That peace may return to Great Ife: A rejoinder

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By Bolanle Bolawole

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turnpot@gmail.com 0705 263 1058

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The “rejoinder” you are about to read, titled “Deepening neglect of public-funded education in Nigeria: OAU students’ protests as a metaphor”, was written by Prof. Omotoye Olorode, one of my mentors at the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in response to the latest “students crisis” at Ife, with reference to two of my interventions on the same Ife.. “Prof.” or “Comrade” or simply “Toye”, as we fondly called him, was one of the Leftist lecturers/staff advisers who, teaching what they were not paid to teach (as the military dictators of yore had described their tribe!), formed the character and sharpened the understanding of many a fledgling student radicals in those years. We milled around them; drank from their fountain of knowledge; and, like Mother Hen, they threw a blanket of protection and respectability, even awe, around us in the eyes of fellow students and staff alike.

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Toye and his likes not only served Great Ife meritoriously but also shouted themselves hoarse providing an alternative Road Map to national development that the powers-that-be have spurned. Retired but not tired, his class analysis of the rot of public-funded education, as he called it, fits into the best Marxist-Leninist tradition of explaining production relations and the master-servant, oppressor-oppressed structure constructed on them, spanning the whole gamut of social, political, and economic relations. I respectfully differ from a few of his conclusions but space constraints will not allow us to dwell on that here today. Listen to Toye:

“The massive ruling class siege and attack on working people created the current decay of our universities. And the decay is occurring simultaneously with the legendary level of private wealth accumulation among the members of Nigeria’s ruling class across the country! The 20 years between 1978 and 1998 witnessed an epic struggle in Nigeria. The struggle to rescue Nigeria and the education sector, especially the higher education segment, took on specific class character in the last 40 years—20 years (1978 -1998) largely under World Bank-supervised military dictatorship, and 20 years (1999-2021) under an alleged democracy also supervised by the World Bank and dominated by the same, and equally deadly, ideological forces spread across Nigeria.

The central character of the four-decade long dispensation is privatisation, massive private accumulation of wealth by a tiny ruling-class, and general abandonment of social services provisioning (education, healthcare, basic utilities, etc.). Budgetary allocation to education has dwindled drastically in spite of the struggles of labour (ASUU’s in particular) and the students’ movement. The vicious attack on the students decimated their movement by the mid-1990s. From 1988, ASUU was banned several times. The Nigeria Labour Congress itself was directly under government sledge hammer between 1988 and 1999; the NLC had not recovered from that trauma!

These are the general conditions that produced the general crisis of decay everywhere (public service, universities, utilities, security, roads, hospitals, etc.) and the progressive and deepening decay in our institutions of higher learning where workers are owed salaries or paid what they now call amputated wages. Yet, key decision-makers and their friends smile to the bank every day! Under the conditions of frustration, anger, and confusion in which our people live, and given that their capacity for resistance had been constantly stultified for years, any minor cause, not to talk of the loss of life of a young student or any human being for that matter, will spark a huge lot of reaction and conflagration!

Where the ruling circles, those whose policies impose the current disaster on society, are untouchable (or are) armed and “invisible” to the victims, the victims (in this case various “interest groups” in the university community) turn their frustrations against one another. That was the background to my immediate reaction on social media when I heard of our tragic loss of Aisha Adesina at OAU… My exact reaction to the statement by [OAU] Senate concerning the unfortunate event was as follows: “OAU IFE STILL LOOKING FOR THE IMMEDIATE AND REMOTE CAUSES OF DECAY… Government-sponsored DECAY that was born more than two decades ago! Really depressing! When the academy dies, virtually ALL will be lost. And to know this is the same ‘Great Ife’ whose unflinching tradition of truth and courage generations of faculty and students sacrificed time, careers and blood to build!”

I said “depressing” but I was actually embarrassed because “the remote” causes of our present situation, on all counts, had been in public view for at least 40 years! As the swearing-in of the [INEC-trained] Student Union EXCO has been suspended by OAU Senate, Management closed OAU on October 2; Senate met on October 5, commiserated with the family (of the deceased); condemned the students’ action and frowned on blocking of Ife-Ibadan and Ife-Ede roads; commended the Vice-Chancellor for “the prompt and proactive decisions to suspend students activities, stressing that precious lives could have been lost if actions had been delayed” (and) affirmed its support for decisions taken by management: That students vacate campus (and that the) swearing in of the newly-elected student union officers be put on hold.

Earlier in the year, I had read “As OAU prepared for its 60th Anniversary (1)” by Mr. Bola Bolawole [Wednesday, 14th April, 2021: reubenabatic.com.ng] where Mr. Bolawole observed as follows: “Little wonder that the University is touted as the Best University in Africa. . . Sadly, the university has since fallen on hard times and is today a shadow of its former self as facilities and infrastructure have been allowed to decay and fall into bad shape. A couple of months ago, I went into Fajuyi Hall, whose hall chairman I was in 1981/82 to help my son move out his belongings and I wept. Everywhere and every facility was decrepit…Sorry for the digression!”

