been used by aggrieved workers of colleges of education, polytechnics and universities for improvement in their welfare and proper funding of the institutions.

This started with the Joint Action Committee, comprising of the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU) and the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) whose strike was enforced from December 2017 to March 2018 over the contents of the agreement the unions reached with government in 2009.

The Chairman of the Joint Action Committee of the unions, Samson Ugwuoke, announced the suspension of the strike, noting that it was based on extensive consultations with various organs of government.

In August, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, embarked on a strike, which was later suspended after five weeks. Since the federal government had refused to fulfil its part of the 2009 agreement, ASUU resumed the industrial action on November 4 and several meetings to get the workers working again have ended in deadlock.

Meanwhile, while the Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU) called off its two-month strike on December 6, the Academic Staff of Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) embarked on industrial action over NEEDS assessment, complaints about the scheme of service and the non-payment of salaries in state-owned institutions.

SEX-FOR-MARKS SCANDALS

Despite complaints of 'sextortion' in Nigerian tertiary institutions over the years, the menace got media attention as one of the most discussed stories in 2018.

A professor at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Richard Akindele, in a leaked conversation with a postgraduate student, Monica Osagie, was caught demanding five rounds of sex from the lady. The audio recording, which went viral and generated controversies from people within and outside the university community, led to the dismissal of the lecturer.

Although Mr Akindele denied and said it was a 'set-up', he was arraigned by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission, ICPC, and was eventually sentenced to two years imprisonment by Justice Maureen Onyekenu of Osogbo high court in December.

In April, Olusegun Awonusi, a professor of English Studies at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) and a former Vice-Chancellor of Tai Solarin University of Education (TASUED), Ijagun, Ogun State, was accused of harassing female students and threatening to fail them if they refused his advances.

Mr Awonusi denied the allegation and said it was an attempt to blackmail him. The management of UNILAG, in an interim report published on the school website in July, stated that the allegations against the professor cannot be substantiated.

Also, PREMIUM TIMES reported the dismissal of three senior lecturers in the Lagos State University (LASU) alleged of sexual misconduct.

According to the university's spokesperson, Ademola Adekoya, the dismissal of Ayoola Odubunmi, an associate professor of economics; Isiaka Ogunwande, an associate professor of chemistry and Emmanuel Gbeleyi, a lecturer in the department of anatomy was approved by the governing council of the university at its 119th statutory meeting on October 4.

In Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic, Ebonyi state, an investigation by the New Telegraph also published by this paper in December, revealed how the institution's Head of Department of Marketing (HOD), School of Business Studies, Ezumah Obi, invited female students to hotels at different times, with the intent to sleep with them before he would pass them in his courses and their final year projects.

However, the lecturer has denied the allegation, saying the students chose to meet him at the hotels and that nothing close to their allegations ever happened.

FEE HIKE

The University of Ibadan (UI), in April, introduced over 100 per cent increment in the accommodation fees, which went from N14,000 to N30,000. Medical students are, however, expected to pay N40, 000.

Also, the tuition fee of medical students was increased from N49,000 to N170,000 due to the introduction of a new levy tagged "Health Professional Training Levy" which ranges from N75,000 to N100,000 depending on department and level. These increments resulted in protest from parents and students, and the shutdown of the medical students Hall of residence.

In a similar case, the authorities of Obafemi Awolowo University's college of health sciences also deliberated on the introduction of the training fee but the students and student groups revolted against it vehemently.

Also, this newspaper reported how the Ondo State Government increased the tuition fee of students of Adekunle Ajasin University, Akoko-Akungba, a state-owned institution, by over 500 per cent as the new school fees range from N120,000 to N180,000 and the returning students of Education Management are expected to pay N120,000 while the freshmen will be paying N150,000.

In October, the management of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTHEC), Ogbomoso asked returning students who are indigenes of Oyo and Osun states to pay N200,000 while non-indigenes are to pay N250,000 against the former N63,500 for returning students who are indigenes and N72,500 for non-indigenes.

The present 100 level students paid N120,000 for indigenes and N150,000 for non-indigenes as part of the resolution of the institution after the university strike that lasted for several months. It should be recalled that parents, alumni body, staff unions and students protest the fee hike. The LAUTECH management later announced a reduction of the new fees, although still higher than the old one.

In November, University of Ilorin (UNILORIN) announced over 100 per cent increase in the school fees, which will take effect from 2018/2019 academic session. A screenshot obtained by PREMIUM TIMES revealed that the tuition for the Department of Mass Communication, for instance, was increased from N10,700 to N23,300. Meanwhile, the university spokesperson, Kunle Akogun, claimed that the increment was 35% and that the students will be paying a little above N21,000 while other charges such as faculty and departmental charges would be according to individual facilities in the university.

Victimisation of students

Authorities of tertiary institutions made attempts to repress the voice of students in 2018 and this led to the suspension of union leaders, activists and journalists, whose actions opposed the policies of the institutions.

In March, PREMIUM TIMES reported how five students; Gbenga Olaniran, Oyedeji Samson, Olajide Adedamola, Jimoh Oladipupo and Adeniji John, were handed over to the police by the management of Obafemi Awolowo University for opposing the forceful eviction of students from a female hostel, Moremi.

The students, wrongfully accused of assaulting a university official, were docked at the Ife Magistrate Court. After seven appearances, the case was struck out for want of evidence against the students.

The University of Ibadan suspended a student journalist, Adekunle Adebajo, over a critical newspaper article published two years ago. Mr Adebajo wrote under the title "UI: The irony of fashionable rooftops and awful interiors", in The Guardian of April 2016 which drew attention to the deplorable state of the facilities at the Nigerian premier university.

Piqued by the article, the university, two days after the publication, asked him to face a disciplinary committee. In the following months, the student continued to face disciplinary charges which he defended before he was eventually told he had been rusticated for two semesters at the end of May.

The action of the school was condemned by various media organisations including Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) who pleaded for his reinstatement. However, when PREMIUM TIMES contacted the Vice Chancellor of the university, Idowu Olayinka, he described the suspension as an internal matter and told the student to make an appeal.

Meanwhile, in August, The Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO) reinstated nine student activists expelled over a year ago for their involvement in a protest against tuition fees hike.

The recall, which came amidst a legal action by the students, saw to the reinstatement of Collins Ogbonna, Fishery and Aquaculture Technology; Elvis Onuoha, Animal Science Technology; Ebuka Odunze, Computer Science Department; Kenneth Megwa, Prosthetics and Orthotics Department; and Nnamdi Madu and Collins Ugwu of the Optometry Department.

Adeyeye Olorunfemi, a student of the UNILAG, who bagged four-semester suspension from the university authorities in 2016, was also reinstated in September. However, in another letter, the student activist was invited to appear before the students' disciplinary board on October 9 over alleged acts of misconduct carried out during the period of the rustication.

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