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10 May 2005

 

OAU AUTHORITIES MUST REVERSE THE VINDICTIVE AND MISGUIDED ASSAULT ON STUDENTS’ UNIONISM AND STUDENTS’ UNION ACTIVISTS!

 

Authorities of Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU Ile-Ife, have decided to expel seven students of the university, for their roles in Students’ Union activities. They are: OKAFOR Abuchi, OLAWOYIN Akinkunmi, ADENEKAN Adeniyi Akanni, AKINOLA Saburi Akande, YEKINI Samuel Wahab, ADERIBIGBE Muyiwa Adetayo and ADEGBILE Isiaka. Both Adenekan Adeniyi and Olawoyin Akinkunmi are former presidents of the Students’ Union while Akinola Saburi is the immediate past Secretary General of the union. Two other students - Alabi Mojeed Adebayo and Hassan Taiwo Hussein - have been suspended for 4 semesters. In the case of Hassan Taiwo the latest decision graduates his punishment to a total of 9 semesters, having been initially suspended for 4 semesters from the first semester of 2003/2004 session.

 

The university administration is basing its action on the report of an undemocratic student disciplinary panel constituted following the student protest in the university on November 3, 2004 that led to the killing of a part one student, Rasheed Laketu, by armed policemen invited by the authorities; the reported physical assault on the vice-chancellor, professor Roger Makanjuola, and the alleged damage to university property.

 

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) condemns this latest assault by OAU authorities on Students’ Union activism in the university. The latest attack is unprecedented in the history of students’ union activism, at least, under the prevailing civil dispensation. Such action is outrageous, highly vindictive, unjustifiable and misguided. It is consequently unacceptable. We call on authorities of the university to reverse the decision without hesitation. This is the only path to enduring peace in the university.

 

BACKGROUND

Following the student protest on November 3, 2004 (and the subsequent closure of the University for 3 months) a ‘fact finding panel’ was constituted by the vice-chancellor, acting on the directive of senate, and charged, among others, to identify the fact of the case and identify those who have a case to answer. The so-called disciplinary panel, which recommended the latest disciplinary actions, is a fall out from the ‘fact finding panel’. In our open memo to the ‘fact finding panel’ we pointed out that "For some weeks before November 3, the students of the university had been embarking on series of struggles for the reinstatement of the students’ union Public Relation Officer, PRO, Peter Olowokandi and Taiwo Hassan, a union activist. The two union leaders were suspended for their leading role in the student protest against the increase/introduction of various forms of fees in August 2004. The students also demanded an end to the victimisation of other past student leaders who only enjoy temporary studentship on the basis of court injunction; the improvement in the living and studying condition on the campus and the release of the examination results of the last semester. The results were withheld due to the dispute between the management and the academic staff union, ASUU over non-payment of the teachers’ two-month salaries. The authorities claimed they were complying with the anti-worker ‘no work no pay’ policy introduced by government in the wake of the last six-month strike by the lecturers’ union, but they actually selectively paid some few lecturers whom they said worked." (15 December 2004, http://www.socialistnigeria.org/students/151204.html )

"From the foregoing it can be rightly deduced that the primary cause of the November 3 disturbances in the university are the combination of the following:

 

"(1) The anti-people, IMF/World Bank inspired neo liberal policy of commercialisation and privatisation of education of the government that engenders the gross under-funding of education. It is based on the claims that the university is under-funded; that the Prof. Roger Makanjuola led management has been imposing one provocative and outrageous charge after the other on the students in the last two sessions. The legitimate resistance of students against this obnoxious policy each time it is introduced has continuously earned student leaders and activists suspension from the university and other forms of political victimisation. Similarly, the lecturers whose salaries are withheld are being victimized for going on strike to demand, inter alia, adequate funding of education. The other remote causes of the crisis that are subsequently stated below are also rooted in this."

 

"(2) The anti-poor education commercialisation policy of the university reflected in imposition of fees on students in the past two consecutive sessions, particularly the illegal teaching charges imposed in the current session. (3) The suspension, for two academic sessions, of two student activists – Peter Olowokandi (students’ union PRO) and Taiwo Hassan for their leading role in the student anti fee campaign and the continued victimisation of the past student leaders for the various roles in defence of the rights and interests of students (4) The deplorable studying and living condition in the university despite the exploitative fees charged on students. (5) The Non payment of the two month salaries of the academic staff union by management following implementation of the obnoxious no-work-no-pay policy introduced by government in the wake of the last ASUU national strike. (6) Non release of examination results for the last semester (over six months after the exams) with the academic staff union protesting non-payment of their two-month salaries."

 

"To us in DSM, the immediate causes of the crisis however was the accumulated anger of the students over the fledging issues, with the management having created an insoluble picture of the crisis and the tensions and apprehensions issuing thereof by its inability and/or refusal to point a way out of the obvious quagmire that the campus was then drifting. With a new semester examination approaching and results of the previous semester unreleased and no solution in sight, and this compounded by the deep-seated anger of the students against the university on how they were forced to cough up outrageous charges even without commensurate improvement in their studying and living conditions, it was certain that something unpleasant was bound to happen."

