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14 July 2018
The authorities of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) have reinstated the studentship of Omole Ibukun, national secretary of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) – a platform of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), and three other activists who were suspended on 7th October 2017. Omole Ibukun and three other activists, who were reinstated on 2nd July, 2018, had been vindictively suspended for the leadership roles they played in the peaceful protests of OAU students against harsh living conditions on campus between 5th and 6th October, 2017.
However, this reinstatement was made possible by nine months of campaigning, an aspect of which was a call for and sending in of protest letters and appeals from supporters of democratic rights and liberty in Nigeria across the world. Also the campaign for their recall was organized via social media as well as press statements, pasting of statements and agitations on campus. It should be recalled that the DSM (the Nigerian section of the Committee for a Workers' International, CWI) floated on its website a call for protest letters and appeals on behalf of the reinstated students on 30th November, 2017. This call was heeded especially by members of the CWI internationally and supporters of the DSM and ERC in Nigeria. We appreciate these gestures of solidarity, and believe it contributed in no small manner to the eventual reinstatement of Omole Ibukun and three other activists suspended in October 2017.
To buttress the significance of a sustained campaign in this reinstatement, it should be noted that Tosin Grace, a former Vice President of the Students' Union (a union which was later banned by the authorities in late 2017), who was also suspended on the basis of a different trumped up charges is yet to be reinstated. We call for her immediate reinstatement as a principled opposition to attacks against students' welfare and democratic rights should never be a basis for suspension of studentship.
Obviously a decisive factor behind the reinstatement is that the Obafemi Awolowo University authorities are fearful that if they do not grant a few concessions now, the combined situation of attack on democratic rights and worsening students' living and welfare conditions arising from their recent anti-poor policies could snowball into a crisis. So in this sense, the reinstatement of Omole Ibukun and others as well as the recent discharge of some students' activists of the university who were previously charged to court on criminal allegations for campaigning against forceful eviction of students from their hostels, could be part of a "carrot and stick" manouvering of the university management to continue to impose anti-poor policies on students while granting a few concessions here and there to keep anger from reaching a boiling point. That despite the recall of Ibukun Omole and others, the authorities still retain their ban on the Students' Union and also actively suppress right to freedom of expression and association by monitoring students activities on social media and physically preventing with the aid of armed security political programmes like public symposium from taking place on campus is a clear indication of the true intention of the university management.
Therefore, the suspension of Tosin Grace and the ban placed on students' union activities as well as the active suppression of students' rights to organize by the university management show that victory is not yet complete. Students must use these concessions to gain confidence that struggle pays and organize to mount sustained pressure through mass activities like symposium, mass meetings and protests for recall of all remaining victimized students, a halt to further attacks on democratic rights and restoration of an independent and mass-based students union.
The combined effects of government's underfunding of education and corrupt administration of the meagre funds earmarked for the school would be the worsening of the already harsh conditions of living and learning on the campus. This is definitely going to lead to another confrontation between students and management in the coming period. There is therefore the need to sustain the momentum of the campaign that led to this reinstatement, and link it with the struggle for proper funding of education and democratic administration of the funds by elected representatives of academic and non-academic staff, students and parents.
As this recent reinstatement has shown again, authorities everywhere can be forced to concede to the demands of students for recognition of their democratic rights. We once again appreciate the overwhelming support of socialists and activists who heeded the call of the DSM and ERC for protest letters and appeals to the OAU authorities for the reinstatement of the suspended students as well as those who supported the campaign in various other ways. The DSM and ERC in Nigeria remain committed to the struggle for a free, quality education and socialist organisation of society in order for all Nigerians to thrive on the basis of the monumental resources of this country.