Friday, March 25, 2016 11:19 am
A scholar and Pioneer Commissioner for Education in Osun State, DR. WALE ADENIRAN reveals in an interview with GBENRO ADESINA how former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo framed him up and got him sacked from the University of Ibadan,UI, in the wake of students riot in 1978. He also discusses other germane issues.
During a two day birthday conference organized by OAU Branch of ASUU, you wept openly while speaking on the wrong you claimed that former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo did to you while lecturing in the University of Ibadan. Could you shed light on this?
In 1976, I was the secretary of the Association of University Teachers, AUT, UI branch and Bade Onimode was the chairman. It is AUT that was converted to Academic Union of Nigerian University, ASUU. Most of us in the executive were socialist inclined. Our major concerns were centred on the plight of students, lecturers and the university community. Internally, we were worried about the way the administrative unit of the university was expanding seemingly at the expense of the academic section. Buildings were being taken over by the administrative unit at the expense of the academic.
On the national scene, we were really concerned about the educational system. It was a time when the taking over of schools was being mooted. I personally was very critical because I didn’t think that it was the most reasonable thing to do.
Obasanjo triggered the crisis of 1978. He came to UI and made promises to students of how he would make life much easier for the students by reducing school fees, improving feeding system and the rest. A few months later, what happened? He announced increase in school fees three folds and that was a trigger. In 1971 thereabout, I was a postgraduate student in UI when Adekunle Adepeju was killed. Bade Onimode and I vowed that never again will the blood of our innocent students be spilled for as long as we were in that campus. When these students started their demonstration against hike in school fees, I and Onimode had to quickly move in to curtail them because the mobile policemen were battle ready at the gate, ready to move in and wreak havoc, which we didn’t want. At that time, we were conscious to contact the Vice Chancellor, Professor Tekeno Tamuno to alert him of the happening so as to bring the situation under control. Tamuno was nowhere to be found. We eventually located the DVC, Professor Samson Olayide, who took us to Tamuno at the VC lodge. He was in a casual sport wear relaxed as ever and we told him that the students were already out demonstrating. He said yes he had heard of it but he didn’t have a “chair of crises” and he didn’t know who to contact for help. He said that he had heard that I and Onimode were already helping to take charge of the situation and thanked us and asked us to keep it up. We went back and started devising all kind of strategies just to prevent the students from confronting the police.
We later approached the deputy commissioner of police, one Mr. Alabi who led the police team for the operation. Alabi is a polished and fine gentleman. I think he is married to a West Indies lady. He urged us to do everything possible to prevent the students from provoking his men who were already charged and ready to move in, and if they do, one can’t tell what will happen to our students. We couldn’t go back and tell the students this. So we had to start devising all kinds of strategies to move them away from there. We did that for about five days running. Professor Bode Sowande can confirm this because he joined us for a day to manage the students and said he would never do it again because it was suicidal. He said suppose one student just lodged his stone at the police, and the police start firing, we could be hit and our lives will end just like that. We said the risk was worth it as long as it has to do with protecting our students’ lives. I must tell you by the final day, the students we were controlling didn’t recognize us again. Some of them almost attacked me when driving into the campus before some of them that recognized me intervened and they allowed me to pass. Then, I realized there was a serious trouble. By that time, they had started breaking things, they had attacked the police station on campus, and they had abducted a police man. I had to escape from the campus through the northern gate. Then the university was shut down.
Q: Where was the VC as at that time?
He was nowhere to be found. I think it was later in the evening or the following day that the union now felt the association needed to make a statement. We summoned a meeting and all members expressed their views. They were very disappointed with the manner in which the crisis was precipitated by the government through a promise to reduce school fees but ended in increasing it astronomically and the union was asked to issue a statement along the line, which they did. The government was displeased with our statement but we didn’t care. One day, I went to the Faculty of the Social Sciences where I had my chairman and other colleagues, most of whom were my friends: Yemi Kayode-Adedeji, Layi Erinoso, John Ohiorhenuan, Olu Akinkoye. While in the office of John Ohiorhenuan, the news reached me that our colleagues were being picked up by agents of state security and as I looked out of the widow, I saw Onimode and Omafume Onoge being walked by plain cloth security men to Onimode’s car. I learnt that Comrade Ola Oni has been picked up from his house. I wanted to turn myself in but John and other colleagues prevailed on me on the ground that as the secretary, I needed to be making releases to the public. After going away with Onimode and Onoge, I went back to my office, left the door wide opened and I sat by my table working, waiting to be picked up. As at 2:30pm, nobody turned up to arrest me. Earlier, I had gone to drop my car with my wife who was working in UCH. I told her what was happening and that if she didn’t see me returning home, she should know that I have been picked up.
