It was supposed to be a visitation for enquiry on new courses when this writer bumped into peaceful protest by students of Baze University, an Abuja-based private institution over an increase in tuition fee.
As the Director Academic Planning of the university, Mr. Mani Ibrahim was taking round on inspection tour on some of the facilities on the campus, I saw some students sitting by the entrance to the school. I felt something was amiss.
During the short inspection, I admire the quality academic buildings; hostel accommodation; a Mosque and a Chapel for worshippers. There are also well-situated shopping Mall, Bookshop, Cafeteria and a Bank. The sports arena accommodates football, basketball, squash, volley-ball, badminton, table tennis and gyms.
Also I discovered that apart from fibre-optic broadband Internet with Wi-Fi connection to all Campus buildings, there also internet access to over 16,000 full-text on-line academic journals.
Baze University is an institution founded by a forward-looking and progressive young Northern entrepreneur, Senator Datti who would rather invest in education than engage in the usual business of contract and supply of average Nigerian businessman. Interestingly, whereas there is an abundance of private universities already established by southerners, Baze University is one of the very few established by Northerners.
Since the university was established, Senator Datti Baba-Ahmed has devoted his energy, time and resources into the development of the university which is strategically located in the heart of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Apart from creating job opportunities for a great number of Nigerians, the academic institution now has over 1,500 students pursuing various courses of study. Some of the students actually transferred from some local and foreign universities.
Modelled after British university system, many faculty members were trained in the United Kingdom including the Vice Chancellor Professor Michael Hood. The university currently offer courses in Financial Management, Computer Technology, Arts, Science, Law and is scheduled to launch programmes in Medicine and Engineering by September 2015.
As we were rounding up, I was surprised to see some of the protesting students spotting designer clothing, and blocking a street on the campus with exotic automobiles. Upon inquiry, I was made to understand that the students were protesting an increase in their tuition fee from N1.65 million to N1.8 million annually with effect from January, 2015.
Some of the students displayed placards carrying different inscriptions with the central theme of telling the university to maintain the prevailing tuition fees.
Even in the midst of the protests, Senator Datti who is also pro-chancellor emerged from his office, calming the students and assuring them that their concerns would be carefully assessed. As a former active student myself however, I cautioned him against getting too close to the hot-headed students. During students’ demonstrations, anything can happen.
The strikingly suave gentleman politely brushed my observation aside, insisting that he had to move around to ensure that young individuals don’t resort to actions that could be injurious to their lives or the inflict harm on others. It was my delight to accompany and observe him while moving around to calm his wards and prevailing on them not to take their protests outside the institution’s premises.
I jokingly pointed to one of the students wearing a rather expensive wrist-watch and shoes that he was obviously in a position to afford the about N200,000 increment. Hear his retort: “Not all hands are equal. Please don’t judge everybody by the privileged few.”
One student informed me that his mother actually borrowed money to pay for his tuition fees while his elder sisters contributed money for his other expenses like accommodation and feeding. Another claimed that his younger ones are desirous of coming to the school but that outrageous fees might discourage his parent for the sponsorship.
The proprietor took the pain to explain to some of them the necessity of the increase. He pleaded with them to understand that the school was struggling to be one of the very best in Africa and reminded them of university rule mandating students to issue a one-week notice before embarking on any form of protest. This is so that authority can arrange for adequate security coverage for maximum protection of protesters.
He explained that the current regime of fees was introduced over three years ago but that inflation has escalated costs by 31.8% due to falling value of the Naira. He said it was vital for the university to maintain standards and quality, by being able to continue to improve facilities, attract high-quality staff, employ key international scholars, bring external examiners from the UK and enhance research.
While regretting management’s decision to reluctantly increase fees, Datti told them that by September 2015, the university will commence degree programmes in Medicine and Engineering, which are also capital intensive courses.
One other highlight of the exercise was the maturity with which leader of the students’ union, Muazu Yahaya and other members of his executive handled the protest, which ensured that the entire exercise remained peacefully till the end. The student leaders continued with a form of shuttle diplomacy between their aggrieved colleagues and management.
Yahaya said “As university students, we are adult who are entitled to express our grievance to the authority to find solutions to them. Everyone is feeling the economic crunches. As the university cries so also are our parents.”