Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

Setting free imprisoned OAU student leaders

Setting free imprisoned OAU student leaders

By Lanre Arogundade & Adeola Soetan, Lagos, January 11, 2008

Although the reigning authorities in our alma mater, the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, would want the world to believe differently, the un-hidden truth is that they have chosen to have three students’ leaders imprisoned because they stood and acted boldly for independent unionism, enhanced students’ welfare, freedom of expression and freedom of association.

We have chosen not to be silent in the face of perfidy because we are genuinely concerned about the fate of Akinola Saburi and Olatunde Dairo, President and Secretary respectively of the OAU students’ union as well as Taiwo Hassan Soweto, Coordinator, Education Rights Campaign (ERC) and Secretary of the campus branch of Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM). They have between them spent up to nine months in detention and prison. And what for?

At different periods in 2007, they participated in, and provided leadership for the students’ agitations for a lecture-free week prior to the commencement of examinations. In at least two instances, starting from February last year, when the students made such demands, the authorities, claming concern for break down of law and order, ended up shutting the university for many months. If we should add the period that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) went on strike, same last year, the total period of closure would add up to more than six months.

The decision to embark on the protests was reportedly collectively taken by the students’ congress; and there was no account of any life being lost nor property destroyed to warrant phobia. But upon reflection on the macabre turn of events since then, it would seem to us that the authorities might have been pained that such did not happen. After all one of the charges preferred against the students is attempted murder of a former Vice Chancellor in the year 2004!!!

The state must be very proud of the ingenuity of the person who has taken up this special portfolio of defender of the past because he possibly has nothing to show for the present. The courts are merely towing the line by imposing tough bail conditions on the students. One is that their sureties should include lecturers in their respective departments and serving senior civil servants. It is actually more like not granting any bail because such lecturers would have to be prepared to be charged for attempted murder of a Vice Chancellor when another protest occurs, as it is bound to giving the on-going arbitrary increases in University fees.

To make the situation clearer therefore, it is worth reiterating that one root of the present crisis was the students’ union election in which the remanded activists and socialists emerged victorious over candidates who were allegedly sponsored by the authorities. In some ironic sense their victory was a primer-facie for their future victimization. They simply lubricated themselves with oil and moved near the fire when they chose to confront the authorities over issues of students’ right to decent studying and living conditions. It could not have been a mere accident that one of the quickest responses of the authorities was the emasculation of the union and their replacement with a puppet, so-called transition committee.

It just happens to be the reality that government or public universities in the country are actually in permanent transition into the abyss under this dispensation that makes it possible for those who rule on behalf of capital, to crudely appropriate private universities using often looted public funds. It is a favour to their class to destroy the public ones. Invariably, it is the children of the privileged and the rich that populate such private Universities while children of the poor are largely rigged out. The whole purpose of privatization and commercialization cannot but be to perpetuate the system that makes it possible for less than one per cent of the population, to own over ninety percent of the wealth that is produced by ninety percent of the population. They own everything invariably but provide windows to give little back via corporate social responsibility.

Student and labour activists therefore should understand that the crisis confronting the educational system is not peculiar to the sector alone. It is similar in the health care system and the collapsing industries. Within this context, they need to draw the necessary conclusion that the assaults on the individual and collective right of students are political and should receive a political response. That effort should start with the formation of a working peoples’ political party to serve as a political platform to stand for elections, and where victory is not won, constitute a political opposition that permanently agitates for non-sale of state assets, fully funded education and health sectors, massive program of public infrastructural development etc.

In such circumstances as the detained students’ leaders have found themselves, such a political platform would serve as avenue for showing solidarity through all and legitimate means possible. Even if we are dreaming, the OAU authorities can ignore our visions by simply withdrawing the case against the students, re-admit them unconditionally and fully compensate them for psychological, social and physical damages.

Arogundade and Soetan are former student leaders at OAU