The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) has issued a fervent call to the Lagos State Commissioner of Police to release comrades Giwa Topnotch, Femi Adeyeye, Philip Olatinwo, and Ayodele Aduwo, who were arrested during a peaceful protest at the University of Lagos (UNILAG).
The activists had joined UNILAG students in opposing the university’s decision to increase tuition fees.
The ERC in a statement jointly issued by National Mobilization Officer, Adaramoye Lenin and Deputy National Coordinator, Isaac Ogunjimi faulted the arrest.
The statement further explained that on Wednesday, September 6, 2023, as the activists peacefully demonstrated against the fee hike, a contingent of armed police officers took them into custody.
ERC vehemently demands their immediate and unconditional release and an end to infringements on democratic rights.
The ERC underscores that the right to protest is protected by the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.
The statement read ” the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of All Nigeria Peoples Party & Ors. v. Inspector General of Police (2006) CHR 181 has unequivocally settled the debate regarding the necessity of police permits for protests.
“Therefore, these arrests constitute a violation of the arrested activists’ fundamental human rights. ERC calls on the Nigerian Police to rectify this illegality by promptly and unconditionally releasing the activists.
“ERC firmly stands by the protest that led to these arrests.”
The demonstration was a response to UNILAG’s decision to raise student fees from N19,000 to as high as N190,250, depending on the course of study.
Despite widespread opposition to the fee increase, particularly from students hailing from economically disadvantaged backgrounds who cannot afford the soaring education costs, the university administration has insisted on implementing the hike.
The protest materialized because all previous attempts to resolve the matter through negotiation had been rebuffed by UNILAG authorities.
It was also gathered that a delegation of students led by comrade Giwa Topnotch, the Public Relations Officer of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), met with the Vice Chancellor and her team on August 2, 2023.
It was gathered that during the meeting, students’ representatives presented their arguments against the fee hike, and the Vice Chancellor promised to reconvene the meeting after consulting with other members of the management team.
However, the Vice Chancellor failed to reconvene the meeting, indicating a unilateral withdrawal from negotiations. Instead, the university has continued to pressure students to pay the increased fees, even as negotiations with their representatives are ongoing.
ERC maintains that the government, not impoverished parents, holds the primary responsibility for funding public education.
In light of the current cost of living crisis, many students cannot afford the raised fees, risking dropping out unless the university administration reverses the decision.
Despite claims of provisions for indigent students, the available support is inadequate and insufficient for the thousands of students who may have to abandon their studies due to the fee hike.
ERC reiterates its demand for the reversal of fee hikes at UNILAG and nationwide, advocating for robust funding of public education and democratic school management.
Even in the current economic climate, Nigeria possesses the resources to ensure enhanced funding of public education, ultimately leading to free education at all levels.
ERC identifies capitalism and corruption as the primary obstacles and calls for the establishment of a mass movement to combat anti-poor policies and a workers’ political alternative to dismantle capitalism and usher in a Socialist Nigeria.
The statement read “Today’s protest was called precisely because the UNILAG authorities had rebuffed all other efforts to try to resolve the issue without protest or demonstration. For instance, a team of students’ representatives led by comrade Giwa Topnotch, the Public Relations Officer of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) met with the Vice Chancellor and her team on August 2, 2023 where the fee hike was discussed and students’ representatives presented their arguments against it.
“Unable to controvert students’ arguments, the Vice Chancellor appealed for time to consult with other members of the management team and that she would reconvene the meeting to give feedback to the students’ representatives.
“Alas, the University’s Vice Chancellor has refused to reconvene the meeting afterwards in a sign of blatant and unilateral withdrawal from negotiation. Instead, the University has continued to send messages to students with a view to intimidate them to pay the fees even though their representatives are still in discussion with the authorities.
“As far as we are concerned, the funding of public education remains the primary duty and responsibility of the government, and not poor parents. Considering the current cost of living crisis, many cannot afford the hiked fees. This means several students are on the verge of dropping out unless the University authorities reverse the fees.
“Although the management claims to have made provision for indigent students, the truth is that this is inadequate and cannot really go round the thousands of students who will be faced with the option of abandoning their studies as a result of the hike.
“We hereby reiterate the demand for reversal of the hiked fees in UNILAG as well as all fee hikes across the country. We demand proper funding of public education and democratic management of schools. Even with present economic climate, Nigeria is rich enough to ensure improved funding of public education up to the point of provision of free education at all levels.
“The only obstacle to this is capitalism and corruption and this is why the ERC calls for the building of a mass movement to begin to fight back against all anti-poor policies and a mass workers political alternative to take power, smash capitalism and enthrone a Socialist Nigeria.”
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