The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) wishes to condemn in strong terms the undemocratic decision of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) authorities to close down the University and proscribe the Students Union. For us, proscription of the Students Union at the slightest hint of students’ protest or demand for improved condition is a relic of those better-forgotten days of military dictatorship and jackboot absolutism, which must not be allowed in any democratic society. We hereby demand immediate reopening of the University, restoration of Students Union activities and the meeting of the demands of students for improved welfare conditions which led to the protest in the first place.
On Monday, 30th November 2015, students of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife embarked on a day-warning lecture boycott. The major demand of the boycott was improvement in learning and living conditions of students, which are in disgusting conditions. The Congress of students also demanded that the Vice-Chancellor of the University should be investigated on account of the mismanagement of university funds, which is one of the underlying causes of the rotten conditions of facilities and students’ welfare. Other demands are reversal of the current fee regime, and the reinstatement of Olawale Owolabi, who was suspended in 2011 following the protest of students against increment in acceptance fees (Increased from N2, 000 to N20, 000). As response to the protest of students and their legitimate demands, the University authorities have employed several options of repression to crush students’ protest and blackmail the students, such that it would be impossible for youths to exercise their democratic rights to protest bad governance or oppressive policies.
In its first reaction, the university shut down the school under the guise of a “mid-semester” break. It subsequently directed students to vacate the university campus on or before Wednesday, 2nd December, 2015. It is important to note that the information of school closure was received on the same Wednesday, 2nd December. In the early hours of Thursday, 3rd December 2015, the authorities instructed the operators of butteries and traders to close their ventures so as to impose a blockade on students as well as staff of the university. These are actions that show the cruelty and callousness of the authorities. Similarly, the authorities followed up this action with the “suspension of students’ union activities” which is a euphemism for banning or proscription of the Students’ Union.
In May 2014, the university authorities increased the fees of students. But the regime of new fees does not justify the disgusting state of toilets, congestion of hostel and poorly equipped libraries and laboratories. The Congress of students had held on Friday, 27th November, 2015 and declared a day-warning lecture boycott to draw the attention of the university authorities to the plights and demands of students. Most importantly, the Congress had mandated the leadership of the Union to sponsor advertorials in two national dailies, calling on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offenses Commission (ICPC) to investigate the Vice-Chancellor and other principal officers of the university over the mismanagement of students fees, capital grants, TETFUND money and other IGR that have accrued to the university between 2011 and 2015. The university was obviously threatened by these resolutions, panicked and tried to blackmail the Students’ Union.
On Monday, November 30, the boycott was followed by a Congress, which resolved unequivocally to suspend every protest, and mandated the leadership of the Union to immediately embark on discussion with the authorities to defend and argue for Congressional resolutions. It was then surprising that the university’s only response to the request for negotiation was a purported mid-semester’s break. The idea of a mid-semester break is mischievous, and nothing more than shutting down the university to prevent students from pursuing the allegations of financial impropriety that have been levied against the university. Please recall that in July 2015, the university authorities employed a similar notion of “mid semester” break to shut down the university in order to douse the protest of members of Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU), who were protesting against the non-payment of 64 months of arrears of allowances. Up till this moment, the University has not paid these arrears. There is therefore no doubt that the current closure is forged to destabilise students’ agitation, in the same manner that the authorities crushed the struggle of NASU.
Nigerians must condemn the tendency of University administrators to resort to undemocratic means to avoid meeting the legitimate demands of students and workers. Authorities that do not want to be questioned on financial administration or policies must pursue good, pro-student and pro-worker policies. We hereby affirm that OAU students, like every Nigerian youth, have rights of association which is enshrined as a fundamental right in the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The ERC wishes to state clearly at this point that we fully support the decision of Great Ife Students’ Union to demand improvement in their living conditions, and explanations on the expenditures and finances of the university. The response of the authorities to these demands is outrageous and condemnable. The Students Union leadership must continue to expose the monumental corruption and profligacy of the authorities of OAU. We also call on well-meaning Nigerians to join in the campaign and struggle for improved funding and democratic management of the education sector. The ERC is convinced that if elected representatives of lecturers, non-academic staff, students and parents are involved in the making of all decisions regarding administration of things and finances in the university, we would not have most of the problems that are rocking the university system today.
Osun State Coordinator