Ife varsity fraud: Students’ protests shameful

7 months ago Admin 0

The Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, is in danger of lapsing into intellectual irrelevance. The students, lecturers and workers of the institution are pitting themselves against the Nigerian state over the trial of the school’s former acting vice-chancellor, Anthony Elujoba, for alleged fraud. Throwing caution to the winds, they have been protesting against Elujoba’s trial at every opportunity; but their outrage during a court sitting in Ede, Osun State, was unbecoming. The unruly act has a chilling effect on the rule of law. The Ife academic community, once esteemed for scholarship, should not lend itself to such a public show of shame.
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Elujoba’s travails are connected to his interim tenure as the OAU vice-chancellor. The popularity of the professor of pharmacy, which is tied to the way he deployed the funds he met on assumption of duties to settle the backlog of staff allowances, is said to be his Achilles’ heel. For this, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, is prosecuting Elujoba for alleged diversion of funds totalling N1.4 billion.

In truth, the conduct of the students and staff of the school has cast the university in a bad light. They had staged protests in Elujoba’s support on the eve of his arraignment in court. But the initial protests were mild compared to the one during his second appearance on July 11 at the Osun State High Court sitting in Ede. The students defied all logical reasoning by forcing the judge, David Oladimeji, to reverse the court’s original decision to remand the accused at the Ilesa Prison.
Faced with threats to sack the court, the judge acceded to the protesters after four hours of bedlam. The tactical decision to send Elujoba to the EFCC custody saved the day. This behaviour is objectionable. An academic community ought not to condescend to the level of interference with the court process. The ivory tower is an elevated part of the society, where character is moulded. We cannot see this critical element in the actions of these groups.
The protesters should allow the law to exhaust itself. A trial is not tantamount to conviction; it is just a mere allegation. The accused (Elujoba) and the bursar, Aderonke Akeredolu, who was charged along with him on seven counts of stealing, are innocent until proved guilty. Furthermore, a conviction by a lower court can be upturned by appellate courts. Indeed, the high court sitting in Osogbo, the state capital, granted Elujoba bail on own recognisance on July 14.
The misconduct of the students is a measure of the ivory tower’s loss of its moral and intellectual compass and misplaced activism. In times past, things were different. Undergraduates at Ife and other universities were acclaimed for advancing the cause of justice, equity, probity and good governance. However, the rot in the society has seeped into the ivory tower.
Before Elujoba’s case blew open, the Academic Staff Union of Universities and other stakeholders in Ife had filed petitions, accusing his predecessor, Bamitale Omole, of corruption. He was accused of mismanaging the sum of N3.5 billion intervention fund voted for upgrading facilities at the OAU. In January 2017, the trial of Kunle Oloyede, a former vice-chancellor of the Elizade University, Ilara-Mokin, began in Akure, Ondo State. He was accused of defrauding the institution to the tune of $1.2 million.
Similarly, Adebiyi Daramola’s tenure as the vice-chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, ended in controversy in May after he was charged with corruption. The bursar of FUTA was also charged in the N156 million case. At the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, the vice-chancellor, Olusola Oyewole, and the former pro-chancellor, Adeseye Ogunlewe, were put on trial for corruption allegedly involving N800 million in November 2016.
The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission says that “it is inundated daily with petitions from students, staff, unions and other stakeholders alleging all manner of corrupt practices and abuses in most of our tertiary institutions.” Other universities where allegations of corruption are making headlines include Ilorin and Calabar.
The weak governance structure and non-accountability reflect in the global rankings of our universities. The January 2017 edition lists the University of Ibadan as the best in Nigeria though it is 1,335th in the world (16th in Africa). Covenant University, Ota is 1,788 (24th in Africa) and OAU is 1,986 in the world (30th in Africa).
However, students’ movements have been resolute against corruption through the ages, and it is disturbing that Ife students are found wanting now. In 2014, Occupy Central mobilised thousands of undergraduates to protest against China’s electoral reforms in Hong Kong, which they deemed to be anti-democratic. For three months, they were undaunted, organising public lectures and rallies to press home their demands.

Propellerads

In one of the biggest anti-government protests in decades, students and others staged massive protests against the then South Korean president Park Geun-hye in 2016 for cronyism, including putting pressure on top companies like Samsung to pay millions of dollars in bribes. The protesters eventually instigated her impeachment and removal from office. Her trial commenced in May.

The university community should allow justice to take its course. Therefore, Ife students need to reflect deeply on their place in forging a new order in the society. Students, by their actions, ought to be exemplars. The ASUU in Ife too has derailed. ASUU was in the vanguard of the campaign against corruption and maladministration during military rule when ASUU presidents like Attahiru Jega and the late Festus Iyayi mobilised lecturers to fight good causes. It is disgraceful for ASUU to interfere in corruption cases simply because an accused is popular. To regain its mettle, it should return to its founding ideals.

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