53 Years On, Kunle Adepeju Roams

“… establishing the historical context, connecting the intersection, and restating the need for the ideological repositioning of the Students’ Union.”


Last Thursday, the 1st of February, the remembrance of Kunle Adepeju, was for the student community at the University of Ibadan a rare occasion to revisit an occurrence, which fifty-three years ago was highly momentous. An incident, although a long drawn out page in Nigeria’s history of Students’ Unionism, which, today, sadly also mirrors the current spate of experiences the student community is faced with.

Not an unkown fact, but because of the uninsured level of unconsciousness among students today, it should be known that the leadership of the Students’ Union scheduled a queue of activities for the remembrance ceremony. According to its order of activities, the leadership of the two paddling arms of the Students’ Union, alongside representatives from the council of halls and faculty chairpersons, or presidents as the case may be, paid a solemn visit to the resting site of Kunle Adepeju, situated at St. Anne’s Church, Molete, Ibadan, which gave way to the other line-up of events – a candlelight procession, and, ultimately, a ‘bembemstick’ gyration which held in the evening of the same day. There could also have been a public lecture to commemorate the remembrance. Yet, the point here must go beyond the bustle of the event.

There is no doubt, like a saying goes, that the lives of men (with Kunle Adepeju in mind) are as brittle and lethal as candleflames. All living souls are like a lit matchstick, glowing and depleting at the same instance, much like the perception of Adepeju’s death by the present generation of Nigerian students. That students had gathered and ended the remembrance procession with the submission of their formerly lit candles at the inanimate feet of Kunle Adepeju’s statue, fittingly positioned in front of the Students’ Union Building does not imply that all participants understood the lessons from his passing. Therefore, we must consult the annals of history to show how past actions influence attitudes today.


Welfare: From Zik Cafeteria to Kunle’s Death

“One of my sad moments in UI was 1971 when Kunle Adepeju was brutally murdered by the police. Though he was not a Zikite, he died in solidarity and sympathy for the cause of Zikites. I was one of those that picked him up from the gutter where he fell and rushed him to Jaja Clinic where he was confirmed dead” — Gbadebo Jayeola, Honorable, Students’ Representative Council, 1969/1970 academic session.

On the 1st of February 1971, students, who were mainly from Nnamdi Azikiwe Hall, embarked on a peaceful demonstration. Personal accounts of residents who bore witness to the incidence confirmed that other members of the student community participated in the day’s demonstration.

It should be known that the idea of demonstration, which was utlised in reaction to Nigeria’s colonial and post-colonial experiences, was not alien to students of the University of Ibadan.  Notably, in 1962, students from the University of Ibadan demonstrated openly on the streets of Ibadan against plans to create British military bases in the country. Such fearless opposition was girded by intelligence, resilience, and its success contributed to the abolishment of the  Anglo-Nigeria Defence Pact. It was an era unlike today.

The 1971 protest was organized to express Zikites’ dissatisfaction, which the students’ residents had conceived against the University management, but principally against Mrs. Grace Apampa, manageress of the catering service in the hall. The feud resulted from students’ discontent with the inefficiency, mismanagement and sub-par welfare it provided. Prince Adetiba, the Speaker of the Students’ Representative Council in the 1972/73 session recounted his experience thus: “There was this our hall party which Zikites’ felt was not excellent to be called a party. This made us to inquire why and how the beer got finished which led to the discovery of cartons of beer kept in the store by the then domestic Warden, Mrs. Apampa.”

It should be noted that the cafeteria in question is the same edifice situated at the center of today’s Nnamdi Azikiwe Hall. But unlike the commercial reputation it now possesses, it was, particularly during the period under review, once a heavily subsidized meal spot.

Approximately a month before February 1, 1971, the residents of Nnamdi Azikiwe Hall made allegations, and had petitioned the central university administrators. This grievance, coming ahead of time, was closely followed by a 48-hour non-violent, deliberate refusal to eat at the cafeteria, undertaken to project the students’ displeasure. The hunger strike lasted two days from Saturday 30th to Sunday, 31st of January, 1971. The subsequent and unapologetic reluctance of the University authorities, led by the then Vice Chancellor, late Professor Thomas Adeoye Lambo, to intervene and to accordingly remove Mrs. Grace Apampa prompted the students to embark on that day’s protest of Monday, February 1.

