Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged the authorities of the University of Ibadan and Adekunle Ajasin University to “immediately reverse the patently illegal increases in fees, as the fees would stigmatize students that may be unable to pay, lead to a filtering out of such students and foreclose any realistic possibility that they will contribute in even the smallest way to the progress of our country.”
The organization said: “The universities ought to have carefully considered the effects of high fees on accessibility and the vision of education that they seek to achieve. The universities are advised to find solutions to their funding difficulties elsewhere. But if they fail to reverse these fees within seven days of the publication of this statement, SERAP would take appropriate legal action to compel them to do so.”
While the University of Ibadan increased fees for students’ professional training and accommodation, Adekunle Ajasin University increased school fees. The professional fees range from N75,000 to N100,000 per student, while accommodation fee in the hostel was raised from around N14,000 to N40,000 per student. AAUA increased school fees from about N35,000 to as high as between N120,000 and N200,000 per session.
Reacting, SERAP in a statement today by its deputy director Timothy Adewale said: “The dramatic increases would have the effect of discriminating against disadvantaged students who may be unable to pay the new fees, and who are not granted any exemption, thereby creating a classification based on the economic and social status of their parents. The increases would also undermine the students’ rights to education and equal protection guarantees.”
According to the organization: “The inability of the students or their parents to pay these fees would result in an absolute deprivation of a meaningful opportunity for the students to enjoy educational benefit. Increasing fees because the authorities are not adequately funding the two institutions is victimising the students over an issue they have neither control nor responsibility.”
The statement read in part: “Students that are unable to pay these fees may become disillusioned, gradually disassociate from the universities, and eventually drop out entirely. When a student is excluded from gaining the full benefits available in public school because of inability to pay fees, the effect is exclusion which naturally imposes a lifetime hardship on a discrete class of students not accountable for their disabling status.
“SERAP also urges the leadership of the National Assembly to come up with legislation that would: end arbitrary imposition of fees in our public schools; grant exemptions to students from disadvantaged background; ensure that our universities are adequately funded on an equitable basis to ensure the proper exercise of the rights to equal protection of law and education and redress inequalities in education provision.
“The right to education is too important to be left to the budgetary circumstances of individual university or socio-economic status of parents and families. Any perceived financial hardship faced by the UI and AAUA cannot justify the violations of the students’ constitutional guarantees of equal protection and Nigeria’s international obligations to ensure equal access to the right to education. The right to education is not a commodity for sale.
“Nigeria cannot continue to compete and prosper in the global arena when university students are chased away because they cannot afford to pay fees. And if Nigeria cannot compete, it cannot lead. If our students continue to face victimisation, discrimination and exclusion on the grounds of their socio-economic status, Nigeria will become a nation of limited human potential. It would be tragic if the authorities at UI and AAUA and the government of President Muhammadu Buhari allow this to happen.
“While the increases in fees may be financially necessary, they are illegal, as they amount to victimisation and discrimination of students from disadvantaged sectors of the population, contrary to the provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights both of which Nigeria has ratified.
“SERAP notes that section 12 of the University of Ibadan Act prohibits discrimination on grounds such as social and economic status. It provides that ‘no person shall be subjected to any disadvantage in relation to the University’.
“The increases also violate the right of the students to equal protection of the law, as guaranteed by sections 17, 18 and 42 of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended). Equal access to education is a human right and necessary for the enjoyment of other human rights. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. The opportunity of an education, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms, regardless of ability of parents to pay.
“No students from disadvantaged sectors of the country have the means to change or control the financial status of their parents. Therefore, any denial of an educational opportunity to such students based on their inability to pay a fee would be grossly unfair and unconstitutional.
“Education provides the basic tools by which individuals might lead economically productive lives to the benefit of all. The UI and AAUA cannot ignore the significant social costs that would be borne by our country when disadvantaged students are denied the means to absorb the values and skills upon which Nigeria’s social order rests.”