D r. Goodluck Jonathan’s story of growing up without as much as wearing shoes remains inspirational after he overcame poverty, gained admission into the university and ended up as the first Nigerian president to have studied for and earned a Ph.D. Today, that chapter appears to have been blocked; university education is no longer affordable. Only the children of billionaires can shoulder the fees charged in most of our tertiary institutions. It is also unfortunate that mission universities are faring worse in this regard than those owned by the government.
In what looks like a rat race, universities are united in making life difficult for already overstretched parents. Many students will be unable to continue with their studies following a new regime of fees that cuts across state and federal institutions. The University of Nigeria, Nsukka, threw its undergraduates into mourning when fees were increased by 100 per cent. The University of Jos (Unijos) heightened the tempo with a 150 per cent hike.
Ambrose Ali University (AAU), Ekpoma took it a squeeze higher by slamming a 300 per cent torture on students. It is quite difficult to accept the jump from N185, 000 to N741, 000 for Law students, at AAU. At the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, fresh students of Arts and Law are expected to pay the sum of N151, 200 per session while returning students will pay N89, 200 instead of the N20, 100 paid last session.
The fees are tougher on the sciences. And this is a country that makes so much noise about science and technology, with a big ministry collecting funds for satellite exploration and communications. This ugly development should disturb the sleep of those in government. At the University of Benin (Uniben), science students are expected to cough out N190, 000 per session.
A far departure from the N73, 000 paid in the previous session. Non- science students who paid N69, 000 will now have to pay N170, 000. This new hike has polluted the environment. Students and parents are as pained as the larger society. University administrators are readily available to defend themselves. The federal and respective state governments have not shown enough concern.
There have been meetings, though, initiated by parents and students. At Unijos, they got something below the initial 150 per cent. Students of the University of Lagos (Unilag) pushed for dialogue or protest. Their demands were met halfway. The Vice Chancellors have a handy excuse which is all about the comatose economy. Prof. Abdulrasheed Na’Allah of the University of Abuja blamed the new fees on increasing cost of maintaining the institution.
Prof. Folashade Ogunsola of Unilag was quick to announce that the monthly N11 million allocations from the Federal Ministry of Education amounted to nothing. It is a shame that in a country where funds are looted brazenly by top government officials, our leaders find it convenient to blame the economy for all our woes. The people who squander our commonwealth are not having sleepless nights because their children are studying overseas. Politicians are quick to blame the military for all the rot in the society.
They should sit down and think about how they have vandalised the nation. Under Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, top government officials had their wards in Nigerian universities. Gen. Sani Abacha also did not send any of his children overseas. It was inconceivable in the days of the military for a governor to send the overseas convocation photographs of family members to the media for public presentation.
The new normal is that even Special Assistants and local government chairmen proudly display their achievements of training children abroad. In the past, children of the poor benefited from opportunities offered by higher education. Those who could not afford the fees got support from the government through scholarships. The story has changed now.
The rich have hijacked all the opportunities. There is a curious angle to the present hike. It came shortly after the Federal Government sounded the idea of the return of Student Loan. The scheme has not taken off but the aim is being punctured before time. Government must think straight. This is not the time to have university drop-outs. They will be forced to join the various terrorist groups threatening the existence of the country.
It is totally embarrassing that some of the people who benefited from Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s free education and many who were trained by religious missions are killing education through outrageous fees in government and private universities.