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UNILORIN 49: We could have regretted our stance if… — Ex-ASUU chairman

By DEMOLA AKINYEMI, Ilorin
IT is now time for stock-taking by the five lecturers of the University of Ilorin who were ordered reinstated two weeks ago by the Supreme Court following their sack by the institution’s authorities in 2001.

Dr. Taiwo Oloruntoba-Oju who was the chairman of the Unilorin branch of the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) at the time and one of the beneficiaries of the Supreme Court ruling says but for the understanding and support of their families and friends, some of them would have regretted their stance. He said in an online chat that the solidarity of the generality of Nigerians since their ordeal began had been enormous. Efforts were on, according to him, to get judgement for the remaining 44.

Dr. A.S. Ajayi, Dr. Adeyinka Banwo, Dr. Sola Ademiluka and O. O. Olugbara complete the list of the plaintiffs. These five and 44 others were dismissed in 2001 by the then Vice Chancellor, Professor Shuaib Abdulraheem for joining a strike called by the national body of ASUU. Some of the sacked lecturers are dead now. Contacted online by Sunday Vanguard, Dr. Oloruntoba-Oju was asked to respond to a statement by Prof. Abdulraheem in which he dismissed the Supreme Court ruling as dubious, Dr. Oloruntoba-Oju said:

“Well, quite a lot of statements can be accommodated under the rubric of freedom of expression and freedom to hold diverse opinion. The important thing in the current instance is that most Nigerians have hailed the judgment as a victory for the rule of law, which is what it is.

Also, all the relevant authorities, from the Education minister to the Justice minister to the current authorities of the University of Ilorin have given indication that the judgment will be implemented, thereby voting for the rule of law. I think the summary is that all hands must be on deck to assist the judiciary in its efforts to tame the cankerworm of dictatorship, totalitarianism, and of course corruption and profligacy. That is the only way to move the country forward.

On lessons learned from their ordeal: “It is difficult to say there is this one overarching lesson, which is new or unknown in the repertoire of wisdom, that one is just ‘learning.’ But then, an individual or group may be experiencing some of the related items first hand.

For example, there is an incredible amount of conspiracy going on in high places to shield the mighty minority from prosecution while maintaining a stranglehold of oppression on the powerless majority. One can only be thankful for the intervention of the judiciary, especially at the apex level, which prevents the total annihilation of the powerless, but then the wheels of justice also grind slowly in the country.

Although this is common knowledge, it is interesting experiencing the situation first hand. Given our experience it is quite easy to understand why many would either succumb to oppression or resort to self help rather than go through the grinding process of trying to obtain justice.

The Nigerian system is so imperfect that you cannot take it for granted that innocence can guarantee justice. The problem is that too many people benefit at various levels from the pervasive corruption and injustice in the country. This is why one has to be thankful to those good men and women of the system who withstand pressure to ensure that the defenseless eventually receive succour in the temple of justice.

On advice to colleagues: “We have to all support the rule of law. That is the only way everyone, whether rich or poor, can be protected. We have to all fight injustice; that is the only way to move the country forward. We have to support the oppressed; that is the way to maintain our humanity. We have to be resilient in pursuit of noble goals; that is the only thing that gives meaning to our lives.

On how he survived: “Maintaining resilience in the pursuit of worthy goals has never been easy in the face of harsh realities. One thing we have discovered, though, is that most Nigerians would support a just cause in one form or the other. The amount of solidarity and help that we got from Nigerians from all walks of life has been enormous. Of course our families and friends have been specially supportive.

There was tremendous pressure on our immediate families. They had to show a special understanding, without which many could have regretted their stance. And this includes the children too. Our union, ASUU, as you know, has played a key role in our survival during the period.

On whether he will return to Unilorin to work there: “We are only waiting for the Governing Council to formally recall us. I have not been engaged anywhere else all this while, and quite a number of the 49 fall into that category. However, everyone, whether engaged elsewhere or not would have to report back at work. People can take their individual decisions thereafter.

On the fate of the remaining 44: “We are optimistic and we pray fervently that their own relief should also get granted in the shortest possible time. Three of them have died but their families are alive and are also waiting anxiously. We would actually have wished that the case of the 44 was taken first. You know, they did nothing other than just sit at home in obedience to the call of their national union, ASUU, to proceed on a lawful strike action to help improve infrastructure and enhance conditions in the nation’s universities.


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