As OOU students surrender, we have to ask, how effective are student protests?

Students at Olabisi Onabanjo University in Ogun state are back in school now, and the campuses have come alive again. The students are relieved that the lockdown is over.

The students revolted this August to clamour for a tuition slash. At the time, a student in science was paying about N130,000 a year. Comparatively, a student in science at the neighbouring Oyo state university, LAUTECH, was paying half that amount. However, the state government withstood the revolt.

The government owns at least seven higher institutions, and this year it announced a flat tuition cut across all the schools effective next year. But while students in the other schools accepted this arrangement, students in OOU did not.

The students demonstrated in Abeokuta, the state capital, on August 15 to compel the government to slash the tuition effective the current year. But after a meeting with the
student leaders and a one-week truce, the government closed the school indefinitely and clamped down on further protests. It also banned the students union government.

Now, the university has been reopened, the SUG ban has been lifted and academic work has taken off. But some students still feel disappointed by the outcome of the struggle and they feel it wasn’t very productive.

Victoria is studying philosophy at the main campus in Ago Iwoye. She says, “I feel we went on strike for nothing. After all, we still pay the same fees. We didn’t get the reduction that we wanted. Right now, it’s tests and exams mood here on campus. Students aren’t really talking about the fees any more. Lectures are tight.

“We feel like we don’t have a strong say any more even though the SUG is back. You know, it’s like whatever the governor or the VC says is final. The fight was in vain.”

Taiwo Ogunjimi is a prominent activist on the campus and one of the leaders of this revolt. He explains what happened, “The school threatened that if we didn’t cooperate, they’d suspend the session and restart it next year when a new session should begin. This means everyone would lose a whole year and start the current session afresh next year. So when the students heard this, they faltered and became divided. So there was nothing we could do any more. That was why we lost the struggle.”

This year there have been similar tuition protests in Obafemi Awolowo University and Lagos State University.

In OAU, the struggle began at the start of the second semester in June. The university management had increased tuition by more than double and students refused to accept the increment. So they held demonstrations on campus and around town, and eventually the management closed the school. But two months after the protests and consequent closure of the school, the management reopened the school without conceding to the students’ demand. Anyway, the students felt relieved to be able to continue their studies.

In LASU, the management pushed up tuition by 1000% in 2011, and for three years they managed to contain the dissent. But this January, they shut down the online registration site and prevented students from registering after deadlines had expired. The students blamed the high tuition for the late registration, and protests broke out. This sparked a riot that led to subsequent demonstrations, and eventually the government reverted the tuition to N25,000 — a victory from the students’ perspective. 

These days, some schools maintain that they need to charge higher tuition in order to sustain standards and continue to provide quality education, but many students are cynical about this idea and tend to resist fee increments. They don’t always get what they want when they protest though. Anyhow, they still believe it’s an effective method.

“Take the recent scenario in my school for example,” says Saheed, who’s studying in OAU. 

“There was a power outage for four days and the management said we’d have to hang on for a few weeks. But when we protested, the lights soon came back on. Sometimes the only ‘language’ these people understand is protest.”

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