Ife protesters on Obafemi Awolowo University Campus: Who says the protest was a gaffe?

The recent protest on OAU campus over the pronouncement of Professor Bamire as the next V.C of Obafemi Awolowo University by the governing council of the university has attracted lots of negative criticism.

One would be right to assert that all manners of negative criticism of the protest have been to the effect that the protest was a gaffe. Certainly, it might be difficult for this article alone to dissuade embittered minds that have been formed from seeing the protest as a total misstep.

Yet, the dialogue the protest has prompted must be adequately guided by sound reasoning. While the protest might not have come straight as an academic matter it certainly is one that borders on the academic community of OAU in Ile-Ife.

Before our nerves get frail further over this matter, before the fifth columnists, who are regularly spurred to action by controversial issues and misty situations to denigrate the Ooni, Ile-Ife and Ife people, railroad us all into imprudent misjudgment of the protest, shall we first remember that the protest in question had to do with Obafemi Awolowo University and not any other university? Recall that it is the one citadel of learning that has been the seat of hot protests in the history of Nigeria.

Before all of us are fooled a thousand times over, those who are genuinely concerned among us need to be sufficiently cautious, thoughtful and reflective in order to engage the issue on ground very productively. More important, the matter needs to be clearly understood because the Ife people had never been this discontented over the affairs of the university and would continue to play host to this enviable citadel of learning.

Certain facts have to be brought to the fore since they have been glossed over in the genuine thoughts that led to the massive opprobrium of the protest. I wish to emphasize ‘genuine thoughts’ because they differ from propagandists’ vicious and baseless excoriations that dominated the space of dialogue over the protest.

First, we should recognize that the protest was the first of its kind in the history of the university. Ife people had never protested in reaction to how the university was ever governed in the long years of its existence on their soil let alone invaded the university campus either violently or otherwise.

Rather, members of the university community have always been the ones to invade the town, disrupt its peace while persuading the folks in the town to either join in their protests or simply understand their messages and help pass them on among the Nigerian populace.

Folks in Ile-Ife have always been the innocent victims of many protests unleashed on them and their social space times without number by members of Obafemi Awolowo University community. And the palace of the Ooni has continually been forced by members of the OAU community to play the ombudsman both on clearly understandable protests and those most fuzzy in definition and execution.

The ‘Alli Must Go’ of 1977, for instance, brought down the entire town and led to loss of some major assets? Countless protest marches through the town never went without paralyzing commercial activities in the ancient town. One could go on almost endlessly listing protests by members of the university community that placed heavy economic and psychological burden on the Ife city folks.

Each time, Ife people either gave a hand of comradeship to either protesting students or staff of the university, or simply maintained a very supportive silence while bearing the heaviest part of the burden of the protests. Many achievements that trailed such protests were not unconnected to the community’s support for the protests.

Permit this little joke: “The Ife protesters staged an amateurish parody of the university’s militancy against perceived oppression and heavens were let loose! Should they remain forever dumb learners in a class the university community has forced them to attend times without number?

Why were the protesting Ife people left in the lurch when the university community should have reciprocated the long years of support it freely enjoyed from the very accommodating Ife people? Will they forget in a jiffy the numerous successes that trailed their protests which the ready support from Ile-Ife and Ife people helped facilitate? Hasn’t the university community become the biblical ingrate that should be likened to a robber who dispossesses owners?”

Though the above is intended to be a joke, we must never miss out the cogent fact it plays on. Therefore, let’s take up its serious messages and harness a number of guesses in response to its poser: Why were the protesting Ife people left in the lurch when the university community should have reciprocated the long years of support it freely enjoyed from the very accommodating Ife people?

First, Ife people probably chose a fight considered wrong by the university community. Second, they chose a wrong time for the fight. Third, their choice of fight and timing were both wrong. Fourth, their fight and its timing were both right but woeful strategies were deployed. There will be as many as possible guesses as there are willing guessers.

But before those who have sworn to eternal .pulling-down of Ile-Ife and her people railroad prospective readers to a mischievous misreading of a well-intended intervention, let it be clear that this writer has not set out to justify the invasion of the university community by the protesters. However, this writer takes exception to the ways the matter has been largely addressed with less of philosophical scrutiny.

In spite of what the protest may have turned out to be for the Ife protesters and in the eyes of the public, especially the public commentators, the protest as a seminal statement of discontent over what the protesters claimed to be a persistent marginalization of the town and his people cannot be mistaken and should never be deliberately dismissed with a wave of hand. This is where propagandists of the known ilk regarding Ile-Ife must observe the red line.

