By: Emmanuel Utibe
Slowly like a ticking timebomb tickly away slowly as the moment when it explodes draw near in the same way the first semester of the 2022/2023 academic session for the University of Ibadan has slowly ticked away and now, we find ourselves in the 9th week even as the barrage of test that now encompasses us reminds us of how near we are to the exam period.
Usually, by this period we find ourselves in the semester, we would all ordinarily expect that our minds would be solely cast on our books and tackling our academics in order that we come out on top of it through the tests and exams so that we would not run the risk of being “eroded” or “tsunamized”. But then as students of UI in this period we still find our minds been bothered by some things which ordinarily should be laid to rest already seeing as it is the 9th week.
Now you may be wondering what is this thing I’m referring to, well its nothing other than the newly introduced “studio fees” and “laboratory fees”.
In this article we would want to set our minds to consider the issue of the newly introduced “studio and laboratory fees”, which are more or less extra faculty levies being whitewashed, particularly at the way the Students’ Union has so far handled this particular issue of these fees.
During the holiday preceding this session, the reality of the rumours which had already started filtering into the ears of many students about the plan by the management to increase fees across board. As with everything UI, a document which was purportedly leaked, showed the so-called newly proposed fees. Many students were immediately thrown into worry as the fees came up to almost N200,000 for many when all expenses were totalled.
It was a shock to the student community and at the time, the union swung into action and began a series of meetings with the management where they began to “negotiate” though some say these were ineffectual as it was a done deal already.
Eventually when the school resumed for this session, no official statement was released about the amount of fees to be paid and as everybody resumed, only the accommodation fee was what had been made clear even as there was an increase in the amount from the previous N30,000 to N45,000 for returning students in all halls of residence aside Alexander Brown Hall and N60,000 for fresh students and also residents of ABH.
Finally, when the fees for the session was officially released for the session, the basic fees were unchanged and all the proposals for the school fees never passed. The only change was that on the student portal, there was now a newly introduced utility fee of N20,000 and the increase in the Technology Fee. With this, many students were initially comforted as the preposterous increase was never allowed to go through.
But then, when students were to begin with faculty and department registrations, they saw that the various leaked documents that flew about, talking about a “studio fee” and “laboratory fee” for students of several faculties, still stood as they were being asked to pay such levies at the faculty level with some even made to pay at two different faculties. This was a strange occurrence as for the first time in recent memory, students were being asked to pay fees that were not on their portal. This was very disturbing.
SU Handling of the Situation
Sequel to the realization of the new realities, the SU after a while, eventually came out to instruct students to hold on with payment of these fees till when said otherwise. Right from when that statement came out, given the not so loud publicity of it, it was received with mixed acceptance amongst students. Among the some that initially heard it, quite a number seemed to have held off on the payments but as the body language of the SU was not encouraging even as the weeks passed. Many eventually had to give in to the “threats” from their faculties.
The Union President, Host, having spoken on the issue on several occasions including at the congress, while outlining the efforts of the union so far, he talked about the series of meeting which the Union together with other student leaderships within the school has held with some members of management and also with the deans of several affected faculties.
According to him, in their meeting with the DVC, it was made told them that the management was “unaware” of any such fees which the faculties were compelling students to pay and so they should go to the various affected faculties deans and tell them this.
Then, he said on getting to talk with the various deans, they were not given to what the union was saying. They maintained that only an official communication in writing from the management to such an effect can comply them to reverse their current stance, as to them, the fees are very much justified.
In addition, he noted that getting the management to give an official release has not also turn out well as they were told that in the first place there was no officially release from the management to that effect i.e the payment of such fees.
Current Situation and the Way Forward
As it stands, some students who believe in the SU are left in confusion as it’s the 9th week and in less than a month from now exams would be knocking loudly at the window and they would be caught in a dilemma.
So far, the union still maintains its verbal position that students should not pay these fees but then so far, the body language has not really encouraged people whether to stand with the union or to go with the others who have paid and now seem to form the majority of students.
Looking at it we stand with the union too that given that allowing this one to go would only serve as a precedence for times to come and then before you know aside the official fees students are meant to pay on the portal, a barrage of extra faculty levies would raise and eventually what you would have will be a situation almost synonymous to the exploitation of students.
It is also remembered that this said “laboratory and studio fees” were part of the proposed school fees which eventually fell through due to a lack of approval as a result of the House of Reps resolution which was passed compelling all such increases to have been put on hold.
While the management is certainly not to be excused for its veneer of total ignorance, herein lies the problem with the Union’s leadership: It is the 9th week and we are still caught on merely paying lip service to the resolution not to pay, when in various faculties, for a long while, these levies were made compulsory for various registrations in order to force students to pay and even “threats” issued to students who still don’t want to pay, the union’s infrequent words of exhortation not to pay has not really brought comfort.
If it wishes to be assertive, then it should be. Now we agree that given the unique situation we find ourselves in, we need caution in the things we do, but then if that unique situation means we act like our hands are then tied, is it not then good that we just come to terms with reality and go ahead to pay the fees?
If we have decided to be a weak union, then we should act like one and stop putting up delusions in our minds. The leadership of the union, having seen the membership of the union and their propensity to desert in times of distress, may be sceptical of doing anything to trouble themselves further. That is understandable. Since we are both then aware of our collective weakness, it would be appropriate if the facade of “a stronger union” were abandoned for some truth.