I graduated from Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) about three years ago, but as an alumnus that has the interest of the school at the marrow of my bones, I have followed events in the Great Institution with a profound attentiveness. This time OAU is in the news again albeit on a negative note. The news emanating from the shores of OAU this time is discouraging enough; it is the news that, if allowed to stand, has the tendency of rolling back the clock of the Institution’s progress: OAU Management has increased its School charges by 368%: the Faculties of Arts, Administration, Social Sciences, Education and Law are to pay ₦71,400; Sciences, Technology and Agric are to pay ₦88,400 while College of Health Sciences and Pharmacy will pay ₦91,400. The above charges are aside the fact that every newly admitted student will still be required to pay the compulsory ₦20,000 acceptance fee.

Three years ago when there was widespread debate about the imposition of acceptance fee in OAU and the Campus was shut down by the University Management, I lent my voice to the debate. In my article titled ‘Re-OAU Alumni Condemn Students’ Protest,’ published in the Sahara Reporters of 15/03/2011, I argued that if the acceptance fees was allowed to stand, then OAU management would become emboldened to astronomically increased the school fees and that if care was not taken, a time would come that only the children of the privileged would be gaining access to education in OAU. Perhaps it was OAU’s successful imposition of what it termed ‘acceptance fee’ which started in my final year in 2010/2011 academic session that gave them the audacity to introduce another obnoxious charge this year.

It is on record that OAU has a long tradition of affordability; this also explains why the institution has the largest concentration of brilliant students from poor homes. Someone like me would never have been a University graduate were it not for the affordability of OAU. Even when I was admitted in 2007/2008 session, without anybody to foot my academic expenses, I found it very easy to pay the ₦13,300 which was charged as our fees at that time. By the time of my graduation in 2011, the total money I paid in OAU stood at ₦28,970!

Looking at the level of my achievement today, I know I wouldn’t have been here were it not for the affordability of OAU and for this I will forever remain grateful to the institution which gave me an unfettered access into the world of intellectuals. My experience with other colleagues also told a lot about the poverty level that is ubiquitous in OAU. In a country where the living standard has fallen below expectation, in an environment where 71.5 percent are living below $1 per day, and in a nation where millions of potential university-students are aimlessly roaming the streets simply because they cannot afford the astronomic fees that are being charged by other Nigerian institutions, OAU has given promising children from ‘downtown’ like me entrance into the world of accomplishment.

I hereby implore the OAU management not to forget the institution’s past and the long way it has been traveling. For indeed, the greatness of OAU is neither in its architectural ingenuity nor in the exquisite magnificence of its major edifices, but lies rather in the longtime tradition and ideology which the institution has continued to hold on to in the past 50 years of its existence. Due to its affordability, the institution has been able to turn the lives of many families around by making advanced education accessible to brilliant children from poor homes. Many of them are now their families’ bread winners due to OAU’s School charges that came with a human face. This is the greatness of OAU that people keep talking about.

The OAU Management argues that this vicious increment is necessitated by the rise in the cost of education and dwindled subvention from the Federal Government. I regard this as a flimsy excuse and unsubstantiated argument. Only recently, the Federal Government was forced to commit ₦100 billion to revamping hostels in Nigerian Universities, while ₦200 billion is to be committed to university education as special fund for academic infrastructures. These are the products of ASUU’s agitation. Then, if the University is going to enjoy from these funds, why would the Management then burdened students and their poor parents with this astronomic fees? More so, a similar increment of acceptance fees in 2011 has not translated into a meaningful development on the Campus as water and electricity supply remain as epileptic as ever.

In addition to this, it is open knowledge that OAU collects numerous grants both locally and internationally. A lot of alumni are performing excellently in their respective fields and are willing to give back to their alma mata.  A lot of commercial ventures such as OAU Table Water, OAU Bread among others are flourishing in the university campus and in Ife environment; add this to the money it collects as fees from the pre-degree students and numerous diploma programmes, OAU has no justifiable reason to introduce this obnoxious charges.

Aside the fact that this vicious increment will deny poor people access to education; it also has the tendency of disrupting academic exercise in the great citadel of learning. The case of LASU is a compelling reason why well-meaning alumni of OAU must prevail on the Management to reverse the obnoxious increment. It would be recalled that LASU had witnessed an increment of fee from ₦25,000 to an average of ₦250,000, yet learning infrastructures remain in pitiable condition, while the University is moving from a crisis to another. Meanwhile, students who managed to pay at that time are currently engaged in a fierce battle when it becomes glaring that their poor parents’ income cannot sustain further payment. OAU Management should learn a lesson from this.

According to a 20th century philosopher, Max Aikten: ‘Institutions of great intellects have passed away and left no traces, and history gives the naked cause of it — one single simple reason in all cases: they fell because they were unmindful of their past’. As OAU management embarks on this anti-progressive stance, therefore, let the OAU alumni remind the VC not to forget where the institution is coming from: let the management always remember that OAU shall continue to be as a city upon a hill — the eyes of all brilliant and promising children from poor homes will forever remain upon it. Let it ever remain mindful of the fact that if Nigeria will be rescued from the imminent doldrums she is heading to, there will be need for OAU to train more critical minds who will succeed in diagnosing and analysing the challenges that are assailing us from different directions. The encouragement of promising children from backward strata of our society is imperative in this regard.

OAU is a school for the brilliant poor.  If some universities have turned education into a commercial venture, Ife must not be tempted to join the train, OAU’s indelible inheritances must be protected at all cost and its past legacies must not be jettisoned on the platter of capitalism’s entrepreneurship and it must always remember that its future lies in its past. OAU Ile-Ife must remain an epitome of an ivory tower where children or wards of the common man can pursue academic excellence in an environment devoid of financial extortion or rip-off. This should be the focus of the Alumni who now occupies the management position towards the school. Those who paid almost nothing when they were students in OAU must not deprive others of similar opportunity

Adewale Stephen                                                                                                                              

Kado Estate, Abuja