By Victor Chijioke
On Thursday, students at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) made their way to the sitting space beside the university’s senate building to continue their protest against the hike in fees.
Called Love Garden, the seating area was the meeting point for the students’ third protest in eight days, and part of a previously announced “protest-a-thon” organized by the Students Solidarity Against Fee Hike Group (SSAFHG) in conjunction with the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS).
While the second protest held on Wednesday, the day before, prematurely came to an end due to the low turnout of students, an even fewer number of students started protesting at around 11:30 a.m. and called the attention of bystanders and onlookers to their demands.
For some minutes, they bemoaned the hike in fees in the presence of police and university security men, who came to ensure law and order, and that there was no disturbance in the vicinity of the then about-to-be-held meeting involving NANS, faculty presidents, and members of the university management.
While the students were contemplating the policemen’s request that they leave, the Dean of Student Affairs (DSA), Professor Musa Obalola, took the opportunity to address students.
When the protesters accused him of not having addressed them directly all the while of the protests so far, and of doubting their identity as protesting students of UNILAG, calling them “people masquerading as students”, he said that he has been consulting with the faculty presidents, whom he perceived as legitimate authority in this regard.
He also said that he believed that a number of protesters were students from other schools rather than UNILAG students. However, ‘Femi Adeyeye, the convener of SSAFHG retorted, capturing the viewpoints of the generality of protesters present, when he said “education is a public interest matter”.
The protesting students used the opportunity of the DSA’s presence to inform him directly of their cardinal demands, insisting that the student leaders billed to be spoken to did not constitute a perfectly representative group of stakeholders interested in the matter, such as staff unions like the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and parents.
They also insisted that, based on the 10-man student-delegation meeting they had with the management on August 8, part of the prerequisites for a fruitful dialogue would include a total reversal of the fees pending the time that a careful scrutinization of the university’s finances can be done.
They say this scrutinization process will make it clear to all by how much the university needs to increase its fees and for what.
Recall that the University management said in a recent press statement that it was open to dialogue. This call for dialogue led to the meeting with NANS representatives and faculty presidents completed on Thursday, September 14, after the protesters were escorted out of the Love Garden by the police.