The Following article has been readjusted to match later information which were investigated.
A Test of Time
Throughout this period, the Niger Delta University has encountered numerous challenges or has experienced one problem after another – so to say. This has resulted in incessant strikes, riots, protests and all forms of academic disruptions by students, staff, management and the community at large.
In this discussion, we tried to touch all issues bothering on the school fees, staff retrenchment and all other related activities. The problems encountered in the institution has been inspired by the actions and inactions of both the students, staff, management and the state government. But before we look into how these actors caused each of these problems, let us take you through a brief history of the antecedents.
2017 MPC Law Protest (Popularly known as Engine Boys Riot)
Recall Engineering protest of last year? Good! It was caused by MPC law. MPC simply represents three courses. It means Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry. The law states that if you are a year two student, and you are unable to pass the three courses as you are transiting into year three, it means you are automatically out of the school. However, it seems that the Faculty management has been easy on the students on this law. Hence, some students has found themselves in final year without being WAFfed. When the law came in full force by the then management of the Faculty, it became clear that those who are in final year are illegal students since they are not supposed to be in school again. That same week, the senior students took to the streets peacefully to appeal the decision to allow them register the courses again one more time. Being considerate, management gave them soft landing and allowed them.
However, seeing that the senior students were successful in their endeavour, the junior students, i.e., year one and two students engaged in their own protests, where they destroyed properties purportedly said to worth millions. An incidence that forced management to enforced damage fee on the students where senior student in only Engineering Faculty paid 30,000 only as damage fee, while junior students paid 50,000 only. However, all students signed Attestation of Good conduct, popularly called Conduct form. This was the major protest and disruption for last year which disrupted academic activities for months coupled with non-payment of salaries that result in another strike action late last year. This made the delayed resumption date for academic activities in the new session this year to be April 6th.
Non-Academic Staff Purported Transfer/Retrenchment
This issue of non-academic staff retrenchment which was earlier tagged “transfer” is one that started some years ago. It was gathered that the state government has confronted the previous Vice Chancellor (VC), Prof. Humphrey Ogoni, to assist in the retrenchment of some non-academic staff. Nevertheless, the unverified report had it that the then VC rejected the proposal and noted that he will not be involved in such act. Some persons felt that this was the beginning of the rift between the former VC and the state government. it was alleged that the state government nurtured the ambition of purging the civil service payroll to create space for more employments. The government decried that death persons, over-aged personnel, ghost workers amongst other issues were bedeviling the payroll and as such needed to purge the civil service for a reform. The rift between the state government and the former VC continued till the expiration of his tenure as the Vice Chancellor of the Niger Delta University. It was widely held by spectators that the VC is not the favourite of the government since they would often not be in one voice. A staff on condition of anonymity reported to us that while the plan was already concocted to take over from him days after his tenure ended, the VC himself called the powers that be to handover to them that his tenure has expired – a story we could not verify. The former VC whose hands is purported to be clean of all issues is now relaxing peacefully, but the current VC is now under severe administrative challenges because of existing issues from both government and staff.
The Emergence of the New Vice Chancellor
The appointment of the new Vice Chancellor – Prof Samuel Gowon Edoumiekumo – was one that poured in many accolades from different quarters of the Amassoma Community and the state at large. This is because, the school needed a vibrant Vice Chancellor. Persons were happy and enthusiastic about his appointment initially. But the story later got soured because through his administration, the government was able to penetrate the defence of the school system to maintain their autonomy against the government. With the VC and his current administration and closeness to the government, control of the school became easy for the state government.
It was also alleged that the appointment of the VC was at the expense of other senior professors. This made many senior profs to frown at the appointment. This appointment may have come as a result of the role the now embattled VC played last year during the protest for salaries. Recall that last year, Sammy was on air all through, agitating for workers’ rights especially in the area of payment of salaries. It is now very surprising that his initial zest for workers right was no longer visible as it was before his emergence as the Vice Chancellor
Although the Vice chancellor has tried his best, especially in the area of making payment of fees more flexible, an incidence that past administration did not favour, he seems to have favoured what staff alleged to be betrayal of staff and colleagues. To many, his leanings with the state government, though is expected to bring in goodies from the state government, is widely perceived as unreasonable for a young and vibrant VC of his type.
