The Governor of Abia State, Okezie Ikpeazu, has directed the Abia State University (ABSU) to cancel the N15,000 pandemic prevention fee which the university asked its students to pay before they can write their examinations.
The university had directed the students to make the payment through a memo dated October 21 and signed by the school’s registrar, Acho Elendu.
In the memo, the school’s management said the fee should be paid through the online payment system of the university, before the commencement of the examinations.
“Having fumigated the Hostels and Lecture halls, Students are expected to return from Monday, November 9, 2020. The First Semester, 2019/2020 Examinations will commence on Monday,16 November 2020,” the memo reads in part.
“All returning students are to pay a Pandemic Prevention Fee of Fifteen Thousand (N15,000) Naira only, ensure Registration of their Courses, to be eligible to participate in the Examinations,” the memo reads.
The school management had also said the students must show evidence of payment before they can be allowed into the school premises.
“Please note, that it is for the student’s health and that of others, that it will be necessary to show evidence of payment of the Pandemic Prevention Fee before entry into any of the campuses. Parents, guardians and the public are to note, as appropriate,” the memo reads.
But following a furore the fee caused among the students and people in the state, Governor Ikpeazu said he has directed the university to scrap the fee.
Before the governor’s intervention late Thursday night, some of the students of the institution told PREMIUM TIMES that they received the information on the pandemic fee on Thursday.
“It just came out in the open yesterday and today. I am not sure if anyone has paid. We are still in the first semester. We are supposed to write our examination before the pandemic started,” said one of the students.
“We were told that we were supposed to pay N25,000 but the governor has paid N10,000 for us, hence the N15,000 balance,” another student said.
They said Mr Ikpeazu had invited some of them to a meeting on Thursday “but the students were not allowed to express their dissatisfaction with the N15,000 pandemic fees.”
When contacted, the president of ABSU Students Union, John Nwakanma, said the meeting with the governor was not over the pandemic fee.
“The meeting we had with the governor yesterday was not on the pandemic fee. I just heard about the fee officially today. We heard a rumour earlier that we are to pay N25,000 pandemic fee and we made our complaints immediately. Then the school responded that the issue has been handled even before our meeting with the governor. I just saw the release on this payment this morning,” he said.
The vice-chancellor of the university, Uche Ikonne, in a text message to our reporter earlier on Thursday night had said the fee was a one off payment.
“It’s not a continuous thing and the state government is reviewing the issue. So you may wish to calm down a bit till the final decision is reached,” he said.
The federal government in March closed schools nationwide over the outbreak of the coronavirus in the country.
The closure lasted for seven months until the education minister, Adamu Adamu, in October asked all schools to resume. However, the government advised the institutions to adhere to the guidelines for the reopening of schools, as earlier announced by the presidential task force.
Some of the preventive measures the government asked tertiary institutions to put in place before reopening include Installation of hand-washing facilities, equipment for body temperature checks, and body disinfectants at all entering points to their major facilities, including the gates, hostels, classes, offices, etc.
The government also said premises of each institution must be decontaminated.
The Coordinator of Education Rights Campaign, Hassan Soweto, had also described the introduction of the fee by ABSU as an attempt to use the COVID-19 pandemic to increase the pains and anguish of students from a poor background
“We anticipated this and even said that the possibility that the government could use the pandemic to justify increment of fees and this so-called COVID-19 pandemic fee that the Abia state university is charging is a confirmation of that. I think that all students, and following that staff unions, must collectively reject this kind of policy,” he said
He said the pandemic was not caused by students and “if the government still retains its constitutional responsibility towards the citizens, then we expect that in a period like this what we should be having is the state trying to soften the pain of the students and their poor parents not increasing their burden.
“In fact, we cannot rule out the possibility that some universities’ management will use the COVID-19 pandemic to deny their staff certain benefits and be claiming that the resources of the university have been affected by the pandemic,” he said.
Students studying professional courses such as Law, Medicine and Surgery, Medical Laboratory Science, Nursing Science and Engineering in ABSU pay N112,000 as tuition fee, while others pay N108,000.