George Iwalade Afrika, one of the murdered students
It is ten years ago today since armed cultists stormed Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Nigeria and killed five students in the early hours of 10 July 1999. The slain students were George ‘Yemi’ Iwilade, the then General Secretary of OAU Students’ Union, Tunde Oke, a member of Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), Efe Ekede, Eviano Ekelemu and Yemi Ajiteru. Lanre Adeleke, the then President of the OAU Students’ Union and a member of the DSM, escaped by a whisker, quickly running out of his room having heard gunshots apparently aimed at Ajiteru who slept a few rooms away.
There was a serious allegation that these blood-thirsty campus gangsters, members of the Neo-Black Movement (Black Axe), were sponsored by the then Vice-Chancellor of the university, Wale Omole, who was later disgraced out of office. Omole had a serious running battle with the Students’ Union, led by Lanre Adeleke, over independent student unionism, welfare conditions, financial recklessness and the reinstatement of Anthony Fasayo and other student activists who had been politically victimised since 1995. Indeed, one of the cultists, Kazeem Bello, aka Kato, confessed that Wale Omole had a hand in their dastardly operation.
The killing of the Ife 5 was not the first that had been linked to a devilish vice-chancellor. A few years earlier, Williams Obong, the General Secretary of the University of Benin Students Union, was murdered in broad daylight by cultists widely believed to have been sponsored by the vice-chancellor. Besides, it is an open secret that campus cultists had patrons within and outside the campuses.
Rise of cult violence on campus
It should be noted that campus cultism had not always been pronouncedly violent until 1980s, and this change coincided with a period when governments started unleashing serious attacks on university education. This began with the introduction of some outrageous charges and later, in 1986, the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), which have now been transformed into a general neo-liberal economic programme. In order to repress the resistance of students against commercialisation of education and other anti-poor policies, the government and university authorities employed the service of campus cultists who by nature of their organisations abhor mass, democratic activities by students.The social background of elements who used to be members of cult groups prepared them for such dastardly activities. They were mostly from rich and middle class families, and therefore did not really have problems with anti-poor policies of the government and university management, for instance how to pay the contentious charges being imposed on students. Today, there are students from poor background joining cult groups. They largely do so because campus cultism provides a veritable platform to raise money through extortion and other criminal activities. More fertile ground was then provided for the growth of campus cultism by the recommendations of Abisoye panel which were aimed at weakening students’ unionism on campuses. This panel was set up in the wake of nationwide student protest, with solidarity from Labour, against state murder of some students at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, in 1986.
Brutal clashes among different cult groups are also a common feature on campuses as a result of deadly rivalry among them over turf control.
Wale Omole is culpable
However, while Omole’s direct link to the OAU carnage could be said to be just an allegation, it is an indisputable fact that his administration created an enabling atmosphere for the attack. For the eight years he spent in office, Omole did not show any seriousness in fight against campus cultism, rather it was commonplace for cultists apprehended by students to get their way back to the university unscratched. While student activists were expelled for leading students in various demands, it was on record that no cultist was punished by the Omole-led management.
The kid-glove treatment of the menace of campus cultism by Omole climaxed on March 7, 1999 when the OAU students led by George Yemi Iwilade Afrika apprehended some members of Black Axe cult group, viz. Larry Obichei, IK Imordi, Kanmi Ogundipe, etc., with arms and ammunition that included a AK 47 rifle with 58 rounds of ammunition and handed them over to the authorities for onward transfer to police. At the behest of Wale Omole, an Ile-Ife Magistrate Court discharged and acquitted these cultists for want of evidence! This was because the weapons were destroyed by the police in connivance with university management who also did not put up representation at the court. Unfortunately, students were not then around, having been sent home after staging a protest to demand reinstatement of the politically victimised student leaders. As usual, these cultists resurfaced on campus to continue their studies and, of course, their heinous activities. The 7 March event turned out to be the precursor of the 10 July attack as the cultists had been emboldened by the court ruling and patronage of the Vice-Chancellor.
The OAU cultists had felt humiliated not only by the March event but also the fact they were not given breathing space in the university, unlike most other higher institutions, by the mass and organised resistance of students against them. It should not be a mere coincidence that while 7 July is the Founders Day of Black Axe, the cultists struck terror in Ife on 10 July in order to leave their imprint where they and other cult groups had hitherto woefully failed.
Still crying for justice
Ten years after the carnage, the relatives and associates of the victims as well as students of OAU are still crying out for justice. In the wake of the attack, the mass of students fought back and apprehended some of the cultists around the country and handed them over to the police for prosecution. Three of them, Efosa Idahosa, Kazeem Bello and Emeka Ogwuaju, were arraigned in court but later discharged and acquitted on 29 October 2002 by Justice Rabiu Yusuff of the State High Court, Iwo, Osun State. The presiding judge claimed to have based the ruling on the alleged inability of the prosecution to establish any case against the accused persons.
