The attention of the authorities of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, has been drawn to the editorial of The PUNCH newspaper of Wednesday, July 19, 2017 with the above caption, in which the newspaper derided the way and manner the workers and students of the Obafemi Awolowo University, staged a solidarity protest in support of the immediate past Acting Vice-Chancellor of the university, Prof. Anthony Elujoba.
Although we are not taking issue with The PUNCH newspaper on the matter, we, however, feel duty-bound to state the facts of the case which the editorial may not be aware of, so as to put the records straight.
First, the protest was never aimed at stopping the arraignment of Prof Elujoba nor his trial in any court of competent jurisdiction, it was merely a solidarity protest in support of a man who became the Vice-Chancellor, in acting capacity, and stabilised the system that was almost grounded. In fact, as asserted by the Executive Secretary of the National Universities’ Commission, Prof. Adamu Abubakar Rasheed, when he visited the university in June, the second time in six months, “OAU was handed over to Elujoba, almost dead.” Yet, his tenure witnessed the smoothest academic calendar ever and there was no single industrial face-off with the university management by any of the staff unions. Even students’ “Aluta” went on sabbatical when Elujoba was in the saddle. He even donated his own entitlement (monetary) to the university. He refused to engage in selective promotion neither did he allow his personal opinion about any member of staff to dictate his official interaction with such a person – unlike what obtained in the past. Therefore, the popularity of Elujoba is borne out of his transparency, honesty, dedication to duty, openness, non-partisanship in conduct, simplification of the office and the complexity of integrity. Now, we ask: Is payment of part of backlog of staff allowances, corruption?
Contrary to the said editorial, not only students participated in the protest as all strata of the OAU community did – including professors – which demonstrates the seriousness attached to the issues concerned. By the protests, the OAU community was not against the Nigerian State. Under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), protestation of injustice and demand for justice are not treasonable acts. In fact, the ongoing Fourth Republic came about as a result of long, arduous, and tortuous struggles in which students, workers and the academics participated actively. Ventilation of grievances is a fulcrum of democracy. The demonstration in question might have been vigorous and robust but it was peaceful. No life was lost nor any property destroyed. It is an irony that the same PUNCH which is quick to support pro-democracy activities home and abroad as well as stand up against anti-people policies and actions of the State is now lashing out at the democratic aspirations of the OAU community. When The PUNCH and other newspapers were closed down during the perilous days of military dictatorship, the OAU students, workers, and academics were in the forefront of ceaseless protests confronting the Nigerian State over it. If it was not treason then, why is it now?
We therefore state, quite unequivocally and without contradiction, that the protest at Ede, Osun State, did not in any way make the OAU to “lapse into intellectual irrelevance” but has, if anything, further accentuated the reputation of Great Ife as the epitome of principled opposition to injustice and tyranny in whatever form or shape. Even the dutiful Punch correspondent in Osun State attested to the presence, on the court premises, of eminent professors of international standing who also participated in the solidarity protest.
By going on a voyage of discovery of alleged cases of corruption against the previous administration at the OAU as well as in other institutions of higher learning in the country, the editorial mischievously attempted to paint a general picture of sleaze so as to justify its media lynching of Elujoba and the entire OAU community.
But it forgot it is dealing with an academic community! The incessant protests at the OAU were aimed at drawing the attention of the authorities to alleged cases of corruption which they want investigated and the culprits brought to book. The protesters at Ede were incensed that rather than do this, the agencies concerned have chased shadows; it would also appear as if corruption is fighting back at the OAU, with its spirited efforts to hang the innocent while the guilty walk about freely.
The editorial also listed Vice-Chancellors of other universities who were charged with corruption by the anti-graft body, but have wilfully forgotten that the cases of these ones were orchestrated by either the Founder, Pro-Chancellor and, or unions of their respective universities.
So, comparing these Vice-Chancellors with Elujoba is like comparing apples with oranges – the difference is clear!
Elujoba’s case is therefore unprecedented in the history of university administration in Nigeria where staff and student unions will faithfully support a man whose tenure was adjudged the best in every sense particular. It must be noted that Elujoba is no longer in office yet he received this overwhelming support, whereas the other Vice-Chancellors earlier listed were substantive and no group or union staged any protests in their support. The editorial in question saluted protests by students in China, Hong Kong and South Korea aimed at forging a better society but railed at the OAU community for doing something similar; this is contradictory and very unfortunate.
It is customary, all over the world, that students, particularly Great Ife students, are not known to support corruption in whatever form or guise and staff unions on campus: Academic Staff Union of Universities, Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, Non Academic Staff Union and National Association of Academic Technologists, could not all have been unduly sentimental to support corruption, theft and gross abuse of office.
Therefore, when all the members of these unions, with different ideological tenors, in their thousands, willingly support a cause, then it behoves any discerning mind that such a cause goes beyond the ordinary. The symbolic “fight” to support and free Elujoba goes beyond tribal sentiment, or religious inclination or denominational affiliation. In fact, it cuts across all ideological groups and those who find it convenient to stand for justice. The University Community then felt a moral burden to solidly stand behind a man who came on a rescue mission and performed excellently, believing that he should not be made to suffer unjustly.
Though the matter is still in court, making more comments or giving more facts may be termed subjudice, with profound respect, we commend the fatherly understanding of the Presiding Judge, Honourable Justice David Oladimeji, who might have viewed the protests as their inalienable rights and their perceived excesses as mere exhibition of harmless youthful exuberance. All the same, we wish The PUNCH newspaper the best of luck.
Olarewaju is the Public Relations Officer of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
Culled from the Punch