Ajibayo Adeyeye is the leader of the Lagos State House of Assembly. He was recently saddled with the responsibility of investigating the crisis that erupted at the Lagos State University (LASU) with some members of the House. In this interview with Senior Reporter, AKINWUNMI KING, the lawmaker explained that the House is making progress in the investigation, just as he also spoke on other issues. He also denied the insinuation that the House is working on a law to ban protests in the state. Excerpts:
Recently, a crisis broke out in the Lagos State University (LASU) and the House set up a committee to investigate the matter. You are the chairman of that committee; how far has the committee gone in its assignment?
The LASU crisis is one too many and the House of Assembly is determined to make sure that this would be the last time there would be any form of crisis in the institution. To that end, a committee was put in place and I was made the chairman. We swung into action, interviewed all the management team of the institution, spoke with representatives of student unions, spoken with traditional rulers that have anything to do with the institution. We also spoke with security operatives around the institution and we have visited the institution for on-the-spot assessment of damages even after the one embarked upon by all members of the House. Apart from inspecting the institution, we also inspected the environment and found that there are a lot of exit and entry into the institution, besides the official gate. We have found out too that all the set-backs on the road between the Badagry Expressway and the LASU fence have been practically turned into trading zones and nefarious activities are going on there. People sell rams, trucks load there to go to the north, people sell firewood and these activities are definitely not compatible with the existence of an ivory tower we are hoping to build. We have spoken with security operatives of the college and we found out that some students participated in the crisis, some others joined them from the outside, some even masked during the crisis and we feel this cannot be a protest. A protest does not come with people that have axis to break down gates and doors or people that are armed in whatever way. That is no longer a protest but crime. We are talking to the management of the institution to make sure that the school is opened as soon as possible and that investigation continues because we will bring the criminals to book. We are not going to rest on our oars until we see that the criminals are punished. We cannot stand as lawmakers to believe that people that vandalised the car of the Vice Chancellor or people that upturned the vehicle of the Personal Assistant to the Vice Chancellor and removed the wheels were protesting. We don’t think so. We think they are criminals and should be fished out for a better society. That is the stage we are now.
The complaint of many Lagosians is that the school fees are too outrageous and that a state-owned school should not pay such huge amounts. Don’t you think crisis will keep re-occurring if something is not done about this?
You see, there are differences between the states of the federation, and all of us must appreciate those differences. What obtains in Osun does not obtain in Lagos, what obtains in Imo does not obtain in Lagos. There was a time in Nigeria when Lagos was classified as an educationally disadvantaged state. And I remember that when I passed JAMB for the first time scoring over 270, I was still disadvantaged because I am from Ondo state. The cut-off mark was much higher but it was much lower for people from Lagos state. Whereas I needed 289 to enter the university, coming from Ondo state, somebody from Lagos needed only 210. Now, the reality on the ground in Lagos State now is, this is no longer the lot. We are no longer short of graduates. Instead, we have too many graduates looking for jobs. There is no need for a factory to continue to churn out goods that are not required. Those we need currently in the state are people who have the know-how to do things; we need agric experts, technicians, plumbers, people that can lay tiles, technicians, bricklayers and artisans. They are more required than using the state resources to produce a Sociology graduate that would stay in his father’s house doing nothing. We would rather spend our money to train a plumber and those who would lay tiles. Now, if you are building in Lagos, you would not find a Lagosian that can lay tiles; they are from Togo, Cotonou and other neighbouring countries. And our own citizens are there looking for jobs. When this school fees brouhaha broke out, I remember the Lagos Assembly took it up seriously because we were caught with the sentiments of the people. They elected us and thus prevailed on us, saying the government had decided to increase school fees. Fortunately, I ended up the chairman of the committee set up by the House to look into it. We went into the books in trying to convince the governor and his team on why the school fees should be reduced. And you would be astonished what we found. Well over N700,000 was spent on every student in LASU every year. How did we find that? We added the salaries in the institution together, the running cost and all the money the institution collects from our budget and we divided this by the number of students there and this came to N700, 000 per child. If you give N700, 000 to one of my constituents that has learnt welding in Ajegunle to go and establish himself, he would end up employing five people. That amount meant that the state government would expend N2.8 million on a student of LASU in four years only for him to come and stay at home looking for job. You would say can’t the government employ them? But how many can