Unfortunately, piles of dismissals of the protest as a huge gaffe fill the pages of newspapers and online news media in Nigeria. But shouldn’t we tarry a while and ask if truly the protest was a boo-boo? To start with, let us examine some of the grounds that have been used to count the protest as a total error in the many public and private commentaries? For some, it is the act of trespass of the protesters and their introduction of fetish objects to enhance the objectives of the protest that should never have been.

For others, the protest was an unfortunate act of self-defeatism since Ile-Ife, the host community doubles as the origin place of every Yoruba person on the planet earth and therefore Professor Bamire who can never be seen as an exception should have been received by the Ife people as one of their distant cousins going by facts of Yoruba history.

Yet, for some others, the protest was a ruse designed to cover up a criminal ‘land grabbing’ that threatens the security of the university estate graciously given for the citing of the university by the same Ife people over six decades ago. And many many more.

Excessive emotionalism obviously crept into the various judgements of the protest as can be seen in different Nigerian news media. Hence, no one cared again to remember that civil disobedience is a transgressive act. An erroneous idea that civil disobedience MUST at all times be held under control has been sold to the public to make the protest by the Ife people looked like a bizarre act of some aliens from Lucifer’s planet.

Where could the protesters have drawn a good example from? Is it the university examples or which one? It is called civil disobedience. In its most emotional staging it can be violent. When it is not violent, it never ceases to be transgression. When you break down its meaning by way of synonyms what you get are contravention, misbehavior, wrongdoing, offence, indiscretion, misdemeanor, lapse and all kinds of words offensive to civility.

Let’s take just one example of bullshit of many an argument that has been used to dismiss and defame the protest: “No, the protest was a ruse to cover up a criminal land-grabbing!” Where is the logical reasoning here? The protesters claimed that their preferred candidate, Professor Adedoyin was shortchanged in the selection process by the Governing Council of the university. They premise their argument on two points that have come to define our processes of selection and election in both political and non-political situations in Nigeria.

First is that no indigene of Ile-Ife has ever headed the university in substantive capacity. The other point is that Professor Adedoyin, their preferred candidate, is most qualified for the position of the number one helmsman of the university. While the first part of their argument satisfies a first principal criterion for favorable consideration for the position, the second part is a strong addendum to reinforce the protesters’ preference for one of ‘theirs’.

Both conjoin to speak to a deep-seated communal desire for inclusion in the university’s hall of fame. Sikena!  Whether the protesters were mandated by the host community of Ile-Ife or not is a matter that is as difficult to determine as Yoruba nation agitators’ avowed commitment to the mandate to protect the Yoruba people’s political interest in Nigeria. Some do claim they never sent the agitators for Yoruba nation but those they represent are there and in a large number too.

Those who named the protest a ruse did a poor job in rationalization or betrayed their mission as undertakers of the protest. Suppose we agree without conceding that the protest was a ruse to cover up a criminal act, could it be reasonably asserted that Professor Adedoyin never really desired to be the next Vice Chancellor of the university?

How does he stand to benefit more from such a ruse that promised a peanut compared to the juicy privileges that the position of the V.C attracts in our clime? Could he, given his level of education and exposure, have been so cheaply lured to put his career and reputation on the line in exchange for a derisory reward?

Except news of his involvement in the alleged land grabbing hits the airwave in the next minute, the university authorities are yet to issue him a query or drag him to a court of competent jurisdiction for being complicit in a criminal tresspass damaging to the university’s estate. This doesn’t add up. Some commentators out there just have to cut the crap!

The two principal sides to the protesters’ expression of discontent through the protest aren’t outlandish IN OUR CLIME except somebody wants to forcefully assert to the contrary because the protesters were some Ife people and could ever have had the effrontery to stage a protest in the interest of Ile-Ife, especially in an unusually militant way.

The crap of an argument of what operates in saner climes can only apply to the extent that an ideal situation is merely being imagined. The protesters were Nigerians protesting in Nigeria the conventional Nigerian way. Let somebody prove this wrong logically with a sound argument devoid of unnecessary excoriation.  Idalu ni iselu. (The way a society has been constituted dictates how it will be administered) The rules of the game shall only change when we all get saner in this clime. So, issues should be carefully separated. Identify the grains and isolate them from the chaff.

In all of this, what some of us won’t miss out is the political dimension to the whole issue. There is an unwholesome undercurrent to the whole of this which was at the behest of the incumbent Vice Chancellor, Professor Eyitayo Ogunbodede. The problems of politics are the politicians, so a sage observed. And, if you never knew, the outgoing V.C. is a dirty politician in academic garb – a bad one for that matter. You want to know why and how? Then watch out! The drama is just unfolding!

Olufimo Asaaju writes this piece from Casco, Amuwo Lagos state.

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