On February 1, 1971, Kunle Adepeju, an undergraduate at the University of Ibadan was murdered by police officers during a protest for better welfare by UI students. To commemorate its 53rd anniversary, UCJUI is re-publishing a series of articles about the incident.
The first of these articles is a 2017 courtroom
debate between two former scribes, Kanyinsola Olorunnisola and ‘Kunle Adebajo.
YES, IT IS
A people without the knowledge of their history…are like a tree without roots – Marcus Garvey
My Lords, it is the beginning of another beautiful installment in The Courtroom series. It is obvious that we would not have got this far without your inestimable support and grace, for that we thank you for granting us audience once again, allowing us to present to you matters of the gravest urgency. The case today is not about the eccentricities of one cartoonish, Islamophobic and orange world-leader; as you might expect. Rather, we are bringing the topic back home: the issue of Kunle Adepeju’s annually celebrated martyrdom.
The year was 1971. The place was University of Ibadan. Darkness was in its halcyon days. Students were the victims of extreme oppression. In response, they staged a protest. As history has it, the protests did not sit well with the hounds in the Ivory Tower. Soon, the haven of peaceful protests exploded into a loosened hell. Gunshots were fired. Most fled. Many wailed. Some stumbled. One died. That one student, who many sources claim was hit by a stray bullet while helping up a fellow student who had fallen, was Kunle Adepeju. That singular event heightened the nefarious predicament of the Nigerian students as a whole and this birthed a resultant intensification of their activism. The death of Kunle Adepeju marked the dearth of apathy.
Today, what is celebrated is not the man. No. No one who documented the events really knew him. It is the idea behind the man that is being treasured. There is no particular sentimentality attached to Kunle Adepeju himself but his name is merely used as a symbolism for something much bigger – the soul of unionism, the spirit of Aluta. When we hold a memorial for Kunle Adepeju, we do not merely mourn a fellow to whom we have no real connection whatsoever. Rather, we give a moment for the reminiscence upon our fate as a union and the trajectory we are taking on. And we need that from time to time, don’t we? We need a reminder that some people have died from this oppression and we must not allow ourselves to continue to be toothless bulldogs barking away into the belly of the wind.
Furthermore, it creates an avenue for the radicalization of students. During this past period of the memorial, people were pouring out articles raging with political consciousness so as to venerate the iconoclasm. The Union of Campus Journalists urged her members to pen essays on the idea of student activism and allied matters to contribute to the widespread culture of philosophizing upon our ideals. Without this memorial, there would be self-created preclusions to the exertion our intellectual energies to the furtherance of this fundamental cause. It helps sensitize members of the union of the cogency of their political alertness. It is the instrument to birthing a volte face in the students’ lackadaisical attitude towards union matters.
Of course, what should not to be taken lightly at all is the likelihood of the corrupt elements in leadership to use this as a pretext to loot funds. The Students’ Union headship has not exactly had a history of candor and accountability after all. However, just because we do not trust the kleptomaniacs in Aso Rock does not mean we should let October 1 go uncelebrated. To argue that the idea of the memorial should be deleted from memory just because we fear the flair of our leader at swallowing our wallowing union into further embezzlement crisis misses the point. Or does it not? If we ignore our union’s sole legacy as the progenitor of student-activism in the nation just because of our distrust in the leaders we popularly elected ourselves, is it not laughable? Our union is already in shambles. Shambles! Did I say shambles? To remove our only strand of connection to past glory will certify our position as one of the hardest-fallen student establishments in West Africa. The memorial does not only help us save face, but also to keep our status, albeit almost in an illusory manner.
Conclusively, let us not pretend that a painted fist and frail chants are more than the horse-in-a-book archetype, ineffectual in all ramifications. We need a face, a mascot if you would permit. Something concrete to represent our ideals and history is the perfect panacea to the deplorability of our union. Let no one say we chose to forget our past just because we fear our present. I rest my case.
NO, I SAY
Andrea: Unhappy the land that has no heroes
Galileo: No. Unhappy the land that needs heroes ~‘Leben des Galilei’ (1939)
Somewhere along Oduduwa road lie golden words inscribed many years ago – ignored often by passers-by and never seen by commuters. On the walkway leading from the gate, at the junction digressing to the International School, they rest patiently. These words are commonplace, the handwriting is imperfect, but the wisdom is as useful today as it was yesterday. “Life is a teacher; the more we live, the more we learn.”
