The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) National Coordinator, Hassan Taiwo Soweto, and National Secretary, Michael Ogundele issued a press statement condemning, “...the latest wave of victimization of student activists and leaders" at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife by the university management and called for the "immediate and unconditional" recall of 8 suspended student activists.
According to the press release, the eight suspended student activists are members of the ERC and were suspended indefinitely due to their stance against the University's “intervention in the affairs of the just-restored students' union" and the "outrageous hike in school fees” in May and June 2014.
The National Coordinator and Secretary stated that “scores of other students,” were placed on what they quote the University as terming "suspended rustication" and "probation" because of the student’s roles in protests against school fee increases. The statement continues: “The management hinged the indefinite suspension of the eight students on a purported pending police investigation into an unsubstantiated but malicious allegation of abduction.”
Describing the University management’s position, Soweto and Ogundele write: “Clearly the management, which sees a virile, democrati, and an independent union as a threat to its manner of administration, had since marked these activists down for punishment for their principled roles in the campaign for the restoration of the students' union. It was this campaign that forced the management to reverse the undemocratic ban on student unionism.”
“Obviously, the management had the plan to hike school fees the following session, and saw the emergence of a vibrant student leadership as a hindrance to this agenda,” the statement asserts.
“Therefore, it is no surprise that the management is trying to make scapegoats among students, by handpicking the most vibrant activists for punishment over collective action. Surely, the management is aware that mass protests are breaking out in many campuses against fee hike, while students of Lagos State University (LASU) won total reversal of criminally hiked fees. Therefore, this latest wave of victimization is aimed at beheading the struggle in OAU. This approach failed in LASU, it will fail in OAU.”
In their statement, Soweto and Ogundele single out one individual for probing and reprimand regarding the fee hike writing, "It is the Tale Omole-led university management that has mismanaged the meager resources of the university,” they allege.
However, characterizing the fee hike as a national problem, the ERC statement continues, “As much as we agree that there is chronic underfunding of education by the Nigeria's capitalist government, we hold that students and their parents should not be made to bear the brunt of this, as the country is stupendously rich enough to fund quality education at all levels. We also believe that university and its resources should be administered through democratic process.”
The ERC closes their press release demanding that university management "unconditionally and immediately" reverse the suspension order on the student activists and "end its culture of victimization and witchhunt".
"This draconian method of killing the messenger instead of addressing the message is absurd and unbefitting of a university system, where dissenting ideas and criticisms are supposed to be tolerated. We call on well meaning Nigerians, activists, workers' unions, and other student organizations to prevail on the OAU management to recall the eight activists and end every other attacks on democratic rights in OAU," they concluded.