A significant number of students at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) might have no idea of what July 10 represents in the history of the school, and the students’ movement. And for those that know something about July 10, it is likely they simply see it as the day men of the underworld struck on the campus, killing George “Afrika” Iwilade and 4 other students. The events of this sad day in the annals of Great Ife does however one with a deeper essence, which is important for student activists to grasp.
As is now common knowledge, on the eve of July 10, 1999 some reactionary elements who were mobilized by the then university vice chancellor in person of Professor Wale Omole, attacked the campus. The coordinated attack on the order of university VC had the support of top-ranking personnel in the university security department. Radical activists who were in the students’ union leadership were the primary target.
Prior to July 10, the university management increased tuition fee, but was forced to reverse this increment after a mass students’ fightback, under the leadership of the union activists particularly the General Secretary of the union, George Iwilade Afrika.
The students organised a series of protests and political actions inside and outside the campus to pressure the management for this reversal to be won. On a particular anti-increment protest in Lagos some of the union leaders were arrested including Afrika but that didn’t deter the students. And they fought untiring till the school fees was reversed and activists released.
The students were organized with strong political will against all attacks. Their slogan was “education is a right not a privilege”. The sharp battles between management and the students’ union, aided by the victories of the union, resulted in a sharp rise in the consciousness of the students.
Majority of the students understood the essence of having a strong, independent students’ union and the role of each and everyone to achieve that. Similarly, the students’ union didn’t exist in isolation. It had solidarity from the workers’ unions on the campus and students’ unions in other institutions of learning within and beyond Osun state Joint Campus Committee (JCC).
Similarly, the OAU students and students’ union were concerned with issues affecting students in other schools as well, especially as these were all similar (i.e. increases in fees, poor welfare conditions, repressive managements etc.). The union was also ever concerned with defending the cause of the popular masses, as a new republic was being instituted by the bosses, in the country.
The OAU management was not comfortable with this state of affairs. The students’ union executive had taken power from a conservative leadership which gave tacit support to management. Now, once again Great Ife was moving further to the left and at a fast pace. The management thus reached a conclusion that getting rid of the union leadership would douse the students’ consciousness.
Earlier in March the university management prepared a determined assault to get rid of the students’ union leadership and activists. But that plan was foiled by students who understood that vigilance is the price of liberty.
The students were mobilized by the students’ security committee (a body elected by the students from their ranks) and they stomped the senior staff quarter where the neo-fascists elements were lodged by management. They were arrested by the students and handed over to university security officers who later released them.
Management was more sinister in collaborating made with the reactionary elements to make the June 10 attack tragically successful.
At dawn, immediately after the attack, OAU students mobilized en masse, went against these attackers and two of them were apprehended. The lesson from this is that when the oppressed people are united and determined nothing can stand in our way.
Also, another manifestation of the strength in students’ unity, which is a victory for the students is that the VC, Professor Omole was ousted by the students.
The July 10 history and lessons are so much relevant now when the students’ union is under attack by yet another anti-student VC, Professor Ogunbodede and all sorts of oppressions and anomalies are being perpetuated on the campus with impunity.
Socialist Workers and Youth League (SWL) commends the efforts of the Students Action Committee (SAC) in sustaining some radical traditions of Great Ife and also welcomes the ongoing efforts to reinstate OAU students union. We believe the students union to be the collective and democratic organisation of the students and by that is the property of students not the responsibility of the management.
History have shown us that the management is never sincere and committed to having a student’s owned and democratically organized students’ union. Management is never comfortable with independent students’ unionism, as this will challenge their oppressive character. And it is not in their place to form or recognize our unions for us, anyway.
We can see how slippery management can be even from events related to this commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the July 10 massacre. In a very treacherous manner, they organised a parallel event to commemorate the day. This is coming from a management that earlier disapproved commemoration of the event when the SAC presented its program for just that!
The management now working with few elements in the house of residence executives organised another event for the same day, and time. This shares similarity with the approach taken by Wale Omole’s administration in 1999 by ‘recognising’ a couple of union leaders who are ready to do the bidding of the management. In the light of that we urge the SAC to turn the July 10 commemoration day into a day of massive congress (- first of its kind) where issues such as the challenges students face on OAU campus today and the imperative of an independent and all inclusive students union will be discussed and pragmatic resolutions will be taken on the need to establish an organized structure of the students’ union independent of the management and without interference from the Department of Students Affairs (DSA).
Great Ife, Great Ife, remain Great Ife … Scientific Aluta with Maturity… Great Ife, Great Ife, remain Great Ife!!!
by Lai BROWN