The rustication of five leaders of the University of Benin Students Union at the beginning of February is yet another example of the dictatorial tendencies of university administrators. The “crime” of students was to have organised a popular protest on November 24 last year against hikes in tuition and accommodation fees by the university authority.

The affected union leaders are: Ogbidi Osemudiamen (President); Aidenagbon Justus (Secretary General) and Innocent Momodu Ehiz (Assistant Secretary General) who were rusticated for two sessions, and Ehiabhi Goodnews PRO and Oseriemen Sankara (Students Town Crier), who were both rusticated for two sessions. They were also barred from ever holding students’ union offices again, or participating in union activities.

They were summoned before the Students Disciplinary Committee in the aftermath of the November demonstration, along with other officials of the students’ union. The school management charged them with attempting to disrupt the 47th Founder’s Day, without giving any consideration to the cogent matters they raised, which the authorities had failed to address despite earlier deputations calling for the reversal of the introduced fees hike.

Eventually, the other union executives, who are known for being moderates were exonerated and have been asked to continue running the union on a class-collaborationist basis with management. Apart from slamming the hammer on the five activists, the authorities are still making students to pay the new fees. Not surprisingly, Frances Ifeoma Okogwa (the “acting president”) and her team have not raised a voice to condemn this sorry situation.

But, rank and file students have refused to be cowed by the oppressive might of management. They commenced an indefinite lecture boycott at the beginning of February, demanding the immediate reinstatement of their leaders. They understand that the rustication is an attack against radical traditions on the campus, which the five students represent.

On their part, these bold young men have asked the students to make rejection of the fees hike the central point of agitation. There has been a rash of tuition and related fees hikes across Nigerian universities and indeed internationally over the past few years. This represents further neoliberal attacks against working-class people by the bosses.

The children of the rich are not affected by hikes in public educational institutions’ fees. In the first place, they are more likely to attend expensive private universities or some of the most exclusive universities across the world.

Thus, working-class organisations must support the anti-fees hike movement of students. It is a welcome development that unions of UNIBEN staff including ASUU are currently trying to convince the school authorities to rescind its repressive decisions against the UNIBEN 5.

But much more is needed. The trade unions, particularly those in the education sector, needs to unite with the students based on an anti-neoliberal agenda against fees hike and for improved funding and democratisation of the education sector. A people united and determined cannot be defeated. Workers and youth, unite and fight!

by Nnamdi iKEAGU