Two years after they graduated, students of the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) are yet to get their certificates. They have also been prevented from going for the one-year mandatory National Youth Service. Why? The school claims the students defaulted in paying their fees. But the students disagreed, saying there was no payment deadline.
Many of the students did not see it coming. They were looking forward to their convocation and joining their colleagues from other universities for the National Youth Service.
By the time they knew what was happening, no fewer than 1,000 students of the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) had been barred from graduating and going for service.
The students blamed their fate on what they called “administrative incompetence” by the school in managing fee payment and information dissemination.
Many 2015/2016 graduating students’ hope of being mobilised for the compulsory service has been dashed as the Bursary Department failed to clear them.The students allegedly paid after the deadline lapsed.
The students have been withdrawn and asked to enrol for another session. Their certificates are being withheld, despite the approval by the Senate. The only way out, according to the Director of Academic Planning, is for the defaulters to repeat a session.
While most of the graduating students claimed they paid before their final examination, management said some affected students made the payment after October 4, 2016, indicating late payment.
The school justified its action in a memo dated July 24, 2017, which reads: “The results of students who failed to pay their school charges for 2015/2016 session by the deadline (October 4, 2016) have been expunged from the 2015/2016 second semester results already approved by the Senate.”
The students denied the knowledge of the memo. One of them, who did not want her name in print, said there was no deadline by the school on fee payment. If there was deadline, she said the management did not properly disseminate the information to students. She wondered why many students were affected if the information went round.
She said: “We have graduated since 2016 and we don’t know why the school wants people to come back and repeat another session. While we were in school, there was no such information about the deadline for fee payment on the university website neither did they send bulk SMS like the way they always to do. We were not properly informed, if there was a deadline.
“Director of Academics said we are to repeat another session, which means we will lose two years of our youthful age. This is after our results have been approved by the Senate, our names were published in the university convocation brochure and some of us have collected our certificates. This is not fair.”
Another student, who gave his name as Kessy, said that each faculty issued forms to students, which they took to Information and Communication Technology (ICT) centre for clearance before they made payments to the dedicated bank.
Kessy said: “We were told in our department that if we didn’t pay the school fee before the final examination, our results would not be sent to the school Senate for approval. A lot of us did make the payment before the examination. If the fee payment was late, why did the school issue receipt to us to confirm the payment?”
Information was also gathered that some of the affected students, who had collected their certificates, have their names removed from the list of students being mobilised for National Youths Service. Also, their certificates have been declared invalid.
Most of the affected students are depressed. “I know of a colleague who is battling with stomach ulcer because when the school broke the news. She could not eat for days because she went through a lot of pains and hardship to keep herself in school. Now that she is to graduate peacefully, the school wants to delay her because of fee payment,” a student, who gave her name as Antonia, said.
Most of the affected students blamed recession for their inability to pay on time. In the throes of the recession, the students wrote appeal letters to the management and Heads of department, pleading for more time.
The Dean of Students’ Affairs, Dr Otu Ekpenyong, refused to speak on the development when contacted.
He directed our reporter to speak to the Director of Academic Planning, Dr. Ataga.
When our reporter spoke to Ataga, she said: “I am not in position to talk to you on this issue. The university has a Public Relations Officer; you may wish to talk to the person. Besides, the Vice-Chancellor (VC) was on air last week to discuss the issue. The students broke the rules of the university and the Senate took decision based on the condition they gave the school to be reopened after that crisis.”
In a memo issued last week, the school management said the affected students were being punished for secretly making payment after deadline lapsed. The memo said the defaulters took advantage of amnesty grantedthose who previously deferred their admission before the crisis.
The memo reads: “Those that picked temporary withdrawal forms last year will not pay for the last year fee because they notified the school of their absence. But, those who did not will pay before deadline last year fee are advised to go back to their departments to answer their unresolved case and go back to classes.”
It should be recalled that the problem started in 2016 when the portal for the fee payment on the university website was shut after the expiration of the deadline. It led to a peaceful protest last July when the school imposed “No School fees, No Examination” policy.The protest turned violent when security operative shot and killed a protester, Peter Oforum.
It was gathered that the management refused to shift ground to extend the deadline for the payment but directed all affected students to pick up withdrawal forms, fill and sign for the deferment of their admission for a year. This affected several students across departments and faculties.
Some of the affected graduating students who spoke with different pressmen wondered why a memo that was released last July 24, should have retroactive effect on graduates who wrote their final examinations in November 2016.
A graduating student said: “How did the school authorities convey the Senate decisions to the students? What method of communication did they use? This issue is really getting complicated. If there was a Senate decision, why was it not published on the school website? If this decision was taken in 2016, why did the same Senate approve our fee receipt to the point issuing certificate?
“Our clearance form was duly signed by Bursary department; does it mean the Bursary department is working outside the school regulation? The university set up a monitoring team which scrutinised all receipts before mobilising students for National Youth Service. How come they approved our receipts and sent to Students’ Affairs Unit?”
Another affected graduating student complained: “We went through a lot of stress to get our clearance, surcharge and all other charges paid. They allowed us to go through all the stages of clearance, gave us certificates, sent our names to the Directorate of National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), allowed us to buy our kits and stuff, only for them to announce we cannot graduate.
“I cannot imagine myself repeating a session. I have been crying since I heard the news. If I repeat a session, where will I get N45,000?”.