“…Iyayi was in a sitting posture with an obvious injury on the upper part of his left hand and a mass of blood on his chest within the region of his heart. He was gasping for breath, and then the breathing appeared to stop…” -Anthony I. Monye-Emina ***

The year was probably 1987, the month and day, I’m not sure. The doors of the Volkswagen beetle slammed shut. The young men who had arrived at the compound scurried in all directions. Shortly after, a hush fell on the compound, a military jeep pulled over at the same compound. About six gorilla-faced men jumped down. The ground shook beneath them. Their commander was a handsome lieutenant. He was neatly dressed and lanky. He ordered the soldiers to check the Volkswagen for the ‘idiots’… You see in those days, the ASUU strike was usually like James Bond movies.

The young men who had run out of the Volkswagen were lecturers from different universities around the country. At least one of them was from the University of Ibadan. They had gone to the court of law to obtain a court order. The military had pursued them into the court compound. The judge had threatened sanctions against the military men not to touch the young lecturers within the court premises. Of course, they were allowed to leave the court premises but were not allowed to roam freely. The beetle car probably chose to go through the Polytechnic Ibadan compound to the compound of the Premier University.

The lecturers knew their route. And their point of rendezvous. If those soldiers got you, you would be taken to Lagos and tortured. If any National Executive Council member of ASUU were arrested by the Police or military in the 1990s, there were standby replacements for them. Struggle continues. In those days when NANS was still an intellectual and functional movement, students always supported ASUU struggles. Even when NANS refuses to join the action, it does not stupidly denounce it. It happens now that NANS has been compromised terribly. Local student unions would usually protest the arrest of ASUU members. Reactionary Vice-Chancellors usually attacked progressive ASUU lecturers in those days. In 1987 at the University of Benin, Festus Ojeaga Ikhuoria Iyayi was sacked.

He had a Doctorate degree in Business Administration. He was ASUU National President when he was relieved of his job. The directive had come from the Federal Military Government under General Babangida to the Administration of UniBen which was still basking in the euphoria of having the first female Vice-chancellor. Explaining the incident that followed, the former Dean of the Students Affairs Division of the University of Ibadan in the early 1990s, Dr J. D. Ojo wrote: “As soon as the order was carried out, students at the University of Benin rose in protest The irate students burned down a restaurant with airconditioners, refrigerators, cookers and furniture and looted the sports store of the University.

The damage was so extensive that the Government decided to close the institution down for almost 5 months, from May to September 1987. As a result of the damage, twelve students were rusticated for various periods varying from one to five academic years while the remaining students were surcharged N50.00 each for the destruction of property. But in February 1988, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Grace Alele-Williams, decided to pardon the twelve students and allow them to return to the university.” [J. D. Ojo.1990.Students’ Unrest in Nigerian Universities: Legal and Historical Approach Spectrum, Ibadan. Page 58-59] The demand of ASUU is principled.

Dr Yunnusa Musa Dada of the Department of Soil Science, University of Maiduguri wrote in April 2014: “But, the struggle of ASUU is that of eternal vigilance in defending the Nigerian University system. Until government shows concerted effort at stemming the problems plaguing the universities, embarking upon strike action by the dons may be inevitable.” [The National Scholar. April 2014. Page 25] In my little understanding, I never believed that the reason why the largest collection of intellectuals would send the Government veering back and forth would be the issue of salaries alone. From 1992 to date, the demands of ASUU have shown greater concern for students and the education sector more than just the issue of welfare of its members.

The demands have ranged from poor funding of education, poor academic facilities in universities, privatisation and greater involvement of students in the decision-making process so on. All of these are explained in a larger scope when investigated. The point is if the immensely corrupt Nigerian government would be reasonable enough to at least consider the future and respond to some of these demands. The claim as usual is no money. Of course, no money to build the university system but there is abundant money for looting and misappropriation. Then the next they tell you is you have to pay more. You pay more and I tell you that nothing would change.

Well, that is if you have the wherewithal to pay. I once heard Idris Wada, the Governor of Kogi State on Al Jazeera saying about education that they “have to pay more”. However, you challenge them and bad things will happen to you. The bad things range from sack to death. One good example is Festus Iyayi. How Prof. Festus Iyayi was killed. The morning of Tuesday, the 12th day of November 2013… He was on his way in an ASUU bus to Kano where a National Executive Committee meeting was to hold. The meeting was meant for discussions on how to resolve the strike. There had been a General Meeting or Congress in Benin before the journey began.

The 2013 ASUU strike was 4 months old already. The bus had reached the dusty plains of Banda village near Lokoja, Kogi State. Then the sound of a siren came. It was the convoy of the Kogi State Governor, Captain Idris Wada. The convoy was reputed to have been consistently reckless. Before Iyayi’s death, it had been reported on the news even in Ibadan here that that convoy was usually speeding recklessly and dangerously without respect for other road users. The last of the fleet of vehicles on the convoy veered off its lane and faced the bus conveying Iyayi and others. Anthony I. Monye-Emina ASUU Chairman, UniBen branch was on the bus conveying Iyayi.

He recalled; “I asked the driver to watch the vehicle which kept coming at us even when the driver made to leave the road. At a point, I thought it was a suicide attack… [the] pick-up truck… ram[med] into our bus on the side with a big bang causing it to somersault three times and then stood upright… Comrade Festus Iyayi was in a sitting posture with an obvious injury on the upper part of his left hand and a mass of blood on his chest within the region of his heart. He was gasping for breath, and then the breathing appeared to stop. I called several times but, he did not respond.” [The National Scholar. April 2014. Page 62/63] We must all understand the legitimacy of the ASUU strike; >The patience of ASUU is not new. I learnt from Prof Abiodun Ogunyemi that between 2009 and 2013, it took 50 letters, a series of warning strikes and a total and indefinite strike and over 200 meetings to get Government to renegotiate the 2001 Agreement.

The disposition of the FG over things that matter. >Decades of the exodus of seasoned academics particularly to Europe and America. You may wonder why there is little or no racial mix in our universities. Well, it’s the system. They got fed up with the government’s attitude towards education and left. >Deplorable state of facilities for research, teaching and learning; >Gross and shameful underfunding; etc It was said that George Bernard Shaw had freely expressed his thought. He said; “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

The sarcastic statement is directed at those whose sole reason for existing is self-survival and not changing what needs to be changed. Curse the thieves -whose understanding of governance is profiting from it. What they eat off the budget is usually more than the percentage that goes into the education sector. It shocked me too. -Support those that fight them. Ojo Aderemi was President of the Students’ Union of the University of Ibadan before it was suspended in 2017. He can be reached via ojderemi@gmail.com


Ojo, Aderemi is a Historian, teacher, public speaker, writer, politician, and community organiser. He was trained at the University of Ibadan and was President of the Students Union.

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