"n a 21st century with all the technological advancement, it is worrisome that our universities are not taking advantage in establishing easy, fast and effective communication links between students and the authorities."
|Aluzu Ebikebuba Augustine|
On the 26th day of September 2016, the management of Ekiti State University College of Medicine reportedly ordered students to vacate the institution following a recent protest over fees hike. The school management who made this known on Monday in a memo noted that all academics activities have been suspended for two weeks.
It will be recalled that students of Ekiti State University College of Medicine staged a peaceful protest on the 15th of September 2016, after a 200% increase in fees was announced. This was followed by a memorandum outlining some punitive measures taken by the institution.
All medical students of Ekiti State University were suspended indefinitely.
All suspended students must come with a letter of apology and be ready to sign an undertaking for good behaviour.
It also added that
Parent/Guardian of all medical students should be invited for a meeting with the University Management on a decided date.
The current happenings in our tertiary institutions has left much to be desired. Many schools are currently shutdown while students gets arrested, prosecuted and eventually rusticated; a concomitant of misunderstanding between management and students. In some extreme cases, there have been loss of lives. Schools in Nigeria that have recently tasted the bane of such face-off include Niger Delta University (NDU), University of Uyo (UNIUYO), Afe Babalola University Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD), University of Port-Harcourt (UNIPORT), University of Lagos (UNILAG), University of Ibadan (UI) and very recently Ekiti State University (EKSU) among others. There is none of these schools mentioned above which did not witness either the school being shut down, students got arrested, disciplinary action was taken against students and surcharge was imposed on students, or loss of lives and property in Nigeria due to students protest.
In some schools, protest were peaceful, while others were accompanied with un-wanton destruction of facilities. Some have accused the institutions of provoking the destruction, others accuse the students of taking out their frustration on such facilities. There are various ways in which students make their dissatisfaction with the system known, this include but not limited to boycott of lectures, various forms of confrontational acts, including the use of force which may lead to violence and destructions of properties. Others take to maximise the power of social media such as Twitter and Facebook.
However, it is painful to note that regardless of the alternative methods explored by students to air their grievances, the consequences are grievous. It would be recalled that recently a certain UNILAG student, Mr Olorunfemi Adeyeye was rusticated for adopting the most passive approach in venting his frustration with his school authority by publishing an article online.
The geometric rise of students’ unrest in our higher institutions of learning should be a source of concern to all well-meaning Nigerians. This has become a social malady that is fast nibbling on the amount of time we spend worrying about other issues making daily reportages. This is not in any way downplaying the 'why' of the protest as the student community remain the fulcrum of intellectual arm in our society. The protest is believed to be aimed at an ideal of social condition, that is why instead of devising ways to stop students protest by imposing punishment like rustication and expulsion of student from our tertiary institutions, we should be provoked to think of ways in which students can vent their frustration against the system more appropriately because criticism remains the major fuel that propel us to improve on a day to day basis.
All the tertiary institutions in Nigeria that have witnessed protests from its students that led to one consequence or the other was as a result of simple misunderstanding from management and students. Students of the schools raised genuine concerns about academic fraud, dilapidated school infrastructure, nefarious policies, indiscriminate increase in tuition fees, epileptic water and power supply, poor health facility to mention but a few before staging their protest. Some of such policies excludes the poor and underprivileged. Thus closing the doors of our institutions to those who want to study. In other words, access to education is commodified by the institutions.
It will not be out of place to state that the managers of our higher institutions by their actions have in most cases abuse the power and discretion of their offices. Thus, the need arise to have a critical look at the crisis management approach adopted by those managing our institutions and its effect on student movements and the society at large.
All over the world, protest is seen as the tool used by the oppressed and downtrodden to express their displeasure with certain issues in the system. The United Nations Human Rights Council recognises the right to protest as one of the fundamental rights of global citizens and therefore it is appalling that our Universities see protests as a threat rather than as a reminder to responsibility. It is worthy to note that none of our Universities have by their actions acknowledge the rights of student to peace protest. This oppressive and dictatorial approach is becoming a mainstay in our institutions. Thus, the baby is thrown away with the bath water and the root cause of the protest unattended to.
With all intent and purpose, the imposition of surcharge and rustication of students even when such protests are peaceful is aimed at intimidating students to forestall future occurrence. This is a very gross approach and unbefitting of the academia. The peace and conflict resolution professors can attest that engagement and effective communication remains the best solution in crisis management. Line managers including the head of departments and deans are in most cases culpable for their inaction before the grievances become full blown. In most cases, they are unavailable to listen to the students and hardly accessible.
In a 21st century with all the technological advancement, it is worrisome that our universities are not taking advantage in establishing easy, fast and effective communication links between students and the authorities.
What manner of graduates are we preparing for society? A student who has been punished by the University management for the simple act of protesting against perceived injustice will graduate into the society with the mentality that he will be punished harder if he attempts to call for accountability in public offices. Some commentators have argued that the stiff punitive measures against protest is school is necessary to serve as deterrence to others, it is instructive that we should be reminded about its resultant effect. Today, Nigeria is one of the most talent exporter in the world. There is no discipline you go to in any country that a Nigerian is not present. There is no gainsaying that this is another factor contributing to the bane of 'brain drain'.
It does not only cause brain drain but students incubate hatred for the society and takes it out on it by paying the system in its own coin if the opportunity arises. Such need may arise in holding leadership positions. Victimized students may see leadership as a means to an end. The idea of selfless service will be ablated from their inert consciousness. This will encourage corruption and society will eventually suffer for it.
Student activism shouldn't be a crime, it shouldn't be seen as a crime. Until this trend of taking grave actions against students is revised, people will still identify with the wrong notion in society that 'Every Loser is an Activist'.
Activism is not a crime. Activists are progressives. It is appalling that as a country we seem to abhor people with progressive minds. Our intellectuals should know better, that not everything can be achieved on the altar of coercion.
Now, to police brutality during these protest. I urge universities to create enabling environment. Environment in which students will be free from intimidation. The Nigerian Police Force should never be an option to quell protest in our Institutions of learning. If they should, they should be called in when there is need to. We must understand that the use of military in quelling unrest in our campuses fuels hatred and result to increased violence. Hence, we call for the demilitarization of our campuses.
It is sad that we have lost thousands of young people to 'trigger-happy' Police Officers in this country. When we talk of police brutality on campus, late Kingsley of UNIUYO, Peter Ofurum of UNIPORT among others readily comes to mind. These young promising Nigerians had their lives cut short by trigger-happy officers.
While there is need to encourage students to work in solidarity to put pressure on all sectors to contribute towards higher education, it is imperative that it is done in a non-violent manner. It is important to SAY NO TO VIOLENCE.
Management should bridge the gap between themselves and the students. There is need to engage and consult with students on issues they have raised. There is need for an open, transparent, consultative platform, free from harassment and intimation between management and students they serve. Until fundamental change occurs, the system cleared from all filthiness that hinders progress, we may never get it right. And we will keep churning out intellectually, morally and mentally weak graduates who lacks will to challenge the status quo in our society.
Aluzu Ebikebuna Augustine is a Human Rights Activist and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org