Akure – In the past two weeks, Ondo state has been hot for Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu. The high temperature of the Sunshine state was triggered by the protests against some seemingly unfavorable decisions of the state government.
Members of the State House of Assembly started the weeks of anger with what many have described as a feeble protest against the alledged paucity of funds in the House. The lack of funds was said to have been occasioned by the Assembly’s financial dependence on Governor Akeredolu.
The lawmakers, who asked for financial autonomy from the governor, said it would address the hardship being experienced by them in the course of discharging their duties. Lamenting that they could not spend on any project without the approval of the executive arm of government, the legislators decried the deplorable condition of the assembly complex.
The complex was built by the civilian administration of late Pa Adekunle Ajasin over four decades ago. Iroju Ogundeji, the Deputy Speaker of the House, urged Akeredolu to release funds for members of the Assembly to embark on projects in their various constituencies.
“No doubt about that, we all know this, it is a thing of public knowledge that we don’t have financial autonomy. The state Houses of Assembly in Nigeria depend on the executive before we can get our financial problems solved. This is the situation we find ourselves in this country, and we have said this, times without number.
“This is part of the lacuna that is still existing in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We also decry the deplorable condition of the entire House of Assembly complex and we appeal to the executive governor, who is also the financial custodian of the state resources to assist us,” Iroju said.
Bamidele Oleyelogun, the Speaker of the House, begged Akeredolu to attend to the lawmakers’ needs in the interest of representative democracy. Oleyelogun said the little contributions to their constituents were from personal efforts through loans.
The lawmakers, however, failed to secure the sympathy of most people in the state with their lamentations. The popular belief in Ondo state is that members of the House are responsible for whatever unsavory situation they may currently be passing through.
Before now, the House was composed of 21 members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and five members of the All Progressives Congress (APC). But shortly after Akeredolu climbed the saddle of leadership, 13 PDP members were lured into the APC. The development was seen as a factor that seriously undermined the power of the House and weakened opposition politics in the state.
A day after the House cried out, scores of pregnant women protested the hike in the cost of services at the Ondo State Specialist Hospital, Akure, the state capital. The women blocked the main entrance to the hospital and prevented people including patients and workers from gaining access to the health facility.
The protest disrupted operations at the hospital and hindered vehicular movement at the popular hospital road for about three hours. The protesting women, who sat at the entrance of the hospital, rendered anti-government songs and urged Governor Akeredolu to reverse the increase.
The protesters said they used to pay N1,000 as registration fee for antenatal while delivery was free. They added that the registration fee had now been increased to N4,000 and they were required to pay N500 for every antenatal appointment as well as N25,000 for normal delivery.
Wahab Adegbenro, the State Commissioner for Health, later reversed the decision to introduce N500 for every antenatal appointment. Adegbenro, however, said there was no plan to introduce N25,000 delivery fee in the hospital.
The protest of the pregnant women reportedly embarrassed the state government. Sources told Sunday INDEPENDENT that a query was issued to Adewole to explain why he took such an action without informing and seeking the permission of the governor or commissioner.
The dust raised by the pregnant women’s protest had hardly settled down, when students of the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, poured into the streets of Akure to demonstrate against the increase in tuition fees at the institution.
The management of the university had announced new tuition fees for both the old and new students for the 2017/2018 academic sessions. The new tuition was hiked from N25, 000 to N150, 000 for some students and N180, 000 for others.
Irked by the new fee regime, students of the institution blocked the popular Oba-Adesida Road, Akure, preventing free flow of traffic and paralysing commercial activities for several hours. The protesters, armed with placards bearing various inscriptions, marched through Oba Adesida road to Alagbaka area. They urged Governor Akeredolu to intervene and urgently reverse the decision of the school management to increase the tuition fees.
Olawale Ijanusi, President of the Students Union Government (SUG) of the university, described the new fees of N120, 000 and 180, 000 as outrageous and unacceptable to the students. “We have directed all our students not to pay the new fees as the increment is too exorbitant to bear. Anyone who pays does that on his own,” Ijanusi said.
The State House of Assembly also rejected the new tuition fees, saying the institution’s management violated the agreement it had with the Assembly. Fatai Olotu, chairman of House Committee on Information, said the management did not carry the Assembly along while taking the decision to increase the fees as earlier agreed. He urged the students to be calm, saying efforts were being made to address the development.
But the state government, through Yemi Olowolabi, Commissioner for Information and Orientation, said the fees were increased due to economic reality in the country.
He said: “It is very important for the general public and the good people of Ondo State to note that the tuition was arrived at and announced by the governing council after robust and exhaustive meetings with the university’s stakeholders, including the staff, students and parents.
“It is important to note that the current fee of between N23, 000 and N37, 000 charged by AAUA was introduced about 18 years ago at commencement of the University in 2000. How do you explain the fact that students in the Ondo State University of Science and Technology, Okitipupa (OSUSTECH) pay between N120, 000 and N150,000 as tuition per session, those in the University of Medical Sciences, Ondo (UNIMED) pay between N200,000 and N450,000 per session.”
“At the beginning, especially between year 2000 and up till year 2013, the University had it good with subventions from the state government for payment of salaries and execution of capital projects. The fortunes of the University began to suffer with the downturn in the economy of Nigeria, becoming more serious from 2014, when the payment of subventions began to suffer and was eventually reduced.”
After three days of protest, the students leaders had a meeting with Governor Akeredolu last Wednesday, where it was decided that the students’ action be suspended pending amicable resolution of the matter. Many are waiting for how the issue will be resolved.