A premier university and its unending controversies
The recent closure of the University of Ibadan (UI) threw up some underlying issues that have continued to pit the students against the school management. In this piece, IYABO LAWAL examinesthe recurrent students’ unrest in the nation’s premier ivory tower
“For the past one year, the premier university is finding it difficult to produce ID cards,” a member of the institution’s Students Representative Council (SRC) said during the SRC’s 7th Assembly.
“Let us ‘strong-arm the school, if nothing is done as regards the (issue), let us invite the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to come and audit the management,” another one offered.
“We’ve paid for the ID cards; why is there a delay? We don’t want sub-standard ID cards. We must see samples,” yet another student said during the meeting. “The fact that we paid for something and we are not given is corruption. I would urge that we should invite the EFCC,” said yet another representative of the student.
The feisty meeting – held on May 27, Children’s Day – ended with this verdict: “Let’s use Democracy Day, May 29, to ‘solidarise’ by going to media houses; NTA, TVC and the likes.”
In what eventually led to shutting down the university, the UI students allegedly planned to put federal roads in Ibadan on a lockdown. They wanted to protest – and they did – against the school management’s inability to provide them with school ID cards and the ban placed on use of hotplates to cook in hostels.
Their protest drew the ire of the school management, which directed the students to vacate the campus that Monday evening. The university’s Director of Communications and Publication, Olatunji Oladejo, however, noted that the directive was to maintain order.
He said that the vice chancellor, Prof. Idowu Olayinka, had convened an emergency meeting of the university Senate to review the circumstances surrounding the development.
“The University of Ibadan in its wisdom has decided to shift the examination earlier scheduled for June to July,” Oladejo said. Not done with that, the management also suspended all students’ union activities. “The students’ union executive council and students representatives council have been suspended. All activities of the union and council have been suspended, too,” UI spokesperson confirmed.
Earlier in their agitation, the students had issued an ultimatum to the institution to constitute a Students’ Welfare Board and set up a committee to look into the use of electric cooking appliances in the hostels and issuance of identity cards before their first semester examination.
The school had stated that it was illegal to use electric cooking appliances in halls of residence in accordance with the agreement reached between the students and the university in 2014.
Between 2002 and 2006, tertiary institutions in the country have experienced hundreds of students’ unrest on campuses across the nation. Oftentimes, the crises were as a result of complaints against poor infrastructure and hike of tuitions. Before now, it is rare for students to protest against what they perceive as fraud by school authorities.
In April last year, the school was momentarily shut down over a protest against the rustication of one Tunji Michael, a 500-level petroleum engineering student. According to scholars, the most worrisome aspect of students’ unrest is the never-ending frequency of the protest; which are usually violent in nature. It will appear, they say, that unrest is inevitable on campuses.
Over the years, the premier university has faced some form of students’ unrest without an academic year not recording one crisis or the other. Between 1957 and 2016, major unrests and outbursts by Nigerian university students have more than doubled.
No one knows exactly how the closure of the school will end but the university has a sordid record of students’ protest. In 1957, students protested against the so-called restriction of their liberty when the school decided to construct wire mesh burglarproof round male halls. The students destroyed the chairs and tables in their rooms in protest. In addition, there was a cry against the ban on the use of electrical appliances in their rooms without the approval of the school.
Also, in 1971, UI students complained about the inadequate supply of drinks by the cafeteria manager, thus demanding for his removal. Before the institution’s management could say Jack Robinson, the students went on an almost weeklong demonstration. In the end, the vice chancellor called in the police to quell the unrest. In the ensuing melee, a student, Kunle Adepeju, was shot and killed. That would be the first shooting and killing of a university student in Nigeria.
Following that, the Federal Military Government of General Yakubu Gowon (rtd.) set up a commission of inquiry to investigate the issue. The findings of the commission were: that the crisis was caused as a result of inadequate hostel accommodation and supply of foodstuffs. Other causes were poor catering services, strained relationship between the students and the university authorities, unjust rustication and expulsion of students as well as the use of police to quell the students’ demonstration.
