• Facts they did not want you to know about last week students’ protest in Nigeria’s premier university
• A chat with student whose rustication caused the showdown
From OLUSEYE OJO, Ibadan
In the history of students’ protests in the University of Ibadan, no one will forget in a hurry that of last week that pitted students against the management. Reason: it started with angry procession round the campus community but ended with the cooking of delicious ewa (beans porridge) right outside the university main gate.
But what were the reasons for the protest? Investigation by Education Review revealed that the students staged the protest on two grounds: the rustication, for one semester, of a 500-Level student of petroleum engineering, Mr. Tunji Epeti Michael, fondly called ‘Mote’. He was accused of masterminding the first UI students protest sometime in November 2015 over erratic power and water supplies in their halls of residence. The second reason for the protest was the continuing existence of the very conditions that led to the controversial last year protest and to eventual rustication of Ekpeti.
Epeti was tried and found guilty by the Students Disciplinary Committee (SDU) of the institution, for abandoning his duty post somewhere in Port Harcourt where he was undergoing industrial training to come to University of Ibadan, to lead a protest. That was last year.
But this year’s protest, which commenced on Monday, April 28, 2016, began as an action against what students see as unjustfied rustication of Epeti. It was to later extend as anger over their perceived maintenance of the status quo that prompted the first protest. This second protest lasted for two days, leading to the indefinite closure of the university by the management.
During the protest, the students barricaded roads with heavy stones, and stopped the smooth operation of internal transport system. After taking hold of the entrance gate, they went into faculty buildings and chased out their colleagues receiving lectures as they urged them to join the “struggle for their rights.”
In the afternoon of the second day of the protest, the school management directed all students to vacate the campus. They were given until 4pm of the day to vacate their hostels or risk expulsion.
But the closure and threat of expulsion did not deter the students from further protest. On Wednesday, they turned the frontage of the main gate of the university into a kitchen, where they kindled fire, set cooking pot on some blocks and begin to cook beans porridge. Music from Disc Jockeys (DJ) blared to keep up the spirit of protest while they were at it. Somwhere along the line, they mockingly invited the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Idowu Olayinka, to partake of the meal, though he was not physically present with them.
Talking about the protest, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), South West Zone, had joined the Students’ Union Government (SUG) of UI to press home their demands. While the first day of the protest was dedicated to asking the management to recall the rusticated student, the second day focused on provision of basic amenities on the campus.
The students wanted UI management to reverse its decision to impose extra semester on Ekpeti for taking part in the November 18, 2015 protest as well as solve the problems of water and electricity supplies. To make good their demands, they barricaded the Ojoo-Sango Road in front of the main gate of the university. The blockade prevented vehicular movements and led to traffic logjam in Orogun, Ojoo, Agbowo and Bodija areas of Ibadan.
Academic and business activities on the campus were paralysed as protesters refused to allow vehicles in and out of the university while the prostest lasted throughout Monday and Tuesday. All the gates leading to the university were shut by the students, making it difficult for lecturers as well as others who live off-campus to drive into the university.
During the protest, some of the students covered their faces, for fear of being singled out for victimisation like Epeti was done, while some carried placards with inscriptions such as: ‘UI say no to victimisation.’ The students also prevented journalists and bystanders from taking photographic shots of them for the same reason.
A representative of NANS, Zone D, Mr. Frederick Olusegun, who said the protest was planned to last for 72 hours, described the situations as unfortunate. According to him, NANS decided to organise solidarity rally with UI students in view of the pathetic condition under which they lived.
In the same vein, the Speaker, Students’ Representatives, Mr. Arogundade Toheeb, explained that the students had to embark on the protest when they were left with no other option, adding that they had on many occasions appealed to the management to tackle the problems.
“This is the fifth retest since November 2015 against erratic power and water supplies,” he said. “We went to the Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBDC), and we were told that light was being supplied to UI for 19 hours. What we deduce from this is that the problem is from UI because it is saving cost and so they are not making use of the supply from the IBDC. Right now, we are calling on the management to act as a matter of urgency on the need to restore electricity to the university.”
The Director of Public Communications, UI, Mr. Olatunji Oladejo, who described the problem of power failure as a national issue, noted that the students’ union had met with the management over the issue, but added that the management was faced with some financial challenges. The management, he assured, would continue to strive with a view to finding lasting solutions to the constraints facing the institution.
According to him, the university gives electricity power supply to the campus at the cost of N12 million monthly, adding that independent power project that would complement power supply from IBEDC was underway. It is interesting to note that at the time the protesting students were engaged in communal cooking of beans in front of the main gate of the institution on Wednesday, representatives of NANS and SUG of UI were busy holding a meeting with the university management with a view to resolving the impasse. The students took to social media, where they posted several photos of the cooking session.
One of them wrote on the social media: “Since the school management told us to vacate the halls of residence for staging a peaceful protest against the rustication of a student (Mote)…because he participated in a peaceful protest in one of the halls (Independence Hall), we UItes have decided to stay back. We don’t have any plan of going anywhere! In fact, we are currently at the university main gate cooking something really delicious … Tell the Vice Chancellor to join us, there’s always love in sharing…you are also invited!”
