The hike in the Lagos State University tuition fee has been controversial from the beginning. Why was it done?
The decision to increase the fees at LASU was a collective decision. In taking this decision, Governor Babatunde Fashola and his team focused on the big picture; that is giving the best to Lagosians for a small input. Governor Fashola and his team never envisaged that Lagosians would swallow it hook, line and sinker. They understand the economic situation in the country. They believe it is better for parents to squeeze themselves to pay a little higher fee for their children to get the real education instead of folding their arms, accepting whatever they are ready to pay and producing half-baked graduates, illiterate graduates and unemployable graduates. Governor Fashola took the decision to raise the fees not because he likes punishing parents but because he believes that only the best is good for Lagosians in the Centre of Excellence, hence the need for the hard decision. There is something he is seeing that we the parents are not seeing. We need to support the leader we all trusted with power to give us the best.
Don’t you think the hike is anti-people, considering that many parents in Lagos cannot afford to pay the fee for their children?
The decision should not be seen as anti-people. To build a world-class university, you need to pay the price. Go to LASU today and you will see that the structures springing from there are not funded entirely from the school fees. Lagos State Government is going the extra mile to build a university that will stand the test of time; a university that will fit the status of Lagos State, which would be well-respected across the globe. This school fee palaver came up two years ago and I wonder why it is coming up again this year. Is it because elections are coming? The Lagos State Government has made it clear that the hike in fee is not for the already admitted students. It is for the new intakes. This means that if you were in year one when the decision was taken, you will pay the old fee till you graduate. Parents must know that standard and qualitative education must cost them something. The only way you can beat poverty is to get good education. That is what Governor Fashola is trying to give Lagosians. We may not see what he is seeing now but tomorrow we will see it. Parents in Lagos should also take note that the state government has increased the bursary awards for students. There is also the scholarship scheme to be exploited by parents.
Some people have said the hike in LASU fee is one of many evidences that Fashola has been running an elitist government that has brought hardship to the masses.
Anybody in his wildest imagination, who is suggesting that Governor Fashola is running an elitist government in Lagos, cannot get it. That person is adding two and two to get 10, not four. All his decisions are taken in the interest of all Lagosians and this I can tell you. When some elites tried to stop the expansion of Lekki-Epe expressway, Governor Fashola boldly went to the construction site to engage them and he won the expansion of that road for the rich and the poor. Governor Fashola also built the Lekki-Ikoyi Bridge against the complaints and protests from the elite in Ikoyi. Today, both the poor and the rich enjoy Lekki-Ikoyi bridge; same for Okota-Ejigbo link bridge. Rich residents of Okota felt the construction of that bridge would expose them to hoodlums from Ejigbo but Governor Fashola ignored them and today, both the rich and the poor are using the Okota-Ejigbo link bridge. Banning of Okada (commercial motorcycles) from plying some roads in Lagos was done to save the lives of both the rich and the poor. Others may not see it but we are seeing the results of the ban today. Crime rate has gone down by 80 per cent. Okada-related accidents have reduced by 80 per cent. Are you telling me that the rebuilding of almost all the schools in Lagos is done to please the rich only? Are you telling me that almost all the hospitals in Lagos are being rebuilt for the rich only? Are you suggesting that all the roads, including the Itire-Okota bridge, were constructed for the rich only? Are we saying the new Lagos housing scheme is for the rich only? Or is the huge investment in security in Lagos for the rich only? We need to grow up.
Now that the Academic Staff Union of Universities has intervened in the situation, what would the state government do?
It all depends on what ASUU is bringing to the table. ASUU has just received N200bn for the reconstruction of our universities, which means they are on the same page with Governor Fashola. Nigeria is losing hundreds of billions every year to universities in nearby countries like Benin Republic and Ghana. ASUU members would not want to lose their jobs because the students they are teaching are moving in droves to Ghana and other countries. I guess ASUU’s engagement with Governor Fashola will be constructive and idea driven. I expect that they will see the big picture also and respectfully think out of the box. ASUU will come to realise that Governor Fashola is not on the wrong side of history. They will come to Alausa to learn that in politics, moving the ball is harder than to rest in our executive chairs to issue statements.
Will the state government reduce the fee due to pressure from ASUU and public outcry?
That decision will be left to the governor and his team. If there is compelling need to do so, I think the governor will travel that road. The decision to rebuild LASU to a world-class university is an idea which time has come. In my almost 10-year experience in the public service of Lagos State, I have come to realise that a leader who knows where he is going can take hard decisions and allow history to be his witness. Consequently, I think the chances that the fee will be slashed at LASU approaches zero very closely, without touching zero. Accepting mediocrity, primitive leadership and weak institutions in the name of cutting cost is not a good advertisement for effective leadership.
The ASUU president said state-owned universities should provide the platform for affordable education for the citizens; that it’s not to be run for profit. Don’t you agree?
I have told you that the Lagos State Government is making huge investment in LASU and it is not being done with the fees they are paying only. Any decision that has been taken in Lagos has always been a product of good thinking and robust debate. It has always been done, bearing in mind that tomorrow will come. The state government is not unmindful of the fact that the new fee will put additional burden on parents but if that is what it takes to produce LASU graduates that will compete with their counterparts all over the world, let it be.
Would the state government negotiate with ASUU and shift ground, if the lecturers go on strike over this issue?
My prayer is that ASUU will not even contemplate going on strike no matter the stand of the Lagos State Government on the issue at stake. By the time they meet Governor Fashola in a friendly atmosphere, I’m sure they will be convinced beyond reasonable doubts that he did not follow the road less traveled.
Has the Lagos State Government resolved the LASU crisis, which also had to do with the new school fee?
This is a political season and we can understand it very well. However, this matter will be resolved amicably and quickly too. Good leaders all over the world do listen, consider and act. And Governor Fashola is not an exception. LASU is not owned by Governor Fashola and his family. He has nothing to gain from the situation at LASU. (PUNCH)