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OAU, Awoism, and the Commercialization of Education

By Sam Adegbola
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As everyone with an interest in 'Awoism' will tell you, we've never been less safe from educational terrorism than we are now. While a lot of this carries an undercurrent of self-interest, there are some evidences out there that indicates the Obafemi Awolowo University's policies aren't exactly making Nigerian students any new friends.

The controversial, unjustifiable, and 'ridiculous' increment in the institution's fees has been a particular point of contention. For one thing, the Great Ife students have yet to be let in on the management's rationale for acting as judge, jury and executioner of student activists suspected to be threats to their obnoxious policies and inordinate activities.

The undisclosed or better still, the wanton hike in the school fees has perpetually been on the verge of release for years now even though the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Bamitale Omole denied in 2012 that he had intention of increasing the school fees. Yes, he didn't tamper with the fees for two sessions; he was only being diplomatic in trying to win the support of the students. When the tension for the restoration of the students' union increased in December 2012, he made a promise to lift the ban on students' union activities but argued that he wanted a "constructive unionism". Not many were aware of his own definition of constructive unionism, but the students were more concerned and interested in having their castrated union back and indeed, they got it. Of course, if his plans on the fee increment were ever handed over to the public domain, it would very likely be retracted to the point of abstraction, rendering it mostly useless. No consultation was made with the newly-elected union leaders before the powerful tenants of the university senate building approved Prof. Omole's crude plan to commercialize education by increasing the school fees by 322%.

The Obafemi Awolowo University's attack on public education is totally unnecessary, outrageous and disheartening at a time like this when our nation is fazed with the 'bokoharamic' war on western education. Aside that, the great-grand proprietor of the university, who was also the Chancellor of University of Ife between 1967 and 1975, Late Chief Jeremiah Oyeniyi Obafemi Awolowo (GCFR) was an exponent of free and compulsory education. It would be a rape on Late Awolowo's virtues, achievements, principles and ideology if OAU management forced itself to ensure payment of the skyrocketed fees.

The largely apocryphal reasons the university is giving are only part of the problems because no right-thinking mind would be mystified or cajoled by such anti-education hue and cry of the university linchpins. The other issue is the unmerciful sentencing of poor parents to the vicious prison of poverty where they either die as a result of the abject risks of sending their children to OAU, or get a prerogative of mercy once they agree not to bother about their children's education.

No doubt, education has long been seen as a principal source of economic mobility, but as Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State points out, the university's strategy doesn't seem to be making any headway. He opined that the university management should find other sources of fund and not modify education into an exploitation arena.

The thought of the Bamitale Omole administration's was that the increment in school fees would not be questioned because the students have a premature union that was still struggling to legitimize itself. The management also felt the action would go because the students wouldn't afford to cause any upheaval that could lead to another wicked guillotine of the union, which subsequently could lead to the closure of the university.

Well, the students are getting these university echelons disappointed, the students are revolting; and they are even more constructive than Prof. Bamitale Omole could ever imagine, they had visited the aluta arsenal, armed themselves with the finest revolutionary missiles, drank the purest wine of freedom, drove through the path of fearlessness, adorned themselves with bulwark and mighty shield against exploitation; survived the banditry of union proscription, played on the intellectual battle field, dared the dungeon of victimization, escaped the tsunami of revolution and danced with the angels of struggle.

The new OAU fees have even risen faster than inflation for the last 20 years and the university management has concluded plans to frustrate parents, squeeze out the little change they make from their petty businesses to make up for the hole in the university's budgets. That's seriously unfair!

One would continue to wonder and ask 'what the heck does the university need money for?'. OAU is one of the most financed universities in Nigeria. A lot of donations keep rolling in for the institution on daily basis.

The Bamitale Omole's administration has successfully organized two highly-placed events: the OAU 50th anniversary, and the NUGA Games. The two events got supports from the Federal, State and Local governments. It will be recalled that during the 50th anniversary, the senate building and Oduduwa hall were renovated in part, while other touches on campus were mere facade, especially the inglorious filling of the motion-ground fountain with water from a tanker.

