BY EBUN-OLU ADEGBORUWA, SAN
Precisely on Tuesday 11th April 2023, the unthinkable happened in Great Ife, as a student was mobbed, beaten up and killed with bare hands, by his fellow students. Their banal excuse was that he allegedly stole a mobile phone. They snuffed life out of him, they killed his dreams and threw his family into everlasting mourning and disarray. They spilled blood upon the rich heritage of a university known worldwide as the birthplace of giants, moulder of destinies of distinguished personalities and builder of men and women of great accomplishments.
Here are the facts of this gruesome act. Okoli Ahize, a 500-level student of the university was accosted by fellow students at the Obafemi Awolowo Hall for allegedly stealing a mobile phone in the said hall of residence. A mob of about 10-15 students descended on him, beating him to a state of unconsciousness. He was confirmed dead in the university hospital. Awo Hall is one of the biggest halls of residence in the university, boasting itself as the headquarters of “Aluta”, a phrase adopted for progressive students’ revolutionary struggles. Most of the protests embarked upon by students were initiated in Awo Hall, where leaders of the Students Union usually reside. I stayed in Awo Hall in my first year on campus as a freshman (Jambite) and I also stayed in the same hall as President of the Students’ Union, so I am very familiar with the history and importance of Awo Hall.
According to Wikipedia, “Obafemi Awolowo University is known as the “Jerusalem” of Aluta because of the antecedents of her students in vibrant and radical unionism over the years.”
The usual practice was for students to convert the steel railings of their balconies into some kind of alarm by hitting spoons and other metal objects to summon students for an emergency gathering. The students would then converge at the Potter’s Lodge in the main hall and they would normally decide the course of action. Once Awo Hall has been fully mobilized and ready, they proceed to mobilize other students in the other halls of residence and you can be sure that Aluta has commenced. Cultists and criminals had no place in Awo Hall, which had a very rich history of zero tolerance for betrayals, stooges and collaborators.
At all times during my stay in Awo Hall, the students demonstrated uncommon courage, a sense of justice and equity and provided a reliable base for the execution of progressive ideas of the students. So, what could have happened that such a rich heritage was bastardized and denigrated by this cruel act of inhumanity? Can this still be the same university that we attended and boast of openly? The history of this great institution is itself very rich and unique, some of which I will share with you, based upon information gathered from its website and that of Wikipedia.
HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSITY
The decision to establish the University of Ife by the ruling Action Group party of the Western Region of Nigeria was in protest at the recommendations of the Ashby Report. The first Nigerian university was established in 1948 at Ibadan in the Western Region as an external college of the University of London. The needs of Nigeria (then a British colony), however, exceeded the productivity of the country’s only university. In particular, the university of Ibadan had no faculty of engineering or technology, law school, pharmacy school or management training abilities. The Ashby Commission, which was set up by the British, was to review tertiary education needs of the soon-to-be-independent nation of Nigeria. The government of the Western Region did not want to rely on federal universities or those of other regions to admit its numerous secondary school leavers. On 8th June, 1961 the Law providing for the establishment of the Provisional Council of the University was formally inaugurated under the Chairmanship of Chief Rotimi Williams (later SAN). The University at Ife was thus founded as a rebuttal to the perceived politicization of higher education opportunities in Nigeria and the Western Region and was designed to fill the gaps in the manpower needs. The final site chosen, a 13,000 acres (5,300 ha) of land, was donated by the people of Ile-Ife for the proposed university. The first financial grant provided for the university was £250,000 from the Western regional government.
On 22 September 1962, the university was opened to 244 students at its temporary facilities, the previous college of arts and sciences, Ibadan. Some of the new students were previously at the college of arts and sciences, and some staff were recruited from University College, Ibadan, and from abroad. Oladele Ajose, was nominated as the first Vice-Chancellor of the university, which began with faculties of agriculture, arts, economics and social studies, law and science. The style of administration of the university and faculties was similar to University College, Ibadan, and during its foundation, it established a relationship with University of Wisconsin.
Adverse political conditions within the region delayed the move from Ibadan to Ife. In February 1966, Lt-Col Francis Adekunle Fajuyi, the Visitor of the University of Ife and the first Military Governor of the Western Region, appointed Ezekiah Oluwasanmi as the new Vice-Chancellor, and Chief TT Solaru as the pro-chancellor, and gave them money and orders to relocate to the permanent campus by October 1966. Fajuyi was killed at Ibadan in the military mutiny of July 1966, and did not witness the movement he orchestrated. Fajuyi Hall, a residential hall, was named to honour his contributions.
The university’s move to the new campus at Ile-Ife began in January 1967. The campus at Ife had the first faculty of pharmacy in West Africa, the first department of chemical engineering, and the first faculty of electronics components and electrical engineering. Its medical school started with an integrated curriculum and community orientation, which was later adopted by the World Health Organization.
The student population has risen steadily from 244 in 1962/63 to over 35,000 at present, including the mob party that killed Ahize. Good enough that some of them have been arrested and handed over to the law enforcement agencies for due investigation and prosecution, but the issues go beyond strict legalism.
The facilities and infrastructure in OAU and indeed most other government-owned universities have remained the same as they were when they were newly-established, whereas the population of students has grown astronomically. These facilities themselves have gone through wear and tear. Imagine for instance, that Awo Hall produced Femi Falana, SAN and I went through the same Awo Hall many years after, with no functional toilets, no electricity, no water, nothing other than the bed space that you paid for. In the room itself are the legal owners and the squatters, who sleep on the bare floor and at times in the open spaces along the corridors. Their lecture halls are not any better, whilst they were all recently sentenced to close to one year of idleness due to the prolonged strike occasioned by the insensitivity of the government to the plight of the universities.
Against this background, the present situation of government-owned universities cannot but produce mobsters, cultists and murderers. But this cannot be a justification for the barbaric action of Awo Hall students who turned themselves into judges in their own cause.
Section 33 (1) of our Constitution is clear that every citizen has the right to life, which cannot be taken in an arbitrary manner such as the murderers of Ahize have done. Let us even for the sake of argument assume that he stole a mobile phone, should that be a reason to kill him? Section 36 (5) of the Constitution states that every person who is charged with a criminal offence is presumed innocent until he is proved guilty. How do we establish the guilt or innocence of any citizen from the grave? The glory of our young men and women is in harnessing their potential for greater development. The French President is a young man, so is Mark Zuckerberg and indeed the Speaker of Oyo State House of Assembly. Dr. Ken Saro Wiwa was appointed a Commissioner in Rivers State at the tender age of 24 whilst General Yakubu Gowon ascended the throne as Head of State when he was a young man. The late Queen Elizabeth was crowned Queen of England as a young woman. Youthful exuberance cannot excuse criminality and brigandage. The savage theory of “Maximum Shi-Shi”, by which students tend to annul the laws of the land and impose their own self-rule must be decried and abolished forthwith. What moral lessons will students pass over to corrupt leaders and recycled elders if a Student Union President has an array of special assistants and aides, fleet of exotic cars, luxury telephones and an outlandish budget? Whereas we clamour and insist that tomorrow belongs to our young men and women, we must isolate those amongst them who find pleasure in turning institutions built to mould their destinies into citadels of crime. We were in this same institution as student leaders, we resisted oppressive policies, routed cultists, defended democracy and partnered with all advocates of good governance without a single loss of any academic calendar, much less the blood of anyone. The interests of students are better protected through the practice of responsive, purposive and progressive unionism, not barbarism.
.Adegboruwa is a lawyer, activist and Managing Partner, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa SAN & Co.