STOP VICTIMISATION OF ACTIVISTS CAMPAIGNING FOR RESTORATION OF BANNED UNION!
Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU)
STOP VICTIMISATION OF ACTIVISTS CAMPAIGNING FOR RESTORATION OF BANNED UNION!
FOR STUDENTS’ UNION ELECTIONS NOW!!
The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) calls on authorities of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) to stop the victimization of 12 activists, 4 of whom are our members, who have been campaigning for the restoration of the banned Students’ Union. For organizing symposium under the platform of the ERC and demanding the restoration of the students’ union, they have all been issued query letters accusing them of flouting paragraph IV (B) (xi) of the University’s code of conduct and their Matriculation Oath.
We demand the withdrawal of all allegations against these activists. Instead of trying to punish those who bravely laboured over the last two years to demand the restoration of the union, we urge the management of the University to focus more on meeting the demands of students for immediate elections into an independent and democratic union.
We will like to note that the activities of these activists are completely legitimate in a democratic society. Everywhere in the world, activists use the method of campaign which includes distribution of leaflets, symposia, public meetings, boycotts and protests to fight against any form of injustice. It is therefore a misnomer that a University where the best democratic ideals are supposed to be cherished is carrying out a vindictive action which has the implication of completely criminalising the democratic rights of students to campaign against acts of injustice.
The allegations contained in the query letters issued to the activists confirms the undemocratic mindset of the management of the University. For instance, the first allegation against the activists is that “(1) Against the express directive of the University not to organize or take part in a symposium organized by the Education Rights Campaign, not being a registered association in the university, did organize and took part in a symposium organized by the said association on 1 December, 2012 at about 1600 hours at Awolowo hall cafeteria on the university campus in Ile-Ife.” For this the University Management says they have flouted the code of conduct of the University and their matriculation oath!
Other allegations are: “(2) on 5 December, 2012 at about 0830 hours, with some other persons, attempted to chase other students away from lecture halls on the university campus, thereby disrupting the academic and social activities on the campus” and “(3) in the early hours of the morning of December 2, 2012, broke into floor “O” of the university hall on the Campus at Ile-Ife, destroyed window panes and physically assaulted Mr. A. V. Adeyemo, one of the security men on duty at the time.”
For us in the ERC, none of these allegations is justifiable. The rights to freedom of association and expression are guaranteed in the Constitution of Nigeria, they are inalienable human rights. The 12 activists have the fundamental human rights to belong to any association they like or participate in any public program or activities so far this association and activities are not secret cults or violent groups that threaten the peace and security of society.
A symposium is a public meeting and it was held in an open space without disrupting public peace. Criminalising those who organised or participated at a public symposium to discuss is not only unfair and unjust, it can have the opposite implication of encouraging secret societies and cultism. The management has to think through the implications of its actions before it carries on this planned victimisation.
It is curious that the University Management considers the ERC, an association that has existed in the University for nearly 10 years now, as an “unregistered association”. Throughout this period, the ERC has carried out its activities in the open. For the avoidance of any doubt, we must explain that the ERC is not a secret society or cult group. Only these are illegal according to the 1999 constitution. Instead, the ERC is an organisation of students, youths and workers having the objective of campaigning against fee hike and for the provision of free, public-funded and democratically managed education. We also campaign for proper funding of education, respect of democratic rights in the education sector and job creation for youths and graduates.
Our methods of campaigning are completely open and legitimate. They include leaflets distribution, organising public meetings and symposia, petitioning, lobbying, protest and demonstration. The ERC does not exist only in the Obafemi Awolowo University but also on many campuses and communities across the country. The organization on a regularly basis collaborates with the staff unions and students unions in the universities and other higher institutions of learning in the country in promotion of the rights and interests of their members. The ERC has indeed had causes on different occasions to appear before the education committees of the National Assembly in furtherance of its objective. As recently as November 13, 2012 the ERC, as part of the coalition of education based civil societies, attended and addressed, a public hearing organized by the House of Representative Committee on Education on Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) where, among other things, it argued for the Fund to remain focused on assisting the funding of tertiary education.
If the ERC could be recognised at such levels of government most especially at the National Assembly, the law making arm of the government, how then can it be “unregistered” or “illegal” in OAU? With due respect to the laws of the University, it is our belief that if the University Management feels strongly that the ERC has not met certain requirements to legitimately operate and conduct its activities within the University, such can be communicated through normal channels instead of through the means of query and the ominous threat of victimisation of our members and supporters.
The ERC remains a peaceful organisation with the set objective to campaign for adequate funding of education without which universities, including OAU, would continue on the downward trends in facility and quality of teaching as we have been witnessing for nearly two decades. The least the ERC, its members and supporters deserves is moral support, not condemnation, from the University community and anyone who wish to see Nigeria’s public education back on its feet again.
The second and third allegations are meant to criminalise the activists in order to victimise them. The question is what happened on 2 December and 5 December 2012 and how is the 1 December symposium related to these dates? The truth is that these three dates represent timelines within which the management suddenly found itself faced by a rising movement of students which eventually forced it to agree to the conduct of elections into a students’ union. On December 1 2012, several hundreds of students who had become fed up of management’s foot-dragging on the demands for restoration of the banned union sat for over 7 hours at a symposium organised by the ERC to discuss. One of the speakers at the symposium was Mr. Adeola Soetan – a former president of the University’s Students’ Union. Other speakers included former leaders of the union, leaders of the ERC and the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) as well as staff unions.
Going by the radicalised mood at the symposium, it was clear that a lot of students were prepared to begin to take actions to demand the restoration of their union. However the management made things worse when it orchestrated an attack against the speakers as they were leaving the University in a car through Road One after the symposium had ended. This angered a lot of students who embarked on a protest that night. Instinctively understanding that the attack was not an accident but was linked to the issue of the banned union, the protesting students immediately started raising slogans for restoration of the Union and elections. The next day, a congress was called at which a decision was taken to boycott lectures on December 5 to further press home the demands. The lightening speed of events caught the management by surprise. All efforts to rein in the movement proved unsuccessful. The success of the boycott on December 5 further forced the management to concede to the fact that the only way out was to meet students demands. Therefore on the afternoon of 5 December while the boycott was on, the Division of Students Affairs announced the formation of a Student Representative Council (SRC) with the mandate to organise elections into students’ union.
These are the events of 1, 2 and 3 December 2012 upon which the allegations against the 12 activists are predicated. The allegation that they chased students out of lecture halls is laughable. How is it possible for 12 people to successfully chase over 25, 000 students out of lecture halls? What the management does not want to accept is that the boycott was successful only because it was supported by wide layers of students.
We in the ERC do not support or employ violence and destruction of public properties as a means of struggle. Our track records of struggle are there for everyone to check. We hold strongly that the allegations of violent conduct against these activists are trumped-up by the management in order to punish them for rousing students to fight for the restoration of their union.
Therefore while we appeal to the management to withdraw all allegations against the 12 activists and allow them go about their academic duties without molestation or victimisation, we also demand that the transition process into students union which has been kicked off by the setting up of the STC should continue. What this means is that the Students Transition Committee (STC) must immediately begin to fulfill its mandate by setting up an electoral commission, drawing up timetable and other conditions for a democratic election in accordance with the constitution of the OAU Students’ Union.