Aside donations from OAU Alumni Associations, both at home and in Diaspora, the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) also made a promise of Five Hundred Million Naira (N500, 000, 000) to support the anniversary.

Surprisingly, OAU also received a donation of Five hundred thousand naira from the pupils of Sunshine Primary School, Ile-Ife, Osun State as part of their contribution to the 50th anniversary of the institution. Other funds also came in and some individuals, bodies, and companies offered free, or subsidized services.

Moreover, the NUGA games also got financial boost from the Nigerian University Games Association, Osun State Government, and several companies like Zenith Bank, MTN, Airtel, and Diamond Bank made huge contribution. The Olympic-size swimming pool was funded by the Federal Government while Zenith Bank supported the construction of the IAAF standard Tartan track of the university main bowl with N70million.

Despite the huge fund gathered for the event, OAU contingents were poorly treated, while some are yet to receive their entitlement. For instance, Bayero University, Kano paid a whooping sum of N100, 000 each to its contingents while OAU, the host university, paid about N30, 000 each.

To convince you further that most of the things done in OAU are financed outside the fees paid by students, you need to be aware that Syke Bank, in 2013, donated N600million well-equipped ultra modern ICT centre to OAU; the Federal Government earmarked the whooping sum of N3.05 billion for the construction and renovation of infrastructures in university. Furthermore, OAU benefited from the World Bank STEP-B Project and at the same time, the school received another grant of $8 million (N1.3 billion) from the World Bank in January, 2014.

Oil producing giant, ExxonMobil also donated two buses and geological equipment worth more than N35 million to the university. Aside that, the company also dropped a cheque of N4.55million. The donations were received on behalf of the school by Prof. Adejinmi Adesanya.

Not everyone forgets that in June, 2012, Pastor Enoch Adeboye gave the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Bamitale Omole a UBA cheque of N50 million donation to the OAU.

On campus too, a 500-capacity lecture theatre was donated by First Bank Plc.

A Post Graduate College Building was single-handedly built, furnished, and donated by an alumnus, Barrister Jimoh Ibrahim, OFR, while the Natural History Museum Building was donated by Leventis Foundation of London.

Also, in Nov 2011, Prof. Bamitale Omole received laboratory microscopes worth N10 million naira from Nigerian Breweries.

The wife of Ekiti State governor, Mrs. Bisi Fayemi also donated a buliding and NCC supported OAU with N50million worth of equipments to boost internet services in the university.

The 1000 Lecture Theatre, behind Moremi Hall was also a project of the Petroleum Trust Fund.

So, what else has not been supported? What else do OAU need such 'dangerous' money for? Research? That has been financed too. What is obviously left out now is students and staff welfare only. In the interim, the tap water supplied to all Halls of residence is actually below the pH level of 7 -very acidic, colourful, odourful, and highly cancerous. Angola Hall and Awo Hall Annex have turned another 'Sambisa forest': bushy and dangerous to stay at night. There is no water supply in bathrooms and toilets in virtually all halls of residence.

The fund for welfare shouldn't be drawn from parents' accounts alone. Thank goodness the university has investments. They have the bread and water factories, the Bookshop, OAU Press LTD, Pre-degree centre, Transport services, OAU Staff Schools, and Halls for rentage which are charged at prices beyond normal, etc.

Everything in OAU has been olivertwistically commercialized. Even the shuttle buses, sorry, shuttle cars charge high fares. No wonder, the Vice Chancellor of the school was quoted as saying that his children school fees while in 'secondary school' were far higher than what OAU students are paying. The questions that beg for answer are "Were his children admitted into a private or public school?" "What social status did he hold during those periods - rich or poor?

Prof. Bamitale Omole also compared OAU with other tertiary institutions abroad where they pay exorbitant fees. Hmm, Mr. Vice Chancellor should be reminded that schools that charge high fees in US, Canada, and UK, etc provide loans, scholarship, and job opportunities for students in order to aid their payment.

