Thursday 10 July 2014



George 'Yemi Iwilade Afrika
Today July 10 is exactly 15 years since a young student of law and former Secretary- General of Great Ife Students’ Union, George Akinyemi Iwilade (aka Afrika) was assassinated in cold blood by campus cult members at Obafemi Awolowo University Ile Ife. Worrisome controversies followed the death of Afrika, especially the indictment of the Vice-Chancellor at that time, Prof. Wale Omole, as mastermind of the attack. Fifteen years after, typical of the judicial culture of our country, the people in high places indicted in this saga have not reached the dock; instead, some of them occupy new positions of reverence and authority.

Students of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife still remember Afrika as a martyred icon of pro-masses education policies, aside being saddened by the silence of his case. Professor Wale Omole, may be heavily indicted, of course he has not been convicted, but is equally not known to be friendly to pro-masses education policies. For instance in 1999, Omole angered students of Obafemi Awolowo University with an astronomic increment of fees, which raised charges from N1, 250 to N10, 250 – an event that brought Afrika and other Students’ Union leaders in confrontation with the Professor Omole led University Administration.  Afrika and Lanre Legacy, the then President of the Students’ Union, with other 5 activists were detained for about two weeks at Panti Yaba police station over the protest held in Lagos against the  fee hike.  Victory was recorded for the students as their conscious actions forced the university administration to reverse its policy. Appreciably today, OAU students still make reference to the motivating symbol of Afrika in their struggle against fee hike and cult activities.

The students of OAU still widely parade their campus as intolerant of cult related activities. Hooliganism and bullying are strongly penalized and reprimanded in the community of students. This is indeed a significant gain, and hard lesson, derived from the horrible events of July 10, 1999 – a day when armed Cultist evaded the campus and murdered 5 five students, including Afrika.

The serene conditions of OAU may not be under cult threat because of the lessons of 1999, but clearly, the university is now always under constant attacks of fee hike. In 2011 for instance, the university increased acceptance fee from N2, 000 to N20, 000, only the fresh students were affected and the university merely closed the school when students questioned the increment. This time around, barely 2 months ago, the management of OAU, led by Prof. Tale Omole – who shares similar last name, and probably, similar policies with Wale Omole, V.C during the 1999 massacre – increased the Students’ fees. Under the new regime of fees, fresh students from the humanities, Sciences, and health sciences are to pay N81, 700, N92, 700 and 95, 700 respectively in their various faculties. Fresh students were not the only one to be battered by these outrageous, astronomic hikes, returning students also had substantial amounts added to their fees.

It is commendable that 15 years after the gruesome murder of students’ leaders like Afrika, the culture of resistance against anti-students policies has remained strong and unyielding. The students of Obafemi Awolowo University boldly protested the hike, demand its reversal and seek explanations on the revenues and expenditures of the institution. The Vice-Chancellor only answered these fundamentally important questions by shutting the university, based on trumped-up charges.

Obviously it is not only the tradition of intellectual and courageous resistance that have not left OAU students, practices of undemocratic tendency, inconsideration and military repression have also not left the OAU administration too. Professor Tale Omole recent decision to shut down the institution over Students’ protest and subsequent deployment of armed security men to enforce this order is an instance. Dissenting opinions and ideas should not be discouraged, or criminalized, in any society. But closure of school because of students’ protest is an attack on freedom of thoughts and expression, and it is equally characteristic of a military regime. In fact Nigerians must condemn it outright because such measures threaten democratic advancement of any society, especially if they are institutionalized in a university that ought to prescribe those democratic ideals.

From 1999 to date, the conspiracy of university echelons and governments, against Nigerian students and poor parents has waxed stronger. Vice-Chancellors are diligently installed by governments, with corresponding University councils and Senates, to skillfully implement cut-throat policies of education commercialisation, aka: Fee hike. In most cases, embittered students react, government goes criminally deaf and their agents in our varsities quickly clean the mess; sometimes repress this students’ resistance.

If Afrika were to be remembered by Nigerian students, some things which he spent his days representing and defending – rights of the poor to access education as the rich does – must also be pondered. It is simple: in a country as wealthy as Nigeria, substantial commitment of our nation’s wealth to education would lift out the sector from its current state of barbarism and equally unburden the Nigerian working people. With the current political culture of impunity – which encourages gravely looting of our vast resources or mysterious disappearances of our national wealth, and commandeered by vicious circus of elitist politicians – proper funding of education will surely be the last thing on the list. Only the people can remind our elitist leaders their responsibilities through organised agitations and protest actions as this as proven the only effective way to actually win substantial funds for education and end this insanity of fee hike.

At this sober moment, Nigerian students must unite against this monster of fee hike. The National Association of Nigerian Students must rise to this occasion and practically defend the interest of Nigerian students to access quality, free education. The spontaneous struggles breaking out independently in LASU and OAU as well as other schools must be aggregated and given an organised voice. Fee hike, closure of schools and incessant strikes can be classified as threat to the interest of students and must be equally combatted by NANS.

Although George Akinyemi Iwilade might have been assassinated, but the ideas he represented will live longer than expected. And today, Nigerian students stand motivated by the courageous actions and leadership of Yemi Iwilade. This moment provides the appropriate opportunity to demand that the killers of Ife 5 be brought to book. More importantly, it emphases a new re-commitment to, and reflections on the state of the student movement and the numerous attacks Nigerian students face.

Wole Olubanji,
National Mobilisation Officer of Education Rights Campaign (ERC) and a philosophy student of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.

No comments: