Student Union activists killed in Nigeria by neo-fascist death squad: Eyewitness Account

Attention: open in a new window. PrintE-mail

Its twelve years since the July 10 1999 killings at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, Nigeria. We reproduce an eye witness eye of the event.

-----------------------------------------

Five students were killed by a cultist gang, that is a neo-fascist type organisation, at Ife University. Our comrades were closely involved in the events and some of them are lucky to be alive, as the gang were looking for some of them. Luckily our comrades escaped.

On July 10th 1999, five university students were brutally killed by a gang of cultists (neo-fascists) in their halls of residence at the University in Ife, Nigeria.

The following is an eyewitness account of what happened:

I am very lucky to be alive to send you this account of the events of the past few days. I could have being killed on Saturday, July 10th, when the secret cult gangsters, backed by the authorities, attacked the students at Ife killing five. Their main targets were Student Union activists.

That morning at about 2-3 a.m. some students observed some strange people on the campus dressed in black and wearing masks. They sensed immediately that they were cultists going for an attack. The students went to the union leaders to get them to act. Unfortunately they did not take the warning seriously. They were tired because the Union had been involved in organising a rally the day before.

By 4 a.m., the cultists had reached block 8 in Awolowo Hall where the Student Union is based. The bandits wanted to strike a severe blow at the Union and strike fear into the minds of the students. The first student they saw who was sleeping in the corridor they shot in the head without questioning. Sleeping in the corridor is very common here as the university has refused to build more hostels to accommodate students.

They found the Secretary General of the Union, George Iwilade, popularly known as "Africa" in his bed and shot him immediately in the head. Then they smashed his head with their axe to make sure he was dead. As this was going on the other cultists opened fire at random.

They were looking for the President of the Student Union, Lanre Adeleke, popularly known as "Legacy". They shouted, "Legacy come out your life has been paid for." They shouted this at all the Union activists they were looking for.

The gunshots woke up "Legacy" and as he opened the door they shot at him and killed him. His room-mate jumped out of the second floor window immediately and managed to escape.

They then went after the students shouting, "Awo boys come out if you dare," "Awo boys must leave this school," "we are going to call back," etc. In the process, they entered some rooms and shot defenceless students. Some were shot in the bush.

"Awo boys" refers to the militant students on that campus who traditionally reside in Awolowo Hall. This is the hall where the cultists are usually taken to whenever the students arrest them. They are usually interrogated there about their activities. They fear the hall and they have been hoping for the day that they could have their revenge.

That night I was sleeping with seven other students in a room meant for one, in Fajuyi Hall. At about 4 a.m. in the morning, when we heard the gunshots we all rushed out because many of us were likely targets. Our fears were later confirmed. We had previously heard that the Black Axe secret cult organisation was planning an attack on the student movement at Ife as it is one of the few campuses where they cannot operate freely due to the militant traditions built over the years by the left.

When we got downstairs we saw the Public Relations Officer of the Student Union running towards us and shouting that secret cult gangsters were killing people in the Awolowo Hall, a male students' hostel. He wanted to alert the students to mobilise them towards resisting the attack. However, within ten minutes into his address, we heard gunshots close by and we all had to run for cover, some of us ran into the nearby bush, others into open rooms and the toilets.

The cultists first smashed open room 11 in block 1. All the occupants were lying on their beds terrified, but hey did not kill anybody in that room. They then went up the block to the Student Union room, number 56, housing the Welfare Officer and the Finance Officer. They smashed the door open only to find that they had also left the room when they had heard the first gunshots. A medical student, Eviano Ekelemu, in room 55, opened his door to see what was going on. They shot him in the lower stomach without asking any questions. He died about twenty minutes later at the University Health Centre. After they shot him, they were heard to have said that "the mosquito has died!" The casualties that morning stood at five dead. About eighteen students were shot in all.

One student who ran through a bush path to the nearby female students' hall to warn them about the attack saw the cultists leaving through the same bush path. He was very lucky, as he was one of the major targets of the cultists. I had to treat myself for shock for some minutes after the bandits left.

Immediately after the killings there was a massive outcry everywhere. After the students congress in the morning the students went looking for the cultists. The first suspects were the university authorities themselves. We now know what they mean by "summary expulsion" for raising the issue of reinstatement and standing for independent unionism.

