Over the last few weeks, the prestigious Obafemi Awolowo University – one of Nigeria’s best and foremost – has posed as a battlefield for exchange of words, wits and shadow-boxing between the management of the school and the leadership of the newly-restored Students’ Union. In this exclusive interview held at the Students’ Union Building on the 31st of May, the elected President, IBIKUNLE ISAAC, opens up to THE REFLECTOR TEAM’s Adeniruju Adedapo Treasure and Johnson Steven.

Reflector: Can we meet you, sir?

Ibikunle: I’m Comrade Ibikunle Isaac, a 500-Level Law student. I’m the President of the Students’ Union, Obafemi Awolowo University. I’m from Ogun State – Sagamu to be precise. I belong to different organizations like Red Cross, TACSFON-OAU, etc.

Reflector: How do you describe the electioneering process that ushered in the present Union administration, considering the clamour that sprang from the disqualification of some students?

Ibikunle: Towards the election, some students were disqualified based on some purported indictment that many of us castigated. But one thing is this: the oppressor will continue to be an oppressor, and I think that was what was displayed during the election, but it’s totally wrong. Actually, what is most important for us is to have our Union back, and we have the Union back.

Reflector: Does that insinuate that if you had not emerged as the President, you would have been cool with the fact that the Union is back?

Ibikunle: Yes. And I think the relationship between the Union and the management has to be defined by the Law Court. The relationship makes the Union body dependent on the management, and that’s why they can proscribe and disqualify as they want.

Reflector: The Union was proscribed in February, 2011, on the basis of a 900% increment in Fresher’s acceptance fee, and now there’ a similar occurrence of about 300% increase in Fresher’s fees that became obvious to everyone at the beginning of May. What’s your position regarding that?

Ibikunle: Actually, it’s quite unfortunate that what led to the proscription of the Union is the same that’s being brought to the table now. We are facing another increment and we’ve been fighting this for weeks. It started with diplomatic means, and we only secured #12,000 and #17,000 reduction. Because the money was still exorbitant, we proceeded to combating it through protests. And we’ve championed the course even through the media platforms. And to add salt to the injury, the University management also increased the returning students’ fees.

Reflector: When a hunter kills a lion, the story sounds good in the mouth of the hunter. What, according to your findings, is the University management’s basis for the increment?

Ibikunle: Usually they will have their reasons: low budget, no money on ground, and several other reasons which we think are not tenable. They have sources of funds such as the Pre-Degree funds, Acceptance fees, the Unions, etc. which have yielded no improvements. And all the projects on campus in the last three years have been sponsored by Alumni members, World Bank, and many other different bodies. They claim they need money for recurrent expenditure, whereas what they are getting is able to cater for the recurrent expenditure. The school has Water-producing plant, and other business ventures that generate internal revenue for the University.

Reflector: But don’t you think the School Management must have spent so much on the 2014 Nigerian University Games (NUGA)?

Ibikunle: Hmm… NUGA has come and gone! I don’t want to say much about that, but what we know is that they have enough funds, even apart from NUGA funds.

Reflector: During your campaign, you promised to use what you called the ‘constructive agitation’ approach which must involve consultation before confrontation. Is it that consultation has failed?

Ibikunle: Just like you rightly said; we have Consultation, Consolidation and Confrontation. The stage of Consultation which includes consulting widely, negotiations, diplomatic approaches, lobbying, etc., has earned us the minute reduction which we are not comfortable with. The consultation and consolidation processes have altogether also earned us public sympathy.

Reflector: For a couple of weeks, the Union has embarked on different dimensions of protests. Has it yielded any positive outcome(s) so far?

Ibikunle: Yeah! For now, we have public sympathy… everywhere.

Reflector: Do you think the public sympathy will buy the sympathy of the University management?

Ibikunle: What we need is pressure from everywhere. One hour after uploading the last Channels TV interview on You Tube, for instance, it had over One million views. And that’s an indication that people are becoming more concerned by the day. We’ve gotten much external pressure and now, we need to internalize it.

Reflector: So, Mr. President, what is the next line of action?

Ibikunle: A lot of plans are on ground. First is to sensitize our freshmen, and then to invite our returning students to also come on board. And we have also told them not to pay.

Reflector: There have been speculations that some stalites have started paying. How do you hope to handle that?

Ibikunle: In every system, there are always traitors. Those that are paying are frustrating our struggle. But that will not deter nor discourage us, as far as we can manage the number.

Reflector: History make it obvious that embarking on such a protest requires much numerical strength, but the numerical figure of students presently on campus is quite weak. How do you hope to tackle that?

Ibikunle: Yeah. That’s why we are deploying every social media platform possible to invite our returning students back to campus.

Reflector: From the Congress that held this morning/afternoon, there were lots of issues that were raised especially the setting up of the swearing-in committee, which proposed to hold the swearing-in ceremony on Friday, June 6th, 2014. What should the students expect?

Ibikunle: As it stands, the management has refused to swear us in, and some students are of the opinion that we use the second leg of our constitution. However, the struggle we are involved in is both legal and political. Though, some legal advisers and sister unions advised against conducting our swearing-in by ourselves because of the intricacies attached to it. We believe it will go a long way to threaten the management, even though some students are particularly interested in frustrating the struggle. This battle is not about fighting with emotions; rather, it’s about fighting tactically. We are performing our duties. The only challenge is with the account and the former president is insisting on swearing-in before releasing the account.

Reflector: So, how do you hope to caution the students on this issue, knowing the implications?

Ibikunle: One thing I this: let it continue the way it is now. We are left with either of three options: Progressing with swearing ourselves in, proceeding with the struggle without the swearing-in or resigning our appointments.

Reflector: If you’re left with these options, which will you pick?

Ibikunle: We will decide. (Giggles)

Reflector: Struggles like this in students’ unionism, in most cases, lead to victimizations, suspension of union leaders, and the likes. And if you’re insisting this is a win/win battle, what do you expect?

Ibikunle: One of my role models, Napoleon Bonaparte said: “Death is nothing, but to live defeated is to die every day”. My own position is: it’ not the victimization that matters, but the winning of the battle. If the shepherd of the fold is beheaded, can the fold hold? That’s what matters most. We still have a lot of steps to take – on campus and outside campus.

Reflector: Over the last few weeks, there have been interventions from Oba Okunade Sijuade (Ooni of Ife) and Senator Iyiola Omisore (a governorship aspirant). Has it yielded any result so far?

Ibikunle: I will say ‘no’ and I will say ‘yes’! They’ve served as mediators, and their position is that management should reverse the increment. Generally, the interventions from various quarters (Press, sister unions, etc.) has been yielding results, though not a drastic as we want it.

Reflector: On a final note, what’s your message to OAU students who are at home, Nigerian students as a whole, school management as a body and Federal government as a sovereign structure?

Ibikunle: Our position is very clear. We are getting to the crescendo of this matter. We are telling our parents to support us. We are telling the University management to listen to the call of wisdom. We are telling the Federal Government to be ready for necessary actions and intervene before it’s too late. If nothing is done, Great Ife students will declare war!

Reflector: It’s been a wonderful time with you, sir.

Ibikunle: Thank you very much.

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A media team that is unrepentantly committed to building young minds with thought-provoking articles containing scents of historical reflections.
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