Against the backdrop of a soaring cost of living crisis in Nigeria, students at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) held another protest this week to demand the withdrawal of a major hike in mandatory fees for both new and already enrolled students in undergraduate courses.
UNILAG is among several public universities across Nigeria that have increased fees by 100% to even 300% in recent months. While the charges vary across courses, students at UNILAG have alleged that the new rates would amount to a hike of over 600%.
While previous tuition fees had ranged from around ₦26,000 (USD33.1) to ₦76,000 (USD96.8), the new hikes would see the highest fees go up to ₦240,250 (USD306.2). For medical students, the fee was raised from ₦19,000 (USD24.2) to ₦190,250 (USD242.4).
On September 6, dozens of students had held a protest outside the University campus amid a heavy deployment of police. However, the protesters were then forcibly dispersed using tear gas. The action was organized by the Students Solidarity Group Against Fee Hike and supported by the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS).
“Our argument remains that the responsibility of funding public education can not be shifted to poor students and their parents even in a draining economy such as this. We also maintain that the decision taken by the UNILAG management, supervised by their employers, remains authoritarian and economically inconsiderate,” the Solidarity Group was quoted by a Nigerian media outlet as saying.
In a statement ahead of the protest, NANS stated that they had been forced to hold the action after UNILAG authorities failed to abide by agreements that had been reached at a meeting held on August 2, including a commitment to withdraw the fee hike.
Students held another protest in Lagos on Wednesday, September 13, chanting “Fees Must Fall.” UNILAG students have stated that the management proceeded with the hike despite a directive issued by President Bola Tinubu to all federal universities to halt such an increase.
On Thursday, members of NANS held a meeting with UNILAG following which the university announced varying reductions in fees and other charges. NANS also demanded that the institution reinstate the Students’ Union Government. The Vice-Chancellor has reportedly also agreed to take steps to restore the activities of the students’ union on campus.
UNILAG authorities had initially cited “prevailing economic realities” in the country as the reason for the fee hike. The increase in education fees has come at a time when inflation in Nigeria has hit 25.8%, the highest in nearly two decades, with food inflation touching 29%.
The economic hit to households has been compounded by the devaluation of the naira, which has lost 40% of its value since June. Much of this current crisis has been driven by the removal of a subsidy on petrol, a decision announced by President Tinubu during his inaugural speech in May.
The price of petrol, which is not just used for cars but to power generators for many households and small businesses, has tripled since then. This also led to a major increase in transport costs, in some places reportedly by more than 100%, making it difficult for people to commute to their places of work or study.
The fallout of the subsidy removal and other policies being pursued by the government has also been condemned by trade unions in the country, including the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress, both of whom staged protests against the policy in August to demand “the immediate reversal of all anti-poor policies of [the] government, including the recent hike in Premium Motor Spirit [petrol], school fees, and VAT.”
The NLC also held a two-day warning strike on September 5 and 6, calling upon the government to “address the excruciating mass suffering and impoverishment being experienced across the country.” The organization has warned that it will embark on a total and indefinite national shutdown if the demands being raised are not met.