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By Abiola Solanke

The incident at Bowen University, Iwo on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 is an event that will continue to linger in the minds of staff, students, parents and friends of the institution for a long time to come. According to a report by THE PUNCH, students went berserk and vandalised no fewer than twenty (20) vehicles in the institution. The cause of the protest was said to be power outage and lack of water supply in one of the new male hostels. Findings later revealed that the cause of the protest was more than the issue of power outage and lack of water supply as it was connected to some management decisions that didn?t go down well with the students such as; restriction of students movement, compulsory locking of the hostels between the hours of 8a.m and 4pm, time table for eating amongst many others.

It was reported that the students were watching a European Champions league match that fateful Wednesday evening when the electricity supply went off and the frustration coupled with the bottled-up revolt against the new management policies was believed to have triggered the protest. By the time the dust was settled, no fewer than twenty vehicles belonging to staffs of the institution had been vandalised while several shops within the campus was also looted. The unfortunate incident at BOWEN calls for concern and a review of the policies enacted in our private tertiary institutions.

It is alarming that in this 21st century, we have institutions that prevent her students from making use of gadgets such as Computers, mobile phones, I-pads etc. Many of them give dress codes to their students, restrict their movement, enforce food time-table, dictate the clothes they must wear, determine the time they must read, compel them to go to chapels, etc. Students are sent to the tertiary institution to not only acquire knowledge, but to learn self-reliance, human relations and independence existence. One therefore wonders how the students will acquire these additional skills if they are constantly dictated to and their daily routine dictated by the authorities.

Even more disturbing is breaching the right of staff and students to unionise contrary to Section 40 of the Nigerian constitution which states ??Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests??. The right to unionize in these institutions is being trampled upon thus making agitation and championing the staff and students interest a mirage. Apart from defending the interest of members, these Unions especially the Student Unions help to develop and mould future leaders for the Nation. It is a ground where students can acquire leadership skills that will benefit them and help them even in their chosen carriers which is one of the goals of these schools in the first instance.

Many of our private institutions in a bid to instil discipline in their students introduce policies which does not necessarily instil the desired discipline in them. Many of their students ?hibernate? their normal behaviours while in school and exhibit them when they are out of the school on holidays which confirms the saying that ??you can only take a horse to the river, you can?t force it to drink the water??. Many of the students are treated like kids and not like the adults who they are. To many of their students, it is like being imprisoned and are not allowed to socialise and mix freely thus affecting their human relations when they graduate from the schools. Its high time our private varsities begin to allow their students some level of liberty to determine how they shape their lives. Varsity undergraduates in these institutions should be given the requisite training and exposure that will justify the fees that are paying and make

them interact freely and compete favourably with their colleagues from public varsities after graduation.

Two basic amenities that have to be provided for in a higher institution are Electricity and water. Though both are national problems which have crippled many businesses in the country, but then in higher institutions, their chief executives strive to devote a substantial part of their finances to these two basic amenities. It is surprising however that in a Private University where students pay between Five hundred thousand to seven hundred thousand, electricity is supplied to the halls of residence for just six hours daily! The protest by the students is a reaction to the suppression of their fundamental human rights. It is a product of bottled-up frustration against the system and the power outage that precipitated the protest was just the final straw that broke the camel?s back.

There is the likelihood of communication breakdown between the management and students which could have been averted if the students had their own Union. It is also important that these institutions allow their students some level of liberty while at the same time instilling discipline in them after-all, there is no evidence to show that their products are better-off behavioural wise compared to those from public institutions. The unfortunate incident at BOWEN is a wake-up call to our leaders that the people are gradually finding their voice and are resisting unpopular policies. Gone are the days when people accepted oppressive policies without any form of dissent. The voice of the people is in their unity and when the people can unite and come together, any anti-people policy can be surmounted.

The unfortunate and regrettable part of the whole incident is the looting of shops and vandalising of vehicles. It is a sour taste which leaves much to be desired. It is unfortunate that University undergraduates will become lawless and turn a supposedly peaceful protest into a vehicle for destruction and looting. This is condemnable and should be discouraged by well-meaning Nigerians. Apart from the fact that the students will likely have to pay surcharge for the vehicles destroyed and shops looted, it has brought about a disruption in the academic calendar which is undesirable.

Certainly, lessons have been learnt, though in the hard way, it is hoped that other private institutions, public universities and the Nation as a whole will come to the reality that no matter how well the people have been supressed, a day of revolt will surely come. Private tertiary institutions need to re-visit some of their laws and guarantee their students some level of freedom. The right to unionize should also be revisited in these ivory towers to build future leaders and expose students to leadership experience.

Abiola Solanke wrote in from Abeokuta, Ogun state. Follow me on Twitter @abinistyy or [email protected]

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