This ruling, which was a clear case of travesty of justice, runs contrary to the finding and report of Okoi Itam Judicial Panel of Enquiry set up in 1999 by the Federal Government to investigate the killings. The report strongly suspects the involvement of the three freed gangsters in the massacre and recommends immediate arrest of those that are at large among the culprits. For the past ten years, the police have made no effort to track down these cultists. If the trio had no case to answer, we deserved to know the culprits. But to date, the police have not produced those responsible for the killings.
It is clear that the difference between the outcomes of the court trial and judicial panel could have been borne out of the legal representation. The former was handled by the Osun state government, the latter by the students’ lawyers, led by Adeyinka Olumide Fusika of Citipoint Chambers. The poor representation by the state prosecutors could be either out of sheer incompetence or subterranean collaboration with the cultists. It will not be out of place to conclude, however, that the state worked deliberately to free the accused. This is because seven years after the ruling, no efforts have been made to appeal it at higher court despite the consistent demands to that effect from the students’ union and other organisations.
The failure of the government to bring to book the culprits of the July 10 massacre has exposed the insincerity of its much-touted crusade against the menace. The October 29 2002 acquittal has since further strengthened the confidence of the cult gangsters that they can commit any offence, no matter how heinous, with impunity. The cult groups have since grown in leaps and bounds, and extended their monstrous activities beyond campus to communities and secondary schools.
We call on Labour, education workers’ unions, the Nigeria Bar Association, human rights groups, student bodies and pro-masses’ organisations to lend their voices to the cry for justice for the victims of 10 July.
Some lessons of July 10
10 July has raised some important lessons that, despite any frustration about what has happened since, must not be lost on students and workers as we mark the anniversary. It should be recalled that 10 July was not the first time the cultists had unleashed terrors and massacred students on campus. But it was the first killings that attracted the spirited fight back by students and drew the national attention. Indeed, 10 July was a watershed in struggle against campus cultism to the extent that the Federal Government gave an outlandish directive to heads of higher institutions to eradicate campus cultism by September 1999! This was possible because of what took place at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
This university had an enviable tradition of militant student unionism because of the presence of left organisations like DSM which always sought to raise political consciousness among students, mobilize them for actions in defence of the interests and generally seek to give direction to the students union. This explains why the cultists do not have field days in Ife unlike most other campuses. It is also appropriate to recall that the OAU Students Union, at the time of 10 July, was led by members of DSM who were able to give correct shape and direction to the fight-back. It is therefore imperative to build left organisations like DSM on campuses as an important element in the strategy to combat campus cultism. It should however be stressed that DSM does not exist as a mere campus organisation, but as a working class conscious organisation that links the immediate demands on campus and education sector to the general struggle of working masses against neo-liberal attacks, and raise socialist consciousness among students and education workers.
It is significant to note the campus cultism thrives more in schools without independent student unionism. In OAU for instance their activities have always been contained by independent students union. It was observed that different cult groups had gained ground on the campus in the period of interregnum between 1996 and 1998 when Wale Omole had banned Student Union activities. Indeed, the first major activity of the new leadership of the Union in 1998 was to lead students to crush the initiation ceremony of Eiye Confraternity. The cultists caught red-handed were handed over to the management who, as usual, did not do anything to them but rather allow them to continue their academic activities.
Therefore, to tame the monster of cultism across campuses there is the need to build genuine mass based students’ movements that will be a counterweight to cultism. In this regard, the ban and proscription of student unions on many campuses is a deliberate attempt by the authorities of the third level institutions to give a free hand to cult groups which are controlled by them to repress genuine students’ activists. This is why campaign against attack on democratic students’ unionism must be championed by all students and supported by workers within and outside campus.
Another important issue further strengthened by 10 July is the demand for democratisation of decision making bodies in education sector with elected representatives of education workers and students on committees, senate, council and parastatals. If this had been in place in OAU, most of the issues like victimisation of student leaders and financial impropriety that put students and Omole-led management at logger-heads would probably not have reared their heads.
As we mark 10th anniversary of the 10 July massacre, Labour and pro-masses’ organisations should join the fight against cultism. We should always link the campaign against campus cultism to the demands for independent students’ unionism, an end to culture of victimisation of students’ and workers’ activists, adequate funding of education and democratisation of decision making processes.
There is need to defeat the anti-poor neo-liberal programme in order to, in addition to ensure provision of basic needs for all and infrastructural development, remove the very material condition that makes government and school authorities to find the need for the service of campus gangsters so as to defeat student resistance. This could be achieved with the formation of a genuine mass based working class people party with socialist programme to wrest power from the thieving ruling elite at all levels of government.