LASU Management Harsh — Students Union President:
Following the recent violent protest by students of Lagos State University against the school management, the President-elect of the students union, Yusuf Nurudeen, tells TOBI AWORINDE why students went on the rampage
What caused the protest by students against the school management on Wednesday, January 22?
The protest was started by students who were prevented from writing their exams because they had not registered. They constitute nine per cent of the total number of students on campus; that is, a total number of 1,292. Though, they had paid their school fees, they couldn’t register.
Why couldn’t they register?
Online registration was stopped after the school management opened the university portal for a month, between June 3 and July 4, last year. Some could not register because of the (Academic Staff Union of Universities) strike (which began July 2). Some of the students could not access the portal. They had to leave the campus.
Our exams were supposed to start on Thursday, January 23; but the affected students stopped the exams. Before the exams, the affected students had complained and pleaded for time to register. Although, newly elected students union, had not been inaugurated, we had to take up the matter immediately. We went to the vice-chancellor and pleaded with him. The Interim President of the student union, Miss Mojirade Hassan, met the VC. She pleaded with him, but the VC said he was ready for anything that the aggrieved students would do.
Was the failure of the students to register the only cause of the protest?
That’s the main thing. But the underlying fact is that the new school fees prevented them from paying their school fees on time.
What was the fee before the increment?
The school fees before the increment in 2011 was N25,000. Then the Lagos State Government increased it to N250,000 for Law; N350,000 for Medicine; N193,000 for Education; N238,000 for the School of Communication and Transport, and the others within that range. So, we had over 1,000 per cent increase in school fees from 2011.
Again, we were used to paying 70 per cent in the first semester, then 30 per cent in the second semester. But the management changed it to 70 per cent as first instalment, and 30 per cent within one month. That is one of the problems. As a result of the increase in school fees and the new 70-30 instalment payment arrangement, they couldn’t afford to pay the school fees on time.
What finally triggered the protest?
On the day of the protest, Wednesday, January 22, the students came out on a peaceful demonstration. They walked to the office of the VC with placards at around 12 pm, presenting their grievances. But the VC pushed one of the students, who knelt before him to beg, as he moved towards his car. He ordered his driver to drive away and in the process, knocked down one of the students – a girl in 200-level Mass Communication.
The VC’s car knocked her down?
Yes, the driver drove out recklessly and one of the students was hit by the VC’s car. But the VC himself had used his leg to pave way, pushing a girl who was kneeling down before him to beg for the portal to be opened. That infuriated the students, and they reconvened on the second day, January 23, the day our exams were supposed to commence. In fact, the exams had commenced at 8:30 am; I, being a 300-level student of Law, was to sit for a paper that day. In fact, I was in the examination hall.
The affected students gathered around the Master’s of Business Administration Hall at about 6 am. But the campus marshal, as directed by the university management, dispersed them, shooting sporadically into the air. After they had been dispersed, they regrouped at the Faculty of Management Sciences. The VC did not address them. They were further agitated by the fact that he didn’t still address them. So, they remobilised at MBA Hall, disrupting the exam going on there. The students also entered the Faculty of Law, where I was sitting for my first paper. They dispersed everybody, shouting and destroying the main entrance door to the faculty. But the VC came back. When he did, the students were further infuriated; it was as if he was daring them. Enraged, the students went to his office. It was when he got there that the protest escalated. They destroyed his vehicle. They attacked him in his office. In fact, the VC was made to leave the campus in police uniform, inside an armoured car. Policemen reinforced and came back to campus to disperse the students with teargas.
When everything was over, we recorded about 30 casualties. Some students were bleeding seriously, a few almost died.
How has the appearance of students and the school management before the Lagos State House of Assembly helped to resolve the conflict?
On Friday, January 24, we were summoned to appear before the state House of Assembly. During the proceedings, six major resolutions were passed: one, the portal should be reopened for 48 hours; two, the school campus should be reopened at a date to be decided by the school management; three, the date for resumption should be after all of the renovation has been carried out on campus; four, the 1,292 affected students should pay damages, which will be determined by the university; five, there shouldn’t be any form of victimisation, either directly or indirectly.
The acting president of the students union reportedly said hoodlums hijacked the protest. How true is this?
That is true. When the students were protesting, they left for the main gate. They barricaded the road for some time. And within that period, we discovered there were some people among them, wearing masks. Those were the people, who we suspected, were hoodlums. And they were the ones who led the destruction of all the property in the VC’s office. Ordinarily, our students are not inclined to violence. This was not the first time we were protesting on campus. In 2011, we had a very massive protest over the increase of school fees, and nothing was destroyed.
What should the school authorities do to ensure lasting peace?
Our demand is that no student should be victimised. As a union, our constitution provides in section 3, subsection 1, paragraph 3, that no student of the school or member of the union must be victimised. We will stand against victimisation as a union. Also, none of the students captured on camera by the management during the protest should be expelled, and no student should pay any fine. No one should pay a fine, because, from 100 level, everyone pays a caution fee, which literally means damages. What have they done with the money paid for damages?
How much is the caution fee?
The fee is N10,000. Each student in the protest has already paid damages. We’ve calculated up to more than N40m accrued by the university from the students. What has the university used all this money for? All we’re saying is they are not liable to pay any damages. Instead, the university management should apologise to us in national newspapers for being draconian and adamant on issues affecting the students.
How would I pay my school fees, and you tell me I can’t register? As of that Wednesday, the school still had students paying their school fees, yet the school denied them access to the registration portal. These are some of the things that infuriated the students. Our university management is overzealous about making monetary benefits from anything that happens on the university campus. These are some of the things that we are standing against.