Adeola Akinremi writes that 12 years after, two former students of the University of Ilorin whose certificates were seized for their roles as student union leaders can now smile. The Supreme Court, in a landmark judgment, has asked the university authorities to release their certificates along with N12 million as compensation
The sun that shone through many windows of different homes on Friday, July 11, was for him. But Olanrewaju Akinola, 40, from Iree, Osun State, didn’t perceive it that way, until the judgment began to go in his way.
Ultimately, he had hard choice to make. Tears mixed with smile on his face as he heard Justice Mary Peter-Odili deliver a landmark judgment in his case.
“It is anomalies such as has taken place therein that have given room for the breakdown of law and order for which the society has become the victim,” said Peter-Odili, a Justice of the Supreme Court.
Now, he has been liberated, but Akinola remembered his losses of 12 years since his certificate was withheld by the Senate of the University of Ilorin.
“Apart from psychological and emotional trauma I suffered, I was unable to have a gainful employment and I could not further my education,” he said.
To be sure, exactly 12 years ago, Akinola’s fast-paced dream of becoming a renowned statistician was slowed down and he had lived with the trauma unto this day.
As a student union leader serving in the Students Representative Council of the University of Ilorin, Akinola was one person the students could count on to fight off repression. And many times he did.
For his stance, he had running battles with the university authorities under the watch of Professor Shuaib Oba AbdulRaheem as the Vice Chancellor.
“Our predicaments with the university authorities under the leadership of the then Vice-chancellor, Professor S.O. AbdulRaheem, started in June 1998 following the students protest against poor welfare conditions on campus on June 5 and our participation in the Gani Fawehinmi-led anti-Abacha rally which happened on our campus on June 4,” he explained.
He continued: “Following these two events, the university authorities, without trial, planned to expel us from the university with a stage-managed kangaroo report of an unknown committee that didn’t even ask us any question.
“However, before the planned expulsions could be carried out, we challenged it at the Federal High Court, Ilorin. I can remember Justice J. Tsoho of the Federal High Court, Ilorin declared illegal and unconstitutional the said report and further ordered that our studentship should not be tampered with in any negative way.
“Interestingly, the university reluctantly complied with the court order and allowed us to continue our studies.”
Yes, it was clear that Unilorin under AbdulRaheem was blinkered about free speech among its students, but Akinola wouldn’t give up on his community organising activities for a change on campus. He sufficiently mobilised his peers to fight for change they wanted to see in the country as a whole. He was prepared to pay the ultimate prize. He did.
“Despite the successful completion of my course of study in 1999, the university authorities refused to release my final statement of result and degree without any justifiable reason,” he lamented.
And did he ever imagine it will take so long? “I never envisaged it, but I was determined to fight to the end. The judgment of the Supreme Court, though delivered after 10 years of legal battle and 15 years after I have completed my course of study, is a welcome development. Though justice was delayed, it was not denied. It is a victory for student activism.
“The judgment has put an end to the erroneous belief of the administrators of academic institutions that court cannot compel them to release academic results and degrees.
“It gives hope to all victims of repressive, dictatorial and vindictive administrations in every sector of the society that it is possible to defeat the oppressors. However, the fact that the matter lasted 15 years is a sad commentary on administration of justice in Nigeria.”
True, the Supreme Court on Friday, July 11, 2014, unanimously dismissed in its entirety the appeal filed by the University of Ilorin against the judgment of Court of Appeal, Ilorin, delivered on June 8, 2007 in the case involving Olanrewaju Akinola, a former student activist and the university.
The Court of Appeal, Ilorin, Kwara State had earlier upheld the judgment of the Federal High Court, Ilorin, delivered on June 21, 2006, which declared illegal and unconstitutional, the withholding of Akinola’s academic record and degree.
The consequence of the Supreme Court’s judgment is that the University of Ilorin must, without further delay comply with the judgment of the Federal High Court delivered by late Justice Chukwura Nnamani which ordered, eight years ago, that Akinola’s academic record and degree should be released forthwith. And for his losses, the court also awarded the sum of N7,000,000 as compensation due to him.
Really, Akinola earlier had his hope brightened in 2001 when the former President Olusegun Obasanjo called for inquiry into the case, but the Unilorin authorities wouldn’t budge.
“In 2001, President Olusegun Obasanjo set up a committee known as the ‘Resolution Committee on Politically Victimized and Rusticated Students.’
“It was headed by the then Special Adviser to the President on Education, Chief S.K. Babalola. The committee intervened on our behalf and asked the university authorities to release our final statements of result and degrees,” he explained.
He added: “Following the intervention of the committee, the university wrote to inform us that we had been pardoned but surprisingly refused to release our final statements of result and degrees.”
And with the refusal of the university to release his final statement of result and degree along with that of others after the intervention of the committee, Akinola headed back to the Federal High Court in 2004 praying the court to compel the university to release his final statement of result and degree.
