As a University of Lagos (Unilag) student and a fellow student in Nigeria, I found myself caught up in the recent wave of protests that rocked our campus. The cause of this uproar was the sudden and substantial increase in tuition fees, a move that sent shockwaves through our close-knit community. I’d like to share my thoughts on this matter, bearing in mind that I’m no expert, just a student trying to make sense of it all.
Firstly, let me be clear about something – the protests were far from violent or destructive. They were an outcry, a plea to be heard. It was disheartening to witness the response from authorities, with tear gas and rubber bullets being used against them. This response only underscored the sad reality that freedom of speech in our country often hangs in the balance. The sheer number of police deployed to quell a peaceful protest left them bewildered, especially when those same forces are often absent when they face real dangers, like the recent incident where a fellow student lost their life to robbers on the same road.
Secondly, there’s the matter of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that students signed against protests. Rules are essential for maintaining peace and order, but it’s vital to acknowledge that students have adhered to this MOU since 2016. The fact that they felt compelled to break it now speaks volumes about how deeply hurt they were by the fee hike.
Lastly, let’s talk about the fee increase itself. It would have made more sense if the new fees were implemented for incoming students, who could decide whether or not they wanted to attend Unilag with full knowledge of the costs. However, increasing fees for current students, some of whom are already struggling to pay the previous fees of 16,000 and 19,000, is nothing short of appalling. It’s important to remember that not all students flaunt the latest gadgets and fashion; there’s a significant percentage who are barely scraping by, paying their way through school with sheer determination.
In conclusion, the Unilag fee hike protest was a call for fairness, a plea for understanding. They, the students, were not out to cause chaos; they simply wanted their voices to be heard. The heavy-handed response from authorities only served to highlight the challenges they face in asserting their rights to free speech and education affordability. Perhaps, if the university had engaged with them at the school’s gate and addressed their concerns, it would have shown that they genuinely cared about their students’ well-being, even if the fee hike remained in place. Ultimately, this protest was about fighting for their right to education and a brighter future, a right that should be accessible to all, not just a privileged few.
By Jessica Ofuoma