In institutions abroad, registered student organizations, for example, have the privilege to use university's facilities free of charge, but in OAU, no matter how legitimate and recognized your organization is, the school will still drill your account till you go bankrupt and this is the singular reason why students have appeared not to be as creative as they were, in the past, when they drew up with innovative programs and activities. Event venues were available for use at a free or highly subsidized rate unlike what it is today. Then, organizations like JCI, Redcross, ANUNSA, Kegite, Rotaract put up interesting programs for the benefit of all; none of them would dare stage a public lecture without having about N200, 000 to fork out, especially if they want to use a venue like Oduduwa Hall.

Ordinarily, public higher education should be free. Not means-tested, not cheap, not subsidized, but free. If it isn't free, it isn't public education. This should not be a controversial assertion. This should be common sense. But OAU management has forgotten what the "public" in "public education" actually means (or used to mean). What the management wants to turn Great Ife to is nothing but a federal-controlled private university a corporate body that think and behave like business venture. Why would the institution make education available only to those who can afford it? If Prof. Omole's administration turns OAU to a marketplace where education would be bought at a fantastically outrageous price in what sense can it really be called "Obafemi Awolowo" University? I could feel late Obafemi Awolowo fuming in his grave.

Chief Awolowo did not only introduce free education, he also implemented the Free Primary Education programme in Africa.

The university's premise is that Chief Awolowo's free education programme was primary, and not tertiary. Well, that doesn't mean that Prof. Bamitale Omole's administration should remodel OAU to a hybrid university: an institution that retains some of the characteristics of a public university but would draw the bulk of its revenue from student fees. A university that thinks and behaves like a private-sector corporation charging the students what majority of them can't afford, cutting costs wherever it can and using fees payable in other institutions as its measure.

The management should not think that increasing the school fees will make people value OAU more; there is no correlation. Instead of increasing school fees, the management should rather reduce the number of intake per session, putting available resources in mind. Moreover, the burden of fees and loans will be too great to expect young people to shoulder, particularly for more financially disadvantaged families.

OAU is Great Ife and 'Awolowoic' only if those who need to learn and be cultured can do so without thinking of how to get the fund. If the institution can get sponsorship for any event and prove dominant in multiple theaters across the country, it can find a way to finance education and reduce the cost for students, as it once did in living memory.

Look at what this does. It satisfies the concerns of the left: everyone would be able to get a high quality higher education no matter what economic resources they or their families currently enjoy. No longer would poor students have to choose between menial low-wage jobs to finance their education, thereby jeopardizing their ability to perform well in or even complete their courses, and forcing them or their parents to take on large debts or loans they cannot begin to pay. Low-priced education will lead to a more educated and productive workforce.

Increasing the school fees would, in theory, increase the size of the university's vault and ability to 'do more' just as the management wants to, but what if that's not true? That's the core finding of one of my 'ellanational' escapades. If OAU students have to pay high for education, this may dissuade some, while those who manage to pay may end up being a thief on campus because they may not be able to cater for themselves and this will lead them to find all means to eat and look nice; and this will consequentially increase theft on campus.

Instead of merely causing students to drop out of school owing to the over-hiked fees which subsequently would have a negative effect on the society -gangsterism, robbery, prostitution, terrorism, and hooliganism - OAU should subscribe to Awo's ideology wish would now be able to be used for a far more constructive purpose - creating investment vehicles of mass education.

Moreover, believing that targeted victimization of student activists can actually weaken the union because it depends on a group of charismatic leaders is so wrong, and that mistaken assumption has led previous and successive administrations to pursue a strategy centered on targeting union leadership with suspension when it'd really be better by understanding that OAU students only fight for just cause, and they do this only when they are pushed to the wall by the same autocratic but weak university management.

Lastly, if Prof. Bamitale Omole is not sure of how to manage the university without increasing the fees, instead of wasting his time convincing the general public on why the increment should stand, it is advisable for him to just step aside as many capable people are ready to lead the students and staff right, even the Students' Union President would do it.

Sam Adegbola is the Director of Information and Strategy of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS National Secretariat) and the President of the Student Leaders Alliance of Nigeria.