OAU: STUDENTS LET DOWN BY NEW VC
OAU: STUDENTS LET DOWN BY NEW VC
By Adewale Stephen
On September 6, 2011, the new Vice Chancellor, Prof. Tale Omole, of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile Ife called for an interactive session with students at the University Afrika Amphi-Theatre. While thousands of expectant and anxious students thought the purpose of the meeting was to find ways to meet students’ demands for restoration of their banned union and recall of four victimized union leaders, the University had other designs.
At the meeting, the VC after lamenting the condition of education and hostel facilities dropped the bombshell: students will have to pay more for hostel accommodation next session! The DSM says a capital NO to this insufferable submission of the VC which can only succeed in increasing the burden of OAU students. Many homes are yet to recover from the forceful collection of the acceptance fees from the newly admitted students early this session. And considering the fact that the acceptance fees collected have not produced any developmental changes, there is no guarantee that another increment will lead to meaningful improvement in teaching and living condition.
On reinstatement of suspended Union leaders, the VC told students that it was beyond his power! According to him the suspended union leaders have a case to answer with the police. Remarkably, the VC had almost nothing to say about the restoration of the Students’ Union which was proscribed in February by the immediate past Vice Chancellor, Prof. Michael Faborode after students protested against increment of acceptance fee to N20, 000 and introduction of health insurance fee of N1, 600.
For all those who thought that the new management under Prof. Tale Omole, would be better compared to the undemocratic tenure of his predecessor who ruled students and staff with an iron rod, his declaration that he would increase hostel changes and his attitude to the demand for restoration of the union and recall of victimized leader must be a huge disappointment. Penchant for increasing fees arbitrarily and suppressing students democratic rights to independent unionism are two of Prof. Faborode’s most known “virtue”. That the new VC is following the same line shows just how little has changed since Prof. Faborode’s inglorious departure.
And this is not surprising. The same members of Prof. Faborode’s inner cabinet are the key players in the new administration. The new VC himself was selected in an undemocratic process in which only those willing to serve the interest of the Federal government and powerbrokers in the University could emerge. Expecting him to defend the right of students to affordable quality education and independent unionism is like living in a fool’s paradise.
None of the arguments of the VC on the issue of recall of victimized leaders is correct. Indeed they are blatant deceptions meant to avoid responsibility. Firstly, we need to ask how come the VC had the power to allow Seyi Adegoke (Legend), who was one of the originally suspended students, to write last semester examination and is now finding it difficult to reinstate the rest. Secondly, none of the victimized leaders has been invited by the police or other security agencies that they have cases to answer. In any case even if they do have cases to answer with the police, the University would be the complainant as they are the ones who could lodge a complaint against them. In this case it would still be the responsibility of the University, if it is committed to meeting students’ demands, to withdraw the complaints against them thus ending any police interference in the process of their recall.
Students must remember that in 2008, H.T Soweto (National Coordinator, Education Rights Campaign), Dairo Olatunde (then PRO of the Union) and Akinola Saburi (then Union president) were arrested and detained for several months in prison on criminal charges of attempted murder and all sorts of fabrications. Even though their case was equally a subject of criminal trial at the court, the University management even under the hated Prof. Faborode agreed for an out of court settlement and recalled all of them. This was possible because of the seemingly unending mass protest and demonstration of students on campus demanding their reinstatement. Lectures were boycotted several times; protests organized not only on campus but equally to media stations in Osogbo and Lagos. This attracted the solidarity of staff unions on campus and protests from trade unions and pro-masses organisations in Nigeria and outside the country.
It is this crucial method of lecture boycott, mass protest and demonstration that is missing in the current struggle in OAU that has given the new Vice Chancellor the confidence to fool students and even to raise the question of fee increment few months after a similar one led to massive student protest and closure of the campus.
Arising from the interactive session, OAU students must now realize the vital necessity to fight in order to regain what belongs to them. The interactive session with the VC has proved to be a mere undemocratic charade. Out of over four thousand students at the meeting, only six students were called forward to speak! Radical students and socialists whom the management knew would speak the mind of the majority of students were not recognized to speak. Instead the new VC, displaying much the same contempt as his predecessor’s for socialists and radical student activists lampooned ‘ideological boys,’ for reading ‘fossilized materials.’ According to him students should read current materials that have to do with ‘developmental programmes such as privatization.’ What he did not however tell students is that with privatization, school fees will go higher and thousands of students from poor working class homes will have to drop out, something that is already happening now.
OAU students must gird their loins and intensify the struggle against attacks on education and democratic rights. Winning the Students’ Union back is of crucial importance to provide students with an organization with which to resist the proposed increment in hostel fees by next session. Otherwise not only would the Management get away with increment of hostel charges, more astronomical increment and attacks on welfare conditions and democratic rights await students.
This is why the DSM calls on student activists and radical organizations to come together to draw up a fighting programme, strategy and tactics to defend students’ right to independent unionism and fight for recall of victimized union leaders. A one-day lecture boycott and mass protest is urgently required on issues of the union, reinstatement, proposed hostel fee increment and the poor condition of students’ welfare. Symposia, rallies, leafleting, and constant issuance of press statements by different pro-student organizations on campus have also become imperative. In this regard, the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) in alliance with genuine pro-student platforms can play an active role especially in the coordination of programmes and implementation of a fighting strategy.
However to win such a struggle, students must equally fight against education under funding and unite with the working class and oppressed masses to resist all anti-poor neo-liberal policies of the capitalist government. And as we have always argued, Nigeria’s resources if judiciously utilized, can fund free and quality education. This however requires nationalizing and placing the key sectors of the economy under public democratic control and management, something which is beyond capitalism which only defends the interest of politicians, the rich and big business. This is why students as well as the working class and poor must struggle for socialism as the only way to make society work for the interest of the majority.