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December 15, 2004

 

The Secretary,

The Fact Finding Panel,

OAU Ile-Ife

 

Dear Sir,

 

AN OPEN MEMORANDUM TO THE PANEL ON THE CRISES IN OBAFEMI AWOLOWO UNIVERSITY, ILE-IFE

 

Following the students protest of November 3, 2004 that led to the killing of a part one student, Rasheed Laketu, by armed policemen invited by the university management and the reported physical assault on the vice-chancellor, the senate of Obafemi Awolowo University on November 4 while directing that the university be closed indefinitely, also empowered the vice-chancellor to constitute a "fact finding panel". The terms of reference of the panel as stated in the said senate decision extract are as follows: (i) to identify the facts of the case (ii) to identify those who have a case to answer (iii) to identify the immediate and remote causes (iv) to advise on the steps to prevent further such episodes (v) to advise on the improvement of security of lives and property in the university.

 

We of Democratic Socialist Movement, OAU Ile-Ife Branch write to make the submissions below on the panel and its assignment.

 

THE COMPOSITION OF THE PANEL

 

The panel was constituted by the Vice-Chancellor, although at the instance of the senate. We note that the reported assault on the vice-chancellor is a major issue expected to be dealt with by the panel. This has made the panel itself a product of a process that makes the vice-chancellor the judge over his own case. It would not be out of place to conclude that the panel is designed to carry out a hatchet man job having had a mind-set as betrayed by some action of the management in conjunction with the police in which some members of the university community have been already identified as the masterminds of the crisis even before the panel started finding the "facts".

 

We are not actually against setting up a panel to holistically investigate the crises and come up with meaningful recommendation for a workable solution, but we are in no uncertain term against the panel as its presently constituted. We thus strongly demand an independent panel of enquiry, drawing its membership from representatives of students, teaching and non-teaching staff unions, members of senate and administration, and members of the human rights community. It is only with this kind of panel that anyone can have a reasonable expectation of fair hearing and justice.

 

Notwithstanding the above stated reservation, as a body within the university we deem it incumbent on us to address the terms of reference of the panel.

 

TO IDENTIFY THE FACT OF THE CASE

 

The university authorities and the panel will be grossly missing the issues if they attempt to reduce the case of November 3 incident to the alleged assault on the vice-chancellor. The panel more than anything should be interested in establishing the immediate and remote causes of the November 3 incident. We therefore state and address below the background to the crisis, the murder of a student and the assault on the Vice-Chancellor.

 

Background to Crisis

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.

 

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 commercialization and privatisation of education of the government 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 commercialization 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 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/ apprehensions issuing thereof by its inability 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 deep seated anger of 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.

 

Invitation of Armed Policemen and Killing of Rasheed Laketu

 

Hiding under the need to rescue the vice-chancellor of the university from rampaging students, the management invited armed police who stormed the campus in a commando fashion, shooting sporadically as if in a warfare. At the end, a part one student, Rasheed Laketu, was heartlessly murdered by the trigger happy policemen. Rather than being an accident, the reprehensible act of inviting armed invasion of the campus is a stock in trade of the current university management. Very early in its life in 2000, the management invited mobile policemen apparently to crush the struggle of NASU members then on strike demanding payment of some outstanding allowances. During students peaceful protest against imposed fees in 2002/2003 and 2004/2005 sessions, the management also drafted in armed policemen to harass the students into submission. Indeed, but for the maturity and organisation of the student leadership during the anti-fee campaign early in the current session, something fatal could easily have occurred. This is to show that even if the protests of November 3 had not degenerated to the ‘assault’ on the VC, mobile policemen might still have been invited and students could still have been killed. Ipso facto, the death of the student hangs directly on the neck of the authorities and the Nigerian state. Both must make unreserved open apology and pay heavy compensation to the family of the murdered student.

 

The management must commit itself never again to invite policemen into the campus in response to unarmed student and staff agitations, protest/demonstrations. The university’s security committee must be dissolved immediately and recomposed to include representatives of students and other segments of the university community. In cases where police invitation becomes inevitable, for instance if armed, sponsored storm troopers including cult gangs were to invade the campus and unleash terror on defenseless students, policemen so invited will be subject to the guidance of such committee and the mass of students.

 

Assault on the Vice-Chancellor and Other Officials of the University

 

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 This is what presently obtains in the university with various anti-student actions that have been already started with the attack on the sources of income of the students’ union at the union building and in the halls of residence and this panel itself we have cause to conclude on the basis of its terms of reference is meant to with-hunt some individuals. This is the lesson of struggles nationally and internationally.

 

The mass of students are objectively angry. Many of them retort: "it serves the vice-chancellor right; he really deserves to be beaten. He increased school fees, twice consecutively; yet living and studying conditions remain deplorable. He has victimized many student leaders and has refused to pay workers wages thereby causing the non-release of results etc". Yes, the vice-chancellor is guilty as charged in the court of students. But if beating the vice-chancellor would resolve these issues, then why mobilize mass of students? Why print posters and leaflets? Why educate students on the need for collective struggle and solidarity? Why file cases in courts? Why not enlist one or two professional fighters to beat the vice-chancellor and his cronies silly and have the issues resolved pronto?