I first met Akogun at Community Secondary School, Ojijo in 1987. I was stunned because I met him cutting grass with his students. To my polite inquiry on why he was doing this, he stated that the students needed to imbibe the virtues of hard work. I later learnt that he had outlawed any mechanical aide to school manual labour, as this will not allow students to get their hands dirty and understand the ebb and flow of life.
That he lived all his life as a teacher is significant. In my interactions with Akogun, he introduced me to Mao Tse Tongism and years back, he predicted China based on his feelings at the time, will be one of the greatest nations economically, having addressed and resolved ideologically to be great. Akogun played a significant role in my life as a student at the Ife University. Today, my family and his enjoy a warm relationship.
Akogun was destined to play an active role in conscious leadership struggle, having started as far back as his days at the Adeyemi College of Education. At St. Leo’s College, Molete, Ibadan, He was the Social Secretary of the Students’ Union. At the Adeyemi College in 1971, he became the Secretary General of the students’ union in his first year and President the second year. That was a bit extra-ordinary. He was involved in many national students’ activities, but, part of the climax came in 1975, when moved to the University of Lagos.
In 1976, he became the President of the University of Lagos Students’ Union under Prof. J. Ade-Ajayi. In 1977-78 he became the National President of the National Union of Nigerian Students when Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo was the military Head of State. That year, he was equally a member of the Constituent Assembly (representing Nigerian students). He was a teacher and school principal for many years and later a commissioner and chairman of the Ogun State Teaching Service Commission (TESCOM).
He was a community leader, a “community engineer” and pioneer in his hometown of Simawa in Sagamu local government. As an adherent of African culture, he had about five chieftaincy titles. He was the Akogun of Makun Sagamu, the Obamuwagun of Iperu, Bobagunwaa of Iperu, Olootu Omo’ba of Simawa and the totality, which is the Baa’meto of Remoland. The Chieftaincy title was conferred on him by the Akarigbo of Remoland.
Akogun was better known for his role in the tense and bitter days of the nation-wide “Ali Must Go” students’ uprising of 1978. Akogun Olusegun Okeowo, better known in those days as Segun Okeowo, was the principal actor in the drama. He himself described it as “the most successful struggle for the survival of education sector at the tertiary level in Nigeria” so far.
The stage for the epic encounter was set by Col. (Dr.) Ahmadu Ali then Federal Commissioner for Education under General Olusegun Obasanjo in 1978. He assaulted the Peoples’ Right to free Education by increasing fees. His action inflamed the Nigerian students. Naturally, the students reacted under the dynamic and purposeful leadership of Mr. Segun Okeowo.
Series of peaceful demonstrations against Col. (Dr.) Ahmadu Ali and General Olusegun Obasanjo’s retrogressive educational policies were met with highhanded military reaction. Military tanks were rolled out. Military and police officers were given order by General Olusegun Obasanjo to deal with the students.
All the institutions of higher learning were highly assaulted by the regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo in April 1978. National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS) was banned by General Olusegun Obasanjo as a result of the crisis. The toll in loss of human lives was heavy and devastating between 18th and 20th of April 1978. Ten (10) undergraduates of institutions of higher learning lost their lives. The following were identified:
