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Students


11 April 2016

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UNILAG students protest poor welfare conditions and high cost of living

Comrades Julius Samuel (Prakash) and Ilesanmi Samson (samkol), ERC UNILAG branch coordinator and mobilization officer respectively.

On Wednesday, April 6 2016, the University of Lagos students led by the students' union leaders started a crucial peaceful protest to decry the management's obvious nonchalance and uncaring attitude towards the precarious and terrible living conditions on campus.

The protest lasted 3 days with the authorities announcing closure of the campus on Friday April 8. Students were given just a few hours to pack up and leave. When students insisted they were not leaving, heavily armed police were brought in to effect the closure and throw students out of their hostels.

The protest did not come as a surprise to us in the Education Rights Campaign (ERC). At the beginning of the session, the ERC University of Lagos branch had circulated a leaflet where we pointed to the terrible welfare conditions and high cost of living as time bombs that could ignite crises. Particularly since resumption of this session, students have been forced to live and learn under terrible conditions. Hence, it is our position that the protest is long overdue.

Indeed it was the huge dissatisfaction with the state of things expressed by mass of students through various means that pressured the union leadership which often does not want to clash with the authorities to take action. A few weeks ago, pre-medical students who were prevented from crossing over to the university college of medicine when the authorities suddenly changed the academic requirements protested. All the union gave the students was a weak support apparently to avoid a clash with the authorities. But as it is often said, the objective condition exerts a far greater influence on events or historical development than the inactions of liberal and rightwing union leaders.

Now the same union leaders now had to mobilize students to protest essentially the same injustice done to the pre-medical students. One of the demands of last week protest was on the issue of academic injustice where the UNILAG authorities have now made it impossible for students to register for prerequisite courses they failed. This means they must now wait for an extra year to retake such failed courses!

Other issues that culminated in this protest are also not far-fetched. These welfare issues range from academic welfare, hostel welfare, scarcity and high cost of sachet water on campus and high cost of commodities on campus. The students overtime have been forced to endure this many poor conditions including epileptic power supply with no apparent reason from the management. Instead the students were told that since poor power supply is a national issue, that they do not have any reason to protest or better still, they should go to Abuja or Aso rock and complain to Buhari.

We in the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) condemn in strongest term the management's obvious lack of concern to these issues affecting students. It is no longer news that the university of Lagos campus, even before the national increase in prices of food items and other commodities, is the most expensive in Nigeria among federal universities as a result of indiscriminate hike in the prices of foodstuffs and commodities on campus. Some of the vendors have taken advantage of inflation and economic hardship to impose their own prices on the students. One of the excuses of the vendors is that they pay enormously rent to the University a fraction of which they must pass on to students.

Sachet water popularly called pure water is now a priced item on campus. The unilag ventures concerned with the commercial production of sachet water because of the monopoly they enjoy have turned themselves to Oracles, deciding when to produce and when not to produce. It is regrettable that till this moment, the management has not given us reasons for the unfortunate turn of events on campus. The scarcity of pure water has forced the students' union leaders risking their lives in the middle of the night to go and buy pure water bags, on behalf of students, at cheaper price from vendors outside the University. We in the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) are concerned as to why there should be an increase in the price of pure water from #5 to #10 without a corresponding increase in the price of table water. The generality of the mass of Nigeria students should also be asking this question.

Power outage on campus has made life very unbearable and difficult for students on campus. Inadequate numbers of generators for electricity supply is inexcusable. While we in the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) view with suspicion the claim by the management to be repairing the generators, we are also quick to add that the students must not be carried away with this excuse. Yes, it is true that poor electricity supply is a national issue. However UNILAG has provision for four diesel-powered generators that could provide relief when supply from PHCN is irregular. Curiously, only 2 of these generators are actually on ground. The question students are asking therefore is for the Unilag authorities to explain where the other 2 generators are and while they are not on ground.

The management has not in any way informed the students formally their plans to remedy the situation. This to us is a total disregard and abuse to the social and academic welfarism of the students. No student can be expected to endure, let alone write examinations under such horrible conditions.

It is our position in the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) that is most callous and inhuman for the university management to ignore the cries of students. Instead of finding ways to peacefully resolve issues with the students, the University management chose to close down the university on Friday 8 April 2016. Early on Friday morning, a contingent of heavily armed police men invaded the campus to throw students out of their hostels. This was after the students' union president and speaker were briefly arrested and detained by the police at the campus gate. Furious at the invasion and the arrest, students resisted the police en masse. To prevent things degenerating, the police had to retreat out of the University. They subsequently stationed their vehicles and men few metres from the University gate.

The bravery displayed by UNILAG students is impressive. It shows the beginning of growth of radical consciousness in the university since the Students Union was restored few years ago following a decade of proscription.

Unilag ERC comrades intervened in the protest. We were able to sell 2 Socialist Democracy (SD) papers and made 3 contacts who have expressed interest in joining the ERC.

Despite the closure, the struggle must go on. The extensive media attention the protest has gained must be utilized to highlight and aggregate all of the issues all categories of UNILAG students face. The ERC presents the following concrete demands before the University of Lagos Students Union (ULSU) around which we think the struggle should be waged:

(1) Immediate reopening of UNILAG.

(2) No student and union leaders must be victimized for participating in the peaceful protest.

(3) Provision of more generators on campus to ensure electricity supply during outages from Eko Electric company. Workers and students of Unilag must also initiate and join struggles against poor electricity supply and electricity tariff hike breaking out nationwide.

(4) For an end to cash and carry education. We demand that all those who need to re-register pre-requisite courses they failed be allowed to do so without necessarily having to wait an extra year.

(5) In the same vein, we demand an end to all academic injustice. The Unilag pre-medical students must be allowed to cross over to the University College of Medicine.

(6) We say no to high cost of living. For drastic reduction in the prices of all items on campus. Rents on shops must be drastically reduced as well. For a democratic committee to be set up made up of representatives of students and staff unions, vendors, transport union/associations and management officials to regularly review prices of all items sold on campus and enforce compliance.

(7) For the monopoly of UNILAG water company to be broken. All other producers of pure (sachet) water to have same right and access as Unilag pure water company to supply Unilag market

(8) For a democratic probe committee made up of representatives of students, staff unions and alumni to investigate the where-about of the 2 remaining diesel-powered generators and why despite hundreds of millions that accrue to the University of Lagos, the Prof. Rahman Bello-led management of the University of Lagos is unable to address the poor living and studying conditions on campus.

(9) Immediate renovation of hostels, improvement in the conditions of toilets, bathrooms and water supply to the hostels. We demand more public hostels to be built to eradicate squatting and overcrowding.

(10) Proper funding of UNILAG by the federal government and democratic management of the University.