Separate from the awareness that the euphoria which heralded the epoch appointments of Professor Lillian Imuetinyan Salami, a home economist/nutritionist and former Dean of the Faculty of Education, as the second female vice-chancellor after Grace Alele Williams, and the 10th substantive vice-chancellor of the University of Benin, Edo State, Nigeria, has faded and jeer overtaken the cheers of expectation while fears has displaced reason -resulting in an entirely separate set of consequences – irrational hatred and division, I must say that the recent news report that the students of the University of Benin,(UNIBEN), Edo state, Nigeria, September 14, 2021, blocked Lagos-Benin highway in protest over imposition of, but now reversed N20,000 late registration charges by the school management, did not come to be as a surprise.
Rather, like the generality of Nigerians who earlier believed that the appointment of a new Vice Chancellor, a few years ago will usher in fresh breathe to, and save the students and their parents from financial emasculation, the recent protest convinced all that nothing has changed in the university’s love for visiting their students with unjust laws/policies. As we know, a just law is ‘a man-made code that squares with moral laws or the laws and uplifts human personalities, while an unjust law on the other hand is a code that is out of harmony with moral laws.’
This assertion is predicated on two separate but similar realities. First was a similar protest by students of the school dated Friday November 1, 2019, to register their grievances over the poor state of infrastructures and incessant fees charged by the school authorities. The second reason enjoys a link with the first(the 2019 protest) but stemmed from the content of my earlier intervention/ reaction to the appointment of Professor Lillian Imuetinyan Salami as the School’s new Vice Chancellor.
That was in 2019.
Aside from congratulating the new VC, the piece, which had as title; Tasks ahead of Professor Salami, the new VC of UNIBEN, highlighted how in recent time University of Benin have defined leaning too narrowly in a manner devoid of process and outcome fairness; got preoccupied with revenue generation without consideration to the students comfort or wellbeing; identify errors among students without beaming searchlight on internal occurrences. It concluded by reminding the new VC that if she does nothing about this, it simply means our youths, and the nation by extension is faced with a bleak future. Conversely, if she is able to correct the above challenges; it will be her most powerful accomplishment for earning new respect and emulation.
Presently, the impulse in the school particularly the recent protest and student’s description of the decision of the university management as harsh, as it did not take into consideration “the unfavorable economic situation in the country, explains that the institution is still characterized as and neck deep in Inordinate Circle of Fees and should be ready to Harvest from students baskets of Protest.
More than anything else, the present happening stands as emblematic prove that the school management is still unmindful of the fact that ‘if learning must persist, teachers must also look inward, reflect critically on their own behavior, and identify the ways they often advertently or inadvertently contribute to the institution’s problems and then change how they act, it more than anything else points to the fact that nothing has changed.
Admittedly, Nigerians and of course the global community particularly development professionals do not think that what the Federal Government is doing when it comes to perennial underfunding of public universities is the best way to encourage education in the country as such failures/failings and shortfalls daily impedes lecturers from carrying out scholarly researches, truncates academic calendar with strike actions, lace Nigerian universities with dilapidated and overstretched learning facilities with the universities producing graduates devoid of linkage with the manpower demand by the nation’s industrial sector. This partly explains the dilemma of public universities administrators.
But when one juxtaposes the above fact with the ongoing challenge particularly, the now reversed late registration charges; one will discover that if what happens in other universities is a challenge, that of the University of Benin is a crisis.
To support this claim, let’s listen to the Uniben VC as she talked about the reversal of the N20, 000 late registration charges; ‘’ It is important to mention that this reversal in position will not break the University of Benin. I fundamentally believe that there are very few decisions that are irreversible and this is definitely not one of them. At this time, the N20, 000 late fees is reversed and it is a closed case. “UNIBEN is resilient and we will continue to move forward with a strong conviction to ensure that the University reaches its full potential as a premier academic institution,” she added.
The above comment naturally elicits the following posers; if the school leadership knows that reversing such a position will not break the University of Benin, why did they come up with it in the first instance? If they(as they claim) are aware that UNIBEN is resilient and will continue to move forward with a strong conviction to ensure that the University reaches its full potential as a premier academic institution, why are they over burdening students with a circle of fees? Is the underfunding of tertiary institutions in Nigeria by the Federal Government Uniben-specific? If not, why are they in the habit of transferring such aggression to innocent students and their parents? Like the students noted, why is the school management not bringing into consideration “the unfavorable economic situation in the country before slamming N20, 000 late registration charges on the students? Why can’t they (Management) look for more civil/creative ways of generating income for the school without over burdening the students and their parents?
While answer(s) to the above is awaited from Uniben leadership, another argument by the VC that cannot hold water when faced with embarrassing fact is her statement that; “Early registration is critical for effective operations of the university; it provides insight into the students’ volume/demand and allows for smarter planning to ensure that we have enough staff, courses and funding supporting our students accordingly. It is important to note that in the past, other non-financial interventions in attempts to urge early registration have failed.
If that is the true position, it may again necessitate the question as to the logic/reason behind outrageous and out of order acceptance fees charged by the Uniben Management?
Take as another illustration, presently, new students pays about N63, 000.00 for Education, Management and Engineering faculties, while Medical students are made to cough out about Seventy Five thousand (N75, 000.00), only as acceptance fees. Comparatively, while UNIben charges the above, other Federal Universities such as; the University of Lagos (Unilag), Lagos, The Federal University of Petroleum and Resources (FUPRA), Warri, Delta state and the Federal University of Agriculture (FUUNAB), Abeokuta, Ogun State, receives amounts that are far low.
These are verifiable facts.
By this analysis, the UNIben’s clumsy and discomforting attitude to the fresh students is led bare. Against this backdrop, the question that, begs for an answer(s) is; how did UNIben arrive at the above fees in the first instance?
I hold the opinion that the university needs a new vision and students-friendly reforms and policies that will re-engineer quality and affordable education.
Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;email@example.com/08032725374.