Laide (name has been changed) is a student of the Ladoke Akintola University of Science and Technology (LAUTECH) who has just finished taking her final exams, albeit months behind schedule. Like many others who attend the institution, Laide is from the school’s immediate catchment area. Jointly owned by the Oyo State Government and the Osun State Government, LAUTECH gives admission priority to applicants from those two states, which has never really been a problem until now.
Trouble began last year when management introduced a new policy designed to recover debts and increase the institution’s income generating profile in the light of funding arrears from the governments concerned. Tagged “No tuition fee no exam,” the policy states that LAUTECH students who owe tuition fees will not be permitted to sit for exams until they pay their arrears. On its own, the policy sounds unusually harsh and arbitrary, but upon digging into the story, it gets much worse.
Everybody Owes Everybody: The Ghost Economy of LAUTECH
When I spoke to Laide, she made the point that an outsized proportion of the student population at LAUTECH are children of civil servants in Osun state. This comes as no surprise because Osun state is a generally agrarian economy dominated by subsistence agriculture in rural areas and the civil service in the capital city, Osogbo. Logically, many of these civil servants opt to send their kids to LAUTECH because it admission policy is favourable to its catchment area, giving them the greatest possible chance to obtain a degree in their chosen field. There is just one problem.
The Osun State government owes everybody.
The woes of the state’s civil servants under the past administration of Rauf Aregbesola were well publicised, but what flies somewhat under the radar today is that these woes by no means ended in 2018. Civil servants in Osun State are still owed several months’ worth of wage arrears, which creates an interesting conflict of interest at LAUTECH. On the one hand, the school clearly needs money to run itself, as it is also a victim of the extant financial and political tussle between both state governments. LAUTECH staff who technically are also civil servants are being owed their entitlements too.
On the other hand, a school that was essentially founded to promote the interests of the people in its catchment area is now throwing those very people under the bus with its no-tuition-no-exam policy. This creates an unfortunate vicious circle where broke civil servants who are owed their entitlements cannot pay their kids’ tuition fee arrears at LAUTECH, which in turn penalizes their kids by making them waste extra years in school, increasing the financial liability on the already struggling civil servants.
As Two Elephants Fight, Students Attempt Suicide
The genesis of the LAUTECH impasse go back to the founding of the school, which was wholly owned by the old Oyo State government. When Oyo State was split into Oyo and Osun for the usual reasons of political expediency in the face of economic viability, the institution immediately became a valuable political asset with its ownership contested by both governments. In the end, the de-facto solution to the ownership dispute was for the Oyo State government to retain ownership of the sprawling Ogbomosho campus, while the Osun State government would take ownership of the Health Sciences campus based in Osogbo.
Despite this compromise, both states continued to fight a low-level civil war for years over the ownership of LAUTECH, culminating in a series of public flashpoints during the administration of Oyo State governor Adebayo Alao-Akala. Since then, following the political alignment of both states, the issue appeared to be over until recently, when the Oyo State government once again accused Osun State of failing to meet its funding responsibility. The message was “Pay up or cede all of LAUTECH to Oyo State.”
For reasons mentioned above, LAUTECH is an important political asset to both governments however, and neither wants to lose it – whether they can realistically afford to maintain it or not. Certainly a cursory glance at the finances of Osun State – which as at 2019 had a debt of N174.7bn against a revenue estimate of N150bn – shows clearly that the state government is disastrously broke and will continue to default on its recurrent liabilities for the foreseeable future. This means that LAUTECH is essentially left to its own devices to figure out how to raise money to keep itself running. Its solution is the same as that of any other Nigerian government institution in a similar situation – let the people worry about it.
Responding to a plea by the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) to suspend the no-tuition-no-exam policy, LAUTECH in May 2019 released a terribly worded, scarcely believable statement filled with grammatical errors and dripping with contempt:
“It may interest the students’ body (sic) under its Chairman, Mr Olajuwon Asubiojo, that the handlers of the University have been so compassionate, a situation that has allowed the students owe accumulated bills in the first place. Members of the public may also want to know that a campaign indicating that all students must pay before they could (sic) be allowed to sit for tests and examinations have (sic) been mounted for clearly over a month before now (sic), to allow whoever that was owing to rectify their financial status if they were sincerely committed to paying. The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Michael Ologunde has been magnanimous enough to on behalf of Senate (sic), ordered (sic) the portal be kept (sic) open to allow those who are sincere in paying to do so, as the University is bent on recovering all outstanding dents while not allowing new ones.”
As Laide pointed out to me, LAUTECH has already wasted several years’ worth of its students’ time due to incessant strikes and closures over the past decade. Now with this policy, it is condemning a vast number of them to extra semesters and extra years on campus. Laide is one of the “lucky” few. Following a successful Twitter fundraising campaign last year, she was able to raise over N180,000 to defray her tuition backlog and write her final exams.
Her younger bother, also a LAUTECH final year student, is not so lucky. Their father, an Osun State civil servant who is being owed wages going back to 2015, has not been able to raise a similar required sum. For him, an extra year beckons through no fault of his own, or indeed his parents. This policy, Laide tells me, is leaving a trail of despair and despondence across the student population, leading at least one lady that she knows of to attempt suicide recently.
As is typically the case in Nigeria, while the two elephants in Ibadan and Osogbo continue in their everlasting combat without any clear outcome or conclusion in sight, it is the little guys that have to suffer.