1. Akintunde Ojo (University of Lagos)
2. Nicholas Amai (Ahmedu Bello University, Zaria)
3. Mohammed Najib Daura (Ahmedu Bello University, Zaria)
4. Lasisi Abubakar (Primary School Samaru, Zaria)
5. Gwusu Khasai (Ahmedu Bello University, Zaria)
6. Nbbu Amuda Yusuf (Ahmedu Bello University, Zaria)
7. Mrs. Arike Balogun (Pregnant housewife, near Unilag)
8. An “Unknown” Secondary School Student of Ile-Ife.
There were other victims of the Ali Must Go protests. The following students’ leaders were expelled:
1. Segun Okeowo – (National President, National Union of Nigerian Students NUNS)
2. Ekpein Appah – (President UNIBEN)
3. Offiong Aqua – (President UNICAL)
4. Bukar Mbaha – (President ABU)
The lecturers that were perceived by General Olusegun Obasanjo to be sympathetic to the cause of the students were dismissed. They were:
1. Comrade Ola Oni – (University of Ibadan)
2. Dr. Bade Onimode – (University of Ibadan)
3. Dr. Omafune Onoge – (University of Ibadan)
4. Dr. Wale Adeniran – (University of Ibadan)
5. Dr. Akin Ojo – (University of Ibadan)
6. Comrade Laoye Sanda – (The Polytechnic, Ibadan)
7. Mrs. Bede Madunagu – (University of Calabar)
8. Dr. Eddie Madunagu – (University of Calabar)
Ahmadu Ali’s and General Olusegun Obasanjo’s cruel hands did not spare two of the most outstanding, brilliant and competent Vice Chancellors. They were:
1. Professor J. Ade Ajayi – Vice Chancellor, UNILAG (One of the greatest historians of all times)
2. Professor Iya Abubakar – Vice Chancellor ABU (A first class intellectual genius)
They were both compulsorily retired by General Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime. One of the pillars behind students welfare and activism, Comrade Ebenezer Babatope (Ebino Topsy) the Students Welfare Officer at University of Lagos was sacked, while Dr. Ladipo Sogbetun, Senior Medical Officer at University of Lagos was compulsorily retired. Even the journalist with the incisively objective Pen, Bassey Ekpo Bassey, and the Political Editor of the Nigerian Chronicle was dismissed.
The great Gani Fawehinmi, the lawyer to all Nigerian students who clearly supported the students cause and who provided legal and non legal succour to the National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS), was arrested, beaten up, detained at inter-centre, charged to court, but was discharged and acquitted. Although, some of the students were admitted back after losing some semesters or sessions and some of the lecturers were later taken back after several years, yet, the damage to Education was permanent.
It is important to revisit the exploits of Akogun, given the trajectory of student’s unionism and activism in recent times. The conduct of present students’ leaders is at best an assault on the history and achievements of the student’s movement and a reminder of the destruction of key centres of activism in civil society.
What we see today parading as student activism under the umbrella of National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) is naked opportunism, if not infantilism; perfidy of the highest order and gross irresponsibility.
Today there is a radical disconnect between present reality and the circumstances and ideals that produced NANS in 1980. Before the emergence of NANS, the national students’ body in Nigeria was known as the National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS). Before NUNS was the West African Students Union (WASU) under which umbrella students from West Africa fought the colonial masters and insisted on the rights of Africans to take charge of their own destiny and affairs.
NUNS inherited the same idealism and student’s unionism was soon established in Nigeria as a platform for change and informed activism. By 1960, there were few universities in the country but the university system was so well established and so properly linked to the development process in the making that its voice in the affairs of the nation carried substantial weight.
The students were also aware of this and it was no surprise that the Anglo-Nigerian Defence pact was aborted solely on account of the objections of students. By the 70s, an increase in the number of universities and other higher institutions of learning, the spread of Marxist ideology on the campuses and an obsession with revolution and change, inspired also by the failings of the post-colonial elite, had given a fresh edge and dynamism to the students’ movement.
The students saw themselves as agents of history and they wanted to make an impact on the history of their society. They enjoyed the support of radical intellectuals in the labour movement and the academia, and found a ready anchor in the ideology of the Left. The students’ leaders of the period were idealists and fire-brands.
The symbol and rallying point of this image of the students’ body in the 70s was Segun Okeowo under whose leadership NUNS became more directly involved in national politics. When the Constituent Assembly was constituted in 1977 to deliberate on a new constitution, NUNS had to be given a slot on the body. During the period, Okeowo led Nigerian students into battle against the Nigerian government on a number of key issues: the funding of education, increase in tuition and accommodation fees and the presence of soldiers in schools to enforce discipline.
