There is a tragic situation in the University of Nigeria Nsukka that, if not reversed, would shunt thousands of prospective first year students of the institution away from resumption.
The administration of Vice Chancellor Professor Benjamin Ozumba increased the number of the hurdle of fees the kids have to surmount before they take up their hard-earned placements.
In addition to acceptance fee (25,000 naira), tuition fees (ranging from 55,000 to 60,000 naira depending on the course), accommodation fee (9, 500 naira for males and 11, 500 naira for females), Ozumba introduced what he terms ‘’laptop fee’’. The intake must fork out an extra 70,000 naira for some UNN-issued laptop or be deemed unqualified to register.
There is no justification for making the payment of laptop fee a condition for registration of freshers. It is simply a pretext for blatant exploitation. It is the glorification of lucre over sanity. It is the mouth of commercialism opened wide against reason and knowledge. It is rigging education against the poor.
In this hard economic season, one in which the President has declared the country broke several times, raising money to pay ‘’acceptance fee’’, tuition fees, and accommodation fee of those stipulated sums is tough. These are times when federal and state governments can’t pay the civil servants who are supposed to underwrite their children’s education. To choose this time to lay an extra burden on broke people is not mere wickedness. It is murder!
To begin with, Ozumba’s monopoly laptop shop doesn’t chime in with the free market system Nigeria runs. No respectable university in a capitalist economy presumes to force products on students at a price decided by the university administration. No university foists its own preferred brand of conusmer goods on its students. And if there must be such aberration of a university that detours from teaching and research to trading, it should not be the University of Nigeria.
This instance of abuse of the VC’s authority negates the very motto of UNN. The imposition of laptop fee violates the university’s foundational respect for human freedom. It is a departure from the institution’s pursuit of the advancement of the pride of the human being.
The laptop imposition is unwarranted. If the university administration had set ownership of a laptop as one of the preconditions for student registration, the prospective students should have been asked to buy themselves laptops or be ready to provide evidence of possession of a personal computer at the point of registration.
Some of the intakes already have their own laptops. Some bought theirs ahead of resumption. In this forced purchase arrangement, they must buy a laptop they don’t need because the VC had decreed that every person that steps into his territory must kiss his ware.
This “You Must Buy My Laptop’’ diktat is meant to channel gains to the private pockets of the masterminds of this policy. The scheme apparently arose from the tryst of a person with links to a laptop dealership and someone that boasts a student population that could be turned into a compulsory market.
It’s a conspiracy to swindle!
If the administration was only interested in ensuring that the new intakes have the technology they need to start their adventure on campus, the university would not need to push the kids to buy from its stock. They would not be told they must buy their laptops from Ozumba’s hands, at Ozumba’s price.
This scheme divests those who don’t own a laptop of the right to buy laptops with specifications that fit their choice and interest. They must pay for a uniform laptop that the all-wise Ozumba has decided would satisfy the spectrum of their individual tastes.
This laptop thing is a niche for racketeering. The policy originated from mercantile greed. Some predators had thought up this scheme, calculated the likely profits, and then proceeded to invent an excuse to make the eggs of their financial fantasy hatch elephants!
The truth is that the market is full of high quality laptops of affordable price. The students can buy themselves laptops; everyone according to their means. The fact that they met UNN’s admission requirements is a proof that they are capable of making intelligent decisions.
In Nigeria, public servants tend to demonstrate ingenuity in creating opportunity for self-enrichment. They study their work environment and parlay the powers at their disposal to create a mischievous initiative that will fatten their savings.
And the word that encapsulates this misuse of power is CORRUPTION!
Ozumba manipulated the levers of his office in a way that compromises public interest and delivers profit to individual pockets. He deployed his authority to drain his students and favor the bottom line of some laptop suppliers.
He must be made to drop this business deal for the sake of something that is more important than countable naira bills: the future of young people.
The students Ozumba is scaring away from the gates of UNN have already walked a long road. They studied hard to meet the academic requirements for admission. They notched up the requisite number of O-level credits. They sat for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination and scored above the cut-off point. They took another qualification test and earned the marks that fetched them their current placements.
Why should the Vice Chancellor who ought to embrace these kids push them away? Why is he suggesting they need to perform money ritual to cap their admission eligibility?
It is a shame that, in Nigeria, public officials who have a responsibility for making things work often work hard making sure things don’t work. David Mark, then Minister of Communication who was supposed to access to telecommunication service, was proud to affirm that the poor should not aspire to owning a telephone. Ozumba, the Vice Chancellor who is obligated to attract the best brains in the university catchment area and beyond, is scaring bright but poor brains them away from the university.
Ozumba seems to have revised the scriptural quotation that illustrates the rich’s difficult path to heaven into a discriminatory disqualifier for the poor who intends to come to ‘his’ university. He appears to have made it easier for a camel to pass through the needle’s eye than for a poor kid to enter the gates of the University of Nigeria!
Many Nigerian families recognize the importance of education. They know that education is a game changer. They know education breaks the cycle of inherited poverty. They know the educated acquires an escape velocity that frees him from the imprisonment of an impoverished family background. This explains why many poor Nigerians are sworn to seeing their children through to the university.
Struggling widows in Nigeria sell their prized wears to pay their children’s school fees. Some men sell their plots of land. They sweat in their farms and building sites. They delay personal gratifications. They borrow when there is little or nothing else to sell. They sow in hope, praying that their sacrifice would exorcise illiteracy and penury from their bloodline.
An Ozumba seated in a cozy Vice Chancellor’s office is a stranger to these realities. The comfort he lives in would make him less inclined to consider the impact of his decision on the base that feeds him majority of his intake. But Nigeria cannot allow a big man’s insensitivity to consume the future of education-hungry Nigerians.
A couple of weeks ago, South African students marched in the streets. They rallied in their thousands. They protested against a proposed 11.5% hike in fees due to go into effect next year. They battled for a future that was about to slip away from their hands. And they won. They secured an increment-free 2016 academic session.
In University of Nigeria, there is a mockery of Students’ Union Government that can neither mobilize a viable protest against this murderous deal nor articulate a compelling case against it.
Successive administrations in the recent past have cumulatively neutered UNN students’ representative body. They randomly suspended student union activities and destroyed the pattern of transmission of the Den’s union culture through mentorship. When they deigned to approve the restoration of the students’ union, they excluded vibrant and popular students from vying for leadership positions and installed pliant figureheads.
As a former UNN students’ union leader, I feel duty-bound by my retrospective role to urge the University of Nigeria Alumni Association to prevail on UNN VC to scrap this laptop imposition. I call on the regulator of the Nigerian university system, the National University Commission, to direct Ozumba to desist from bartering students for pecuniary gain.
Those who weaved this scam must not be permitted to enjoy their spoil. The kids who have paid should be refunded. Those who have yet to pay should be allowed to complete the university’s registration formalities.
The kids who have earned their placements should not be slaughtered on the altar of Mammon. Smart Nigerians should not be turned away from their dream university because of a life-and-death laptop supply contract!
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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