“Each generation must out of relative obscurity, discover its own mission; fulfill it, or betray it.”
By Frantz Fanon: Wretched of the Earth.
I have read a foolish write up, from one stranger who claimed to know me in school as a “drop out”. I write this piece not to respond to such idle talk, but rather to encourage somebody who may be facing the kind of challenges of life that I faced, so that such person may continue to persist and not give up.
I joined a protest in secondary school, to complain against deprivations and lack of food and other basic amenities in our hostels. That earned me serious persecution to the extent that I had to leave that school, eventually.
At the Obafemi Awolowo University (Great Ife), I was chosen as Principal Liaison Officer, PLO in my 100 level as the representative of my colleagues. I was subsequently elected Public Relations Officer of the Students’ Union of Great Ife in my 200 level and eventually became the President of the Union in Year 3. For all those who know, Great Ife is the headquarters of the revolutionary struggles of our people and it was indeed hot during our tenure.
Great Ife led the struggle against the IMF loan that was to impoverish Nigeria and so the university was shut down for over six months. In the course of this, names of all student activists were compiled: Adeola Soetan, Adewale Sadiku, Biola Akiode, Bamidele Aturu, Self Pikin, Eweje, Ogbara, Ogundipe; name it. We were all expelled from the university. Chief Gani Fawehinmi challenged our expulsion in court and we were subsequently re-instated.
Then just one day like that, the Dean of the Faculty of Law called me, Mr Nurudeen Alowonle Ogbara and the late Bamidele Aturu (God bless his gentle soul) that we should choose between students’ union struggles and the study of law. We chose both. I paid the sacrifice of that choice. The Dean taught us Land Law and by the end of that session, he returned an “F” for me. In Great Ife Law Faculty then, there was no carryover, once you fail any course you repeat the whole class. So, I had to repeat Year 3 whilst my colleagues proceeded to Year 4. It was painful but we met at the Pacesetters Movement level and decided to forge ahead with the struggle.
The day that this persecution truly affected was when the students took a decision at the Congress to embark upon a three-day protest. The University authorities issued a damning statement that was circulated all over the campus that students should desist from following me as their leader since I was a “failure”. I went into my office at the Students’ Union Building, locked my door and wept profusely. I had struggled all my life to get to this point and now this. The fear was palpable then that I could earn another “failure” in another course, in which case I’ll have to leave the university. It was one of the most challenging moments of my life. But we went on with the protest and I continued with my studies in Year 3.
Unknown to me however, Mr Nurudeen Ogbara (Ogbara Again!) had met with some of our Comrade lecturers in ASUU, to petition the Senate of the University over my Land Law result. They demanded a review and my answer scripts were forwarded to the University of Ibadan and University of Nigeria, Nsukka, to be marked by external examiners. Meanwhile, I took my first semester exams in Year 3.
Early in the Second Semester, my scripts came back and it was apparent that I passed the Land Law exam. The Faculty of Law met and took a decision to ask the Dean to remark my paper, which he did and returned a pass mark. It was history in Great Ife as it had never happened. The Senate of the University met and decided that I should be asked to make a choice, whether to proceed to Year 4 and join my colleagues, or remain in Year 3, given that a lot had gone by and it may be difficult for me to catch up. The student movement decided that I should proceed to Year 4, as a mark of rejection of the oppressive conduct of the teacher. There was jubilation in Great Ife, in the hostels, even amongst the lecturers and non-academic staff.
That was when I reaped the goodwill of Great Ife students, as my colleagues volunteered to help me write my notes for the last semester, they gave me their textbooks and offered other useful assistances. Throughout this period, I couldn’t sleep, as I had to copy notes, read voluminous texts and then combine this with my assignments in the Students’ Union, which involved a lot of travelings. Now I had to prove myself, so I studied like I’d never done before. I passed all my papers and proceeded with my colleagues to the Nigerian Law School.
It was a shock when one day, the Director-General of the Law School called myself, Ogbara and Aturu that our admissions had been put on hold. Apparently the Faculty of Law had complained to the Law School about our students union activities and that we were not “fit and proper” to be admitted into the school. We proceeded straight to Gani Fawehinmi Chambers. Chief was livid and boiling! He stormed the Law School premises the following day and threatened to drag the school to court. We were promptly admitted and I graduated with flying colours.
THE PRICE FOR DEMOCRACY
And I proceeded to Gani Fawehinmi Chambers thereafter, which in itself is a story for another day. One day in November 1997, soldiers stormed my house and by daytime, I’d become a permanent guest at the Directorate of Military Intelligence, Apapa, where I went through the most harrowing experience of my life. Chief Fawehinmi challenged my detention in court and he secured a judgment that I should be released but the military government never obeyed it. Pope John Paul II and other world leaders intervened all to no avail. It took the death of General Sani Abacha, eight months later, for me to be released.
DO NOT GIVE UP!
If you’re reading this and facing the greatest challenges of your life, please just keep moving on, don’t faint or give up at all. So long as you are alive, there is hope for a better tomorrow.
Beyond Facebook and social media, there is a God in Heaven who reigns in the affairs of men and women and His ultimate plan is for our good, not evil or shame.
“ Though thy beginning was small,
yet thy latter end should greatly increase.”
Do not allow naysayers who didn’t create you, to write the story of your life. With determination and God on your side, you will surely make it.
Just don’t you ever give up!
Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN