UNILAG at War Front: Viva Aluta

UNILAG at war Fronts: Viva Aluta

Just at the start of the UNILAG protest, I was mocking and blaming my friends who are undergraduate students of the University for acting like spoilt brats. After all, most of them live in remote areas where there are no light and water. Even though I haven’t stopped mocking and blaming, the blame table seemed to have tilted more acutely towards the University management than to the students at the turn of events. Now before I proceed, I must give “honour” to those whom honour is due. And this I will do, not by “goodaying” any honourable chairman but by acknowledging the two possible parties of reactors to this article – those who would feel vilified and those who would feel vindicated. As for the former, even though such vilifications are not deliberate (but could have been self-imposed or caused by guilty conscience), I apologise in advance and hope they take the truth as truth however bitter. As for the latter, I only hope they truly worth such vindication as this article does intend to defend (nor defame) any individual or group.
With the ultimate shut down of the University of Lagos, and the controversy surrounding such action, one needs no goggle to see that these aren’t smiling times at the University; students boiling, staffs fuming, management raging – University at warfront! As for the management, the students seemed to have been over-pampered and grown to silly, mischievous, and ungrateful rascals and vandals who now damage the image of the school with thuggery and nonsensical protests like the proverbial orange fruit that flogs its own stem. Now it’s time to punish and disown the “bastards”, as well as rid the University of miscreants and reprobates. After all, it is the same teeth used by the dog in playing with its puppies it uses in biting them.
As for the students, it is now or never, the management seemed to have siphoned the hell out of students’ patience to saturation. Insensitivity to students’ plight, extortion through several means, hike in prices of items on campus, poor management of facilities, lack of provision of basic amenities (such as water and light as in the recent case), exclusion of students from management decisions, harsh and bizarre laws without consultation and consideration of students and list continues to infinity. The hitherto peaceful and calm Akokites couldn’t hold it anymore; the management has long turned a deaf ear to their myriads of complaints. And like the proverbial dog pushed to the wall, it’s time to fight back and prove to the inconsiderate, harsh, unfair, flippant, and opportunistic “tyrants” and old fellas that gentility is not the same as timidity. The battle line is drawn!
As for the “embattled” Prof. Bello, if time could be reversed to the point just before he was appointed the 11th vice-Chancellor of the University, he probably would have considered a rethink. Despite the pro-activeness and many visible development typical of his administration, recent outcries from all corners of the school seemed to have smeared his management scorecard. The number of students’ protest within the past few months is enough to completely taint any good reputation previously displayed by his administration. Notable of such ugly stains is the protest against the invasion of bedbugs and mosquitoes across all halls of residence on the 28th of September 2015 caused by lack of fumigation and poor drainage facilities on the part of the management and perhaps lack of maintenance and hygiene on the students’ part. Not until after the unnecessarily shameful publicity given to the school could the management come to rescue. Few weeks earlier in the same month (on the 9th of September 2015), the students had protested in solidarity and sympathy of the death of their colleague – Miss Oluchi Chioma Anekwe, a 300level first class student of the department of accounting who was electrocuted by a falling high tension cable in front of her hostel a night before. Although death is a natural occurrence, but the management’s negligence seemed to be its angel that drove Oluchi to her untimely grave as students claimed to have previously drawn the attention of the University management to the danger in the naked sagging overhead cables without any yield. It took the life of a dear student before any noticeable action could be done.
Prospective students are not left out of the trend. On the 22nd of July 2015 for example, a session of these students (with their parents) staged a protest against the so called “New Jamb Admission Policy” and the University alleged increase in cut off mark from the usual 200 to 250. Out of over 32000 ordinarily eligible students who applied for the 2015/2016 UNILAG post UTME, only 9000 found themselves eligible for the screening with no clear criterial. The issue only ended with the protesters being ‘played around’ like a football between JAMB and the University. Another protest in relation to that was that of the pre-medical students on February 10 2016, where the students accused the University of monetizing the admission process of proceeding from 100 level at the main campus to 200 level at the college of medicine Idi Araba. The University allegedly raised the cut off from 2.5 to 4.0 CGPA without prior notification to the concerned students, purposely to weed out the poor students and accommodate the “wealthy” Diploma students who pay up to ₦500,000. It took a lawsuit before such bizarre decision could be reversed.

In another recent drama, on Wednesday 16th of March 2016, the Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria (MSSN) UNILAG branch took to the street in protest against the management shutdown of the branch’s activities and delay in re-installment of executives. The University authority had earlier promised that an election/congress that would usher in the re-installment of the Muslim students body in January. However, it took a protest in March before such January could come!

These are only few of the several pinching that led to protests, yet there are a million silent others that students had to bear as a necessary evil. The case of students with undeserved extra years as a result of “devil-may-care” attitude and improper handing from the management is germane to this case. The compulsory ₦5000 for students’ insurance added to the school fee is another. In all, the management seemed to be reveling on the path of negligence and extortion and yet, suppression of students’ right. Only with students’ outcries have they been able to force out necessary actions from the management when things have almost gone out of hand. Protests seems to be the only language the leadership understand, but then this is the language students are mostly fluent in.

