‘UNILAG Students’ Protest, Attempt to Truncate Academic Calendar’

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Funmi Ogundare

The management of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) has expressed disappointment over the disruptive two-day protest organised by Students’ Union of the institution (ULSU) led its by its President, Mr. Muhammed Olaniyan on April 6 and 7, 2016, saying that the move was to truncate the institution’s academic calendar.

This had made the senate of the university to suspend all academic activities and close down the hostels from Friday, April 8, to avoid further breakdown of law and order.

The Registrar and Secretary to Senate, Dr. FolasadeIpayein a statement, said the management found it hard to comprehend the motivation for the protests, adding that in carrying out the protests, student leaders had put the institution under siege for over 48 hours when they locked its two gates.

“This act caused untold hardship to families and pupils of the nursery, primary and secondary schools on campus who, after closing for the day, were prevented from going to their homes until about 11.00 pm. More alarming is the fact that the protesting students invaded the UNILAG Ventures and water production factory to beat up the staff and cart away countless number of bottled water packets.

“The university senate, in an emergency meeting to deliberate on the crisis, arranged for a delegation of senate comprising all serving and former deans present, led by the highly revered Prof. Akin Oyebode, to persuade the student officials to suspend the protest and opt for dialogue. Rather, the protesters, some of who surprisingly wore masks, threw empty water bottles and other objects at the delegation and failed to listen to any appeal for negotiation.

“For the first time in the history of the university, students’ protest extended until very late in the night; indeed, masked protesters surrounded the university council chamber, where the vice-chancellor was presiding over the meeting of the senate until well after 10pm.”

She recalled that in the last seven months, there have been occasional protests organised by ULSU which were contained by dialogue, none of which led to the closure of the institution, adding that during the recent protest, vehicles were hijacked by identifiable ULSU officials and driven recklessly all over the campus thereby endangering the lives of members of the community.

“Classes were violently disrupted in various faculties by identifiable ULSU officials, who harassed lecturers and also tore up students’ scripts in places where tests were being administered such as in the Faculties of Business Administration and Science. It is a fact that some of the ULSU officials are being investigated for numerous misdemeanors.It is not far-fetched to see why this minuscule group teamed up with some others who were recently expelled for forgery and others facing police investigation for suspected homicide, to forment trouble and disrupt the academic calendar.”

Ipaye said the union claimed that they were denied access to the VC, adding that contrary to their claims, the president had requested for an informal meeting held in the VC’s office on April 1, between 5.30pm and 7.30 pm.

“This informal discussion was at the behest of the ULSU president, who met the vice-chancellor in company of two other members of ULSU executive. The meeting discussed various issues. However, contrary to issues discussed, ULSU sent two letters dated April 1 and 4, 2016 respectively on the following: a quest for a new and befitting university main gate, the purchase of a new bus for ULSU, the directive to the executive of cab operators to ‘abdicate office’ immediately.”

The registrar maintained that a cursory look at the reasons advanced by the union for the protest clearly indicated that many of the issues were spontaneously manufactured to justify the premeditated move to truncate the university’s academic calendar.

She said the senate has directed the investigation of the immediate and remote causes of the incident and that a committee has been set up for this purpose to come up with appropriate recommendations to avoid a recurrence.
Meanwhile, the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) has called for the immediate re-opening of the institution, saying that it is in full support of the protest.

The National Coordinator, Mr. Taiwo Soweto and Secretary, Mr. Michael Ogundele in a statement said: “We fully back the students’ union for organising the protest which in our opinion was long overdue. We call on the authorities of UNILAG to immediately meet all demands and re-open the university so that the students can prepare for the first semester examination.”

The group said the protest occurred over legitimate grievances on such issues as high cost of food and other items on campus, poor electricity and water supply, poor welfare conditions especially in the hostels, issues of academic injustice and arbitrariness of the administration of the vice-chancellor.

“There is no doubt that UNILAG has the most expensive cost of living among all federal universities in Nigeria. Mind you, this situation is not occasioned by the recent general increase in prices of goods and services as a result of forex crises and fuel scarcity, although worsened by them. This is a situation which goes back many years and it is a culmination of the ‘cash and carry’ policy of the university administration which essentially takes education as business and students as customers.

“This practically means students are made fair game to all kinds of exploitation first by the university authorities through high fees and sundry charges and then by the vendors on campus who are charged by the university’s obscene amounts for the rent of their shops and are given the free hand to pass the costs onto poor students.”