In truth, July 10 is a historic day in the history of the University as a whole. It is significant because it was a day the students’ community collectively launched a campaign against cultism. As opined by Thomas Jefferson in his letter to William S. Smith, a diplomatic official in London on November 13, 1787, he said “the tree or liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of Patriots and tyrants; it is its natural manure.” But, it is heartbreaking that George Yemi Iwilade (Afrika), Efe Ekpede, Babatunde Oke (Sabo), Eviano Ekelemu and Yemi Ajiteru in hot blood sacrifice paid the ultimate price of freedom for everyone in the University on this very day at their early stage in life. It becomes expedient for everyone of us as members of the University community to note that the massacre of OAU5 at the wake of July 10, 1999 played a role in enshrining our community with nobility and safety that is today cherished by each and everyone of us.
It is unfortunate to note that neo-fascism is gradually finding its way into the University community and the management can be said to be culpable as a result of the continuous and frequent clampdown on students’ unionism which has become the order of the day in the University. To the management, the suspension of students’ union activities is a way of curbing the ‘uncivilized’ activities of students, but, it is actually a way of strengthening cultism because, the Union is expected to fight cultism to a standstill while organising sensitisation programmes for students which is meant to empower them with the rudiments of leadership.
There is no gainsaying in the fact that in the western world, no University is complete without a virile and vibrant students’ union.
As a matter of fact, in the United Kingdom, the students’ union is the incubator from where future political leaders are produced.
It is on record that Harold Macmillan, Harold Wilson and Ted Heath who were Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom at one time or the other were students’ union Presidents during their days at Oxford University. In most Universities in the western world, the laws governing them allow for the participation of the students in the governance of the Universities.
A perfect example is what is obtainable at the University of Western Australia in Perth, Australia, Fort Hare University in South Africa and University of Guelph in Ontario Canada, students are not only members of the statutory committees of the Universities but they are represented in the governing councils by the Presidents of the students’ unions.
However, reverse is the case here in Nigeria as we have a University structure that does not give room for the representation of students in their policy-making processes. Unfortunately, we have University managements that believes that the continuous and frequent suspension of students’ union activities is the panacea to the many crises the students are battling with amongst themselves.
Until managements of tertiary institutions do away with this thought and respect students’ rights while taking their views with all seriousness, this country would not get it right.
It is important to remind the University management once again that the continued suspension of Union activities on campus is a derogation of their godly and Constitutionally recognized Right to Freedom of Association and Assembly which derogation is a contravention and an assault on the provisions of Article 9, 10 and 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, 1981 a Treaty-turned-Act which does not accommodate derogation in any form and Section 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as Amended).
As a matter of fact, based on the authority of the Supreme Court in Abacha V. Gani Fawehinmi and other plethora of cases, you cannot find any justifiable defense either in the provisions on derogation, Section 45 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as Amended) or in the powers conferred on the University management, Section 34 and other similar provisions of the University of Ife Law 1970 and Obafemi Awolowo University (Transitional Provisions) Act 1975 because of the doctrine of pacta sunt servanda.
It cannot be over-emphasised that the essence of students’ unionism on campus is to protect the interests of students and bring about radical change by consistently engaging those in the position of authority while proffering way-forwards to societal ills and most importantly, demanding for the proper funding of the educational sector, but, reverse is the case in the University today as the students have been denied their right to freely assemble for close to two years now. With this, the University management have shown to be poking a finger in the eye of the law which ordinarily should not be witnessed in a setting like ours.
Today, what Afrika and the other 4 persons were brutally murdered for is gradually resurfacing in the University community and this cannot be unconnected from the absence of a coordinated students’ union. In strengthening the future, students must be allowed to sustain the legacy of zero-tolerance for cultism and this cannot be done without a students’ union. The recognition of this day by the management to the extent of organising a programme in its honour is commendable but the management need to show sincerity by taking a step further and this can only be done by restoring the Students’ Union with immediate effect.
Though, I am not unaware of the steps being taken by the University management towards restoration of the Students’ Union, it is important for the management to be reminded that commitment need be shown towards this if truly the management is concerned about securing the future of every student and the University itself. The delay in restoring the Union is totally unnecessary and, in having a responsible students’ community, the management must not be seen supporting or aiding a Union administration that promotes violence and intolerance amongst students as was witnessed during the last Union administration.
Kazeem Olalekan Israel (GANI) is a final year Political Science student of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.