The news that kept me awake since last night is not the same as the one that broke my heart a few months ago, which later inspired my composition of the poem “Trauma”. Though they both have similar effect, this one has nothing to do with the betrayal of love or trust. I would rather compare it to an incident which shook the State about a month ago, when some accredited agents of the PDP were unduly arrested and detained for trivial reasons. This news comes with the pain of denial and oppression and the deliberate conspiracy to silence the voice of the oppressed.
I have decided to respond following the arrest and imprisonment of 14 students of the University of Lagos.
It was reported in the early hours of today (April 2, 2017) that the police, yesterday, arraigned a student activist Femi Adeyeye and 13 other UNILAG students at the Special Offences Mobile Court in Oshodi, Lagos, over alleged unlawful invasion of the premises of Television Continental (TVC). The comrades who had gathered the previous day to protest the alleged rustication of a visually impaired student were arrested on the campus while returning from the office of the Dean of Students’ Affairs (DSA), who was said to have refused to speak to the students. They were later arraigned before a Chief Magistrate on two counts bordering on unlawful invasion and disruption of activities. Since then they have been at the Kirikiri Prison pending their bail hearing on April 6.
What shocked me — and still shocks me — about the news was not the suddenness of its broadcast and/ or publication. It is rather the unexpectedness — the rashness with which the school authority reached its decision — that baffles my imagination. In all my thought, I never expected to hear such a news about the University of Lagos, at least not after her Vice Chancellor became the object of my admiration a few days ago.
On Thursday 30th March, 2017, Prof. Rahamon A. Bello, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos, delivered the 29th Inaugural Lecture of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology. In his 24 page paper, he spoke extensively on “Self-funding by Nigerian Universities: Contemporary Challenges and Solutions”. I was, like every other person in the Amphitheatre, enthralled by the lecture. His recommendations were brilliant (and it will interest you to know that the revolutionary ideas he introduced that day is one of the reasons behind the recent faceoff between the Rivers State Governor and the Vice Chancellor of my school). He spoke of ways of generating funds for the University; of how the University should not allow the placement of the management of its proposed University Teaching Hospital under the Ministry of Health. I believe this particular idea may not have satisfied the curiosity of the Governor. Further into the lecture he made the following statement:
“Another challenge is… the possible exclusion of bright students. …institutions should not limit any qualified student from access to education. Structures have to be put in place to ensure that no citizen is disenfranchized.”
This is the very point at which I have picked my argument: that the VC’s statement contradicts his recent ordering of the police to arrest 14 bona-fide students of his school.
What justification is there in this arbitrary exercise of power? The right to peaceful protest is the constitutional right of every Nigerian, including students. Citizens reserve the right to express their opinions and feelings as long as it does not violate the rights of others. The peaceful demonstration by students of the University of Lagos last week was an exercise of that right. And the unlawful detention of Femi Adeyeye and 13 others is an act of “disenfranchisement” and a travesty of justice.
What is the reason behind the protest? In a society like ours where actions, most times, contradict intent, it is very difficult to know the true motive of such a movement. However, for a situation like this, the purpose can easily be judged. When the motive behind an action is for selfishness, only a few people engage in it. But when it advocates the general good and well-being of society, it becomes a popular struggle, drawing a wide range of participation.
Now, the UNILAG case: This is a popular struggle. A visually impaired student is rusticated from school, for being blind. The others are expelled for protesting the poor welfare of students. In a situation like this, no one expects less than a general sympathy and, at worse, demonstration. The victims were pitied by fellow students. And this was the sin of Femi Adeyeye and the 13 others.
At this point I wish to refer again to Professor Rahamon Bello’s “admonishment” for institutions in Nigeria concerning students’ rights. He had emphasized that “institutions should not limit any… student from access to education.” The question now is: Who is limiting students in this case?
It is clearly stated in the National Policy on Education that “The goals of tertiary institutions shall be to: provide accessible and affordable quality learning opportunities in formal and informal education in response to the needs and interest of all Nigerians… (Section 5).
Section 5, Sub. 69a(I) further stipulates that “The traditional areas of academic freedom for the institution are to: select their students, except where the law prescribes otherwise. “The questions, therefore, are: When was the blind student admitted into the school? Who was in-charge of the admission process? Was the school not aware that the student was blind before admission? Are there policies restricting a visually impaired person from going to school? Were the students wrong about their protest? Should Femi Adeyeye and the others plead guilty to the charges.
May God grant us help to find answers to our problems.
Aluta continua! Victoria ascerta!!
David Benson Jack is an active student unionist. He studies at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology. A freelance writer and content creator, he publishes under the pseudonym David-Jack Aribima.