In This interview with NAIJA CENTER NEWS, The Public Relations Officer (PRO) to the University of Benin (UNIBEN), Edo State, Mr. Michael Osasuyi explained the current situation that led to students protest and subsequent shutdown of the campus by the management.
He also explained the arrest of the SUG PRO.
By Ehi Ekhator
There was a speculation that the school management ordered the arrest of the Student Union Government PRO, Mr. Goodnews Ibade, how true is that?
The PRO arrest is not in connection with the school. He had an issue with a cabman so it was just a private matter. I am even trying to reach out to the person that posted it online that they should stop misinforming the public. He assaulted the cabman and removed the plate number, so they ended up at the police station.
Tell us about the new fees introduced.
The school fee was not increased. The hostel charges were increased. The school charges: the N12, 400 for non-science students and the 14,400 for science student are still what they pay. Where the increment came in was for the 100 level students that are coming in. They are to pay the new fee introduced by the University. But those in 200 levels till final year, whether you are doing a six-year course or five-year course, from 200 levels, they are to pay the old regime of the fee.
But according to the information, other fees including the administration fees were increased. Why were the fees introduced at all?
Yes, but for only 100 level. The 100 level students are to start paying the new fees and not for 200 level to final year.
What was the purpose of the increment?
It is not the recession, the reasons are so glaring that the university can no longer cope with the funds available. The University pays light bills running into million, they get diesel monthly running into millions and every other overhead cost, and all of these come down to the internally generated revenue.
UNIBEN over time has tried to see how the school can be sustained. So, that is why the fees were introduced. Please note that tuition in every federal University is free so they have to pay other services rendered in the University.
The Hostel issues, the University has some blocks of hostels where students pay but because it is difficult to put things together, they complained about maintenance, those working there also have their own issues, so to be able to meet up these demands, the hostels do not have up to 4000 beds and the population of the University is over 40,000 therefore, the hostel is purely optional. When they are asked to pay hostel charges, the University made it clear that it is optional. We don’t say because we want to keep certain things, or we want the students to stay and then maintenances are not carried out, amenities are not reinforced, so to do all of that, the introduction of this new fee came in.
So where does the Student Union Government come in?
Before this increase, it was the last regime, the University governing council set up a committee to visit first generation universities in Nigeria to ascertain their fees, to see how they cope, to see what they pay and also how the University of Benin can take a cue so as to be able to sustain itself and to remain the best.
Those who were members of the committee were the heads council members and heads of various unions including the head of the Student union. The terms of Reference of the committee was to go round various federal universities, secondly, recommend to the council on what they feel should be the new fee to be charged in the University.
So, you are saying the Student union President was part of this council?
No, the past President was on the committee. But when this regime came onboard, on the day they were going to finalized their meeting, the current president was already president-elect, so he was invited to the meeting and he was briefed on what had transpired. After the briefing, the committee submitted their report to the council; the council ratified and gave the approval. Surprisingly, the students came up with “the hostel was high and needed reduction in it”. They met management and they were told that the council had already given an approval and that it is beyond management and whatever management would do is to see how the message will be communicated back to the council.
But the current reality in Nigeria is such that the hostel charges have not been increased for over 7-8years, and looking at the economic situation in the country, if they were increasing the fee yearly, it would have been more than N20,000 and when they increased this year, the fee won’t be increased for another 5-6years to come. The University tries as much as possible not to increase fees at intervals. When it is done, they try to stick with that whether convenient or not. Even when this N8000 they were paying over 8-9years ago, the school had to bear it.
So when they made their agitation, the council chairman came around for convocation and the SUG President met with the Council Chairman on Wednesday and he (Chairman) assured him that his message had got to him and assured that after convocation, the issue would be looked into and see what can be done because their children are also students of the institution and that at the end, they (students) should not also sit down and watch the University folds up because nobody was ready to do the needful.
So, the SUG president brought a letter that the council should look into it on Wednesday afternoon and surprisingly on Thursday morning, they started protesting. It was much uncalled for, so the management tried to talk with them, they reminded them that their letter was already with the Council and they should be patient and see what kind of response they get before taking the law into their hands but they were not ready to listen. Because the world we are in now is a social media world where they post anything they like, they started posting whatever they like, they even went to our local campus radio and say things that, ordinarily, are not supposed to be said. People came for verification and realized that they were blowing things out of proportion; they were trying to garner the public sympathy
But the protest was peaceful, why did the management take such a drastic decision to shut down the school?
A day before the protest, someone was shut in the neighbouring community, Ekosodi, and the protest came on Thursday morning and not to join issues, the University in its wisdom tried as much as possible to save the innocent students who may not be aware of the security situation, that was why they were asked to go back home.
The decision was the Senate’s decision. They met and resolved that they should not begin to endanger the lives of the students knowing the problem around campus.
When do you think the students will be called back?
That is also on Senate, it will be meeting next week and they will decide on the resumption date. However, activities are ongoing in the University. Medical students are having their lectures; postgraduate students are all in school. The 100 levels, the new intakes have started their online clearance, so the university is still running, only the physical appearance of the returning students remaining.
So, would there be any expected reduction in what led to the protest?
As I speak, I don’t have information as regards that. If they had waited for the council to meet, there would have been a position. Right now, they are still to pay the new charges.