The students roused themselves to action, mobilizing and chanting invigorating songs. The students who had marched towards what today is the Tamuno Tekano building were halted by policemen who had been invited by the Vice-Chancellor. Kunle Adepeju, a second-year Agricultural Economics student and resident of Kenneth Mellanby Hall was also at the protest ground. Most accounts observe that he was shot while attempting to render help to another student.

Kunle Adepeju is famously remembered for being the first student victim of police brutality and the first tertiary institution student to be killed on the soil of his institution. Adepeju’s body was left in front of Queen Elizabeth II Hall for three days. He was wrapped in white-like linen and neglected till February 4 when the news of his death was broken late to his parents. He was later buried on the 5th of February, 1971. At his burial, there were over fifty thousand 50,000 persons in attendance. This figure, according to the Sunday Post news report of February 7th, 1971, is rightly corroborated with the motion scenes of the massive attendance recorded at Kunle’s burial procession. In attendance at the burial were the late Mr. Wahab Goodluck, the founding President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, and Mr. Wole Soyinka, who later became a Professor and winner of the Nobel prize.

News of his death infuriated students across the country. An intervarsity group converged on Lagos to demonstrate and draw international attention to the cause of the February 1st UI agitation, as well as the needless use of lethal force by the officers of the Nigerian Police Force. The protest lasted four days, the result of which was the establishment of a panel of inquiry into the case ordered by the Gowon military government. Barristers Gani Fawehinmi and Kanmi Osoba represented the Students’ Union at the inquiry, serving as counsel for the students, pro bono.

The Intersection between 1971 and 2024

For a fact, intersecting 1971 and 2024 is not farfetched. The same way students fifty-three years ago had their genuine complaints neglected is the same manner concerns are left unattended today. It will be very unfaithful to misinterpret the analysis of what transpired in 1971 or deny the current state of students’ welfare at University of Ibadan. In 1971, student agitation was centered around a call for better welfare and today, it is no different. Cafeterias, now fully commercialized have charged students exorbitantly. Also, the corresponding worth of food students get with the depreciating Nigerian currency is, perhaps, the biggest inconvenience experienced today.

The root of this is the government’s austere policies. Other concerns about student welfare include the establishment of duplicated and inexplicable fees, increment in accomodation fee, overcrowding, introduction of laboratory fee, introduction of studio levy, introduction of utility levy, increment in technology fee for the current Year 1 students, revitalization of the University Healthcare center, among other rightful concerns. Majority of these are unaddressed by the management and the Students’ Union.


Repositioning the Students’ Union in the face of welfare concerns 

There is no doubt that the Students’ Union at the University of Ibadan needs to be repositioned and must serve students more efficiently than in the recent past. Unionism is, for a mind that knows, desirable. In the trail of that desire, however, must be a deep drive for consciousness among students. It cannot be overemphasized that today the Students’ Union is in dire need of departure from its conservatism. By calling the current Students’ Union leadership ‘conservatives,’ we call a spade what it actually is: the half-convincing approach of the Samuel Samson Tobiloba led administration in addressing students’ concerns.

The Union by historical, constitutional and ideological provision is the conscience of the entire University. As a matter-of-fact, there is indeed a void of rational inquiry to be filled – a participatory kind of thinking that must begin to characterize the Union, different from the CV-oriented drives.

There is no gainsaying that examples from history evolve into philosophy. Recalling an incident that occurred fifty-three years ago is history; making sense out of it is philosophy. It becomes ultimately possible that the University of Ibadan student community is able to philosophize history. As students, we must pick a handful of lessons from the struggles of our forerunners. We must also begin to engage our realities, which is a bundle of contradictions in a highly-priced educational institution. The assurance that the University is producing a solution-oriented breed of students should equally be seen in the running of the University as a system. We must also ask, what better roles must the Students’ Union play? Students must ask all the uncomfortable questions about the history of the students’ union, the means of departure from the lowly regarded state of the union and what individual contributions must be made to improve the Union. The problem today is of course systemic.

It is that the University is not on a journey of consciousness any longer. What used to be the great radical halls of residence in the early history of students’ unionism have been turned into museums, or have turned themselves into relics. As students have themselves neglected being formidable in the face of systemic repression.

It is until students begin to pay attention to their seventy-five and still counting history, until the students’ community can stop the horrendous disorientation that has marred its present, until the role of the Students’ Union in the context of national crisis is well understood, and the attitude of students changes in reaction to this, it is then that the pendulum of heedlessness to students’ concerns, among others, will stop swinging.

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