Stating the reason Epeti was rusticated for a semester by the Student Disciplinary Committee with effect from 30 March, 2016, Mr. Oladejo, hinged it on his decision to leave Port Harcourt where he was doing his IT to come to Ibadan to foment trouble. “Being on an IT programme in Port Harcourt, he was not supposed to be on campus,” he argued. “He was found guilty of leading a protest on Thursday, 19 November, 2015, in respect of electricity failure, which disrupted the peace enjoyed in Independence Hall and the University as a whole.
“The letter, which conveyed the decision to rusticate him for one semester, did mention the due process of appeal, namely: to appeal against the decision through the Registrar to the University Governing Council within fourteen (14) days of receipt of the letter.
“Rather than follow this laid-down procedure, NANS JCC, South West Zone claimed that it gave the University of Ibadan authorities an ultimatum to rescind its decision. NANS activists from different higher institutions, including Federal College of Agriculture, Ibadan, Ladoke Akintola University, Ogbomosho, Federal College of Education (Special), Oyo, two former student union Presidents of the University of Ibadan and the new President NANS JCC South West Zone, forced their way into the campus in several buses.
“They blocked roads in front of the Student Union building, Sultan Bello Hall and much later the University Gate. They also visited the Faculties of Science, the Social Sciences, Law, Education and the Department of Human Nutrition and disrupted/paralyzed academic activities there. Management hereby appeals for calm, as appropriate steps are being taken to put the situation under control.”
Investigation by Education Review revealed that some students of the institution have started a hashtag campaign on social media – #teamjustice, against the rustication of Epeti for a semester. Speaking in an interview with journalists, Epeti, whose mother retired as a journalist from Nigerian Tribune, explained that his rustication “boiled down to the protest over light and water that occurred on November 18, 2015. The truth is that the protest was peaceful in every way; there was no vandalisation of any property or harassment of anyone.
“The Student Disciplinary Committee (SDC) asked why I joined the protest since I didn’t have a room legally in Independence Hall but Independence Hall shows on my ID card. I told them that it’s the hall I was from 100 Level. Just that in 400 Level, I didn’t have a room. So they asked why exactly I joined the protest over light and water.
“I made it clear to them that it wasn’t that I set out to join. The day the protest thing happened, I was on my way to my hall. I saw them (students on protest) and I knew these people. So, I joined. So, that was the reason.”
But what actually brought him from Port Harcourt to Ibadan in November 2015 when he was supposed to be on industrial training?
“There were different reasons,” he said. “But the most pressing was the scholarship I got from P.T.D.F (Petroleum Development Trust Fund). The scholarship comes with some amount of money and a laptop. My I.T started in September.
“In October, I was around (in Ibadan) to pick the laptop. We were notified that the laptop had got to the department. Then in November, the time I came back and the protest thing happened, we were sent emails to bring our school receipts so they (PTDF) could process our payments. I didn’t have my receipt with me in Port Harcourt and we were sent the mails like two weeks earlier, prior to the time I came back and there was a deadline. So that was like the most pressing.
“I purposely tried to delay it so that when I would be back to get the receipt and submit to the department, it would coincide with the time we were having our hall week. Then, I had the intention of running for the post of the Administrator General (AG) in Indy (Independence) Hall and I did not want to miss the Hall Week. And you know how it is, doing IT you don’t have a lot of free days. I knew I had a week and so I wanted to just use the week wisely. I had spoken to my supervisor at work to give me a week that would fall into the Hall Week so I would get the receipts and take part in the activities marking the Hall Week.”
When asked whether the rustication was a sort of victimisation, Epeti stated that his travail might not be unconnected with his decision to contest for the post of Administrator General of his hall of residence based on different interests of the contestants and connections.
“For all I know, from the time I joined that protest till we got back to the hall, nothing in terms of vandalisation or harassment of any individual took place. In that sense, I feel bad because this is my final year and giving me a semester extra has some implications obviously.
“I didn’t do anything criminal, I am very sure of that. In all that happened, I want to thank God that it is not a case of theft, squatting or a case of malpractice or corrupt practice. I know it is an undeserving judgment.” What would be his next step, you asked and would he appeal against the decision? “For now, I just want to leave this university,” he said. “I have seen its ugly side. I have seen that there is no justice. The way the SDC is set up, you have just two representatives from the student body. It’s intimidating.
“So, in that sense, you can’t blame them (student members of SDC) if they can’t do much. I can bear this cross because I have done a lot of soul searching.
“I guess a lot of student groups are not really very happy with this and I wonder what perspectives they could be seeing this from. They see this as a case of the university trying to set a precedent for future occurrence. So, I guess if they (students) are fighting, that is what they are fighting for. What is paramount is my studies. I’ll make sure that I come back in second semester, though I have not received the letter officially informing me the university decision but the verdict has been pronounced.”
Epeti said the rustication might affect his academic record in the ongoing semester, saying: “I’m not going to have an academic record for this semester. I’ll have my second semester and then come back next session to round off. ”
Commenting on the protest and why the university was shut indefinitely, the Registrar and Secretary to Council of the university, Mr. Olujinmi Olukoya, said it was evident that the protesters were determined to disturb the peace of the campus, by threatening the lives and property of the entire university community.
“It has been gathered that these persons are going round under the phantom claim of one-semester rustication of a student who ordinarily should have been expelled for gross misconduct. They are also protesting power outages and inadequate provision of water, which the university management is working round the clock to address,” he said.
At the time of filing this report, meetings between the students’ leaders and the university management was inconclusive, but Education Review gathered that appreciable progress has been made towards resolving the crisis.