SPEECH DELIVERED BY OLAYIWOLA FOLAHAN FESTUS “REFORM”, THE PRESIDENT, STUDENTS’ UNION, OBAFEMI AWOLOWO UNIVERSITY, AT THE INUAGURATION/SWEARING-IN CEREMONY OF THE ELECTED STUDENTS’ UNION OFFICERS ON TUESDAY, 8 MARCH 2022, AT AMPHITHEATRE, OAU, ILE-IFE
The Visitor, the Chancellor, the Pro-Chancellor, the Vice-Chancellor, the Dean of Division of Student Affairs, all other principal officers of the University, guests, academic and non-academic staff unions, groups, the press, ever conscious, vigilante and progressive Great Ife students; all protocols duly observed.
I want to thank Almighty God for making this day a reality. There are countless reasons for my thanksgiving but I want to state two out of them. For one, thanking God for this day is informed by certain occurrences in the past six months which have made it seem as though today would never come. Another reason is that, ladies and gentlemen, it is exactly 5 years and 2 days since the previous President of Students’ Union of Obafemi Awolowo University delivered his inaugural speech. My wish, hope and prayer is that may we continue to witness a day like this every session.
There is no doubt that today will go down in the history of the Students’ Union of Obafemi Awolowo University (Great Ife Students’ Union) as, so far, the end of the longest of beginnings in the Students’ Union. Beyond the popular and the unpopular stories and heresies of the past six months, the most important thing is to reclaim and sustain the values and philosophies that bespeak us as IFE (Intellectual Fighters for Emancipation), the culture that makes us an enviable academic lineage of honorable men and women within and outside Nigeria.
The mantle of leadership that I and other officers of the Union officially take up today is a generational assignment, a major yet microcosmic instance of leadership from which the over 30 000 students of this University have impatiently and laboriously waited to benefit from. I daresay that the impatience is true, by extension, for all other Nigerian students and Nigerians who directly or indirectly benefit from our Union’s valiant pursuit of a better and open society. The uneasy wait is over.
In his essential work, The Wretched of the Earth, renowned political philosopher, Frantz Omar Fanon, wrote: “Each generation, must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it”. The underlying message of this quote makes me wakeful. It has made me ask myself several questions. I ask myself, what this generation that I belong to is. I ask myself what our mission is and if we have discovered it. I ask myself if we are fulfilling it or betraying it.
My endless but critical ruminations and observations have not failed to provide me results. I am convinced that this generation is a generation of game changers, innovators, exemplary leaders; men and women who will leave indelible marks on the sands of time. But these are not the only attributes of this generation. This generation is, in spite of its wealth of creativity and brilliance, a generation of youths who are challenged on all spheres of life. This generation is one that is laboriously growing in an atmosphere toxically charged with economic, political, religious, ethnic tensions.
Without mincing words, the mission of this generation is not undiscovered. The mission of this generation is to primarily wean itself off the challenges that confront it. The secondary assignment of this generation is to become the genesis of a better society and a beacon of hope for those coming after it. However, none of these can happen without education. As Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.
Ladies and gentlemen, obviously, this generation has not fulfilled its mission. Yet, it cannot be said that this generation has failed its mission. The fulfillment or the failure of the mission of this generation is going to be a product of our collective efforts, including that of the older generation. But, I must say, that by virtue of the trust that the students of this University reposed in me and other Students’ Union officers in the widely adjudged freest and fairest OAU Students’ Union elections held in August and September 2021 (over six months ago), the students of this University have done one important part of the job of fulfilling the mission. While the cooperation of Union members will be needed at every point in this journey, the bulk of work lies with us the elected Students’ Union officers and the authorities of this University. And it is on this note that I will go into explicating some of the problems that I and my team have noted and owe the students of this University the solving of them:
A minister and renowned author, Myles Munroe, in his seminal book, In Pursuit of Purpose, said: “When the purpose of a thing is not known, abuse is inevitable”. I want to state it here clearly for those who are here now and those whom history will extend my words, that one of the major purposes of any union is to, where lacking, retrieve the welfare of its members, sustain and improve it. The Students’ Union of Obafemi Awolowo recognizes student welfare as its purpose and for the said purpose, it shall stand intolerant of any abuse of power or resources that undermine the welfare of students.
