In the past few weeks, the University of Benin has been in the news for banning fellowship groups and suspending five student union members for allegedly planning to disrupt the university convocation ceremony.
This, of course, is not the first time students would be suspended in Nigeria by University management, but the refusal of these students to apologize to the school management over the allegations led to a big fuss.
At the end, the management had to lift the suspension and recall the students following interventions from well-meaning Nigerians.
In this interview with Campusreporter, Ogbidi Osamudiamen, who was the student union president of the University before his suspension speaks about the suspension saga and the ban of fellowship at the University of Benin.
Campus Reporter: Why did you refuse to apologise to the management to be recalled by the management?
Ogbidi: The whole story is centred around what can be termed our stubbornness for not agreeing with the management on the increment in the tuition fee in the university. And the only way they thought they could punish us is to rusticate the five of us – the SUG members who are trying to defend other students. So they rusticated us and since they made the decision, there has been clamour that we should be reinstated. It was at this point the management said that before they can be reinstated, we have to apologize and we told them that we cannot apologize » , because if we apologise it means we have done something wrong and by implication, it means we are guilty of whatever they accuse us of.
And we told them the highest we can do is to appeal to judgment that rusticated us in which on Thursday the letter of appeal has been submitted mandating the management to reinstate us.
Campus Reporter: Have you always been having issues with the management before you were suspended for planning to disrupt convocation ceremony?
Ogbidi: There has never been any issue. We have had series of engagement with the management. Sometimes in September 2017, they increased transportation fare, we felt the increment was too high that we had to oppose it and immediately it was reversed. In the midst of increment in school fee, hostel fee, transfer fee among other thing. They also increased transportation fee again. So when we accumulated all the increment, it got us pissed of and we had no choice than to conduct a general assembly and that was when the students on their own insisted they don’t want increment. We notified the management about this and the protest came up after the expiration of the 24 hours notice and that was it
:Campus Reporter: Why are five students suspended out of all the SUG members?
Ogbidi: 15 students make up the SUG body. 10 from the executive and five from the parliament, and among the 15, four of us are from the executive arm who are the President, the Secretary-General, Assistant Secretary-General and the PRO were rusticated while the last one is a student activist. He is not an SUG member, so what happened to the remaining ones is a mystery I can’t tell, why they are not rusticated I can’t tell because we were all present at the protest.
Campus Reporter : Could it be that only the five of you were always at the forefront of engaging the management to always reduce prices?
Ogbidi: I can tell you we are all union members. Any decision that is taken is agreed upon by the union members. The fact that only five of us were rusticated does not mean the five of us are at the forefront, every other member of the excos were also there present.
Campus Reporter: A member of your cabinet said UNIBEN management has a history of victimizing students, would you say your suspension confirms this?
Ogbidi: Well, it is a tradition. Whenever we are faced with any issue with the management, the first thing they remind us of is that we are students before we became union leaders and that is the reason you hardly see any student who dares challenge the authority of the management. But when I was campaigning as SUG president, I said that anybody who wants to make a change must be ready to make a sacrifice.
Campus Reporter: Did the management involve the SUG members before banning fellowship on campus?
Ogbidi: Unfortunately, when that decision was carried out, we had already been suspended. We were suspended in December 2017 and the fellowship groups were banned in January?
Campus Reporter: Would the SUG have taken any step to challenge the banning of fellowships?
Ogbidi: We always try to oppose any decision that is not favourable to the students because we are representative of the students. Before you ban the fellowship, you should have thought of the effects of such decisions. First, you are going to create a fertile ground for cultism. When you remove God from campus, you bring in the devil and by implication you increase immorality, you increase cultism. You know the University of Benin is overtime known for cultism.
Campus Reporter: Do you think it is in the interest of the management to promote cultists in the school?
Ogbidi: It is not in their interest but their action now may be sending the wrong message to the public.
Campus Reporter: The management stated reasons for banning fellowships and some of them is that there are too many fellowship groups using lecture rooms for their activities. Don’t you think those reasons are genuine?
Ogbidi: Good, banning fellowship and making reforms of fellowships » on campus are two different things. This is an academic environment for crying out loud.
You can bring in heads together to chat a way forward before every challenge becomes a problem. Now, if you ban fellowship, it means you are going to restrict so many things and approve so many other things. But when you come up with the word reform it means you are going to reduce the number of fellowships on campus. We have fellowships that are very big and we have those that depend on the students to survive. Fellowships like the Redeemed Christian Fellowship is under the Redeemed Christian Church of God and by the virtue of the capacity of the church, they will be able to provide a piece of land to do their fellowship on campus instead of using classrooms.
Ogbidi: If you approached the RCF with this, they can afford it. There are halls and the Redeemed Christian Fellowship I just mentioned now make use of the university staff school for their events, I believe they paid for that place. So if we can have fellowships that can afford to pay for buildings or halls outside the jurisdiction of students, not classrooms, then allow them to be. We have big fellowships that can afford to pay for halls so instead of them using classrooms, you look for ways to harmonise them, to harness them into the bigger fellowships.
Campus Reporter: Do you think UNIBEN still has enough space to allot to all fellowships?
Ogbidi :More than enough. If you go to other schools, that is how it is being done. They have worship centres, management can decide to isolate the worship centres away from the classrooms. That is what should be done, you don’t just ban fellowships, what should now happen to students who rely so much on God on campus?
Campus Reporter: According to the management, you and four others were suspended because you were planning to disrupt convocation ceremony.
Ogbidi: How can somebody who had the convocation with them disrupt the event? As the president of the students union, I was requested to join them in procession during convocation. Now to be frank with you I have pictures of that event. At the auditorium, I processed with them, so how could you disrupt a convocation that you participated in, it is not possible. We didn’t disrupt the convocation. In fact, it was very peaceful. The convocation was held on the 21st of November and ended on Saturday of that week. And they suspended us in December.
Campus Reporter: Why did the student union protest in November 2017?
Ogbidi: One of the issues that caused the protest is the inclusion of union dues in the tuition fee increment. There was a consensus among the 15 union members that the union dues should be universally paid and it is a thousand naira. But the only issue we had with the management was that, they added the union dues to tuition fee for the staylites. And we told them not to add it to it because the students won’t understand it. They will think we have compromised that we have sold them out.
Campus Reporter: Has the tuition fee hike become effective?
Ogbidi: Before they suspended us, the protest on the 23rd of November 2017, was a cry and fight against the already established increment in school fees and the protest by implication led to the suspension of the increment. 7
Campus Reporter: Were the students part of the protest, or it was just the SUG members?
Ogbidi : It will interest you to know that the students actually led the protest. The students out of anger came out enmass, They were at the forefront of the protest but because we are the union members we had to give them leadership to ensure the protest was peaceful. It has been said that the protest on the 23rd of November 2017 was the most peaceful protest in UNIBEN, No vandalism, no school property was destroyed, even the internal security officials of the school have it in their records that the protest was very peaceful. So, the question is why the rustication?