Around 3pm, a friend took me to my house for my lunch after which I came back to my office. By 7pm, I went to the staff club. I later discovered that instead of picking me up, they had picked up Dr. Oyeleye Oyediran in Political Science. So, they picked up Oyediran instead of Adeniran. It was when they got to Lagos, they discovered they made a mistake because that Oyediran was Obasanjo’s classmate at Baptist Boy’s High School (BBHS), Abeokuta. They had to let him go. They never came back for me. Later, a Muhammed commission of enquiry was set up by government. We were not invited, and the university didn’t levy any charge against us. Ebenezer Babatope in Lagos, had sent to us in Ibadan to say that the commission had already concluded its findings even before starting. He said when they got to National Theatre where the sitting took place, the man read out a list of names asking if the following were here including the names of those of us in Ibadan. That was how they knew they had already concluded on those they were going to find guilty and deal with even without any charge being brought against us and without being invited to come and state our own side. One evening, I was in my house in old Bodija, then a friend who was the director of Admin and finance in NISER, Charlie Balogun, now of blessed memory, whom we lived a stone throw to each other came to me looking worried and I asked him what was the problem? He said he was worried because of his father that was sick. We were together when my HOD, Professor Ayo Bamgbose came in. Bamgbose is as straight as a ruler, and he said, Wale, what is this that I am hearing? I said Prof. what? He replied, you have being retired. I burst out laughing. He said you are laughing and I said it is funny because I can’t imagine the reason. Then, he turned to Charlie and said didn’t you tell your friend? Charlie said, “mi o mo bi mo se ma so ni sir”, meaning, I don’t know how to break the news. I said sir, because it was you that said it, I believe you but we need to wait till tomorrow to know what the university will say. The following day, I found out that the university just took it in its stride as if it was a normal thing. I was prematurely retired for helping the university to manage crisis. I was destabilised and decided I would go to court.
Who announced your sack, the government or the university?
The Federal Military Government headed by General Obasanjo, and the school authority went along.
Was there any letter to the effect?
They operated administration by radio and television. If you are appointed or lose your job, you will hear it over the radio and television.
Does that mean that you heard of your appointment as a lecturer over radio and television?
Oh no, I have my letter. We will get to that. I only out of all of us that were retired decided to go to court because my appointment was not issued by the military government but by the university council and I also decided to sue the university if it goes with the government. The association went along with me. Our deputy director of medical service, Dr. Adenle of blessed memory who happened to be my father’s student at Oduduwa College, Ile-Ife called me and said that he had a discussion with Uncle Bola Ige and that Uncle Ige said that I should not go to court. I said uncle Bola was not the one who had been wrongfully alleged to have committed an offence which he didn’t commit.
What was the offence?
That we incited students to riot and destroy property. Later, I got to know that part of the allegation against us was that we planned to overthrow the government of Obasanjo by force because in the middle all of this, a close friend of Obasanjo, Alhaji Adebayo Adetunji who was my neigbour invited me to his office at Idi-Ape and said Wale, confess. He added that if I confess, things would be sorted out. I said confess for what. At that point, he said you guys were supposed to be taken to Bar Beach and shot like common criminals. I said on what basis? He said on the basis that you were trying to overthrow the government of Obasanjo. I said, what stopped them? They should have gone ahead. I couldn’t believe it. I had heard of people being framed up but I had never imagined myself in that kind of situation. He told me about how ruthless Obasanjo can be and I said that the ruthlessness of Obasanjo would not make me lie against myself and my colleagues. It ended there. The association gave me a lawyer, now retired Justice Dare Aguda, the younger brother of late Justice Akinola Aguda. But Gani Fawehinmi and Alao-Aka Bashorun volunteered to handle my case probono. I had to go to Lagos to thank them and told them that I would go with the association lawyer, Aguda. We eventually filed the case at Ibadan High Court before Justice Oloko. What shocked me was the hostility demonstrated by Justice Oloko, the very first day we appeared in court. He harassed me, asking why come before him. He said I was a trouble maker and that he didn’t want to see me. He said that the master can dispense with the service of the servant that is no longer required. I replied him that I was in court to clear my name about all those allegations. He said all sorts of nonsense that Aguda got frustrated and chose to withdraw from the case. The case was adjourned and I encouraged Aguda not to be annoyed off the case because I have a very good case. Myself and Aguda met in his chamber and I showed him the relevant section of the university act saying every university academic staff is an employee of the council and that if any member of the academic staff commits an offence, the council will constitute a panel, the composition of which will be agreeable to the person against whom the charge is being brought and after both sides must have agreed on the composition of the panel, the charges will be laid against the staff concerned and will then appear before the panel to defend himself and the findings will be taken to the council and that is what will form the basis of the council.
