“Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them” – George Santayana (1863-1952)
If not for the retentive memory of history, the agonizing story of how Adekunle Muyiwa Adepeju was slain would have been swept under the carpet of forgetfulness. It was an unfortunate year; a year that saw the Nigerian political and academic arena painted black with the blood of a young-shall-grow. Precisely, Monday, February 1, 1971. That was the first shooting and killing that ever happened in any Nigerian university.
After forty-six years of ending a life that had the right to live, the wheel of power of the nation has been ferried by ten different generalissimos. Forty-six years down the drain, ten Vice Chancellors have sat at the helm of affairs in the Premier University. Yet, sadly, and pathetically too, nothing special has been alluded to the memory of this hero. In fact, scratch that. Nothing is in place – or in sight, in the least – for him from those who, rather than educate him, terminated his existence.
This show of nothingness is what has caused continuous increase in death toll of students in our higher schools of learning. Kunle Adepeju was the first but would never be the last to taste death in the hands bloodthirsty, trigger-happy men in uniform. Because nothing tenable has been done to put an end to killing of students in the hands, handling stray-bullets, Kunle’s death opened the door for more cases of similar nature. Today, we not only talk of one martyr, we talk of countless of them. The likes of Chris Abashi, Kinsley Udoh, Akintunde Ojo, Chima Ubani, Chris Mammah, Ben Oguntuase have suffered same fate as Kunle did.
Amidst these ugly stories, however, have these slain students and the many more who have suffered deprivation of freedom no rights? Of course they do just like every other person does. Their right to freedom is written in that Section 295 of the Criminal Code that spell it out clearly that everyone above the age of sixteen may not be corrected by a blow or other force; and that excessive force shall not be used in any case. Their right to freedom of expression without fear of being killed, maimed or oppressed is gently seated in Section 36 of the Nigerian Constitution. It is what guarantees for every person the right to fair hearing, the right to express, the right to protest peacefully.
It is a sad reality to say that despite these, the occurrence of miscarriage of justice and abortion of fairness is gradually surpassing the height boasted by Everest. Our legal system, as handled by our so-called in loco parentis, is lame. Their logical makeup, unfortunately, has not come to the realization of this! With a lame legal system, how can justice walk its way to all and sundry – talk more of having a place to walk to when justice is found wanting.
Laws are not made to fill or breathe on pages of paper, they are made for them to be upheld and put to practice in the defense of their sanctity. Our friends from Mandingo tribe of Niger would tell us that an empty sac cannot stand. Perhaps, this came in the reality of the fact that laws that are slumbering on the pages of books are no laws; they are legal license to maelstrom. When we swim in the pool of lawlessness, what we get is incessant unrest, unrelenting anarchy and indiscriminate slaying and maiming of innocent souls which currently litter our institutional scenes.
At this point, the popular aphorism of Martin Luther King Jr. that “the choice is not between violence and nonviolence but between nonviolence and nonexistence”, comes to mind. In the midst of this, doing nothing would bring nothing. Action – sincere action as that – is all we can do to salvage some pride in the legal system of our educational sector. Students’ rights should stop being wronged. Human rights should cease being violated. That way, the essence of our existence is respected and paid its due.
After the unfortunate 1971 incidence, the then Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, set up a Panel of Inquiry headed by Justice Kazeem. The Commission, in the outcome of their inquiry, stated that “the crisis was caused as a result of inadequate hostel accommodation and supply of foodstuffs. Other causes were poor catering services, strained relationship between the students and the university authorities, unjust rustication and expulsion of students as well as the use of police to control the students’ demonstration. Justice Kazeem also said that the students had not been involved in the administration of universities.” Sadly, all of these are still the order of the day in our institutions.
Among other recommendations, the commission gave the recommendation that live ammunitions should never be used in quelling student demonstration. If sanity must be restored to end crisis which at times leads to death of students, the discoveries of this panel must be opened, read and followed to the letter. The complaints that have been on for eon have to be taken care of before any other action can be thought of being taken. The Commission’s recommendations too must not be given a blind stare – they must be looked into.
Also, Kunle’s non-recognition is unfortunate to think of. His memory should be immortalize. In the University of Lagos, for instance, Akintunde Ojo has a hall to his name. University of Ibadan, like no other need to breathe life once again into this fallen hero. A hall can simply be named after him. Or perhaps a day of special recognition be set aside in his name. By so doing, his memory would forever live with us.
More importantly, students-management relationship should be better cemented tightly. The relationship should cease to be a cat and rat relationship where suspicion, hate, assault are the hallmarks of their coexistence. Management member should manage well. They should respect the rights of students whom they lord over. Students too should cease to strip common sense naked by disrespecting constituted authority. Be it as it may, the truth is that this authority is of higher hierarchy, so they must be held high. When they misstep, with the right method, with the right message, their steps can be retraced by the students’ community.
In all, we all should remember that our past and present deeds are saved securely in the retentive memory of history. Posterity will never forget those who have done well; neither will it forget those that have done otherwise. When every of our acts in life is done sincerely for the sake of building a worthy-of-being-remembered future, we will never for once fail to do it right. Even when we do it wrong, getting back on track wouldn’t be difficult. It is then it can be registered on our minds that today’s story is tomorrow’s history.