Lessons for Nigeria from our Great Ife years

My friend, brother and colleague, Lasisi Olagunju, a First Class graduate of our department, brought nostalgic feelings to me with his recent piece on the golden birthday of our Great Ife. We were the last but one generation who schooled at the proper Ife tradition and had real university education in Nigeria. It was also in our generation that the ruling elites commenced massive attacks on educational rights. We came to Ife in the departing years of the cold war and Ife was a serious ideological battleground in those days with sharp lines drawn between radicals and conservatives among the students and in the academia. We read widely outside the classroom and our level of articulation and activism compelled Professor Jubril Aminu, the then education minister, to declare war against the ‘Ife fortress’ and lecturers ‘teaching what they are not paid to teach’.
Yet some of us were better citizens than we would have been today because we took time to learn what the school fees our parents paid did not cover. When it came to national affairs, you could hardly distinguish between our level of articulation as students and that of our teachers. One incident readily comes to my mind. A panel of the Nigerian Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies led by Major General Charles Ndiomu had come to Ife in 1987 to look into the causes of students’ unrest. Perhaps they were not satisfied with the study a Second Republic politician did on the subject a few years earlier when he wondered on NTA Ibadan why people couldn’t understand the cause of students unrest: “How can students rest when they have to go to classes, read and do examinations’? They cannot rest ke!”.
Back to the Ndiomu panel… It was meant to go round about 12 universities in the country, but it chose to come to Ife first, may be in ‘recognition’ of Ife as the national headquarters of ‘students’ unrest’. I represented the students while Prof Omotoye Olorode and Dr Segun Osoba represented ASUU. It was my lot to address the panel first. I took roughly 15 minutes to let them know they were on a wrong mission as the real cause of unrests on our campuses was the irresponsibility of the ruling class they represented. By the time I was done, my ogas just adopted my submission. Ife was the first and the last campus the panel visited.
On another occasion, the Babangida regime had ordered the university to confer an honorary doctorate degree on pro-apartheid King Moshoshe of Lesotho who was visiting Nigeria. Somehow, a copy of the letter from the government landed on our hand. Don’t ask me how!
A post-graduate student of Ife then and a staff writer with now rested African Concord Magazine, Mr. Dele Momodu, walked into the Students Union building shortly after we got the letter. I handed him a copy of the letter with the following words on behalf of the students: “we shall not allow Ife to be turned into a certificate printing company where every Tom, Dick and Harry can get one at the command of a dictator.” It was UNIBEN that eventually gave Moshoshe a degree.
The students union elections of 1987 coming after the lifting of the ban on students unionism following the ABU crisis of the previous year is still very fresh in my memory. I emerged from that election as the PRO with Fred Adegoke, my colleague in SCAP as General Secretary. Toyin Fasoyin, female, from the born-again Christian community was elected Vice-President. It was the year the pundits had put the battle for the presidency as a straight fight between Segun Adeyemo, a.k.a US (now deceased) of SCAP and Olu Ojedokun, backed by the born-again Christians. But the third force MSJ to which Lasisi Olagunju belonged, carried the day with Yemi Adegbite.There is one coup that was hatched on our speech night that I await ‘further confession’ from my brother, Olagunju who has admitted he was in the ‘situation room’ of MSJ. As the SCAP candidate, Adeyemo took the microphone to make his speech, a large group started chanting ‘US o gb’oyinbo’ (US can’t speak English). Our candidate could not utter any coherent sentence again after that embarrassment! But, in spite of our being a salad bowl, we were all committed to the best Ife tradition.
There was not one dissent when we chose to honour the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi with Life Membership of our union at the peak of his battle with the IBB regime over the murder of Dele Giwa. We conferred on him the Senior Advocate of the Masses because he was being denied SAN and we fixed the event for August 27, the anniversary of Babangida’s coup. For effect, we made Bamidele Aturu, who had just rejected the NYSC award then in protest against the tyranny of IBB, the special guest of honour.
We had our ideological differences as activists but not along rival cult groups as we have today in the universities. It is noteworthy that a lot of us who were in different camps then are today best of friends. We had a constitution that we used for decades without having to go through one amendment. We impeached student leaders who spent money outside appropriation. Nigeria has useful lessons to learn from our Ife.
Our heroes then were men and women of values and not questionable characters that many of the unions on our campuses organise awards for these days. When politicians came to our campus, they knew they were coming on the hot seat as we took them to task on many issues. There was no such person that could enter our campus and throw money at us and get out in peace.
Our union had a Kombi bus then with an ordinary registration number. We never thought of SUG1 (Students Union Government) not to talk of blowing siren about town!
We were not all about fighting against government though. We had fun to the full. I can’t ever forget when we had a football match during a NUGA competition against UNILORIN at the University of Lagos. From Ife to the field of play at Akoka, we composed different songs against Unilorin to flaunt our superiority as a first generation varsity. At the end of 90 minutes, Ilorin found the back of our net twice. We did only once. We were mute from Lagos to Ife. But as we entered the campus, it was Balinga (Deji Balogun now of LTV) our choirmaster who raised a song that made us laugh at ourselves ‘atileri pa ma na won o, ko to yiwoo (we had boasted we would beat them before the table turned)’.
We had the naughty ones among us who were full of mischief and always cracked us up. Prominent among them was Bayo Ozula, who was in Dramatic Arts. There was this semester we were all busy preparing for the first day of exams and Ozula caused an uproar around 1 am at Fajuyi Hall as he started ‘ma se d’oju adura ti mi (2ce), iwo lo ni n ma ma kawe, iwo lo ni n ma se assignment, ma se doju adura ti mi o’ (God don’t shame me for being prayerful, you are the one who said I should not read and do my assignments).’
I feel so ashamed talking of good old days at this age… a challenge to all of us who experienced the great days to remember the duty we owe. Happy anniversary all the same, Great Ife!
This piece was originally published in the Nigerian Tribune of Friday, 23 November, 2012. It is reproduced today in memory of the author who died on Friday April 2, 2021.



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