 

ASSAULT ON THE VICE-CHANCELLOR

 

On the reported assault on the vice chancellor we held that "We condemn in strong term the reported assault on the vice-chancellor and some other principal officers of the university. We supported all the demands of the students and in fact actively participated in all peaceful and legitimate protests to actualise them but we in the DSM clearly dissociate ourselves from any form of assault or violence targeted at individual office holders as it is a counter-productive approach to a genuine struggle of students. Like individual acts of terrorism the misguided act of physically assaulting individual members of the administration or government always create huge diversion from the real issues, including appeals to base sentiment. Such will be placed as a potent weapon in the hands of the management to vilify the students, their leadership and blackmail their campaigns. It usually also create opportunities for the authorities to aim at implementing obnoxious laws and take repressive measures against the student masses under the guise of ‘improving security’ within the university community."

 

Nonetheless, we stated further that "…as much as the said physical assault on the vice-chancellor is regrettable and condemnable, the panel and management will not do the university good if they try to bury or gloss over the issues that led to the assault and the subsequent brutal murder of a student but preoccupy themselves with how to make scapegoats out of some student activists and members of staff. These issues must be roundly addressed and way out found, which in the immediate term entails the payment of the withheld workers’ salaries, reinstatement of the suspended student leaders and an end to the culture of victimisation, and improvement in the studying and living conditions of students."

 

SCAPEGOATING – A FRUITLESS APPROACH

 

With respect to the panels hatchet man job of "identifying those who may have a case to answer" we had maintained (and still strongly do) that "If it proceeds along this path, the university would have sadly commenced a fruitless journey. Fruitless in that it seeks to track down the ‘messengers’ instead of addressing the ‘message’. Crises issue from objective conditions weighing heavier in importance than individuals involved. The present OAU crisis is not an exemption. In this particular case, the crisis has issued from the objective conditions of the accumulated anger of the students over protracted grievances as earlier raised. Therefore, no lasting or meaningful solution will be located within the perspective of identifying ‘those who have a case to answer’. To us in DSM, the university management should immediately jettison the very idea of searching for scapegoats and instead concentrate its energy and resources in addressing positively the pending issues as canvassed above and as clearly highlighted in the demands of students’ and staff unions.

 

From the foregoing it is evident that the OAU authorities have not learnt a single lesson from the avalanche of contrived crises that have bedevilled the university in recent period. The latest attempt to suppress radical Students’ Unionism is shifty sand; it cannot support an enduring peace. The authorities will do the university more good than harm if it reverses the purported disciplinary action, outrageous and vindictive to the core, and we call upon it to do so without hesitation. The authorities excuse of the reported assault on the vice-chancellor and the alleged damage to university property as the basis for this obvious vendetta is a thin veneer over their original mission, which is the calculated agenda to muscle vibrant Students’ Unionism in the university as they prepare to consolidate on their anti-poor education policy of commercialisation (imposition of fees) and privatisation of student hostels among others.

 

FOR A CONSISTENT AND COORDINATED FIGHT BACK

 

We call on OAU students and Nigeria students’ movement in general to brace up for an inevitable fight-back. We must wage a massive campaign, on a protracted basis, if necessary, with popular legitimate methods of peaceful mass protests and demonstrations, picketing, lecture boycotts and appeals, etc until the unjust decisions are unconditionally reversed. Such campaign must continuously link with other issues vis-ŕ-vis the need to put public resources into public education, opposition to education commercialisation and privatisation of student hostels, the need to improve and expand studying and accommodation facilities on the campus, adequate remuneration for staff, democratic management of the entire affairs of the university by committees comprising elected representatives of staff and students etc. All issues which formed the original basis of the latest assault by the authorities. With such a consistent and comprehensive approach, eventual victory is assured.

 

We appeal to members of the university community and the larger society, the staff unions, the wider labour movement, human right bodies, the NANS, ERC etc to rise in support of student activists at OAU Ile-Ife. It will be disastrous and counterproductive to assume that the current spate of onslaught is a pure student affair. The key issues in the students’ campaign are not only central to the agitations of staff unions, but also capable of inviting similar treatment being visited on the students against the university workers. Please send letters of protest and appeal for reversal of the disciplinary decisions to the university authorities, among other forms of political support. Letters can be sent to the following:

 

Through: The Registrar

To: The Vice-chancellor, Obafemi Awolowo University, Osun state, Nigeria.

Email: rogerm@oauife.edu.ng

 registrar@oauife.edu.ng

 

 

Copies of the letters can also be sent to the DSM via dsmcentre@hotmail.com

 

 

KOLA IBRAHEEM

For DSM, OAU Branch.