By Alfred Olufemi
For the students of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and the University of Ibadan, uncertainty surrounds expectations they would have their respective unions reinstated by the authorities of their schools anytime soon.
PREMIUM TIMES exclusively interviewed the vice-chancellors of the two universities, who said the students’ demands for the restoration of their unions would take a while to be achieved.
Students’ Union, (SU) activties have not occurred in the two universities since the turn of this year.
The OAU SU was suspended in November 2017, six months after the union at Ibadan suffered a similar blow. Both cases were in the wake of students’ protests.
In justifying the indefinite suspension of the Ife SU, then led by Edward Ibukun, the school accused the union leaders of actions that could negatively impact its reputation and endangered the members of the university community.
“Following security reports of incessant fighting and unruly behaviour during the Congress of the Students Union and the recalcitrant attitude of their leadership, it has become inevitable for the University administration to suspend the activities of the Students Union of the Obafemi Awolowo University,” read the statement signed by the registrar, Dotun Awoyemi.
Weeks earlier, the university had suspended some student activists who the school accused of leading a ‘violent’ protest against power outage which reportedly lasted six days. The registrar also cited the widely reported fight between the vice-president and the social director “in which head butts and stabbing were recorded” during a meeting of the union executive to make decisions in respect of expenditure of funds released on September 5.
Then, he mentioned the “vandalisation of the vehicle of the Ekiti State Chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists on July 14, 2017; vandalisation of NURTW buses on October 6, 2016; and forceful release of students under investigation from police custody on October 6, 2017 and recent ‘serious fighting’ and open fracas at the meetings of the Union.”
Also, the authorities of the University of Ibadan accused the Ojo Aderemi-led union of disrupting academic activities by mobilising students for a massive protest against the non-issuance of Identity(ID) Cards and ‘unruly’ behaviour’ of the president.
Interestingly, as the Ibadan failed to issue ID cards to students, Ife also did not. At both schools, students are annually charged for ID cards. Students decry this failure, saying it denies them access to opportunities off campus where they are required to prove the validity of their studentship.
In reaction to students’ protest over the ID cards, the UI management declared: “the activities of the Students’ Union Executive Council (SUEC) and the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) be suspended until further notice.”
Embattled Union Leaders Speak
The presidents of the two suspended SUs told PREMIUM TIMES the authorities were only desperate to justify their actions.
“Whoever made the assertion should give a clear meaning of it,” Ojo Aderemi of UI said. “Nobody can be the judge in his own case,” he added.
“No one will say he/she is a bad child,” Edward Ibukun of OAU said, buttressing his UI counterpart.
Meanwhile, before the union was suspended, Mr Ibukun faced allegation he connived with his colleagues in the executive council to ‘loot’ N2 million belong to the union. He denies this.
However, the scandal led to the blocking of the union leaders’ access to their e-portal pages. One of the executives, Adewumi Michael, the director of sports, disclosed that the university locked their portal pages because of the inability of the president and other executives to account for the N2 million.
The leaders of the two suspended unions have called on students in both schools to unite to form a common front towards the struggle to restore their unions.
Further, they said banning SUs would have implications for a school’s role in grooming future leaders and providing an environment to help students nurture democratic attributes.
“Stifling the voice of young people creates nothing but another generation of imbeciles and that is a recipe for failure,” Mr Aderemi stated.
“The union exists for the defence of rights of students and the fostering of patriotism towards the nation,” he added.
In an interview, a Law student of OAU, Binzak Azzez, explained that the suspension of union activities in his school has exposed students to security risks, exploitation and other problems.
This, he said, became the consequences of “no mechanism to maintain security and regulate prices.”
“Students resort to self-help whenever conflict arises. The strong students bully the weak ones. In fact, some sets of students now have the audacity to smoke and display cult-like activities in public places.
“The bus drivers are inflating transport fare while traders exploit students as well. It’s important that the activities of the SU are reinstated to allay these challenges. The only body capable of suppressing these challenges is the SU.”
Traditionally, the SU at OAU was mostly in charge of security and adjudication of disagreements involving its members. Students barely reported conflicts to the university authorities but to the SU. It was equally esponsible for regulation of prices to ensure students were not exploited.
“Because there’s no union to engage students, the new accommodation policy without more hostels has displaced some students to houses outside the campus,” another student said, lamenting the new policy which bans unauthorised residency in the hostels on campus.
Also, Otunremi Damilola, a 500 level Nursing student of UI said the absence of the union made the over 100 per cent increment on the institution accommodation fee possible.
“The new accommodation fee is more than the sum of students’ school fees,” she said.
Ms Damilola, who referred to the suspended union as a ‘lesser evil’ in comparison to UI’s management, further blamed the union leaders for disunity. “The students’ leaders themselves are not united. The school management is aware of this and that is what they are capitalising on to exploit the students.”
Not Anytime Soon – VCs
Meanwhile, the vice-chancellors of the two universities, in separate interviews with PREMIUM TIMES, said the unions would be reinstated “but not anytime soon”.
The UI VC, Idowu Olayinka, said: “The matriculation we did recently ought to have been done in October. What is the essence of lifting the ban on students’ union if after three months we are back to square one? We don’t want what will affect the academic calendar again.
“Moreover, for almost a year now that the students’ union has been suspended, my salary is going fine and other staff’s. Students are at the losing end.”
For the process of restoration, he, however, said, “Dialogue comprising stakeholders in UI, that is, the faculty reps, the deans of faculties, halls’ executives and the union of campus journalists; will be fixed.”
He did not give a definite timeline.
Also, Eyitope Ogunbodede, the VC of OAU said: “We are going to reinstate the union if the atmosphere is okay and we are sure that we won’t have a ‘murder’ case in our hands.”
While speaking on the effects of the absence of SU as decried by the students, the two varsity heads said there are other bodies responsible for students’ welfare asides the SU
“We only suspended the union activities at the central executive level. We still have students’ unions in our halls of residence,” Mr Ogunbodede said.
“There are bodies ranging from the halls of residence to faculties,” added Mr Olayinka, echoing his Ife counerpart.