Things have not changed today. Some analysts say both students and the school officials have learnt nothing. Another incident reared its ugly head during the university’s 1975/76 academic session when the authorities banned students’ union activities at the university – as it did two weeks ago.
In May 1992, some students of the institution locked the gates to the university and also snatched away the keys to various offices from the Central Porters Lodge where keys to university offices were kept, so that workers would not be able to enter their offices. Their demands were that the UI Senate should reduce cab fares to 50 kobo and its bus fare to 25 kobo as well as reduce the Health Centre fee from N80 to N30; and that the students suspended for their part in throwing stones at the car of a former President of the country and his entourage on August 2, 1991 should be recalled.
They seized 25 official vehicles, took over the electric power station and the campus petrol station. The students also locked up a supermarket located at the petrol station and siphoned petrol from the underground petrol tanks on the campus.
In October 1998 also, final year students of the university protested the prolonged academic year out of fear they might miss the next batch of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme.
In March 1999, in the same university, postgraduate students protested the fee hike, which ranged from between 100 to 150 per cent for academic and professional programmes. The increase in fees sparked protest among the student population. With the institution administration’s resolve to charge undergraduate students new fees, with effect from the 1998/99 session, there was another war between the students and the authorities as the students’ union rejected the levies.
Again, in May that same year, the students and the authorities contested the introduction of special fees and non-provision of adequate facilities, following which the school was shut.
In December 1999, there was protest when UI banned male students from visiting female hostels in the institution. The problem started when a male student was attacked by a mob on the false alarm raised by a female student that she was to be abducted for ritual purposes.
The premier university is never a stranger to crisis and little wonder when the students again protested incessant power failure in the middle of their examination period in January 2000. The students went on rampage, attacking employees of the school at the Works and Maintenance department.
That same year in March, there was a strike action by the institution’s workers. The strike took heavy toll on the campus as water and power supply to students’ hostels and staff quarters were cut off, resulting in the students protesting against the school authorities.
By January 2001, another crisis was brewing as the authority and the institution’s Independent Student Electoral Commission (ISEC) allegedly conducted an election and sworn in students’ union officials without following laid down procedures.
The authorities considered the election of the new union executives and their subsequent swearing-in as an act of gross misconduct, while the ISEC accused the authorities of the university for interfering in the conduct of the students’ union elections.
Following that, there was tension in the school as aggrieved students of the institution protested against the authorities’ suspension of 42 of their colleagues and the planned introduction of new tuitions. Though, the protest was peaceful, the demonstrating students chanted anti-government slogans, castigated the university authorities, particularly the activities of the then vice chancellor. The demonstration disrupted the first semester examination, and also affected the institution’s academic calendar, which was already a session behind schedule.
In September 2003, in their hundreds, UI students marched to the Oyo State governor’s office, chanting solidarity songs and denouncing the university authorities. It was a march against deteriorating infrastructures on campus, including lack of regular water and epileptic power supply.
In March 2010, they protested the incessant power failure and inadequate water supplies to their halls of residence. They marched around the campus, chanting songs of annoyance against the leadership of the university, and holding lit candles, empty buckets, sponge, soap, toothbrush and towel, as signs of their remonstrations.
And since the coming on board of the incumbent vice chancellor, the institution has been embroiled in crises; first with the three staff unions, and the students. The staff unions had, since December 2016, been at loggerheads with the university management over the shortfall in the payment of their salaries. Despite repeated pleas from the vice chancellor that the shortfall was from Abuja, the university unions declared a strike action, which was temporarily called off after a few weeks and later resumed when there was no solution in sight.
In March 2017, the unions resumed their strike action and it took the intervention of the institution’s governing council and a promise to pay all outstanding arrears before normalcy could return.
The latest action by the students, which has disrupted the fragile peace on campus, has again brought to the fore, the deep-rooted problems confronting the institution.
Perhaps it is time the management of the premier university looked for more lasting solutions to students’ furore rather than employing ephemeral measures. At the moment, it is ‘no retreat, no surrender.’