It usually a surprise to many people that, on their arrival at the Obafemi Awolowo University Campus, one of the first structures out of all the beautiful buildings on the campus, one come across is the Great Ife Students’ Union Building, also known as Ken Saro-Wiwa Building. The location of this monument itself is deliberate to remind the freshman that, unlike other Institutions, he or she has a vibrant and progressive Students’ Body that will defend him or her not only within, but also without the campus. This building also means different things to many people. While to some, it is a place that has produced heroes and legends; to others, it is the bedrock of Students’ militancy; to others still, it is a house for rascals, outlaws or ‘rogue’ students. Whatever it may mean to anyone is a matter of interpretation or political orientations. For those, like me, who have served the Union in any capacity at one time or the other it is a centre for political consciousness, analyses and education which some of us always love cherish.
The excitement that this edifice represents can only left to imaginations of those who haven’t experienced it. In front of that building once stood a newspaper vendor, called Abe Igi where different people come to read the papers (usually for free) and in turn analyse, discuss and argue about topical issues making the news for long hours that one begins to wonder if these people ever attend lectures. I can guarantee you will learn more politics at this point than studying for a degree in Political Science in the university. This building is presently under the iron curtail of the University Management!
Only recently did the the University Registrar, Mr. D.A Awoyemi, signed a release dated 3rd December, 2015 reads in part: “This is to inform the generality of the students of the University and the University Community that the activities of the Students’ Union are hereby SUSPENDED by the University Authority until further notice.” (Italics mine).
Need we remind the University management or whoever signed this unfortunate release that the students, whose Union, it SUSPENDED, are but adults? Are we to educate those who should know better, but deliberately chose to be ignorant, that these students have the constitutional right to freedom of association? What are Union members from the prestigious Faculty of Law doing about the alleged suspension?
In other to fully understand the present predicament the students movement have found itself, we need to do a bit of historicity. Many people tend to forget that the first Nigerian students’ organisation, formed in 1956, was the National Union of Nigeria Students (NUNS). The Union operated when the Nigerian students were accorded enough respect by the authorities. This explains why, in 1962-in conjunction with opposition groups- students could lay ambush on the federal parliamentarians in Lagos to force an abrogation of the unpopular Anglo-Nigerian Defence Pact without negative consequences on the part of the students.
Trouble started-in April 1978- when the Military Administration unanimously announced through the then Federal Commissioner for Education, Col Ahmadu Ali (rtd) increment of over 50 kobo on students’ daily meals. The response of NUNS, then led by Comrade Segun Okeowo, was unequivocal- “Ali Must Go”. After this, things will never be the same again for Nigerian students. The Military administration’s response was to treat the students as “enemies” that must be crushed. The NUNS was banned; students’ leaders were arrested and illegally detained; others like Akintunde Ojo of the University of Lagos, were not so lucky as the bullets were too strong for their feeble flesh. The fact that it was it was an ex-NUNS Secretary General, Col. Ali that practically authorised the clamp down of the lads, makes it not only a betrayal but also disastrous!
With the return of democracy in 1979, the agitation for the “unbanning” of NUNS increased. The request of Nigerian students for their beloved Union was granted by the Shehu Shagari government. But this time, it will not come back as NUNS, but now as the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) as it is now known. This is how it became a right for the State and by extension, their campus agents-the Management- to “ban”, “proscribe”, “suspend” and in some cases, “abolish” the Unions at the slightest provocations. It appears to me that some people- even over 15 years since we return to civil rule- are yet to be “civil”.
Let us come back to Ife. Though, I graduated from the University about 4 years ago, it is baffling that the same issues we fought tooth and nail that led to the management proscribing the Union, are still the same issues under contention. “The issues are clear” as a former Speaker of the University’s Students’ Representatives Council (SRC), Comrade Sunday Adodo Destiny, will always say. The issues are still clear- Welfare! Welfare!! Welfare!!! This has been the noble cry of the Ife University Students’ Union since 1976. The Union holds it as sacred, to fight for the welfare of all, including Management staff, within or without the campus. The greatness of Ife, for those who know, is not due to its architectural edifice, but the strength of its Students Union. Few people are amassed that despite its size in terms of landmass, the campus is a hot bed for outlaws, cultists, drug addicts and other neo-Fascist elements. This has nothing to do with the “security” or the cowards- known as “crackers” a group that sprang up as a result of the Ife/Modakeke crises- employed by the management as part of the University’s commitment to maintain people in its environment. Apart from molesting armless students and running after cheap ladies, what else do these elements do?
There are surprisingly those-many of them students- who believes that the Union has no value hence should be abolished altogether. To these ultraconservative elements, I have just one reply: If the Union has produced legends too numerous to mention for time and space, then I conclude that the Union is a formidable platform to train future leaders. Destroying this important platform is to weaken an important agent of political socialisation.
It is on this basis that I am calling all lovers of Ife University to prevail on the management to restore the Union. The Alumni Association, the University Joint Christian Mission(UJCM), the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria(MSSN), the Ooni of Ife’s Palace and not forgetting the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu to prevail on the Vice Chancellor, Professor Idowu Bamitale Omole, to restore the Union. The handling of this crisis is going to be a litmus test the new Ooni and the Minister of Education. This is why they both must apply a high degree of wisdom in this matter!
Olalekan Waheed ADIGUN, was a two-time member of the Students’ Representatives Council (SRC), Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 Parliamentary sessions. He writes from Lagos, Nigeria. His write-ups can be viewed on his website
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