When the welfare of students on OAU campus is discussed, certain issues come to mind more easily:
One of the major challenges we encounter on OAU campus is transportation problem. The transporters have at different times taken the advantage of the absence of Students’ Union to extort and exploit students with indiscriminate hike of fares. It is rudely surprising that many of them have still not come to term with the reinstatement of the Students’ Union and the powers it has to kick against all hike, extortion, and all other inconveniences they put students in. Some of them now have the effrontery to even go as far as harassing and assaulting students. It is time these issues stopped.
Solving the transportation problems is not by quick fixes. One of the best ways to address this issue is for the university to release all Students’ Union busses that are in their possession to us. We will run an independent Students’ Union transport system with lesser transport prices, especially when students are unceremoniously left stranded by transporters as some of them did on February 23 this year. Of course, my team and I are open to more ways of resolving the problems.
The current transportation issues on campus have prompted us come up with reasonable but temporary prices per destination on campus. We currently have enforcement teams in place to check anyone who violates the price list. These teams will work with all relevant authorities within the Students’ Union and the University at large. I am confident that with all our efforts harnessed at solving the transportation problems, we shall overcome.
B) Academic Welfare:
The primary goal of students of OAU is to graduate in flying colours. However, this is fast becoming nearly impossible for so many students. It is not often that students do not want to excel, it is that the system frustrates their efforts. There have been several reports of laboratories in bad condition, victimization, compromised tests, late release of results, and lecture theatres unconducive to learning, to mention but some of the problems. The internal and external strikes continue to be academic impediments for students. It is no wonder that our university that used to top rankings before now struggles to rank closer to some Nigerian and foreign universities it used to outclass.
The Students’ Union will optimally use its academic committee to cater for students’ academic welfare. The committee shall focus on taking active roles in bettering the academic welfare of students. The Students’ Union will be taking preventive and corrective measures to address the issues. Bound by the Code of Conduct of the University and other legal internal and external instruments, the Union, through its officers, fixes its eagle eyes on all persons concerned, from teaching to testing to grading and releasing of results, to ensure a better academic welfare for students.
C) Health Centre
The health centre delivery is not satisfactorily enough. The Students’ Union, in a bid to take active part in upping the healthcare system, shall establish the Students’ Union Health Committee. This committee is meant to work with the health center and other relevant authorities to receive complaints from students, amongst others. The Union will, in resolving any issue, explore all options. The Union expects openness, regards and a high level of responsibility from health workers. Health is wealth, they say; let us collectively not waste this irreplaceable blessing. There shall be no tolerance for anything contrary.
It is now commonplace on OAU campus that some buttery extort students by selling commodities at high prices compared to what is obtainable at market. We have challenged some of them in the past and we will not relent in our effort to compel them to sell at even prices. The Welfare Director, whose office shall be actively involved in all issues earlier raised, shall also gallantly lead the efforts here. A committee that he heads will enforce the union regulated prices and address matters arising from the butteries.
Getting a comfortable accommodation is one of the most difficult challenges that students face. Students have been exposed to many problems, in their efforts to secure accommodation, especially off campus. There are numerous issues of extortion, harassment, insecurity, theft, all because students are looking for comfortable places to stay. The Students’ Union will not fold its arms while Union members suffer in the hands of agents and landlords.
Just recently, the Students’ Union lost another of its members – Heritage Ajibola. Heritage fell into a septic tank at her hostel, Bvers Suites. The accident which claimed her life was preventable but, with what has been discovered, the Management of the Suites were lacking in properly maintaining a safe environment. For Heritage Ajibola, justice must be done!
The Students’ Union has noted that it is imperative to wade in on issues of welfare of students not only campus but also off campus. There are many extortionist landlords and agents around. The Union will take adequate measures to check them. Anyone that fails to yield to our consultative and consolidating efforts is choosing our confrontation.