When Aguda read it, he was excited and prepared to forge ahead. But I later got disappointed and devastated to find out that Uncle Bola Ige was the one handling the brief of the government and the university. I made a connection, Ige and Oloko were brothers-in-law and maybe that was why the case was taken before Oloko. The case started and as submissions were being made, it was clear and obvious to a layman in the court that there was no basis for the action of the government. Uncle Bola didn’t come to court himself, he sent Kunle Abass now of blessed memory, brilliant fellow who when he then saw that the table has been turned against them, sought for adjournment. When we resumed, he said he wanted to amend his earlier submission. I signaled to my counsel not to agree to any amendment but he agreed. It was that that Oloko hid under to rule against me. He ruled based on the ground that the master was no longer in need of the service of the servant.
What was the amendment?
That the university management in its wisdom has decided that they were no longer interested in retaining our services. So, it wasn’t a question of committing any crime. Shortly thereafter, six professors in UNILAG were sacked by the Shagari administration. That was what formed the basis of their reinstatement and they were paid damages. My case was pending in the Appeal Court when Shagari announced a pardon which I refused to accept because I didn’t commit any offence. People mounted pressure on me to accept the pardon and so I accepted Shagari’s offer.
Were you paid for the years you lost?
How many years were you denied of your job?
About three and half years, April or August 1978 to 1981 thereabout. I requested that I have to be paid the arrears of my salaries. It was not granted.
During the period of travails, what were you doing to survive?
I was into translation and interpretation. I established the first translation bureau in Nigeria. The Obasanjo/Yar’Adua regime engaged the services of my bureau during the Chadian crisis conference. But when we got to Kano, after a couple of days, Yar’Adua discovered that I was the Wale Adeniran that they sacked from UI and ordered that I should be walked out of Bagauda Lake Hotel, the venue of the conference. The interpreters that I took there also left with me because they said that they could not stay there when the person that brought them had been walked out. Then Yar’Adua said that I could stay but I couldn’t enter the conference room any more. On the way back, the staff of the Ministry of External Affairs begged me and said that they would still require my services and I said no problem as long as they pay. I was also servicing Economic Community of West African States, African Insurance, Cocoa producers Alliance. So, I was never jobless. Truly, I was making more money than when I was lecturing.
During that time, the Executive Secretary of Economic Commission for Africa invited me to Addis-Ababa and I was appointed editor/translator in the cabinet office of the Executive Secretary and I was the first black African to be appointed to such a position. I took over from a Briton, Margaret and on my first day in Office, there was a meeting between the ES of Economic commission for Africa and the Secretary General of the Organization of African Unity, OAU. I asked Margaret to handle the meeting that day while I understudied her and she refused and asked me to do the job believing I couldn’t do it. By the time I finished, Professor Kibie Anthonio lifted me high and said Wale you have done Nigeria proud. It was then I realized that that was the first time a black man was handling the office. Later, I came home and established a printing press, Seriki Aro Printing Press. It was doing very fine. As a matter of fact, the present minister of Solid Mineral, John Kayode Fayemi, had his first appointment in my printing press.
I employed him as an editor in charge of my magazine, Marquis Short story Magazine. He was introduced to me by Odia Ofeimun. I told Odia that I needed a young graduate who I could employ as an editor to take charge of my magazine and he said that there was this young man who just finished from UNILAG. He brought him to me and that was how I employed him.
Who was the Fayemi you knew then?
Very quiet and withdrawn. Too quiet. He was so quiet that you wouldn’t know that he was around. He is too deep and not noisy. He wasn’t communicating.
But he is now radical?
Maybe the nation has radicalized him.
What was his deficiency that you knew?
To be honest with you, he did what he had to do but the only thing is that he wasn’t outgoing. Shortly after, he left, I don’t know why. When I met him as governor of Ekiti, he gave me a copy of his memoir where he referred to his first appointment and the fact that he wasn’t paid for some months. I then had to tell him that, “lasiko yen, ina n jo lofun amukoko” meaning things were hard. I was swindled. A lady brought a printing job to me from the defunct Federal Electoral Commission, FEDECO. She claimed to be very close to the commission’s chairman who was a former chief judge of old Bendel State, late Justice Victor Ovie-Whiskey. I took a loan from the bank to do it and when I delivered the job to her, she disappeared and I never saw her again. I learnt that she had gone to Britain to get married and till date, I never set my eye on her. So, during that time, things were tight. I was unable to pay salaries. I was repaying the loan I took from the Nigerian Bank for Commerce and Industry to do the job. I explained this to Fayemi that it wasn’t a deliberate thing not to pay his salary. Quite unfortunate.