By Sunday some of the cultists had been captured by the student militias. One of the assassins was caught along with one other person. His revelations are very shocking. He linked the Vice-Chancellor, Omole, directly to the action. He said that his organisation had received support from the authorities to carry out the hit whose main aim was to kill the entire leadership of the Student Union and other known activists! This according to them would scare the students in the future from challenging them and the authorities.

The opposite is what they got. The attack rather than demoralise the students brought them out in their thousands and there is massive support for the students from the workers and lecturers. The local ASUU, the lecturers' union, and other unions on campus sent their condolences to the Student Union.

The students killed, "The July 10th Martyrs", were buried on Tuesday, July 20th, on the campus in front of the Awolowo Hall. The funeral was quite an emotional event. About 20,000 people attended: students, workers, lecturers, parents, market women, journalists, etc. The market women in Ife town and suburbs closed their shops and came down for the burial. Student Unions from different campuses were also present; there were solidarity lecture boycotts and protest marches on many campuses. During the funeral it was clear that the workers present were seething and looking for a political alternative.

The protests were mainly against cultism, victimisation and the various attacks students have been suffering. All university workers at Ife also went on solidarity strikes. The workers supported the students all the way, to the extent that formal activities on the campus were halted for two weeks. Mass workers' meetings were organised around the issue. Had the cultists known that a major mass movement would develop after their attack, they would not have embarked on it.

The public outcry against the cultists and Omole was so enormous that on Wednesday, 14th July, the Obasanjo regime had to remove him and quickly appoint an acting Vice-Chancellor in his place. When the news of the removal of Omole got out, there was massive jubilation everywhere; the whole campus went into a festive mood. The Christian churches that were having a joint prayer session ended the programme and they marched round the campus singing "Jesus removed Omole!"

The removal of Omole is very interesting. His two deputies could not replace him as they were equally hated by the students and workers. The Chairman of the Governing Council, that passed the reactionary resolutions in May, now directed the University management to work with the Student Union.

The day before the funeral, the Minister of Education was forced to come to Ife and address a Student Union rally of about 5,000 students and make a pronouncement on the question of reinstatement; the new acting VC was also present. The reinstatement of long standing expelled students is now only a matter of time. If they do not reinstate before next semester there will be more problems for the authorities.

At that mass meeting the students raised a sum of 30,000 Naira among themselves towards organising the funeral. This makes it a total of 45,000 Naira (£300) that the students raised in all. You can see the strength of the movement from the donations; this is the largest amount contributed in the history of student mass meetings in Ife. More donations also came from the public; a woman donated the five coffins used to bury the students. There were many more like that.

After the attack we made an attempt to call a broad left activists' meeting; made up of the left organisations on the campus, to try to organise a form of united front to combat the situation. This was held on July 14th. The idea of a Students' Defence Corps was raised along with many other security proposals, together with other student demands. The call was also raised to bring to justice all those responsible for the attack. The cultists have now disappeared from the university and the town completely.

The tasks before the students are enormous. However, with a clear leadership it is possible to achieve much more. Unfortunately some in the leadership pose a threat to the movement in the immediate future. They are not doing anything as regards organising the students in case of another cult attack. Rather they are relying on the state apparatus.

They do not know that relying on the police is very dangerous. During the search for the culprits, the policemen who went along with the students consciously stayed back whenever the students wanted to enter dangerous areas. For example, the day before the funeral, we heard again the jungle drums (a signal that the cultists were at large). When the policemen were told to come along, it took a lot of persuasion before they would follow. When they got near the source of the drumbeats, the drumming suddenly stopped. The police refused to advance further. This shows that the students can only count on their own forces and on the support of the workers.

The cultists are already regrouping and are planning future attacks, although not in the immediate future. They are again sending death threats. One colleague has already received a message from home that the cultists are saying they are going to kill him! The same goes for some other activists.

The events at Ife show how volatile the situation in Nigeria is. The Obasanjo regime wants to avoid conflict with the students. Even the outgoing military administration of Abubakar had given clear orders to reinstate all expelled students. They did not want to provoke a student movement that could clearly spill over into the working class. Omole represented that wing of the ruling class (at this moment a minority) that wanted no compromise with the students and wanted to step up repression. His actions have provoked a mass reaction in Ife. These events are a clear warning to the ruling class in Nigeria. All the conditions are maturing for an Indonesian type situation. they have been warned.

Ife, Nigeria

28.7.99