Bestman Michael Osemudiamen

Ever since the resumption of the 2019/2020 academic session, the Salami-led administration has continuously attacked students of the University of Benin (UNIBEN).

  In late March 2021, the Students’ Union leadership was unlawfully suspended for staging a peaceful protest against a sudden decision of the authorities to end all exams and asking students to vacate residential halls within quite short notice. This was inconsiderate and torturing to students who were waiting for statutory end-of -the-session activities.

   Between 2019 and 2020, the institution recorded an alarming increase in students’ suicide, which forced the counselling unit to conduct a string of campaign against suicide. Meanwhile, the increase in the suicide of students is not unconnected to the fact that education has become a torturing experience due to the unbearable cost of learning and a pervading lack of basic learning facilities. 

   The increase in school fees, the outbreak of skin diseases due to an unhealthy source of water supply, unconducive learning and hostel environment, and the complete power blackout (even during the duration of examinations) are the tip of the iceberg of problems facing UNIBEN students. Students have had to organise series of protests against some of the symptoms of the administration’s failures, which the authorities always found irritating.

 The emergence of Professor Lilian Salami as Vice-Chancellor was initially greeted with great hope by many students because of her profile as the first female and UNIBEN alumni to be appointed VC of the University. But the hope of students to have better welfare gradually withered with the exploitative and anti-student policies dished out by the administration.

   Hiding behind the COVID-19 pandemic, the university authority, for instance, directed students to pay a compulsory medical levy, which according to the management is meant for purchasing non-pharmaceutical equipment for the prevention of Covid-19. Not to mention the about 50, 000 students, who yearly squeeze blood from stone to meet the range of fees charged by the school.

   Following that, students were forced to observe a dress code initiated by the management in the name of policing moral decency. Meanwhile, the university had no intention of buying the clothes they considered decent for students but had no regard for the liberty of the individual to use clothes as a medium of expression, which Nigeria’s constitution as much recognised. This was met with spontaneous protests of students, but still not fully organised to articulate students’ opposition to the dress code as well as the litany of anti-student policies of the authorities. But it has strikingly shown the resistance UNIBEN students are capable of mustering against anti-students policies. The odds are in favour of students becoming victorious if they present a more organised front and comprehensive set of demands.

   It is also important to note that the renovation of hostels and few lecture rooms were not done to meet students’ needs. The emergency maintenance of some parts of the school is happening because of the just-concluded National Sports Festival and the role UNIBEN played in that competition. Students were also forced to rush through exams and vacate the university because of whatever gains the authorities sought to get from the budget of the Festival. The commercialisation of education by the authorities of individual school is symbolised by the Lilian Salami-led administration, which has practically placed the amount of money the university can squeeze out of the pockets of parents above bettering the living and learning conditions of students.

   UNIBEN Students should continue organising against the anti-poor policies that are increasing by the day. The Students’ Union leadership must also mobilise the rank and file of students to sensitise them and unite the numbers of the students against the authorities. The ban of the union anywhere is a wasted piece of paper because students know their leaders, and they will follow them if they have ascertained the commitment of such leaders. The Union leaders must also present a comprehensive demand over issues of exorbitant schools, poor welfare condition to the call for the reinstatement of victimised students. Students’ Union leadership should also reach out for the solidarity of staff unions like ASUU, who are opposed in principle to the arbitrary actions of the management.

   The UNIBEN branch of the MSA fully supports the union in its struggle against the anti-student policies of the management. Students who are interested to play a more active role in the struggle against the daily attacks of the Lilian Salami-led management. The MSA as an organisation fights against attacks on students, and for free quality education, which is achievable if the government increases the education budget to 26% of the yearly budget of the government.