While in 2021, 33% of Nigeria’s population was unemployed, World Bank projections reveal that the onset of 2022 pushed an additional 95 million Nigerians into extreme poverty. In 2023, 133 million Nigerians languish below the national poverty line.
The removal of fuel subsidy in July 2023 has sent shockwaves through Nigeria, prompting widespread outcry, which has necessitated the University of Lagos (UNILAG) and several other federal universities to unveil new fee structures, citing escalating costs as the driving force behind this decision. For UNILAG students, this change translated to a staggering 400% increase, catapulting fees from about N20,000 to over N100,000.
Echoes of Struggle
UNILAG has over 62,000 students, of which over 35,000 are full-time undergraduates. These students include age 16 and above, according to UNILAG requirements. Interestingly, according to UNICEF, children between the ages of 16 and 17 live at the highest poverty rate in Nigeria.
Consequently, a substantial portion of UNILAG’s student body grapples with severe financial hardships. Among these students, voices of desperation and hopelessness have emerged as they struggle to secure funds to meet the new fee structure.
Abdulrahman Basit, a student of UNILAG, recounted in his interview with Campus Reporter how he faced difficulties paying school fees at the previous rate, let alone the new fees.
“Well, I feel very bad for someone like me,” he said. “During my first year entering the University of Lagos, only God made me retain my degree as a University of Lagos student. I was unable to pay the school fees [N19,000 then]. So someone like me is now expected to go from paying N20,000 to 150,000 or N160,000?”
Mr Basit, who had worked as a bike rider in the past, told Campus Reporter that the Students’ Solidarity Group Against Fee Hikes (SSGAFH) is working to restore the fee to its previous rate. If it fails, his only option is to drop out of school.
Likewise, Tosin Adetola, an undergraduate at UNILAG, said many students have parents who earn below minimum wage, which makes paying the new fee structure practically impossible.
“Most people in the country live on 30k minimum wage; many of them don’t even get up to 30k a month, so where do you want them to get 120k?” he retorted.
If the new fee structure stands, Mr Adetola believes he is “not the only one that will probably drop out. Many people will drop out too because they cannot afford that amount.”
Similarly, the path Bakari Ahmad comes from is unlike many others as a young boy from a family with not just one or two but four children at UNILAG.
“Even before the school was increased, I’ve paid my bills myself. I have to work. I don’t have any friends or family [support],” he told Campus Reporter.
Scramble for Shelter
In 1961, the UNESCO Advisory Commission was assigned to construct UNILAG’s facilities. This commission decided UNILAG would be a traditional university with hostel-style accommodation. To that effect, in 1965, the first phase of building construction, consisting of staff quarters and student hostels, was completed. Currently, there are over 12 hostels at UNILAG, with some currently undergoing renovations.
Before the recent hike in UNILAG fees, all hostels besides Sodeinde Hall had a minimum cost of N25,000. However, as of August 2023, Sahara Reporters revealed the university’s medical college approved a 300% increase in hostel fees. Unfortunately, students have lamented that the new hostel fee puts them under more financial pressure.
In an interview with Campus Reporter, Muhammed Ali worries that the management’s option to pay in full or partly could also cause further problems.
“I am worried that if I do not get it [school fees] on time, I might not be able to get hostel [space], which is another problem,” he said. The alternative to the school accommodation is to rent an apartment outside the campus, which also costs a lot.”
Balancing the Reds
In a Fund Source and Utilisation Report released in January 2022, UNILAG’s management has tried to cut costs on transcripts, convocation and electricity. Still, it has consistently recorded annual deficits of about N1 billion. In response to this problem, students at Nation’s Pride have suggested solutions that can cut costs and help the institution overcome its financial deficits.
Mr Ali, a student at UNILAG, urged the university to fund research and seek cheaper alternatives for power supply, such as gas-powered electricity.
He further stated that the management has already begun load shedding in hostels from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. and should do the same by turning “off the light of faculties” during late hours at night to save more on energy and reduce costs. For security purposes, he added the school could put on solar lights at the faculties just as they had done for streetlights at the university’s campus.
Another UNILAG student, Mr. Ahmad, who has three siblings in the school, suggested that the management should incorporate comprehensive measures that cover not one or two but all students.
He also added that alumni and organisations pool their resources to cover educational costs for not a few students but all students, especially those from poor backgrounds who struggle to eat twice a day, those who juggle part-time jobs and studying, those who are partially supported by guardians, those raised by single parents, and even those who have lost both parents.
Meanwhile, for Mr Basit, the government has a sole responsibility to cover the rising cost of public education, not the students or university management.
“The responsibility of this particular problem meant to be from the government. We pay taxes every day. If I should buy a card now, I will pay. There is nothing you want to do in Nigeria today that you do not pay tax. The management needs to understand this.”
Despite a sea of administration in the past, the Tinubu-led government stands apart, saving 1 trillion naira ($1.32 billion) from fuel subsidy cuts. As such, Mr Tosin urged the government to “use that money to fund public education,” reminding Nigerian students that public education “is a right, not a privilege.”
Reports show that 33% of Nigeria’s population were unemployed in 2021. But if we ignore that number, according to World Bank projections, the arrival of 2022 further dumped approximately 95 million Nigerians into a critical poverty cycle. Fast-forward to 2023, and what do we have? One hundred thirty-three million Nigerians continue to sink deep below the national poverty line. And when we probe further, because of the latter, 70.31% of children live in poverty.
Precisely, in July 2023, many Nigerians cried out bitterly after subsidy removal tripled the fuel price. Also in July, the University of Lagos (UNILAG), along with some federal universities, implemented a new school fees structure. For students in UNILAG, the fee rose by 400%, from about N20,000 to over N100,000. According to the university management, the fee hike is necessary as costs continue to grow without any signs of decreasing.
What Lies Ahead
“Many initially doubted the accuracy of the fee increase, and some consider it a prank,” said Balogun Oladeji Ibrahim, Faculty of Education president-elect. However, the reality became clear when the students’ portal required payments up to five times their previous pay.
Mr. Balogun continued by saying that there has been “some relief in the assurance from the management that no student will be forced to drop out due to an inability to pay.” These have prompted, among others, the development of instalment payments of up to three times and the revitalisation of the Work-Study Scheme that now allows students to earn N500 per hour instead of N200 before.
Despite this, on three separate occasions, protests have taken place because students cannot afford the new fees.
According to Daily Trust, following these protests, UNILAG slashed school fees by 5 to 20 per cent. But, “many feel that the 5-20% decrease, in the context of a 500% increment, does not alleviate their financial burdens significantly,” Mr. Balogun noted.
For instance, recently, UNILAG students have been found begging for alms online and offline to pay their new school fees.
On 21 September 2023, Tribune Online reported that Oluwakemi Emmanuel, a UNILAG part-time student, was spotted begging for alms to pay her school fees in the Ifako-Gbagada area of Lagos state.
Also, Abiola Babawale Allen, an undergraduate, published a screenshot of his payment advice on Twitter seeking financial assistance.
“A 500% increment is a substantial burden, and even a smaller increase would be challenging for many students to bear,” the Faculty of Education president-elect said. He later recommended that university management revisit the fee hike, “consider the students’ feedback, and explore options to ensure that education remains accessible and affordable” for students of all backgrounds.
Despite attempts to reach the UNILAG Dean of Student Affairs (DSA) for comments, there has been no response.
Nigeria’s Fuel Subsidy Removal May ‘Kill’ Small Businesses
Ayomide Ogunrinde, a 25-year-old student at the Tai Solarin University in Ogun State, aspires to become a chartered accountant in…