February 1, 1971, would forever remain a day to remember, not only in the University of Ibadan but in all the universities in Nigeria. It was the first day, a student paid the supreme price as a result of students’ unrest. Students’ unrest is often started and expressed by demonstrations, the methods adopted by individuals or groups to show their resentment of unpopular measures which they think adversely affect their interests. Students in particular are noted for exercising this right more frequently than the ordinary citizen.
This might be due to their place in a developing society where they form a cream of the reading public. Second, they are, because of their status as students, allowed to display their youthful exuberances without undue restraints. However, it is only when this gets out of hand that the attention of the public and law enforcement agents are drawn on their excesses.
Although, it was in 1971, that the first student martyr in Nigeria emerged, the demonstration that led to his death was not the first in the university. For instance, in 1957, students of the University College Ibadan, now University of Ibadan, protested the so-called curtailment of their liberty when the university authorities decided to construct wire mesh burglary proof round some male halls. The students destroyed chairs and tables in their rooms in protest. In addition, there was a cry against the ban on the use of electrical appliances in their rooms without the warden’s approval.
On February 1, 1971, a student of Agricultural Economics – Adekunle, Muyiwa Adepeju, was shot by the Nigeria police during a face-off between the police and students of the University of Ibadan.
It started with the celebration of the Hall Week. The residents of Nnamdi Azikiwe Hall complained about the inadequate supply of drinks by the cafeteria manageress at the Hall party of January. The students demanded that the cafeteria manageress be removed. She was accused of corruption, inefficiency, poor productivity and poor public relations. A petition for her removal was sent to the Vice-Chancellor. University authorities were however reluctant to remove her on the allegations. However, as the university was still contemplating on this issue, the students started demonstrations. Towards the end of the month, the students of the hall were on hunger strike. The demonstration went on for about a week.
The demonstration started with the ‘Zikites’, but before the week ran out, it had escalated to become a demonstration of the whole students force who gave their solidarity support to the Zikites. It was no longer a Nnamdi Azikiwe Hall problem. It had escalated to become a University of Ibadan students’ unrest. Had the university authorities attended to the issue when the palaver was very lender, maybe it would not have reached the level it got to at the end.
Instead of finding a solution to the problem, they compounded it. Instead of calming down the students in a more peaceful and orderly manner, it was the police that was brought in. The decision of the Vice-Chancellor, probably due to the ill-advice given by his cabinet was what led to the killing of the first Nigerian student martyr which also led his voyage into university administration to end in a comprehensive fiasco. The Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, Professor Adeoye Lambo could not understand why students were demanding such privileges as sumptuous foods and beer-drinking when majority of the people were wallowing in rural penury. He felt that the best solution to the student’s unrest was to bring in the police. He therefore, invited the police to the campus to quell the unrest.
In the early morning of February 1, I97I, a grave crisis rapidly developed when, during an emergency meeting of Deans, Senior Academic and other staff in the Vice-Chancellor’s office, a confrontation between police and demonstrating students turned into a riot. Much damage was done to university property, and clashes between police and students continued throughout the morning. After the arrival of a reinforcement of police contingent (the para-military) around lunch time, confrontation in the dual carriageway between Oduduwa Road and the main entrance to Queen Elizabeth Hall culminated in some of the police opening fire. One student, Adekunle Muyiwa Adepeju, was killed, and two others-plus one member of the junior staff of the bursary-were wounded.
According to information, Adepeju was not even a member of Zik Hall. He was from Mellanby Hall. He was not the student union leader neither was he a member of the union either in his hall of residence or in his department. He was described as a thoroughbred gentleman and of noble character, amiable, kind, hardworking, intelligent and God-fearing. He was not in the fore front of the demonstration, but was just among the crowd. He fell by the bullet of the police.