For Mr. Bolawole in April 2021, articulating “the sorry sight” was a digression. But for me and most university workers, especially ASUU members, across Nigeria, since about the time that Bolawole’s generation of radical, patriotic groups and alliances of progressive students entered the universities in Nigeria, the advancement of the decay in our alma mater, and the entire university system in Nigeria, had been the centrepiece of the crisis! It was that deepening of the crisis that compelled and enabled ASUU to force the Federal Government of Nigeria to carry out the Needs Assessment of 2013 and to start undertaking the subsequent, if largely token, amelioration of the decay in Federal and State Universities.

I also saw a copy of, and read, ASUU OAU Branch’s statement of October 2, 2021 [signed by its Chairman, Dr. Adeola Egbedokun]. I need to highlight portions of ASUU’s statement because of the allegations against ASUU in the statement issued on the tragedy by SSANU Chairman, Comrade Taiwo Arobadi. Paragraph 2 of ASUU’s statement referred to “alleged circumstances that surrounded the death. . .” ASUU did not mention or make any allegations! Paragraph 3 stated “ASUU OAU would like to urge the university Administration to pay diligent attention to the health centre, as we cannot continue to pretend that all is well at the facility. We demand that the university administration should set up an independent Panel of Enquiry to look into the activities of the Health Centre with a view to finding lasting solutions to the perennial complaints of both staff and students against the centre.” In paragraph 4, ASUU was categorical: “ASUU OAU wishes to advise students to be law-abiding… in the course of their legitimate protest”.

SSANU Chairman, Comrade Taiwo Arobadi, signed and circulated a release titled “SSANU COMMISERATE WITH THE UNIVERSITY”. The release asserted, inter alia: “The attention of SSANU has also been drawn to the unfortunate online release of ASUU OAU Chapter that the death…was as a result of the negligence by the staff and workers of the Health Centre. In the (ASUU) statement, there was reference to “perennial complaints of both staff and students against the centre” but there was no place in ASUU’s statement where anybody or group was accused of “negligence” by the ASUU (OAU) Chapter. Bola Bolawole’s “That peace may return to Great Ife”(turnpot@gmail.com), which I saw on the 6th of October, tallied some with ASUU (OAU’s) claim of “perennial complaints. . .” : Bolawole observed, “. . .the OAU Health Centre is not new to controversies. Students have protested against it from time immemorial.”

At this point, some reflection on Mr. Bola Bolawole’s intervention, “That peace may return to Great Ife”, will appear to be in order. The rather hagiographic bent of Mr Bolawole’s intervention, as it relates to the incumbent VC, given the circumstance of the tragedy on ground, is worrisome. Basically, my worry has to do with what I consider to be the inappropriateness of apprehending the ambience of the tragedy on ground (the death of the young lady) as an occasion to highlight the achievements of the incumbent Vice-Chancellor. The VC may actually have been a star; and in that regard, I haven’t seen any comment accusing or denigrating Professor Eyitope Ogunbodede.  But that is beside the point!

To begin to rail against “disgruntled” elements, or a “minority” that lost out, “politicians” who were feeding protesters, etc., and these categories may actually exist, simply does not fit this tragic occasion.  And it appears to me that it is the intrusion of hagiography in “That peace may return. . .” which generated the considerable equivocation in Mr. Bolawole’s comments on the state of healthcare facilities at OAU, all our universities and the healthcare facilities generally in our country. We must also begin a dialogue towards determining the credibility of the objections to public protests on account of the “possibility” of the so-called hoodlums joining, and/or the “actuality” that “hoodlums” do join or hijack the protests.

This insistent refrain from segments of enlightened citizens is inimical to citizen’s right to public gatherings that are guaranteed by Nigerian law—the Police Act, 2020. As the “less government, more private accumulation” ruling class policies produced and reproduced what the class now call “hoodlums” and “miscreants”, these hungry and justifiably angry victims have become the excuse for systematic silencing of the growing “tribe” of poor people across Nigeria. And the paradigm has become a routine excuse by state actors for frequent virtual execution of protesters or just anyone who simply happens to be in any “wrong location” such as at the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20, 2020—the ultimate metaphor!

As damaging as allegations of negligence against anyone or any group by aggrieved or distressed individuals can be, aggrieved or distressed individuals, quite often, make such allegations especially against public officers. False allegations of negligence are unfortunate, but ever present, hazards of serving other people. It is precisely because such allegations may be false that demands are made by responsible organisations that such allegations be investigated by an independent committee or commission! And if allegations are found to correspond to truth, remediation, restitution and reconciliation are made; and, if need be, sanctions are imposed to deter future occurrences.

Demands for independent investigation by both Senate and ASUU, we must emphasise, do not remove the fact that workers in the Health Centre are generally hard-working, competent and dedicated people (doctors, cleaners, nurses, pharmacists, etc.) that I knew and know personally. They are our relatives, colleagues and co-workers who have shown dedication to the community, many times beyond the call of duty. Many of the health sector workers have, themselves, like NARD and JOHESU today, been complaining about the decrepit nature of health facilities since 1984! Today, there are doctors in public hospitals that have not been paid for ELEVEN MONTHS!