After the famous “Ali must Go” protests of 1978, The Federal Military Government responded with anger, and proscribed NUNS and ordered the arrest and detention of Segun Okeowo. Radical university teachers in Ibadan, Lagos, Calabar and ABU who were accused of supporting the students against government and of “teaching what they were not paid to teach” were also arrested, detained and sacked. But the students remained adamant. They insisted that they were fighting the forces of feudalism, parochialism and tyranny. They regrouped and announced the formation of a National Organisation of Nigerian Students (NONS). In December 1979, a new national executive was elected. Both the new NONS President and his Secretary were soon rusticated from the Bayero University, Kano. Students’ union leaders in other campuses received similar treatment.
The man in power was the then General Olusegun Obasanjo. He had zero tolerance for students’ unionism. Nor could he stand progressive academics or academic freedom in whatever shape. In 1980, however, the civilian government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari lifted the ban on NUNS. The students responded by changing the identity of their national body, and hence emerged, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS).
This is a history that has been lost to students and students leaders today. With the emergence of NANS, the struggle for a better Nigeria became even more challenging for the students body and at every stage, Nigerian students have had to stand up against a power elite which always demonstrated a less than honest interest in the development process.
Down the line, government high handedness have hardly changed the resolve of Nigerian students as agents of change. Many died in the process; other students were rusticated. The students’ struggle has had its own fair share of heroes and martyrs (Segun Okeowo, Kunle Adepeju, Akintunde Ojo, Chima Ubani, Chris Abashi, Emma Ezeazu, Chris Mammah, Labaran Maku, Banji Adegboro, Ben Oguntuase, Lanre Arogundade, Omoyele Sowore, Olusegun Mayeigun.) etc, who tasted battle and stood for principles in the many theatres of war (anti-SAP and removal of oil subsidy riots between 1989 and 1991, June 12 protests, anti-military campaigns etc) where and when Nigerian students stood beside labour and other pro-democracy groups to insist that Nigeria can be governed differently for the benefit of its citizens.
It is telling and sad that NANS has been reduced to an amalgam of fund-raisers, and opportunistic leaders, young men and ladies without principles who can be hired to do the bidding of politicians. We are in the era of students’ union leaders who use the position to acquire material wealth and gain access to the corridors of power. Student union positions have become like political offices: an avenue for self-enrichment and promotion. In the past few years, NANS has been factionalised at the national level and the source of contention was not ideas or principles but access to privileges.
The NUNS/NONS/NANS of old was effective and progressive in line with the nature and place of the university at the time as a strategic reservoir for the production of ideas and manpower for society’s growth. Students were at the centre of this; they were not just members of the community, they were the leaders of tomorrow with a strong stake in the future of the community.
This idea of the university in Nigeria is long dead. The university is now the centre of cultism and fraud, perpetrated by both students and lecturers. NANS was bound to assume the shape of the environment in which its members are nurtured. But even more disturbing is the failure of values and standards in the general community. Too many Nigerians are busy looking for money and power by any means possible.
But they must be called to order. Patrons and trustees of NANS must stop the present leaders of the association from mortgaging it for lucre. The students at the branch levels must respond to the disgraceful conduct of its leadership, and take a stand. NANS is too important an organisation to be left for charlatans and opportunists.
The crisis that overtook the radical movement, beginning with General Ibrahim Babangida’s assault on civil society, is yet to be resolved: it is as far as we can see, a crisis of leadership, integrity and legitimacy. Nigerian students must therefore worry more about the leadership recruitment and selection process among their ranks. They must redefine the place of the association in the public domain.
As we reflect on the exploits of Akogun in the students movement, we fervently pray that the Nigerian students’ movement, must as a historical necessity re-link with other pro-people and working class organizations to provide the requisite leadership and the radical working people’s party that will champion the demand for massive funding of social services – free education, free health, adequate wages and pension, clean water, cheap and public transportation, mass and cheap housing, job for all, etc. The achievements of Akogun Segun Okeowo is a sign of what a genuine students’ movement can achieve if it bases itself on genuine ideas. Now is the time for genuine radical students’ unionism.