the government employ? The state government employs well over 100,000 of all of us. We still have 19.9 million there waiting. And don’t also forget that the Lagos State government as it is today makes between N19 billion and N20 billion every month and gets about N6 billion from Abuja and our wage bill is about N6 billion. It means that 100,000 people are consuming N6 billion of the state resources. That means less than 21 per cent of our population is consuming about 20 per cent of the resources of the state. It means we cannot continue to employ but to train people that would employ. That is the right thinking of a manager. But even at that, the House still went ahead to prevail on the governor to reduce the fees and ensure that every student in school at that time won’t have their fees increased. As I speak to you, the third and fourth year students are still paying N25,000 per year. For those affected by the increment, we appropriated money to cushion the effect on them, meaning that everybody in LASU now elected to be in LASU knowing fully how much he is going to pay. Don’t also forget that tertiary education is not one of the preserve of state. It is only primary and secondary education that you can argue for a fee reduction. But even as we speak, Lagos State still gives bursary to its students whether they are in state or federal universities and this graduates from N80,000 to as much as N200,000. So we all must put on our thinking caps on how to savage youth unemployment in the state. We must not allow the sentiment of the moment to affect our sense of reasoning. As at the time the crisis happened in LASU, over 10,000 students had fully paid and registered amounting to about 83 per cent. So the protest is unjustifiable. And we must give the government the support because it is in the right direction.
There have also been complaints of delayed results and certificates of graduates of part time studies of the school. Is your committee also looking into this issue?
It is not one of the things my committee has been asked to look at. However, while we had the Vice Chancellor of that institution on the floor of the House, I remember standing up and asking him about it because I personally have two members of staff who have done part time and have not been given results about three years after. We will not stop taking it up with him. He gave many reasons, including that many did not register properly, their system of computerisation, and other reasons. I agree with you that these are no excuses for people finishing and not getting their certificates. It is not part of our terms of reference but I am personally taking it up.
One of your colleagues accused LASU of breeding hooligans and thanked God for not having any child in the school. Don’t you think this is discouraging to would-be students and their parents as well as politicians who have children there?
I remember what you are saying, but we must appreciate something. It is true that it happened in the past. I remember during the Jakande era, there was debate concerning politicians sending their children to particular schools. But the responsibility of training a child is not just that of the father or the mother. So if, as a politician, I say my children should attend a school and my wife says over her dead body. Are you expecting me to divorce her because I have decided to be a politician? We have to discuss it and agree on what to do. What is important for all of us is that we should build the institution in such a way that it would be difficult for anyone to cast aspersions on it. I would not want you to take the statement the way it came because even the lawmaker who made that statement still tried to explain what she was saying. It is part of the reason we are trying to make sure that both children of the rich and the poor are given the same certificates and equal opportunities. You need to visit the school and see the passion of the state government and the kind of structures we are trying to put up there.
It was in the media recently that the House is proposing a law to ban strikes in the state, and civil right groups wrote an open letter to the House to condemn such move. Can you explain what the situation is?
We have no such plan to ban strikes in the state. What really happened was that the House Committee on Health Services organised a parley with the Lagos State Ministry of Health and the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) as represented by the executive of that organisation. And the Chairman of that Committee, Hon Suuru Avoseh, who is not a medical doctor, invited me, being a medical doctor, to be part of that parley. The essence of the gathering was to talk to the doctors to avoid the then impending strike by the NMA. What we intended to achieve then was to avoid our hospitals in Lagos State being closed down. At the meeting, we asked them their reasons for proposing to go on strike and they said that the main reason was that they wanted the Federal Government to look for alternative ways of funding healthcare. So we told them that if that was the main reason they wanted to embark on a nationwide strike, they need to exempt Lagos, because we were already thinking about doing something about that in Lagos State. We told them that we were working on a bill that would establish a health maintenance scheme that would find other sources of funds for healthcare in Lagos State. Immediately we gave them a copy of the draft bill and we told to go with it and go through it so that they, as an association, can have their own input before we read the bill on the floor of the House for the first time. They were glad, and that does not in any way means that the House is about to pass a bill to stop strikes.
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