Odumakin, Ife and lessons of the past
Spokesman of the Save Nigeria Group and my friend of two decades, Mr Yinka Odumakin threw a challenge at me in a recent piece celebrating 50 years of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife (see Page 18 Nigerian Tribune of Friday 23 November, 2012). He wanted me to confess that a group to which I belonged in Great Ife was behind a political action that de- marketed his own group’s presidential candidate at the 1987 Students Union elections. He needed the confession as a further proof of the enduring political texture of Great Ife.
At the Speech Night where the entire students body would assess the candidates, a very loud, sudden shout of “US o gb’oyinbo” (US can’t speak English) effectively sealed the fate of the candidate bearing the nickname, US, as he mounted the rostrum. The candidate and his sponsors had no answer to the virtual coup de grace that just finished him off. That candidate happened to be Odumakin’s man who came to the Sports centre, venue of the event, with all the hype usually associated with leftist campaigns. He lost very miserably just like the noisy ACN did in Ondo State last month.
Now, was that coup planned by my group? No, is the answer. We couldn’t have planned it given our situation then. We were new without any structure at all on campus. But we had our strategy which just worked as plotted. There were two main rival groups on campus then which believed they controlled the politics of the union. Odumakin’s Society for Current Affairs and Progress (SCAP) and Panaf’s MOSAF- Movement for Sanity and Fairness. Each of these groups saw the other as the enemy that must be neutralised. What my own group did was just to remain as anonymous as possible and shield our candidate from unnecessary, premature exposure. The confession Odumakin wants from me will never come because there is nothing to confess. What I owe him as a friend is just a full disclosure of what I know.
MOSAF was behind that coup against the interest Odumakin represented. We merely assisted both sides to maximally carry out their plots and neutralise each other, paving the way for our own “unknown soldier,” Yemi Adegbite, to exhibit his medals to the admiration and endorsement of all.
It was one golden glorious moment for Students Unionism. Like Odumakin noted, there were no attempts to rig the elections or disrupt the polls. The votes were counted where they were cast. Agents and the officials knew their individual roles and none breached the code of conduct attached to their operations. There was an election tribunal that took complaints without throwing fairness into the trash can. No money bag ever attempted to influence what each of the groups did and none contacted any. Unlike today’s politicians, there were always fears of scandals limited then to any exposed links with the school authorities or security agencies. We enjoyed every bit of what we did...
Now, I know Odumakin would not clap for me for likening his SCAP with Nigeria’s Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). He will just pardon me because it was deliberate especially when I remembered that SCAP, like ACN was almost in virtual control of all political magazines on campus until the group I belonged came and made some tepid, feeble attempts to break the hold. But like Odumakin said, all the actors then knew the interests of the students populace and never played politics with them. We were united in doing what ennobled the institution. Violence, whether verbal or physical, was never part of the culture. There were no today’s “gbosas” as a slogan of activism which has further diminished the stature of unionism on campuses, dumping it in the cesspit of irreverent, infantile militancy. The origin of that crude slogan couldn’t have been outside the violence of the latter years of military rule. It perfectly fits there. And, no doubt, the confluence of cultism and violent activism could be located there, at the very spot of “gbosa” enterprises which sadly made student unionism some cheap, merchantable stuff. We fought our battles with verbal darts of “we no go gree” and with leaflets of anger. We had our eyes on history.
And that is why we insist that Nigeria has so much to learn from the past if tomorrow is to survive the mis-steps of today.
I know the Students Union in Ife has managed to keep its tradition of vibrancy despite all distractions (and attractions).
But can we honestly affirm that all is well with the students body all over the country? The decline in value appears to be a global misfortune. In a recent report, The Guardian of London threw a poser on whether UK students now get value for the about £200 each of them spend on their students unions in the course of their degree. “The real issue is that many unions have become merely symbolic of student representation, and have little influence on decisions affecting the student body,” said the report which could as well have referred to the Nigerian situation. And to think that Students Unions used to be an impregnable refuge for students from mindless exploitation by the establishment. Beyond fighting for students’ rights, the history of student unionism in Nigeria is a study in patriotic agitation. From the anti Anglo- Nigerian defence pact of the early sixties, to the anti-apatheid, and anti- military struggles of the 70s and 80s, early student leaders sowed seeds of selflessness and responsiveness which, sadly, one is not sure have been allowed to bear the right fruits.
Now you see today’s students leaders calling their unions ‘governments’ and blowing siren in poor imitation and shameless envy of the system they are supposed to engage with responsible activism. You find them today colliding with petty contractors along dingy corridors of power, and you ask why?
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