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In Remembrance of Kunle Adepeju: Radical Change and Purposeful Leadership

To be heroic is to be courageous enough to die for something – [Criss Jami, Venus in Arms]

It was indeed a gloomy day filled with obscurity, the cloud was pregnant with tears as the late Kunle Adepeju, a student of the Department of Agricultural Economics, got killed by a stray bullet in a protest right in the front of Queen Elizabeth II Hall, University of Ibadan, on the 1st of February, 1971. The word “Hero” is someone who “we” determine to have demonstrated behaviours and decisions that are ethically and emotionally worthy of our awe. We see in them something we think is not in us. Giving similar conditions, we “think” we might not make the same moves and decisions they do, so we place them in an elevated place in society or in our minds. It’s really surprising that we humans sometimes consider fictional characters with supernatural powers as heroes.

On arrival to the University of Ibadan Campus, one of the many structures out of all the beautiful buildings across is the University of Ibadan Students’ Union Building popularly known as the Kunle Adepeju Building which houses the late Kunle Adepeju statue. The location of this structure itself seems to be deliberate to remind every student there is a vibrant and progressive students’ Body that will always defend students’ rights. Interestingly, this building also means different things to many people. While to some, it is a place that has produced heroes and legends who are politically smart and calculative; to others, it is the bedrock of students’ militancy and militaristic – radical – tendency; to others still, it is a house for radically minded students.

47 years after down the memory lane, reading through the detailed synopsis about the late sage Kunle Adepeju titled – [ Kunle Adepeju: The Labour Of Our Heroes Past Shall Never Be In Vain (Part I)] – as written by Onifade Bello Abdurrahman last year, one would be quite bewildered over the unprofessional way the men of the Nigeria Police Force decided to handle the civil unrest in a malignant way, even till date these men are still yet to desist from this draconic act, series of students have been killed and harassed, oppressed, brutalized and victimized unjustly. Sometimes standing against evil is more important than defeating it. The greatest heroes stand because it is right to do so, not because they believe they will walk away with their lives. Such selfless courage is a victory in itself. Succinctly, what emanated that led to the death of this late sage was as a result of poor welfare condition which is still the bedrock of problems in Nigerian Universities till date. He and other conscious Uites stood vehemently against the imbroglio that went down in Nnamdi Azikiwe Hall, the University of Ibadan which was as a result of the students’ reaction to the shabby Catering services in Zik Hall & dishonesty of the Manageress who was accused of inefficiency and poor public relations. A petition for her removal was sent to the then vice-chancellor, the university authorities were, however, reluctant to remove her over the allegations, this apparently escalated into a demonstration which was started by residents of Nnamdi Azikiwe Hall. This led to a serious face-off between the police and students resulting in the killing of Adekunle Adepeju. This killing created a strongly hostile reaction from the public because indeed the police are not your friend. In memory of a true hero, Adekunle Ademuyiwa Adepeju, the entirety of Nigerian students remembers his great bravery. The power of his sacrifice, effort, courage, bravery remains a strong fulcrum for justice.

Reading through an interview of the Ogbomosho born Agbo Areo by Mr Gbenro Adeshina, an initiator of the popular Pacesetter series in the 1970s, who currently runs a publishing house (Agbo Areo Publishers, Apata) in Ibadan, an Alumnus, Department of English, University of Ibadan. An excerpt of the interview was when He was asked “What were your most memorable days in the university?” his response was – “I will say sadly. The day Kunle Adepeju was killed. That was the first time a student was killed on the university campus. Professor Lambo was the Vice Chancellor then.” This response indeed shows that it was apparently a sad day, as the clouds wept over the demise of a young student whose life got truncated. February 1, 1971, therefore as thus become a day that has continued to linger on in the heart of Nigerian students.

In a well-detailed article by Reuben Abati [Guardian Newspaper 11/12/05], the excerpt of the work stated thus […. In addition, carrots were dangled before students’ union leaders. But these measures hardly changed the resolve of Nigerian students as agents of change. Many died in the process; other students were rusticated. The students’ struggle has had its own fair share of heroes and martyrs (Segun Okeowo, Kunle Adepeju, Akintunde Ojo, Chima Ubani, Chris Abashi, Emma Ezeazu, Chris Mammah, Labaran Maku, Banji Adegboro, Ben Oguntuase, Lanre Arogundade, Omoyele Sowore, Olusegun Mayeigun …) who tasted battle and stood for principles in the many theatres of war (anti-SAP and removal of oil subsidy riots between 1989 and 1991, June 12 protests, anti-military campaigns etc.) where and when Nigerian students stood beside labour and other pro-democracy groups to insist that Nigeria can be governed differently for the benefit of its citizens.] This excerpt shows that students at that time stood firm in their stance to face turbulent crisis of anti-student policies. It’s really evidential that even till today tertiary institutions are peeved by the poor welfare conditions, students have been subjected to epileptic supply of electricity and water; poor condition of halls of residence, laboratories and lecture theatres, poor funding of the education sector by the government among others, this is highly insalubrious and pathetic. Sadly, even the whirlwind of controversial events which did hit the University of Ibadan especially as regards the suspension Students’ Union by the university management has not gone unnoticed by the outside world.

Nevertheless, in summary, the genuine student leaders remaining in various Universities in Nigeria must stand up diplomatically and engineer movements that will not only defend the rights of Nigerian youth as regards well-funded and qualitative education with democratic impute of the worker’s and students’ unions in the running of the education sector but also link its struggle with that of other sections of the oppressed layers – workers, artisans, professionals, etc and defend people’s rights to better socio-economic system that will defend people’s welfare in General. Just as the pathetic case of Nigeria is, it is seriously in need of a radical change; there is need for a vibrant and purposeful leader, who will look into the plight of the masses, who will upturn the squalor and deprivation our country has fallen into, who will completely overhaul the nation’s diminished infrastructure, who will resuscitate our economy, who will prioritize and revamp agriculture, who will make life affordable for Nigerians, but it appears the only option left which are the “youths” are still basking in the euphoria of youthful exuberance.

I hereby re-echo the words of Onifade Bello in his book – Student Unionism in Nigeria; Challenges & Strategies – when he wrote, “ sadly, when I keep cogitating about the present generation in comparison with the past, what keeps resonating in my mind is; shall the labour of our heroes past be in vain?”

Alао Jоѕhuа is a Cаmрuѕ Jоurnаlіѕt. Hе wrіtеѕ frоm the Unіvеrѕіtу оf Ìbàdàn. He can bе rеасhеd vіа alаоjоѕhuа200@gmаіl.соm and 08180128924 (SMS only).

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