Being the speech of Comrade H.T Soweto, the National Coordinator of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) presented on his behalf by Comrade Michael Ogundele, the National Secretary of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC), at a public symposium held today 10 July 2015 at the Awolowo hall Café of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile – Ife as part of the activities organized by the University’s Students Union to commemorate this year’s anniversary of the July 10, 1999 cult attacks.
16 YEARS SINCE JULY 10: AFRIKA’S STRUGGLE REMAIN UNFINISHED
To start with, I must say thank you for the invitation.
Today is 16 years since the brutal massacre of five (5) young men by members of the Neo-Black movement popularly called Black Axe. They are Yemi Ajiteru, Eviano Ekelemu, Tunde Oke, Yemi Iwilade Afrika and Efe Ekede.
Again today, just as we have done for each of these 16 years, we remember our compatriots whose lives and dreams were brutally cut short. Again, we remember the cries and wails, the tears and sorrow of families and friends.
One of them was Akinyemi Iwilade popularly called Afrika who was the then fiery Secretary General of the Students Union. Without doubt, the administration of Prof Wale Omole who was the then despotic Vice Chancellor of the University had a hand in their death. Before their death, they were active in leading fellow students in struggle against both government and University administration’s anti-poor education policies.
Afrika was killed because of his activism, because of his defense of students’ interest; because of his struggle against high school fees and victimization of student leaders; because of struggle against campus cultism; by and large, because of his radical belief that a better education system and a better Nigeria was possible.
The OAU 5 were killed because by 1999, OAU students radicalized by years of intense struggle against military dictatorship and their minions masquerading as University administrators had become so fearless of suspension and expulsion, detention and imprisonment so much that only the spilling of their blood in one brutal massacre could, in the thinking of the masterminds of July 10, break their will.
Unfortunately for those who planned the killings, they underestimated the deep political consciousness of students and their tradition of struggle. They also underestimated or possibly did not even consider the public support from the labour movement, the entire student movement, civil society and the general public that students would get in the aftermath of the killings. In the aftermath, the July 10 killings became a national issue and in the words of Yemi Iwilade Afrika’s father “the first test of democracy”.
So instead of breaking their will, Great Ife students used the killings as a launch pad to defeat cultism on the campus and to send into the dustbin of history, the despotic Prof. Wale Omole administration which was allegedly behind the attack. Infact, students mobilized as far as Lagos and Benin in Edo State to apprehend the cultists who had fled the town of Ile – Ife once the deed was done.
In a way, the fact that students apprehended most of the perpetrators of the attack few days after July 10 is on the one hand a testament to the highly organized nature and politically mature character of the OAU Students Union and its members then. On the other hand however, it is an indictment of the Nigerian Police Force which despite the numbers of high profile political assassinations that have occurred since 1999 have often been unable to make any arrest and where they were able to make any arrest have often engaged in shoddy prosecution which eventually ensures that justice is never served. Such was the public outcry generated by the killings and especially the vigorous campaign led by the OAU Students Union over the attacks that the Obasanjo capitalist government was compelled to set up a judicial commission of inquiry which even if it eventually failed to serve justice allowed irrefutable facts of the connection and culpability of the Prof. Wale Omole’s administration to be exposed to the public.
I advise all students in this gathering to try and study the rich history of the union. You will find out that the union bequeathed to your generation today was fought for and built with the sweat and blood of many young men and women like Yemi Iwilade Afrika. And you will also find out that the generation of Yemi Iwilade Afrika and the generations before him were able to accomplish all those great feats you have heard about not because they were giants with big muscles but because they were activists with radical ideologies. I wish to emphasize this point because of the trend now prevalent in the student movement where the new generation having heard of the great exploits of former activists simply copy something symbolic about them without trying to emulate their ideas. So as a consequence today we have many newly-minted student activists sporting fine African traditional attires and a crest of hair in attempts to be the new Afrika.