So, let us go back to what happened when you were called back to your work in UI?
While working in Lagos, I had relocated my wife and children to Lagos and my wife refused to go back to Ibadan with me and I felt it was illogical to withdraw the children from school to take them to Ibadan and so I started shuttling between Lagos and Ibadan which wasn’t easy. After shuttling for about two years, it became unbearable. Then I started having brushes unnecessarily with my HOD. I then decided that I better go and face my printing press. I then resigned. And I swore I wasn’t going to teach again. Then a friend, Professor Ekundayo Simpson, from UNILAG came to me and told me that Lagos State University, LASU, was being established and they needed fairly experienced people in various departments and asked if I would want to come over as a member of staff in French department. He really pressurized me. It was like he wrote the application letter for me and I only signed it. On the day of the interview, I met Professor Bamgbose who said that he remembered that I said I was giving up university teaching. I packed my things and said yes, I stand on my words and I left. I then faced my printing press fully. Like I said, things went very well. I made money and later went into politics. I sought election into the constituent assembly in the then old Oyo, I got elected. Then we formed the PSP, and registered it and Ibrahim Babangida said that we didn’t meet the conditions and established NRC and SDP. I joined the SDP. Osun State was created and I wanted to become the governor but I didn’t have the sufficient funds. So, I supported Isiaka Adeleke and when he won, he appointed me a commissioner for education. But it lasted barely one year because he was very uncomfortable with my views, one of which was to return schools to their original owners and others I will not like to talk about bothering on collection of gratifications from contractors. By that time, I had already built a house off Allen Avenue in Lagos before coming to politics. So I wasn’t under any pressure as it were to make money by every means. He and his group felt very uncomfortable with me and eventually dropped me. By the time I returned to Lagos, my printing press has crashed, business had collapsed. I was really confused. By that time, there were several attempts on my life, and finally, a colleague told me to return to the university. That was how I came to Obafemi Awolowo University in 1999 where I started in the Institute of Cultural Studies after three years, I moved to the department of foreign languages where I taught French. About two years after, I was appointed as a director of Institute of Cultural Studies. I was there for four years before coming back to my department and finally retired in 2012.
So you retired as a professor?
I had a chequered career and taking up administrative position for four years really prevented me from writing papers.
So, after 2012, you now joined Osun State University?
I still worked there on a contract for a year before I got appointed to the board of the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding.
Why did you betray your emotion in the public in Ife?
I couldn’t help it remembering my colleagues in ASUU who suffered for this country and were unnecessary persecuted for the crime they didn’t commit. Some, we can’t even explain the circumstances behind their death. For instance, I don’t understand the circumstances that surrounded Bade Onimode’s death.
Apart from what Obasanjo did to you, if you are to describe Obasanjo as a person, as a former president, what will you say?
He is a bundle of confusions and a charlatan who has no orientation. It was his administration that took over schools from voluntary agencies. At that time, young as I was, I saw it as very unrealistic. How could government take over all the schools? My question then was that was government saying that it would run these schools the way Government college Ibadan, Queens College, Ede, and Kings College, Lagos were being run? If you are not going to do that which I know they are not able to do, why take these schools from the voluntary agencies. Taking over of schools from their original owners has contributed a lot to the destruction of our educational system. Nigeria does not have direction at all. During my generation, we saw ourselves as ambassadors of our schools but today, who cares what happens to his or her school?
Are you advocating that schools should be returned back to the owners?
For those who are willing to have them.
How can the polytechnic education be improved in Nigeria?
The problem is that we are not running it the way we should. They are not adequately funded; the government gives them bad image and makes them inferior which ought not to be so. Jobs are no longer there for them and if they are employed, they are badly and inhumanly treated and they are the one that knows the job and doing the job. That sector of education is abused. Industry is killed for them. We have over prioritized university education and certificate. The polytechnic graduates must be given their due.
UI and OAU always battle for supremacy, how do you rate the two?
The relationship is like the relationship between the father and the son. UI is the father and OAU is the son.
If you have the opportunity to effect a change in education and governance in Nigeria, what will you do?
First, political office should be made less attractive. There is no basis for the amount of money we are paying our political office holders. If you haven’t got a profession, you don’t have a business being a political leader. Some aspect of political office like the legislature should be based on part time. Politics shouldn’t be seen as a place to make money but where to render service. I pray that Buhari will be able to effect some positive changes.