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UNILAG students denied peaceful protest

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By Mercy Kelani

School management increases fees by over 500% — #FEESMUSTFALL.

In July, 2023, the management of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) increased the school fees of students from N19,500 to N190,250 for medicine; N140,250 for courses that require laboratories; and N100,750 for courses that do not require laboratories. Hostel fee was also increased from N25,000 to N120,000. The school management defended the rise in fees by blaming “prevailing economic realities”. Prior to the hike in fees, a reliable source asserted that some students were usually unable to pay their N19,500 fees themselves and depend on their faculty presidents to help them out.

With the current proposed fee by the school management, students of UNILAG are expected to pay over 500 percent of the previous amount of their school fees. Given the current economic state of Nigeria and the high cost of living, many students and their families do not have three square meals per day. As a result, a massive percentage of the school’s undergraduates have sunk into depression out of fear of having to drop out of the institution. However, some of them had their hopes rekindled, with the belief that exercising their rights to a peaceful protest will enhance a reconsideration of this decision.

A 300-level student narrates his ordeal during the protest.

On September 6, 2023, some of the students of the public institution, with placards raised high in the sky, convened at the University’s junction to make their plight known through a peaceful protest, under the hashtag #FEESMUSTFALL. In a virtual interview conducted after the protest, a 300-level student of the institution, Kehinde Folorunsho, who also joined in the protest said “The protest started with less than 50 students who convened at the T-junction of UNILAG road at 8:30am. An array of police officers were fully armed and were already on guard in a column lengthening from our front down to the school gate. As we began our morale songs of the ALUTA fraternity, more cops were deployed for God knows what. A Black Maria prided its size in front of us. That was when we knew they were going to stop our marching on to the gate.”

Delegates of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), including Comrade Giwa Temitope, Comrade Philip Olatinwo and the popular journalist-activist, Femi Adeyeye — who was rusticated by UNILAG for five years for leading a protest that concerns students’ welfare in 2016 — also joined in the protest. Folorunsho had said in the interview that one of the policemen had walked up to address them, asking whether or not they are aware that the school is not in session, of which they answered in the affirmative.

Police officers released tear gas on peaceful protesters.

Furthermore, Folorunsho asserted that “In less than a minute, around past 9:00am, we saw his gesture to his men and one of them quickly unlatched the bars of the Black Maria; another seized a student. As we tried to release the student from his grip, another fired the first shot at which we all moved back. But upon seeing their aggression we fled, Femi Adeyeye approached them even in the heat of the violence. They released tear gas on us, plunging that area into a chaos and we ran for our dear lives to a safe place.” This police violence made students relive a scenario similar to that of the ENDSARS protest on October 20, 2020, when armed officers opened fire on peaceful and unarmed protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate.

Subsequently, it was realized that Femi Adeyeye and Philip Olatinwo had been arrested and put in the police van during the tear gas commotion. Upon the re-convergence of the protesters at the gate, journalists stormed the venue to broadcast the protest live and air their plights. It was during this period that the Chairman of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) arrived, declaring the stand of the protesting students and the association, while requesting that fees are returned to their previous prices.

Management should attend to the needs of its students.

Worthy of note is the fact that the University dissolved its Student Union Constitution in April, 2016, after a protest for basic amenities, which led to immediate closure of the school. Therefore, it is necessary that the school management reinstates the University of Lagos Student Union (ULSU) Legislative Council to ensure that the needs of students are better relayed to the management. More importantly, students of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) implored the management of the school to return the fees to its previous amount to enable achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 4 “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

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