Some student activists at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) in Ile-Ife who staged protests during President Goodluck Jonathan’s visit to their campus last Friday were last Sunday badly assaulted by a rival group of machete-wielding students in what one victim described as “a sponsored attack by pro-Jonathan supporters.” One of the victims of the attack, David Adeniyi, who sustained machete cuts on the head, was reportedly on admission in a hospital in critical condition.
The assaulted students, members of a group called the Education Right Campaign (ERC), were meeting on Sunday to review their protest during President Jonathan’s visit when the rival group stormed their meeting to instigate a fight.
Mr. Jonathan and other political figures had come to the university last week to attend a political conference during which a section of Yoruba leaders announced their endorsement of Mr. Jonathan for re-election.
SaharaReporters had reported that some students protested against President Jonathan, booing him and throwing stones at his delegation. Mr. Jonathan’s handlers tried to deny that there were any protests, claiming that the students had warmly received the president. SaharaReporters subsequently obtained and posted video footage of students protesting against Mr. Jonathan during his visit.
An OAU student told SaharaReporters that the fracas on Sunday began when the university’s student union president, Ibikunle Isaac Motunrayo, and his supporters harassed some of the ERC members led by student union vice-president Oladejo Olufunmi.
“The OAU student union president came around to the student union building to launch an attack on the Education Right Campaign (ERC), which led the students on a protest during President Goodluck Jonathan's visit. Students of OAU who are members of the ERC were brutally beaten,” one eyewitness told our correspondent.
Echoing the report, ERC's national coordinator, Hassan Taiwo Soweto, and national secretary,Michael Ogundele, released a press statement yesterday condemning the violence. They demanded that the Presidency and the university management should “come clean” if they played no role in the attacks.
“With [a] heavy heart, we wish to bring to the notice of Nigerians that members of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) and radical student activists at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) are under vicious attack by a rightwing section of the Students Union leadership led by the President Ibikunle Isaac Motunrayo in brutal retribution for organizing a protest against President Jonathan when he visited the campus on Friday 28 November 2014,” the ERC group said.
“As at yesterday night (Sunday 30 November 2014), some members of the ERC were hospitalized and discharged after their injuries were treated. However another student activist, Adeniyi David, is still lying in critical condition at the Seventh Day Adventist Hospital in Ile-Ife after sustaining deep machete wounds on his head.
The ERC stated that the unprovoked attack began around 6 p.m. on Sunday at the lower TV room of the Students Union Building (SUB). Their statement claimed that a group of young men, including Akhuma Dbusta and Israel Beji, led by the student union’s public relation officer, Bamidele Oludare, and Daniel Momodu (the immediate past secretary general of the Yinka Gbadebo-led executive of the National Association of Nigerian Students), swooped on them.
The ERC members said their attackers made it clear that the assault was for their “audacity to organize a protest against President Jonathan.”
“We have no doubt where this attack emanated from. Some of the ringleaders of this attack, like Daniel Momodu, have strong links with President Jonathan’sgovernment especially through his senior assistant on students and youth, Jude Imagwe,” said an ERC source. They asserted that Mr. Ibikunle Isaac Motunrayo and Mr. Bamidele Oludare were known paid agents of the university administration led by Professor Tale Omole.
“The university management had recently used these people to scuttle a students' protest against fee hike,” said the ERC source.
According to the group’s statement, “It is not an accident that all those who participated in the attack were those who cheered President Jonathan during his visit and also posed for a picture with him. We believe they have their democratic rights to support the President. However, democracy also means that those who feel otherwise be allowed the freedom to exercise their right without assault. We challenge the Presidency and the university management to come clean if they played no role in this vicious attack by arresting all those responsible and prosecuting them in a court of competent jurisdiction.”
Funmi Oladejo, a student union executive at the university, told a reporter from Punch newspaper that the fight arose over Mr. Jonathan's visit. “What started the fight, I heard, was that ERC were having [their] meeting when the president and PRO passed through the place and saw them. [The president] then called his boys to start coming [because] some people [were] having an opposition meeting at SUB and they all came to beat those on the ground.
“After beating them up, they ran away...We later realized that those [who] ran to town went to hire ‘cults’, who came with machetes.”
An OAU student gravelly told SaharaReporters, “OAU union leaders are harboring cultists. This is against the culture and norms of the school.”
In condemning the assault on their members, the ERC said their group would “not be cowed or silenced in its effort to mobilize Nigerian students and youth to resist anti-poor education policies. Instead this attack, though vicious, is a confirmation that our protest on Friday against President Jonathan struck the right chord. We are therefore motivated more than ever before to organize more protests against all thieving members of the capitalist ruling elite regardless of their political party and wherever we can find them.”
They urged the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), other staff unions, trade unions, civil society and human right groups to condemn this attack and demand that the government and the university management prosecute its perpetrators. They also demanded that students be allowed “to run their union independently and democratically without interference.”
They lauded all OAU students and student union officials who came out “in defense of our comrades and in defense of the cause of truth and struggle.”