On the very first day of February 1971, a young man named Adekunle Ademuyiwa Adepeju was gunned down during an unfortunate set of events about which many – at times contradictory – narratives exist. The most prominent has it that Adepeju was shot by the police while attempting to assist a fellow whose leg was playing host to one or two bullets. It is said that prior to that gloomy historical moment, students had gone on rampage following general dissatisfaction with the conduct of Nnamdi Azikiwe Hall’s Catering Manageress.
Indeed, in this account we find one of life’s countless lesson notes. We learn that, contrary to what his name (Adepeju) suggests, the “crown” is not perfect and is not always full of honour. We learn that students should be treated with dignity, and their lives with respect. We learn that situations of conflict should never be allowed to degenerate into violence. Then again, we learn that it is honourable to be a hero, but that with every act of heroism comes a price – sometimes as priceless as life itself.
I have not come to echo the argument that ‘Kunle Adepeju was not a martyr for I think he in fact was. There isn’t just one definition of the word ‘martyr,’ there are at least four. And, dying in the course of a cause – worthy or not – Adepeju fits perfectly into at least one of them… My contention today is simply that the ceremonious memorial done in his honour every year has failed to meet the cut off mark of the faculty of necessity.
Shall we pause to think about it? Who really has the ritual benefited? Is it the school? The students? ‘Kunle Adepeju himself? Or just so-called unionists and self-appointed comrades who play politics with the dead’s name and make money from his misfortune. Who does it benefit if not the same crop of individuals who recently erected a statue meant to immortalise one man but which wound up guaranteeing the immortality of eight others?
What is meant to be a solemn reminder of our past has turned to an unbridled relish of the present and a greedy springboard to a future of comfort. February 1 has become a day in which we find our union leaders engaging in fisticuffs at the graveyard of one whose life bowed to the dictates of violence. It is now a day where stakeholders play politics with an apolitical event; and one where the “Father of Intellectual Unionism” widely circulates a document concluding with the words, “Anyway, thanks to Governor Abiola Ajimobi, who rose to the occasion despite the theatrics of the students.” Milords, it is a day in which students take selfies beside a hero’s grave to show “solidarity.” Indeed, it has graduated into nothing but a day for unmemorable memorials.
To further buttress my points, I call to the witness box Mr Sadik Oluwagbenga, an eyewitness at the said event:
The Kunle Adepeju Memorial Day as was ‘celebrated’ on the 1st of February 2017 depicts lack of remorse, soberness and self-reflection. Majority of the students present that day did not seem to understand the true meaning of a memorial, or what the late Kunle Adepeju represents to the union. This makes me wonder if what we really set out for was a memorial to honour and remember the late Kunle Adepeju, or another opportunity to simply test our ‘aluta’ skills.
By all means, I share in Mr Sadik’s wonder. These memorials have gone too far and are needed no more. What we should rather do is to lead our union leaders aright and reposition our lost union. We should give a kiss of life to the Adepeju Students’ Aid. We should stop painting the walls of the ‘Kunle Adepeju Building with political sins, and we should ensure no other student ever again has to travel down the lane of extrajudicial murder. Only with these will the labour of our heroes past not be in vain.
Milords, the question is not whether Adepeju deserves a memorial. Of course, he does. The real question is: Do we, the present generation of student leaders and followers, deserve to organise one for him? The answer to that, I’m afraid, is no. Let us remember Adepeju in all our actions from the second day of the second month to the last day of the first month, not just in between; and we would have done justice to his memory. No ancestor needs a ceremony from successors who daily destroy his cherished legacies. No cosmetic is needed for a union lacking the flesh of decency.
CONCLUSION: This column is about you, it presents the two sides of a case courtesy of two writers from different schools of thought. “Audi alteram partem”means hear the other side before passing your judgment. Take the gavel, make your decision and slam because you are the judge in this courtroom.
Editor’s note: This piece was first published on February 9, 2017.