Nigerian Universities And Resolution Abolishing Acceptance Fees

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By Jerome-Mario Utomi

Recently, Governor Sheriff Oborevwori of Delta State approved a 25 per cent reduction in acceptance fees payable in the four state-owned universities as part of palliatives for students. The governor’s approval was contained in a statement issued by Festus Ahon, his chief press secretary, on Wednesday, in Asaba.

According to the statement, the reduction in the acceptance fee was in line with measures taken by the Delta State government to cushion the effect of the fuel subsidy removal on citizens. Ahon further said that the 25 per cent reduction was applicable to new students at the state-owned Delta State University, Abraka; Delta State University of Science and Technology, Ozoro; University of Delta, Agbor, and Dennis Osadebay University, Anwai-Asaba.

Essentially, the Governor’s action is understandable and appreciated, particularly when one remembers that the governor had earlier approved the payment of N10,000 to workers for three months and payment of N5.522bn to 50,196 workers as promotion arrears and palliatives to civil servants across the state, this piece however, holds the opinion that the issue that has to do with demand for acceptance by leaderships of tertiary institutions in the country, under any guise ought not arise in the first instance.

The reason for the above assertion is predicated on the fact that there exists a resolution by the Federal House Of Representatives abolishing the demand of Acceptance Fees by tertiary institutions of higher learning in the country, not even in Delta state-owned universities or any federally-owned university in Nigeria. In fact, any public officeholder who breaks the law is a threat to those very structures of the government he pledged to protect.

Adding context to the discourse, it is factually supported that in November 2019, Nigeria’s House of Representatives, following public outcry against the excruciating acceptance fee charged by the nation’s institutions of higher learning moved a motion through Honourable Emeka Chinedu, PDP-Imo (Ahiazu Mbaise/Ezinihitte Federal Constituency), abolishing the payment of such fees in all tertiary institutions in Nigeria.

Leading the debate, Mr Chinedu, according to the reports observed that one of the factors contributing to poor access to tertiary education is the “predatory admission policies being enforced by tertiary institutions, particularly the requirement for payment of non-refundable acceptance fees as a condition precedent for admission”.

He said in part; “it should bother the lawmakers that Imo State University charges N70,000 as acceptance fee. “Other institutions like the University of Ibadan charge 35,000; University of Lagos, 20,000; Ahmadu Bello University, 30,000; Lagos State University, N20,000; University of Uyo, 25,000, and University of Benin hovers between N60, 000.00 to N75, 000.00, depending on the department and faculty”.

In the end, the plenary presided over by the Former Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, (present Chief of Staff to President Bola Tinubu) described acceptance fees as exploitative and called on the Federal Government, to immediately abolish the payment of such fees in tertiary institutions in Nigeria.

Without a doubt, when parents and their wards heard of this resolution, they were happy.

But reacting to the development via a piece, I described the resolution as a two-edged sword. First, it portrayed the House as both a responsive and responsible body capped with the listening capacity to the yearning of the poor Nigerians. The piece in question also argued that the House of Representatives resolution shows that the survival of freedom depends upon the rule of law.

But on second thought, I submitted that the validity of the resolution will largely depend on how the university authorities in the country respect, interpret and enforce such promulgation, particularly, as demand for acceptance fees in the institutions of higher learning in Nigeria has become a ‘culture’ that will be too difficult to uproot.

Today, such fear can no longer be described as unfounded.

The early warning that led to my expression of fear was nourished by perennial underfunding of the nation’s education sector and exacerbated by reluctant respect University leaderships in the country have paid to similar directives in the past.

Take, as an illustration, Idowu Olayinka, vice chancellor of the University of Ibadan,(as he then was), while informing the media of his institution’s readiness to comply with the directive on acceptance fee, explained that the amount accruing to the University of Ibadan, for instance, in a year is not enough to fund the university in a month. “Therefore, the school has to look for alternative means to source for funds”.

“Someone has to take up the bill,” he said. “We have to make up our mind on what we really want. You can’t even run a creche without funds. In a year, we spend at least N200 million on our clinic contractors. Add this to the electricity bill and diesel, then you’re talking of over N800 million. “What the university is getting for overhead is less than N100 million. So where do you think the remaining N700 million will come from? Unless you want to close down the whole university,” he added.

For me, why all Nigerians of goodwill should worry about these  blanket inability by tertiary schools in Nigeria to comply with the House’s directive on acceptance fee is that instead of schools acting in compliance, many contrary to expectation and to the surprise of stakeholders/observers retained the prevailing fees while the rest in absolute disobedience and challenge to the new order had an upward review of their acceptance fees.

Also deeply troubling is the awareness that school authorities demanding acceptance fees from new students have not been able to explain what the payment signifies or provide answers as to why students must pay acceptance fee for an admission they voluntarily expressed interest and paid examination fees, took time to study in order to be admitted.

Expressly, it will be convenient for many to argue that the crushing weight arising from education funding in Nigeria and globally has become too heavy for only the government to shoulder, and therefore, our collective responsibility to ensure that our schools work and our children are properly educated at the right time in ways that will necessitate payments such as acceptance fees.

This fact notwithstanding, it does not in any way justify the demand for acceptance fees.

To therefore curb this illicit collection, Nigerian universities and other institutions of higher learning in the country as well as the Federal and state governments must in the first instance consider education as the bedrock of development; that with sound educational institutions, a country is as good as made -as the institutions will turn out all rounded manpower to continue with the development of the society driven by well thought out ideas, policies, programmes, and projects.

We must also come to the collective recognition that across the world,  children enjoy the right to education as enshrined by a number of international conventions, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which recognizes a compulsory primary education for all, an obligation to develop secondary education accessible to all, as well as the progressive introduction of free higher education/obligation to develop equitable access to higher education.

Finally, the government and of course universities in the country must not use it to deny our youths the opportunity to be educated.  If we do, chances are that most of them will run to the streets. And as we know, the streets are known for breeding all sorts of criminals and other social misfits who constitute the real threat such as armed robbers, thugs, drug abusers, drunkards, prostitutes and all other social ills that give a bad name to society.

Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy) at Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via [email protected]/08032725374.

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