The Vice-Chancellor (VC), Obafemi Awolowo Unhversity (OAU), Ile-Ife, Prof. Eyitope Ogunbodede, has said the management of the institution wants the campus to be reopened as early as possible.
Ogunbodede, in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES said the closure of the university became unavoidable following what he described as the hijacking of the students’ protest over their colleague’s death.
Recall that OAU students’ had on October 1 protested the death of a final year student of the Department of Foreign Languages, Faculty of Arts, Aisha Adesina.
According to the VC, the protesters barricaded the Ife-Ibadan expressway and the Ife-Ede road, among others, adding that they “dangerously harassed motorists and commuters and collected tolls from road users.”
“We are all parents and no sincere university administrator would ever pray to lose any member of the university community. So when the student died, it was really sad news for us,” he said.
Ogunbodede, who expressed the sympathy of the university to the parents and colleagues of the deceased, condemned what he described as the protesters’ manner of approach, saying blocking roads and harassing innocent people could not be the solution to the issues they raised.
“As human beings we expected reactions to trail the death and we immediately launched a probe into what transpired. But we never anticipated that our students would go outside the campus to block major roads.
“The protest soon degenerated and we saw foods and drinks being mobilised to the scenes by some fifth columnists. Commuters including lecturers were held to ransom. At that stage, no sensible administrator would leave the campus open,” the VC said.
He said if the university was not proactive enough and had allowed more lives to be lost, his critics would have called for his head.
“They would have called us unprintable names,” he noted.
He said the protesting students circulated directives, warning that examinations slated for Saturday would not hold, and that everyone was afraid of movements.
“So the best thing was to shut down,” the VC said.
Reacting to the students’ allegation of negligence on the part of healthcare workers at the university’s health centre, Ogunbodede said he would not dispute that, saying just like other areas, there are a few challenges with the university’s health centre.
He,however, said that he doubted if the facilities available at the health centre could be found in many secondary hospitals across the country.
“I don’t want to pre-empt the outcome of the findings of the committee but I can assure you that a health centre with 17 medical doctors cannot be a small place. I doubt if we have many secondary health facilities that can boast of such. We have problems, no doubt, but things are not as bad as people may want the public to believe,” he said.
The VC further stated that closing the university was neither in the interest of the students nor the lecturers, saying the campus would be reopened as soon as possible.
He noted that it would be bad if the university management to just reopen the campus without attending to some of the issues raised.
He said: “Let me tell you some of the reasons why shutting down the university is not in anyone’s interest. We have lost a session already because the 2020/2021 session has been cancelled. We are still running the 2019/2020 academic session. So, is that good for our image?
“Similarly, for the lecturers, no one has been able to go on leave for a long time. People think that lecturers enjoy during strikes, but that is not the case. Whatever forced holiday that you cannot plan with is not a holiday. You can’t travel, you can’t do exchange programmes or go on sabbatical. But even if a duly given holiday is just four weeks, you can plan your movement and whatever engagement you may have.”
He said all hands are on deck to ensure that the university is reopened as soon as possible.
On insinuations that students’ union activities would be banned, Ogunbodede said though he was disappointed by the conduct of the students’ leaders during the protest, it never crossed his mind that the university management may consider placing a ban on a “union I struggled hard to reinstate.”
“People may have forgotten that I was into students’ unionism on the same campus. I have been on that campus since 1977 and I know the students’ union has helped to build future leaders for this country, hence my insistence on its reinstatement. But OAU’s culture abhors brigandage, extortion and hooliganism by anyone
“Maybe, I may not have been appointed a Vice-Chancellor if I did not learn about leadership as a former player in students’ unionism on the campus. So I cherish our students and that was why I staked my neck against all odds to seek my colleagues’ support to reinstate the union,” he said.
The VC, however, condemned what he described as a strange development by the students’ leaders, saying they were yet to be inaugurated “and had started romancing partisan politicians as if they were outside the campus.”
“We went as far as collaborating INEC, a parliamentary institute, among others, to reorientate our students’ leaders ahead of the election. We wanted to make the OAU students’ union to remain a model. We were at the point of organising a retreat for the newly elected official when we started noticing poor conducts,” he stated.
But in spite of his misgivings, the VC said he would be glad to leave behind the legacy of a great students’ union.