During the crisis, staff who spoke to us alleged that the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Edoumiekumo, the DVC, Prof. Steve Azaiki and the state government are working hand in hand to ensure a clean purge of the non-academic staff – an allegation that the VC and his management team has distanced themselves from. Although from personal observation the staff did not oppose such cleansing of the state payroll, what they want is that these old women should be gracefully retired. Those in front of the protests alleged that the NDU was established on the farmlands of farmers who willingly gave up their farms with the hope that jobs will later be given to them. They opined that the proposed three months salaries in lieu will not be enough. Initially, penetrating the ranks of the school administration was difficult because management and staff spoke in one accord. The former VC and the non-academic staff were impregnable. But with the current administration, the NDU no longer have defence against the government as external aggressors. Issues of autonomy in past administrations has now been a thing of the past for NDU. State government policies can now easily stand in the NDU. But whether these interfering policies will benefit the NDU in the long run is what we are all yearning to discern.
Students’ Protest on School Fees Increment
The school fees increment started last year. When allocation to states was on the decrease, it also affected salaries and other payments to the NDU. This made the school management to increase the school fees. This act was greeted with wild perception but saw no riots as many understood that allocation was low. The protest was not also possible because students reps alleged that management promised that once allocation rise, the tuition fees will be reduced, and that the fees will not be increase in the next academic session which is 2017/2018 academic session. Everyone swallowed it and managed to continue. Management even came up with a policy of 60/40%. This means that you can pay your school fees twice. You can pay 60% and continue, later you pay the 40% balance before the end of the session. However, this policy never favoured management as many students are yet to pay their school fees.
While many students are yet to pay up their 2017/2018 tuition fees, the management in this academic session has tampered with the school fees structure again. I used the phrase “tampered with the structure” because the state government and the NDU management do not want to use the word, increased, so, I want to explain to the public the technicality of the matter to avoid ambuguity.
Download the current school fees structure here: https://www.ndufees.com/schedule.pdf
Was the School Fees Truly Increased?
Well, if the government say the school fees was not increased, I will say it is true to some extent. If the students says they increased the fees, they are saying the truth also to some extent. But why the disagreements? What really happened? To understand the whole issues, we have to define increment according to the government first. To the government, tuition fees increment is when a 200 level student paid 50,000 last year, and this year, you are asked to pay 60,000. That if you pay 50,000 last year and 50,000 this year, such is not an increment. What really happened in accordance with this definition is that, that same 200 level student who paid 50,000 last year, his superiors in 300/400 level last year paid 20,000 (figures are tentative, take note). So, in his hope, he managed to pay the 50,000 with the hope that when he gets to 300 level, he will be paying 20,000 like his superiors did last year. Unfortunately, only to get to 300 level, they said, no, pay the same amount as you paid in year 2. So, the fees of 300 level in this respect has been shifted from 20,000 to 50,000. Is that not an increment? But the problem is that the government and management may have feared that explaining the structure with increment inside may excite the public to another round of protests. What to government should have done was to at least say the fees were not increased, but the structure was altered. This is what the government and management never did, thereby injuring the sensibilities of the students. The commissioner for education, Hon. Jonathan Obuebite was on air several times, his focus was on no increment. Why not tell the listening parents that although there was no increment, the structure was altered? This truth would have palliated the riots here and there.
School Fees From the Perspective of the Students
From the part of the students, you will not even ask before they will tell you that the fees were increased. We complained to one parent, she helped us understood that what happened was not an increment, it was just a disappointed expectation. That when they were expecting to pay lesser this year, they were asked to pay the same amount. That this does not amount to increase but adjusted expectation. Well, the fact is that you will not see the effect much now until two years later when everyone will be paying same school fees. The fact is that the fees were tampered. But the increment was structural. For year one, they were not affected. But year two were greatly affected initially. In fact, year two was the worst hit. When the protest was too much and the dialogue was endless, management decided to reduce from year two school fees by N30,000 only. This means that in the different faculties paying different fees, any amount of fees you are paying as a year two student is now less N30,000. Now ask the government, if truly the fees were not increased, why did they reduce from year two school fees? In fact, the N30,000 that was reduced was not the total money added. The added figure was 50,000. So, if they reduced year two fees with 30,000, it means they still increased it by 20,000. Please, compare the pictures below.
