The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) condemns the latest wave of victimization of student activists and leaders at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, by the Prof. Tale Omole-led university management and calls for the immediate and unconditional recall of 8 suspended student activists.
On 18th August, 2014, the management of the university placed on indefinite suspension eight student activists over their principled opposition to management's intervention in the affairs of the just-restored students' union and the outrageous hike in school fees. The affected students are: Olubanji Oluwole; Adabale Olamide; Ibirogba Samuel; Ademuwagun Johnson; Sanyaolu Olajuwon; Olusiji Nelson; Abiodun Abimbola; and Pele Obasa. Four of these students are members of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC). We demand their immediate and unconditional reinstatement.
Aside this indefinite suspension, scores of other students, alongside these suspended students, have been placed on what the management termed "suspended rustication" and "probation" for their roles in genuine and legitimate student protests against the criminal increment in school fees.
The management hinged the indefinite suspension of the eight students on a purported pending police investigation into an unsubstantiated but malicious allegation of "abduction". However, there has not been any formal invitation by the so-called police authorities on this ridiculous allegation; neither did the management show any reference letter or invitation to the students. More than this, on several occasions, the management had harassed the students with various probe and disciplinary panels, all in an attempt to nail them on these malicious allegations. At these panels, the students maintained their principled position that they cannot be linked with any violent or uncivil actions, as they are activists who believe in the legitimate action of the mass of people including students, through genuine democratic processes. However, in spite of the management's failure to come up with any shred of evidence or produce any complainant of abduction, it still went ahead to victimize these student activists on flimsy excuses.
In reality, these eight students were suspended for the radical roles they played in the students' union struggle against fee hike in May and June 2014. Prior to this time, the management had made effort to interfere in the students' union elections. These student activists were active in the campaign for the restoration of the union, which was under three-year ban until March this year. Clearly, the management, which sees a virile, democratic and an independent union as a threat to its manner of administration, had since marked these activists down for 'punishment' for their principled roles in the campaign for the restoration of the students' union. It was this campaign that forced the management to reverse the undemocratic ban on student unionism.
As a damage control measure, the management organized a terribly undemocratic electoral process that sought to isolate genuine student activists, who played active roles in the campaign for students' union restoration, from participating in the elections. Obviously, the management had the plan to hike school fees the following session, and saw the emergence of a vibrant student leadership as a hindrance to this agenda. Thus, by colluding with the student electoral commission, which was undemocratically set up by the management, some radical student activists were prevented from voting or being voted for by the management. This drew the ire of mass of students who organized peaceful protests against this injustice. In order to achieve this horrible agenda, the electoral commission acting the script of the management postponed the election three times.
In spite of all this injustice, students and the affected activists, in the quest to get their union back, allowed the elections to take place, despite all its flaws. Unfortunately, while the students maintained a mature approach, the OAU management is taking a contrary posture with this ill-motivated victimization. Surely, the management's plan to have a smooth introduction of higher fees fell flat with organized opposition and action of students against the increased fees. Therefore, it is no surprise that the management is trying to make scapegoats among students, by handpicking the most vibrant activists for 'punishment' over collective action. Surely, the management is aware that mass protests are breaking out in many campuses against fee hike, while students of Lagos State University (LASU), after three years of sustained resistance won total reversal of criminally hiked fees. Therefore, this latest wave of victimization is aimed at beheading the struggle in OAU. This approach failed in LASU, we are more than sure that it will fail in OAU.
In fact if anyone is to be probed and reprimanded, it is the Prof. Tale Omole-led university management that has mismanaged the meager resources of the university. For instance, despite the claim of poor funding as a basis for increasing fees, the university went ahead to squander N500 million on a swimming pool project, for the last Nigerian University Games (NUGA) games; leaving trail of corruption in its wake. While the university management committed a whopping N500 million on swimming pool, the university could hardly provide potable water for students and staff. Indeed, this sum of money will at least minimally improve the conditions of student hostels, library, laboratories, water and power supplies, which are in need of critical attention. Yet, the same management who cannot effectively manage the meager resources of the university asked students to pay more fees that will send many of them out of the academic system.
As much as we agree that there is chronic underfunding of education by the Nigeria's capitalist government, we hold that students and their parents should not be made to bear the brunt of this, as the country is stupendously rich enough to fund quality education at all levels. We also believe that university and its resources should be administered through democratic process that involves critical interest groups including staff and students. This is the necessary tool to avoid the present bizarre arrangement where meager funds are misapplied or looted.
The ERC calls on the university management to unconditionally and immediately reverse the suspension order on the student activists and end its culture of victimization and with-hunt. This draconian method of killing the messenger instead of addressing the message is absurd and unbefitting of a university system, where dissenting ideas and criticisms are supposed to be tolerated. We call on well-meaning Nigerians, activists, workers' unions, and other student organizations to prevail on the OAU management to recall the eight activists and end every other attacks on democratic rights in OAU.