But Yemi Iwilade Afrika was more than that. His crest of hair and the African dress that often draped his diminutive figure were, as a Pan Afrikanist, fervent expressions of his ideological identification with Africa’s history and culture and defiant opposition to Western Imperialism and all the evils of injustice, oppression, exploitation and underdevelopment it has brought to the continent. He believed, as most Pan-Afrikanists do, that colonialism and imperialism were responsible for Africa’s backwardness and that Africans should unite to define a path for their own economic and political liberation. Even though Yemi Iwilade Afrika’s ideology suffered some deficiencies especially because it did not investigate the class-basis of oppression and backwardness in Africa which is not merely a result of imperialism but also has a lot to do with the system of capitalism supported by African ruling elites, yet it provided a framework for him to lead the Students Union at one of the most trying times in its history. Given the evolution of his thought and ideas and close association with members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), perhaps if he had lived a bit longer, Yemi Iwilade Afrika might have been able to come to genuine socialist and Marxist conclusions.
However whatever the deficiencies were, there was no doubt that Yemi Iwilade Afrika yearned for a society free from oppression and injustice. Today, none of these dreams and aspirations has been fulfilled. Indeed the economic and political conditions in Nigeria and much of Africa have gone from bad to worse compared to 1999. Nigeria – a country rich in enormous human and natural resources – continues to present an embarrassing picture of monumental failure. As statistics show, there were 17 million illiterate adults in Nigeria than there were in 1991, an increase of 71%! By 2014, the number of illiterate adults in the country had reached 40 million. At present, over 10.5 million school-age children are out of school while 6 million, out of the 36 million girls out of school globally, are from Nigeria. Not only does Nigeria have one of the worst education systems in the world, it is also one of the worst places to live. Economically, vast majority of people are wallowing in poverty in the midst of plenty while just a tiny 1% of the population benefit from the massive wealth of the country. Africa present almost the same terrible picture as most of the continent remain enmeshed in violent wars and associated humanitarian crises, political instability, sickness and diseases, poverty, deprivations and mass misery all leading to a spike in the number of people emigrating out of the continent through the desert and the Mediterranean sea.
Great Ife, tears will not be sufficient to mourn them. We have shed enough tears since 1999. Our tear ducts are dry. The only way to mourn Yemi Iwilade Afrika and four (4) others is to actively take up their unfinished struggles - that is the struggle for a better education sector and a better society.
That can only be done when we rise up in our thousands in struggle against fee hike and all neo-liberal attacks on education. Against the background of the ideological collapse of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), radical unions like the OAU Students Union can blaze the trail for the building of an alternative fighting national students platform by launching, in collaboration with other radical unions and organisations, a national campaign against education underfunding and commercialisation. This kind of national struggle is very urgent given the economic crisis the country is experiencing and the possibility that the Buhari government can use the excuse of financial crisis to introduce austerity measures in the education sector. If the OAU Students Union is willing to toe the path of national struggle, I assure you that you will have the unalloyed support, collaboration and solidarity of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC).
However for us to completely rid society of poverty in the midst of plenty which ultimately was the Pan Afrikanist dream of Yemi Iwilade Afrika, a social revolution will be necessary to put an end to capitalism in Nigeria and Africa. In the end, only a socialist Nigeria and a Confederation of Socialist Africa linking up with a Socialist world can save humanity in every corner of the globe. To this end, I am happy to inform you that the socialist organization to which I belong – the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) - has taken a lead in this process by forming the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) and campaigning that the wider labour movement should build new workers political party that can lead the movement to rescue Nigeria from the brink.
In conclusion, let me once again thank the Students Union for inviting me. I cannot conclude without also congratulating you for the successful struggle to reinstate the five (5) victimized activists of the union. I thank the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) for playing active role in the reinstatement struggle. However it is not over until it is entirely over. Olawale Owolabi a.k.a Ogunruku remains victimized. I urge all students to use the occasion of the remembrance of Yemi Iwilade Afrika and four (4) other victims of July 10 to call on the University administration to recall him. Please remember that an injury to one is an injury to all.
Aluta Continua! Victoria Ascerta!!!
Hassan Taiwo Soweto