The management of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife and the students are at loggerheads, following the arrest and detention of some of the students over a new hostel policy
For the umpteenth time, the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, is engulfed in another round of crisis, which if not properly managed, may once again, truncate the institution’s academic calendar.
This follows the Wednesday’s arrest and eventual detention of five student leaders of the ivory tower, who had led a mass action against what they described as the draconian eviction order issued to all hostels’ occupants by the Prof. Eyitope Ogunbodede-led university management.
The quintet, who were arrested by the university’s private security officers before they were handed over to the police at Moore Police Station in Ile-Ife, were a 400-Level student of Geography Department, Gbenga Oloniniran; 500-Level undergraduate of Electrical Electronics, Olajide Ademola; 300-Level student of Pharmacy, Oyedeji Samson; 300-Level Biochemistry student, Jimoh Oladipupo, and a 300-Level student of Electrical Electronics, Adeniji John.
But, the university management has denied being tyrannical in its approach as alleged by the students, saying the confrontation by the students against a clear long-served quit notice, and the alleged physical attack on some of the institution’s officials, was unconscionable and condemnable.
This was as a non-governmental organisation, Education Rights Campaign (ERC) and the Pacesetters Movement – a student ideological group on the campus, have condemned the arrest and detention of the students, describing the action of the university authorities as draconian, obnoxious and a quick reminder of the military era in the country.
The detained student leaders were part of those who had assembled at the Moremi Hall (a female hostel on the campus) on Wednesday to protest the forceful eviction of the remaining occupants of the hostel by the hall wardens and other officials of the university.
According to a student leader on the campus, who was an eyewitness, the student leaders had been invited by occupants of the female hostel following an alleged attack on them by the wardens, who he noted had thrown their belongings in the open as a measure to forcefully eject them from the hostel.
He said the affected students are legal occupants of the hostel, who are currently on campus during the break to undergo teaching practice, Student Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES), as well as those battling to complete their final year dissertations.
The student, who pointed out that the university had earlier issued a quit notice to all students to vacate the hostels for renovation, however, noted that the blanket order was against the practice of the university.
This was even as he recalled that in the past, the management usually granted concessions to students who were genuinely busy with relevant academic works on campus by rotating where to renovate without posing any threat to the students and project.
Following their arrest on Wednesday, the students were arraigned on the following day (Thursday, March 22) on three-count charges of misdemeanor, breach of peace and assault, before Honourable Magistrate F.I. Omisade at the Magistrate Court, Ile-Ife.
The Magistrate, after granting them bail with bail conditions of two sureties on Grade Level 11 with N500,000 bail bond for each of them, he remanded the students at the Medium Security Prison, Kosere in Ile-Ife and adjourned the matter to Tuesday, April 3.
Investigations, however, confirmed that some students and journalists, who had besieged the court to witness the trial, were denied access to the courtroom by the men of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian Police, who were allegedly armed and ferocious in their look.
As at the time of filing this report, the students are yet to perfect their bail conditions and have remained behind bars.
Some of the student leaders, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was an ongoing movement on the campus, first to secure the freedom of the detained students before waging a ‘total’ war against the university management.
There are also strong indications that the some unidentified politicians in the state are currently reaching out to the students for a possible collaboration to fight, who they described as the oppressive leadership of the country and by extension the OAU management, in particular.
New Telegraph, however, learnt that apart from some members of the university’s staff unions working to help the students to meet their bail conditions, some politicians are also prepared to provide the needed financial bail bond to ensure their freedom before the next adjournment date.
One of the students, who spoke to New Telegraph on anonymity said: “This is a clear demonstration of wickedness and insensitivity on the part of the Vice-Chancellor, Prof Ogunbodede and his management. Nobody molested any official. They were all trump-up charges and accusation, which is unfortunate. In fact, the few students on campus had just gathered to explain the situation to the wardens when these security personnel appeared from nowhere with their locally-made guns and descended heavily on the students.
“To tell you that it was premeditated, those arrested were carefully selected because they are members of the Students’ Action Committee. It was aimed at silencing opposition. You can confirm this by their quick arraignment and the unfavourable bail conditions. This is not only tyrannical but also scandalous.”
Similarly, ERC calls on all human rights groups and civil society organisations to stand in defence of the students, saying in 2017, the same university management under the same surreptitiously action suspended five student leaders including the group’s secretary on the campus, Omole Ibukun, and banned the students’ union activities.
ERC National Coordinator, Hassan Soweto, in a statement issued by the group and signed by him, accused the university management of deliberate assault on the fundamental human rights of the students.
The statement reads in part: “But their travail is actually part of a long process of orchestrated assault on the fundamental rights of students by the despotic Vice-Chancellor of the university, Prof. Ogunbodede and members of his management, who are bent on silencing dissent voices on the campus. So far, several students, who have either spoken out against fee hike or participated in protest actions over poor welfare condition of students, have either been suspended or dealt with. In 2017, ERC National Secretary, Omole Ibukun and other student activists were suspended and the students’ union was banned following a students’ protest against poor welfare condition.
“The bail conditions are also disproportionate to the charges levelled against them and show to what extent the police and the Judiciary in Osun State have been seriously compromised by the OAU authorities in its bid to ensure that these five activists are kept behind bars. In particular, we accused the Osun State Commissioner of Police of using his men as the private thugs of the OAU vice-chancellor to harass students and members of staff. This is not new. The OAU authorities have a history of using the police and the court to clamp students and workers’ unions’ leaders in prison on trumped-up charges.”
But, the university has said it would not be blackmailed into surrendering its authority to some ‘unruly students,’ who it said behaved like touts and without moral and character on campus.
In an exclusive interview with the university’s Public Relations Officer, Mr. Abiodun Olarewaju, he explained that the university had sent out notices to the various hostels before the last academic session ended, and in view of this had expected strict compliance to the directive, since the renovation was meant to benefit the students.
But, according to Olarewaju, the university was shocked when the students started giving excuses and refused to vacate the halls of residence as instructed by the management.
He said: “It is the same students who would take pictures of their hostels and send to media people like you to say they are living like animals. Now, when the management wants to renovate the hostels they are the ones causing obstruction. Isn’t that ironical?
“Those arrested and tried I must say had defied true meaning of studentship, and OAU students for that matter. They did not only assault the officers, they also attacked the management using derogatory words. Meanwhile, the students who have refused to vacate their hostels have overstayed their welcome. They paid for accommodation for one session and the session had ended. So, we plan to do the renovation ahead of the April 3 resumption for the fresh students.”
Meanwhile, the university management has noted that beginning from next academic session, none of the hostels would have more than four students in a room, saying the tradition of having between 12 and 17 students in a single room and sleeping like ‘animals’ will no longer be tolerated.
“Once we have allocated the available spaces to the number of students that can be covered, then others should find where to stay. The university is not obliged to provide accommodation for all students, our primary responsibility is to offer sound and qualitative education to the students, as well as mould their character,” Olarewaju added.
However, indications have also emerged that the students will stage stiff opposition to the new policy, saying even when 16 were sleeping in a room, the spaces were grossly inadequate.
The usual practice is that if a particular hostel is being renovated and fumigated, genuine students, who have businesses on campus, are moved to other hostels pending the completion of the renovation work. At least, not all the hostels will be renovated at a time.
“The university will have a lot of opposition to contend with. Apart from economic hardship which will definitely deny students economic power to secure costly accommodation outside campus where they will still have to spend money on transportation to and from the campus, the general insecurity outside the campus does not also support such an idea,” some students said.