Campus Environment: Nigerian Students, University Administrators, and the Nigeria Police
Nigerian Students, University Administrators, and the Nigeria Police
By Wole Adesina, PhD
For sometime now, I have been following students' grievances in some institutions in Nigeria, particularly at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ogun State and the incident at the University of Uyo. It is very sad that in both situations, officers of the Nigeria police had to pull the trigger on students as they rioted within their campus.
I can recall that as an undergraduate in a Nigerian University more than 20 years ago, the police never entered the campus during riots but stayed away at a distance to scare students away, but students, as what we were in those days; would confront the police and throw tear gas canisters back at them as they "cunningly" retreated and lured us outside the perimeters of the school and get some of us arrested.
As a jurist in the student union government of my institution at that time, I actively partook in student union struggles and riots. I had no regrets at all for my participation in Aluta, the experience helped me to learn about leadership process and how to manage crisis as I moved from graduate school to different jobs in life.
Alright, looking at students, university administration, and the involvement of the Nigerian police in university affairs to solve students’ grievances in this millennium is supposed to have changed from when we were undergraduates. So far, nothing has changed and the relationship between university administrators and students continue to be hostile, the university principal officers still find it difficult to manage students on campus to prevent disobedience to university authorities. University officers do not know what students want and their needs while students do not know how to get what they want peacefully from university authorities.
The recent riot at the University of Uyo where the Vice Chancellor office was burnt down and some students got shot prompted me to look into the student-administrators-police relationship. According to the story online, the students are protesting over an increase in bus transportation fare from one campus to the other in the amount of N200 ($1.25). They marched to the Vice Chancellor's office, demanding to see the Vice Chancellor, which eventually led to the burning of the office when security officials turned down their request. Okay, I am really disturbed by the students action and that of the University in the sense that:
1. The university could have issue a communiqué or discuss the issue with all stakeholders before they increase the transportation fare;
2. The University could have let the student union run the transportation service themselves and just supervise how they run it, while all revenue goes to the student union government to maintain the service and purchase a new bus;
3. The VC could have initiated a bi-weekly meeting/forum with the student leaders of the union to improve students-administrators relationship;
4. The students acted foolishly by marching on the Vice Chancellor's office as if they were the ones who appointed the VC. They did not make use of their education at all. They could have sent their leaders first and wait for feedback before burning down their Vice Chancellor's office whereupon the police then came in to kill some of them. It’s a shame ...a big shame.
In the Olabisi Onabanjo University case, we read about police involvement and how the school authorities,
1. "Change" policies to help students who cannot afford the tuition to pay by installment;
2. How the State governor promised to reduce tuition by "certain" percentage but was unable to fulfill his promise while students then tried to force the University to reduce tuition to what the governor promised during his campaign;
3. How the university fought back to regain control of the situation declaring that students who do not pay tuition for 2-3 semesters ceased to be students of the institution and will not be allowed to take examination which led to the recent riot at the university.
From the way things had occurred at Olabisi Onabanjo University, the university's authorities should not have changed the policy to allow students to pay installmentally, it is never done anywhere in any universities worldwide. The students should have confronted the governor instead of the university on the promised reduction of the tuition before the riot, which then involved the police; their action is stupid and makes their education useless.
From these two scenarios, it shows that higher institutions in Nigeria still cannot manage students’ grievance properly and the approach taken by students to resolve issues still remains as it was done 20 years ago. Students should by now be able to have a good rapport with the registrar and other university principal officers and should not see them as rivals or enemies. Student union governments "must" have a governing board or board of mentors which will include parents, alumni, and university administrators/ professors that will guide and link them with university senate to table their grievances.
These students are still learning and need guidance from experienced adults. In addition, workshops and training for student union leaders on conflict resolution, police relationship, community development should be initiated to help create a non-hostile environment for students administrators in their campuses to the extent that it reduces tension, prevents damage to public properties and police are never invited to such situations nor called in to irresponsibly take shots at normally unarmed students.