Now as for the case at hand, the road to the present situation does not differ much from those of the past, but one must thread with caution. Like William Safire puts in his Sleeping Spy, “never assume the obvious is true”. With the students’ protest and complaints about water and light, it might be too difficult to resist the tempting notion that students are a fault especially considering the present situation of the country and most especially the several claims of Dr. Karo Ogbinaka, the Deputy Dean I of the University who appeared live on Rubbin minds (a Channels TV talk show) on Sunday 10th of April 2016 with barrages of false statements to malign the students for their action. Dr. Karo accused the University of Lagos student Union (ULSU) leaders of vandalizing properties of UNILAG water ventures, collecting money from sellers on campus, and using the ULSU’s van for pure water business on campus. As much as these sound typical of students’ action on campuses, for the case at hand however, there is nothing else farther from truth.

Many would also claim that the students’s protest is unnecessary since most of what they complained about are general issues affecting the country as a whole. The fact that they are general issues in the real sense pit the blame more on the University than the students. There are general problems of power supply and fuel scarcity, yet other every other University has been able to manage the issue well without putting unnecessary hardship on students. Why then University of Lagos, the Nation’s Pride. Without being biased, The University management may be justified in some ways. Firstly, the university sent an sms through lagmobile (as claimed by the registrar in a publication in The Nation newspaper on Tuesday 12 April 2016) to all students about the need to ration electricity on campus due to fuel scarcity and general problem with power supply. The University in the same publication also claimed that some protesting students invaded UNILAG waters, beat up staffs and carted away packed bottled and sachet water. Also, the University in an emergency meeting to deliberate on the crisis arranged for a delegation of senate to persuade the student officials to suspend the protest and opt for dialog. Rather than embrace dialogue, the protesters some of whom surprisingly wore mask threw empty bottle water at the delegation and refuse to listen to any appeal for negotiation. If all these and many others contained in the publication are true, then it is totally condemnable and very devilish for any U niversity of Lagos found with such shameful acts. The VC may therefore be justified for refusing to address the angry students who are already throwing bottle water and other object at the delegation of senate members. Recall the “narrow escape” of Prof. Mowete of CITS on 7th June 2014 when he attempted to address an angry crowd of protesters (protesting against the university’s sudden charges for course editing) Rather than listen to his appeal, the angry students chased him with physical assault from the University gate to the mosque. It took the effort of some executives of MSSN UNILAG to shield him from the crowd and grant him a temporary assylum. Definitely, If Prof. Bello had dare addressed the crowd, a worse senario could have happened. Students are ever known to be reactive rather than proactive in situations like this and perhaps that accounts for the shameful exurberance displayed by some of the protesters (as alleged) by the University and infact that has worsen the matters to the present state.
Nevertheless, it is clear without economising the (has done by Dr. Karo and the University with Its publication) the management is largely at fault. There are many cockroaches in the management’s cupboard and fain would they go at war with the students for exposing such cockroaches. The monopoly on UNILAG water is a confirm extortion legacy of the University. It is an untenable excuse that such monopoly is necessary to guaranty the safe health of the students. The University is not NAFDAC charged with the task of administring and controling food and drugs. If that was to be the case, then the University should be producing every other product used by students on campus “so as to guaranty their safe health”. There are several other extortion legacies of the University. Sellers on campus for example usuallly complain of exhorberant fee charged by the University management and of course they had no option than to sell items to students at exhorberant prices.
Even though there are elements of youthful exurberance and possible hijack by “masked men” as alleged by the University, the students are not silly with the protest. The University has all it takes to have completely solved the problems of water, light and others raised by the students before it deteriorate to the point where they could no longer bear the hardship. The University should accept Its fault and stop covering up by maligning students with unnecessary accusations and shirking away from issues at hand.

The shut down of the University or blame game between the management and the students is not the ultimate solution. Let each party identify and accept Its fault. The management should learn to attend to pressing issues affecting students generally on campus and not suppressing them until explosion. Students also need be proactive and not too over reactive in the fight for their “rights”. It is totally unacceptable, unjustifiable and utter disrespect typical of hooligans (and not students) to beat any staff all in the name of fighting for students’ right.

The aluta widefire that started from the University of first Choice has spread to UNIPORT and AAU with the same indefinite shut down of the schools, only God knows how many other Universities would follow suit. This is not the best time for such in the nation. Let the University of Lagos authority convoke a congress including all student leaders and members of ULSU electoral College for dialogue and settle things amicably before things go beyond repair. Let each party embrace peace and return from the war front before the aluta widefire spread accross the entire nation and before it metamorphose into students’ revolution. The University of Lagos has long been revered for its dignity and serenity, let no misunderstanding between the students and the management shatter this hard earned reputation.

Long live University of Lagos, long live Nigeria!

Yussuf Ayodele, graduate, Chemical Engineering, University of Lagos.