“Let Luqman Stay:” One University Experiences the Power of Students’ Determination

Nyeleti Honwana, Columnist

Luqman Onikosi was born in Ijebu Ode in South Western Nigeria. He was a bright young man with big dreams, and he knew that he would one day leave his home town. After six years of struggling to obtain entry into the UK, he was granted a student’s visa to attend the University of Sussex. In January 2007, he began undergraduate studies at the university in Economics and International Relations.

However, months into his first year, Onikosi’s sponsor unexpectedly passed away and because of restrictions that prevent international students from working more than 20 hours a week, he was unable to pay his annual course fees. Onikosi suddenly was confronted with the reality that he wouldn’t be able to continue his studies. However, together with tutors, the University of Sussex’s Student Union, USSU, and a charity, he was able to pay the steep fees and sit his summer exams.

Even though he could complete his first year, tuition fees were a constant burden on him, and in his second year he appealed to the university to reduce his fees because of his personal circumstances. Feeling that Onikosi was justified in his request, USSU together with a number of fervent students created the Facebook group titled ‘Let Luqman Stay’ in April 2008, a campaign that called on “the University of Sussex to permit Luqman Onikosi…the right to study.” With over 700 members, the group advocated for the reduction, or abolition, of Onikosi’s course fees.  They stated that:

“Luqman is a fantastic and able student, not just in terms of his academic aptitude but also in terms of his contribution to student life on campus where he is the Black Students’ Officer for the University of Sussex Students’ Union. His activism at local and national level has inspired hundreds of fellow students and he is regarded to be one of the most active student activists in the country.”

It was at this time that I met Luqman. I had heard about his situation, and as a fellow international student, I understood the pressures of paying the exorbitant tuition fees. However, I soon found out that we had more in common than just our foreigner’s status. Onikosi was a student who wanted the full university experience; he was engaged in campus life, politically aware and approachable. It is a testament to his character that nearly 1,000 students rallied around him during the campaign. It was because of these reasons that I, too, pledged to help in any way I could.

The Facebook group continued to spread awareness of Onikosi’s situation around campus.  However, our efforts went unrecognized by the university. Moreover, it was at this time that the USSU took a step back from Onikosi’s case. Because of the vast number of international students that were in similar situations, they could not be seen to endorse one individual case. This was a further blow to our efforts, as without the support of the student union, it would become much harder to garner the attention of the university.

Therefore, In May 2008, the decision was made to hold various rallies around campus in protest of the university’s silence in not only Onikosi’s case, but in the numerous cases that existed on campus. It was dubbed the ‘Let Them Study’ Campaign. A number of demonstrations were held around campus to raise awareness about their situations, and at the helm was Onikosi himself.

The ‘Let Them Study’ Rally, May 2008[4]

During the following months there was growing tension between USSU and the Let Luqman Stay Group. A number of statements were made, furthering hostility between the two sides. However, by the end of Onikosi’s second year, both groups had put their opinions aside and rallied to reach the best possible outcome for his case. And in September of 2008, they did. The university agreed to reduce Onikosi’s fees to that of a home (British native) student. Effectively, he would pay a third of the price he owed as an international student.

With this new chance Onikosi threw himself into his studies and became an active member of the university. In November 2008, he created the Hear Afrika Society (HAS), a campus society committed to dispelling “myths and stereotypes about African development and [that continues to] campaign for social justice in African countries.” During his last year, HAS hosted a number of fundraisers and awareness concerts about social and political issues across Africa–one of the most successful being the Sussex Somali Aid Concert, which raised thousands of pounds for Somali refugees. Independently of HAS, Onikosi was also involved in Sussex Love Music, Hate Racism campaign and USSU’s “No Platform Policy.”

What is most striking about Onikosi’s story is the fact that it is the rule, not the exception. Too often international students from developing countries are made to pay double, and in this case triple, the tuition fees of their native peers. At the University of Sussex alone, about 40 international students were barred from sitting their final exams in 2008 because they were unable to pay their course fees. For every international student facing problems such as this, there is growing awareness of their plight and students who are prepared to rally and stand behind them. More importantly, is the role that Facebook in particular played in the organization and implementation of the various steps that were taken to ensure that Luqman was able to study and graduate with his class in 2010.