By Ola Ajayi
The violent protests by pupils in primary and secondary schools in Ibadan, Oyo State took many by surprise. Considering the havoc done in few hours, one begins to wonder if the protests were indeed carried out by those minors. In the hours of rage when they chanted many unprintable slogans against the Governor Abiola Ajimobi led administration, they left many impressive structures, which the governor dissipated so much energy on in his urban renewal programmes, in ruins.
Some of the infrastructure the angry pupils left in ruins include the office of the Oyo State First Lady, Mrs. Florence Ajimobi, where they broke almost all the windows, the Murhi Television International, MITV, the state office of the All Progressives Congress, APC, at Oke Ado, as well as decorative lights in front of the government house, state secretariat being shattered with stones and other dangerous weapons they brandished as they marched round the metropolis.
Also, signboards, billboards and other insignia bearing the picture of the governor along government house way and other parts of the city were either destroyed or defaced. The Oyo State Transport Service tagged Pacesetter Transport Service was also not spared.
Some of the students were seen clutching machetes, clubs and axes at Iyaganku area. At Elizabeth road, security men had to fire tear gas to disperse them.
How it started
After the disruption of a stakeholders’ meeting at the Parliament Building and the dismantling of chairs and tables arranged for dignitaries, the state government took its own pound of flesh by ensuring that all the labour leaders involved in the disruption were charged to court after their arrest on Thursday morning around 10. All their phones were seized as several calls made to the State Chairman of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Mr. Waheed Olojede were not answered.
After arraignment on Friday, the seven accused persons were granted bail but could not meet bail conditions till Monday. The bail was granted in the sum of N200,000 with two sureties who must produce their national identity cards or voter’s cards.
Though, the teeming workers who were in the court premises were happy believing they had triumphed. Little did they know that the aspect of verification of sureties’ property would cut short their joy. The members of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT, who were directly affected by the alleged ‘privatisation’ were visible in the whole struggle.
On Monday morning, the students had earlier resumed in their schools when they were sent back home with the news that teachers had begun the strike with immediate effect. As if the students had been briefed, they stormed the streets from various directions and unleashed terror.
Though, the government, through the Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Olalekan Alli had said repeatedly that it had no intention to privatise schools or return schools to their original owners (missionaries).
Immediately their bail conditions were perfected, National Vice President of the NLC, Mr Adelegan Solomon and Chris Uyot, Deputy General Secretary, state Chairman, Waheed Olojede went to the NLC office where they addressed their members.
Adelegan accused the state government of allegedly sponsoring hooligans to attack union members. He said the resolve of the national body after due consultation with other stakeholders in the state was that there should be an indefinite strike which would begin immediately in the state.
As this was on-going, different solidarity and interest groups had earlier stormed the Agodi Prisons where the labour leaders were detained. Also, Joint Action Front (JAF), Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) UI, Unilag and LAUTECH chapters, and NUT from Ogun, Osun and Ondo states were there.
Olojede said, “by the power conferred on me as the state Chairman, NLC, I hereby declare an indefinite strike in the state with immediate effect. Our solidarity must continue. We say no more work without pay.
“The strike will continue until all our demands are met. Our demands are the immediate withdrawal of all trumped-up charges levelled against us. Government must rescind its decision to sell-off any public schools in the state. Proper and adequate funding of the education sector including payment of living wages and other incentive for educational workers and the immediate payment of 6 months outstanding salaries and all pension arrears,” he declared.
Alaafin, Olubadan intervene
On Tuesday, when the workers were still licking the wounds of their incarceration, the stakeholders’ meeting which they disrupted eventually held. The Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi; Olubadan of Ibadanland, Oba Saliu Adetunji; Eleruwa of Eruwa, Oba Samuel Adegbola, religious leaders (Islamic and Christian) were in attendance. The Alaafin and Olubadan did not mince words as they declared their support for the governor.
Though, Eleruwa pointed out some grey areas that the government needed to clarify, he said he would align with the governor if the areas were addressed. Alhaji Kunle Sanni, who represented Muslim interests was clearly against the move but Bishop James Ajetumobi who spoke on behalf of Christians was in favour of it.
At the meeting, Governor Ajimobi made the intentions of the government known saying the ‘participatory exercise’ to reform the education sector was not negotiable. He said this after asking the gathering if they all believed that the education sector needed change to which all of them answered in the affirmative.
Alaafin said all the governor wants to do is to revolutionise education. He wondered why “Yoruba always flex muscles on some immaterial things.” Other speakers such as the Head of Service, Mr. Soji Eniade, Permanent Secretaries of Information, Teaching Service Commission and Education tried to convince the gathering.
Ajimobi accepted responsibility for the crisis that trailed the proposed reform saying it could have been avoided if his people had carried all the stakeholders along. Again, he admitted that the price tag of N250,000 refundable fee attached to the expression of interest form. At the end, he concluded saying notwithstanding the protests or strike, the policy has come to stay.