Moreover, to understand the increment, last year, if you are in year one, and you paid 150,000, it is the culture of the school that as you are going higher, your fees are reducing. Therefore, in year two, you no longer pay 150,000 again but 100,000. Further, in year three and four, you may be paying 50,000 or 30,000 depending on the catchment area through which you gained admission and your Faculty. However, what the school management and state government are doing is to ensure that all levels pay the same fees i.e. 170,000 all through in a particular faculty and catchment area in years to come. According to a mother, the fees were not really increased, but expectation disappointment. While this may be true, the government/management inability to emphasize on the structural increment may have deceived the public because they were not aware that the structure was altered. The increment led the students under the tutelage of the Students’ Union Government to protest within the school community with support from old students and other sympathizers but some community bandits attacked the students and reopened the blockade they placed in the main gate. A second protest like this later led to the suspension of academic activities in the school till further notice. See the Notice below:
During the course of these incessant protest, it should be recalled that the SUG president, Comr. Raphael was purportedly attacked by thugs allegedly loyal to a zonal chairman of the IYC who was also alleged to be angry with the SUG president for engaging in such a protest that would damage the name of the government. It was purported that some persons wanted to gain favor in the eyes of the governor, thus, claiming influence over the students’ community to the governor. According to a one-time Comr. of the institution who posted on facebook, these persons became angry when Comr. Raphael spit it out to the governor that they will not call off the protest if the fees were not reduced and also rejected the transportation given to them by the government. This made the operators of the process infuriated and almost beat the SUG president to stupor. It was also alleged that the embattled SUG president feigned the whole act, an act that infuriated both management and the government. Please, find attached picture below. Picture taken while the president was being rushed to the hospital.
Even against all these, as if these are not enough, the management has released a list of students’ names to face the Senate. Whether their intent is to rusticate or suspend these students, it is yet to be known, the whole world is just watching. But they should consider possibility for a stiffer opposition as the whole of the students’ community are dead ready for any outcome.
Non Academic Staff Saga
Since the current Vice chancellor took over management mantle in the school, the non-academic staff have not known peace. They have never known rest of mind. This is because the government has through the current managerial structure infiltrated the ranks of the academics. Today, it is either a list of redeployment or retrenched staff was released or protest against one thing or the other. Everyday at work, stories, rumours and news of one thing or the other are carried. Their work security has been highly threatened. This has led to series of protests.
Today, many persons are seen blackmailing the old mothers that they were paid to protest against the government by opposition parties. So, you need somebody to pay you to protest to be treated fairly? It is rather absurd. The truth of the matter remains that the non-academic staff are not truly fighting against civil service clean-up. What they are fighting is the process. The state government who initially termed it redeployment has now retrenched them without due benefits, with only three months salaries in lieu. According to some staff, if proper retirement process was duly followed, most non-academic staff whose names are not on the list would even want to join the retirement plan. What the public failed to understand is that these non-academic staff were duly employed and ought to be dully retired. At this old age, whose mother do you intend to retire without benefits? Would you allow such if it was your mother? I think the public need to know these truths to throw their weights behind these old mothers so that the government can improve the package. No one is fighting the reform. The Reform is a welcome development that every person of goodwill will accept. Currently, the non-academic staff has permanently sealed off the main gate, block the road leading to Amassoma and they are currently carryout a one week burial ceremony for the school management. The old women are using the pictures of the Vice Chancellor and the governor to pass through their private parts, swearing, chanting, and singing as parts of the burial rights. Some were even naked while dancing. They have even bought a coffin and displayed it around.
Currently, all roads and gates leading to the university are under lock and keys. In fact, the staff has successfully welded the main gates to avoid reopening. This is bad for the welfare of the institution.
The writer’s Position
- the school fees were tampered. Anything other than this is incorrect. Else, tell the students to follow the previous year bulletin since nothing was changed. If they cannot allow the students to follow last year bulletin, then, the school fees were truly tampered.
- that we understand that students will not determine school fees for management. You cannot come to school and tell the owner of the school how much you will pay. But owing to the nature of economic circumstance, the government and management should endeavor to shift grounds. This is the cry of the SUG. Shifting of grounds so that the school can move forward.
- that the government should understand that everyone supports the civil service clean-up agenda. Nevertheless, the government should follow due process in retrenching our mothers. Increase the retirement package and everything will be alright.
- that the blockade of the university will not affect the government. Blocking economic activities in the community has made price of goods in the Amassoma market skyrocket just within 3 days as traders have to pay double fares to get to their stalls. This is self-inflicted pains. I think they should block Yenagoa roads where their voices will be heard. If the governor decides to pay deaf ears, the hunger in the community will be much. NDU is the only oil well of the people. I think a better approach should be adopted.