“The late Justice Chukwura Nnamani of the Federal High Court, Ilorin on June 21, 2006 ruled in our favour and granted all our prayers including award of damages.
Again, the university appealed against the judgment of the Federal High Court, Ilorin at the Court of Appeal, Ilorin, Kwara State. But the university lost the appeal one more time and then the case was taken to the Supreme Court that has again pronounced victory for victimised students of the University of Ilorin.”
In his long walk to freedom, Akinola was not alone, a female student, Rasheedat Adeshina who was the Assistant Secretary General of Unilorin Students Union Government came under the sledgehammer for her activism too.
An Industrial Chemistry student full of assurance of the golden eggs that life has already laid for her upon the completion of her course in 2001, she had her result seized just like Akinola.
In 1999, Adeshina was suspended from the University for her role in a protest against the poor welfare conditions of students on the university campus.
She challenged her suspension at the Federal High Court, Ilorin and the court quashed the suspension. But the university merely complied reluctantly with the court order that reinstated her, and she completed her course of study in 2001.
Now 13 years after, the Supreme Court on June 6, 2014 has ruled against the university and upheld the judgments of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin and by implication the Federal High Court, Ilorin in her own case as well. She was awarded N5,000,000 as compensation.
And how did she react to the judgment? She went for the wordings of the letter Karl Max wrote to his father in 1837 to express her feeling, “If we have chosen the position in life in which we can most of all work for mankind, no burdens can bow us down, because they are sacrifices for the benefit of all; then we shall experience no petty, limited, selfish joy, but our happiness will belong to millions, our deeds will live on quietly but perpetually at work, and over our ashes will be shed the hot tears of noble people.”
Shockingly, Adeshina would have contributed immensely to the academic sector of the country were her result to be released upon graduation. She wanted to pursue her post graduate degree and settle down in the academic sector researching and imparting knowledge unto others, but that dream was cut short.
“I suppose to have bagged my PhD by now, because I love academics, but this has been significantly delayed, but the truth is, it is not how far, but how well.
“The intention of the Unilorin management was to prolong this unjust victimisation indefinitely, so as to make my life hopeless and miserable, but there is now no condemnation to those who are bold enough to stand on the side of the truth.
“It is true that while my mates have already finished their PhD and moved on in life, I just got my own BSC released. But contrary to the plan of the university that has victimised us for daring to speak up over 10 years ago I still remain strong, undaunted and much more prepared to make more sacrifice now than I was ten years ago,” she declared.
Of Course, the duo were supported all the way by friends and families who shared in their sufferings. For Adeshina, it was her husband. She said: “I enjoyed full support from everybody around me. I live in the midst of activists. My husband is an activist too and this strengthened me throughout the period to brush the victimization aside and continue with the struggle for more just and meaningful life for ordinary people.”
As the current Secretary General of Joint Action Front–one of the organisations midwifed into existence by the late human rights lawyer, Chief Gani Fahewinmi to fight the oppressive military regime of the despotic military head of state, General Sani Abacha—Adeshina’s words of advice for student activists is to be tenacious.
“For those in the front of battle to free humanity from shackle of oppressors, my advice is that the road is rough, but the sacrifice always worth it, because it’s for the benefit of all.
For his part, Akinola has a few words for the government.
“What is important is to make infringement on rights extremely difficult. For instance, in our universities, there must be democratisation of all decision-making bodies with elected representatives of staff (teaching and non-teaching) and students.
“If there had been such measures the misappropriation of resources that accounted for poor welfare conditions on Unilorin campus that triggered the protest upon which we were victimized would have been prevented.
“Besides, it would not have been likely that a committee with elected representatives of academic staff and students would have dismissed 49 lecturers or sanctioned non-release of our results after completing the studies,” he said.
The duo acknowledged the support of the Managing Partner of Citipoint Chambers, Mr. Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika, who offered them free legal support that gave them victory
“He travelled on several occasions from Lagos to Ilorin and Abuja on our death trap roads and not-too-safe air. We appreciate others in his team as well. The likes of Niyi Adewumi and Tesleem Adewuyi and all other member of staff of Citipoint Chambers for their contributions and support,” they said.
And their support group, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), for keeping their struggle moving in the court of public opinion, the duo said they are indebted.
“Our determination to pursue the case to its logical conclusion was also made possible by the political support of our organisation, Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) and moral support from our families both immediate and extended.”
Undeniably, this victory will further embolden students across the country to fight against injustices on their campuses, but it must be done with restrain.
And while Akinola and Adeshina have been on this long walk to freedom, the man at the centre of their suffering, Prof. AbdulRaheem whose tenure as the Vice Chancellor made their lives miserable had moved on through the stage of life with one political appointment or the other. In his current position as the Chairman, Federal Character Commission, a critical position often reserved for a man of exceptional uprightness, will he take responsibility for his action as a university don and apologise to Akinola and Adeshina for their losses?
– See more at: http://ilorin.info/fullnews.php?id=5960#sthash.T7j3Jpw5.dpuf