It is also the truth that the decay of public institutions is not the invention of God or Providence. It is the manifestation of a certain political economy imposed on Nigeria since the close of the 1970s. Nigeria’s working people and their children have struggled with this imposition which has deepened social and economic inequality occasioned by the policies of overlapping ruling class regimes (military and civilian) that abandoned public welfare and reduced the value of worker’s earnings. Universities, health-care facilities and hospitals are abandoned. Students’ accommodations, staff housing are reduced or cancelled, subsidised catering facilities have been terminated since 1984 when 800 catering workers were sacked at the University of Ife and 10,000 nationwide. Workers and students resisted this impoverishment and humiliation of the Nigerian people. Student unions and workers’ unions (Cleaners’ Union, Students’ Union, ASUU, NASU, SSAUTHRIAI) fought side by side. Of course the ruling class fought back and many university people joined the oppressors. Students were imprisoned, dismissed, killed, etc. Lecturers were imprisoned and sacked. Most Vice-Chancellors and the so-called ‘Management’ were laughing to their banks, framing up students and handing them over to the police!

The massive ruling class siege and attack on working people created the current decay of our universities. And the decay is occurring simultaneously with the legendary level of private wealth accumulation among the members of Nigeria’s ruling class across the country! It is the consequence of the siege on the victims of ruling class policies that subverted their organisational and inter-organisational integrity and solidarity. Students started fighting among themselves and against workers, segments of unions hooked on to government and their agents in the universities, private and primordial interests split unions. As solidarity wanes in the community, as individuals and groups take the law into their own hands or frantically surrender to ‘management’ that then help the government to impose irresponsible and anti-people policies like IPPIS, reduced funding, and the so-called cost-recovery strategies! The reinstatement of community and, especially workers’ solidarity, is the antidote to the current decay. We used to have, and to activate, this antidote! The incumbent VC at Ife himself seemed to have discovered, only recently, that IPPIS is subversive of university autonomy!

A related issue regarding my worry about hagiography is the amount of effort said to have been invested in renovation, or is it reforming, of student unionism at OAU; complete with training of students by INEC! The student union was under a ban. It was unbanned, I heard, as an honour to the late Mr. Yinka Odumakin, an alumnus who was a patriotic student leader. Odumakin was in the generation of OAU student leaders who suffered constant intimidation in the hands of the university administration, the military, and the police authorities. Following this October protests, the OAU Students’ Union is now under virtual ban; INEC training or not!

Many of the problems of our situation today underscore the problems of power believing that history does not matter! For a university, circumscribed historicism is particularly unfortunate. Take the example of the contrived controversy concerning whether the 60th Anniversary of the establishment of the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) is 2021 or 2022! In “As OAU prepares for its 60th anniversary (1)” by Bola Bolawole (theshieldonlineng.com: accessed Sunday Oct. 10, 2021), the PRO to OAU [Biodun Olarewaju] was reported to have “corrected the impression that the university was established in 1962”. It was further asserted in the article: “…the erroneous impression emanated from the fact that students came into residence or that academic activities began in 1962”.

I consider the debate unnecessary because it can also be reasonably argued that a university does not exist de facto unless academic activities begin in it! We all know why celebrations become so important in our institutions in spite of the decay that everyone acknowledges! In any case, the 10th Anniversary of the University of Ife was celebrated in 1972 by a significant segment of the founders! Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the inimitable Hezekiah Adedamola Oluwasanmi, (the Vice Chancellor), T.T. Solaru, Omolayole, etc., were there at the celebrations. Our senior colleagues Layi Ogunkoya, Segun Osoba, Sam Aluko, Biyi Afonja and others were there at the “Agric Foyer”. My humble self was there reporting for our campus magazine, Ife Dialogue — the publication of the Ife Dialogue Committee. We just hope and pray that the next administration will not, in spite of the dire situation of OAU, insist on celebrating the 60th Anniversary of OAU in 2022!

And the tendency of the leaders of institutions to be “unavailable” during crises and periods when students are distressed needs to be terminated! Of course empathies are created and conditioned by the congruence of the interests of leaders and the communities they lead. Fortunately, at OAU, I can attest personally to the fact that H.A. Oluwasanmi was always there among the students during distress and crisis. Wande Abimbola was there too. So was Roger Makanjuola who even called Town Hall Meetings to dowse crisis! So were senior academics like Oyin Ogunba, Bayo Lamikanra and “Union people” like late Edmund Oshinaike, late Kola Olufemi and Tunde Fatunla, late Otas Ukpomwan, Dipo Fashina G. G. Darah, Folabo Soyinka-Ajayi, late J.D. Oke and Ayo Asafa, to mention just a few; even though “the Union people” end up carrying the can of being accused of “instigating the students”!

We reiterate the point that the crisis of the abandonment of our universities by ruling class governments is bound to keep generating problems that will continue to divide the communities—workers against workers, students against workers, students against students! Yet, the only way to save the universities is for workers’ groups and students to be on the same side in the struggle against the deepening decay being imposed by the Nigerian ruling class and their collaborators”

Next week: Great Ife: Response to Olorode’s rejoinder.

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