For over two decades, OAU holds the record of having a cultism-free campus; this record must not be allowed to break. This is a legacy we enjoy on OAU campus today, thanks to our comrades past. This must be religiously protected for the succeeding generations to benefit from. We implore the Security Department of this University to not relent in its efforts. Beyond and around OAU campus, it is public knowledge that safety of lives and properties is gravitating towards being an unaffordable commodity.
The Security Committee of the Students’ Union, under my watch, shall vigilantly work to keep our dear campus even safer for students. It is indeed worrisome that we continue to record cases of stolen phones, laptop and other gadgets. Theft is now rampant on campus. The Security Committee will ensure that, if not eliminated, the crimes will be fought to a logical end.
As a union, in matters of security, ours is a long list of partners to work with. Our first partnership remains with the members of our union whose sense of collective responsibility and personal vigilance will assist the union in discharging its duties. We shall work with Nigeria Police Force, Director of State Security and other sister agencies to tackle all security issues within and also, very importantly, off campus.
I must not forget to mention that Mr Adegoke Timothy’s death is a tragedy that the Union cannot get over without seeing done for him. The Students’ Union is keenly watching the process of getting justice for the late gentleman. Our stand remains the same: anyone responsible for the death of Mr Timothy Adegoke must face the wrath of the law.
A) Zero Tolerance To Cultism
OAU as an anti-cultist institution is not an accident. Some of our past heroes paid the supreme price that make us enjoy peace and tranquility on campus. The memories of July 10 1999 Massacre continues to linger on. The gruesome killing of the then Secretary-General of the Union and four other Union members has become an unintended and hurtful sacrifice that our community paid men and women of the underworld. We cannot afford to see them invade our campus again.
It is the fact that we do not have to fear that there some unwanted elements lurking in the dark that all of us, men and women, can traverse this beautiful campus at any time of the day and night. Hardly is there any other higher institution of learning that shares this glory with Great Ife. We must see it as the duty of our lives to keep is a cultism-free campus.
It is not that cult-like activities have not been discovered over the years; it is that such activities have always been repelled. I want to say here, Great Ife, Articulate Ife; that Great Ife remains Great Ife; there shall be no entertaining cultism in my time. Anyone here or elsewhere who nurtures such thoughts as championing cultism on OAU campus should discard such thoughts. You cannot stand the wrath of Ife.
B) Assault And Sexual Harassment
The motto of our University proclaims it as a place of learning and culture. It is highly condemnable that anyone would engage in such socially unacceptable behaviors as assault and sexual harassment in our campus. In this intellectual space we all occupy, no one must introduce hooliganism under any pretext. The Union condemns at all criminal activities, including assault and sexual harassment. It is great that the Union has an Anti-Sexual Harassment Policy in place but even greater is to see the full enforcement of the policy at all times.
Greatest Ife, Articulate Ife, let us be reminded that Great Ife students do not engage in physical combat. We are IFE – Intellectual Fighters for Emancipation. From experience, most of the students experience physical attack from transporters and menial workers on campus. To those who have taken physical assault and bullying as their hobby, we say to you today, “Time up!”. And if you do not listen now and you continue in the act, our piece of aluta all oppression for you is coming to discipline you and give you the Great Ife senses.
Before I round up, I will like to wish all women here and all over the world a Happy International Women’s Day. Indeed women are phenomenal. The elders say “obinrin ni iyo aye” – women are the salt of the world. This saying is a pointer to the essence and importance of women. May the world be kinder to women.
My aim is to protect all the students and defend our constitutional right as enshrined in the Great Ife Students’ Union constitution and University code of conduct. I will stand for and uphold at all times the principle of rule of law and also display all levels of transparency and accountability which is the bedrock of democratic Unionism. I will offer leadership driven by empathy and capacity, strength and sagacity, faith, hope and confidence. I will not be indifferent or turn a blind eye to real concerns of Great Ife students.
For me, the union we deserve is one that will be a source of pride to all Great Ife Students, one that will be respected and admired in other Universities across Nigeria, Africa and the world. It should be a union that can hold its own and stand tall anywhere in the world.
Reform is for Progress
Reform is for Development
Reform is for Reformation
I therefore ask you to join hands with me in this noble cause of reforming the Great Ife Students’ Union.