Adekunle Adepeju, the only child of his parents, was a final year student of the Faculty of Agriculture. He was just 23 when he met his untimely death. Chief (Dr.) Gbolade Osinowo, who was Adepeju’s roommate then, said at a lecture delivered in his honour that Adekunle had exhibited characteristics of leadership and his death highlighted the problems faced by Nigerian students in tertiary institutions. “What Adekunle fought for is like paradise in the minds of students today.”
This was the very first shooting and killing of a university student in the history of Nigerian universities. The whole nation rose against the General Yakubu Gowon administration. Students from other institutions in the country went on rampage, seeking justice for the blood shedding of Adepeju.
The responsibility of breaking the news to the family fell on Sunday Coffie Mbang’s shoulders as the leader of Student Christian Movement (SCM) in University of Ibadan of which Adepeju was a member. Mbang led delegation of seven to visit the parents of the deceased and delivered the tragic news. The Adepeju family was devastated. At first, the news seemed so incredible that they didn’t believe it and Mbang, as team leader, had to persuade the family to accept the irreparable loss. He went back several times to offer his condolences and prayed for the bereaved family.
The killing an immediate hostile reaction from the public and in response to public opinion, General Gowon set up a commission of inquiry headed by Justice Boonyamin Kazeem of the Lagos high court. New Left Movement, a Marxist socialist movement in the academia, headed by Comrade Ola Oni, took side, with the National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS) then headed by Olu Adegboro and secured the services of a young and vibrant lawyer, late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), to defend the students at the Justice Kazeem Tribunal set up by the General Yakubu Gowon military junta.
It was what brought the name of the ‘aluta’ legend into limelight. The Justice Kazeem Commission sat for more than 50 days in the old Western House of Assembly, Ibadan.
When the report of the inquiry was released, more than 80 percent of the students’ demands were met. The commission stated that the crisis was caused as a result of inadequate hostel accommodation and supply of foodstuff. Other causes were poor catering services, strained relationship between the students and the university authorities, unjust rustication and expulsion of students as well as the use of the police force to control the students’ demonstration.
Justice Kazeem also said that the students had not been involved in the administration of universities. Consequently, the students had developed a feeling of alienation. Among others, the commission recommended that live ammunition should never be used in quelling students demonstration. The government in its comments however, rejected this and held that the use of fire arms was fully justified in the circumstances even though government regretted that it led to the death of Kunle Adepeju.
The Adepeju incident led to the premature departure of Professor Lambo from the vice-chancellor’s seat as he was advised to quit his position.
On the first anniversary of Kunle Adepeju’s death, 1 February 1972, all the then universities staged peaceful demonstrations in their various campuses. The leaders of NUNS assembled at Ibadan to commemorate the day by laying wreaths on Kunle’s grave. Over the years, this ritual had continued though some were marred with protests, demonstrations and clashes with the police.
In recognition of what Adekunle fought for, the Students’ Union Building (SUB) of University of Ibadan was named after him.
In 1976, the Students’ Union launched the Adekunle Adepeju Fund. The Vice Chancellor, Professor Tekena N. Tamuno, donated N5,000 on behalf of the university to the fund. He also took part in the memorial activities of that year.
Also, the Students’ Union executive organized a maiden edition of Kunle Adepeju Memorial Lecture in 2012. This year, however, it seems that the current student’s union leadership seemed to have forgotten or probably has more important things doing rather than remembering a legend of students struggle.
The killing of Adekunle Muyiwa Adepeju was the very first shooting and killing of a university student in the history of Nigerian universities. However, it has not ended with Adepeju. Over the years, there have been reports of killing or the technical saying, ‘accidental discharge’ where Nigerian students lose their lives in the struggle to seek their rights as members of the citizenry. There have also been incidents of massacre of students for no just cause. Very fresh, painful and heart bleeding of course was the recent gruesome attack and killing of students of the College of Agriculture Gujba, south of Damaturu, the capital city of Yobe State, on 28th September, 2013, by the terrorist group, Boko Haram.
We are only hopeful that one day, the Nigerian government will make security of lives a priority and proffer a lasting, permanent solution to loss of lives through extra judicial killings.