Have You Eaten?
I am not asking that question because I want to feed you. The question actually brings back a flood of memories. Sweet and sour ones from my University days in Great Ife. Sweet, because the man who owns that nickname is a legend. A different specie from the mass I was used to. Sour because the things he went through reflects the Nigerian political arena. Looking back at the things that happened then confirms to me that the University campus was a microcosm of the Nigerian state.
It is strange that the man’s thought just flashed across my mind this morning. Maybe, it is my over-analysis and sometimes pure torture of thinking about my country that brought the memories back. But one thing is sure; this is a good time to link the past to the present. I will start by describing the man “Have You Eaten”.
His real name is Bro Seyi Odufejo. I added Bro, not only because he actually puts the prefix to his name but because he is a true bros. He is a true brother to the core. Brother as in he was older than most of us. Brother in the sense that he exudes the aura of a true brother. Brother according to the description of the faith, a true believer who shows his colors irrespective of the audience. He never hid his faith.
University of Benin in those days was known as a no-nonsense place. One of the revered centers of learning in Nigeria with the lucky tie of being situated in a historically strategic city such as Benin. Benin Kingdom that was a torn in the flesh of the British usurpers. Uniben thus carries with it a swagger and not just any individual could rise up to become its Students Union president. Brother Seyi Odufejo did his first degree at that University and became the SUG president even with the label of being a born again Christian in a supposedly hard guy environment.
His tenure was a hugely successful one with ground breaking achievements. Cult activities reduced, indigent students partook in work-study programs – a rarity in Nigerian Universities. The Union also prospered. Such was the CV of that man. It was an honor to meet him in Ife when he came for his post graduate studies. He immediately saw the way our SUG was mostly in the clutch of thugs masquerading as activists. There were all sorts of political movement on campus. Some of them civil society groups in the morning, dirty political groups at night. They preach the principles of Karl Marx, Amilcar Cabral etc in the open, but scheme for their own profits in the dark.
Brother Seyi was not happy about the incessant closings very unique to Great Ife and the fact that the SUG never exploited the vast resources available to ameliorate the plight of the students. I remembered him sharing with me his plans for every student to have an email address, good Internet cafes at cheap prices, a bakery and above all – trouble free semesters. He was clearly beyond his time. With his previous experience of managing Uniben SUG; it was a no brainier that he had so much to offer us in Ife.
The first time he contested was very interesting. His main contender was named Lanre Legacy of the SCAP (later DSM) party. Lanre, a charming and articulate speaker belonged to a group deemed very dangerous and rightfully so. The election was tight and the last faculty vote to be counted was the Faculty of Technology. A faculty that Have U Eaten was touted to win with a huge margin. DSM guys were aware of this and they tried to intimidate the chairman of the electoral committee – Ayo Adedeji who stood his ground and was brave about it. They finally seized the ballot box of the Tech faculty.
A bye-election was arranged for that faculty only and it turned out to be a messy situation. DSM thugs; both students and non-students were heavily present at the voting venue smoking all sorts and intimidating any normal looking voter. Only few of their cohorts came to vote and at the end of it all, you know what the results are. Legacy became President and that was a tenure I would never forget in my life! That was the tenure that witnessed the most cold-blooded mutiny on Great Ife campus – July 10 1999. That election confirmed my fears that the same evil men condemn is mostly later perpetrated by them either by sheer ignorance or with impudence. The same DSM members who were fond of ridiculing University authorities, who organised a feast when Abacha died and protested after Abiola’s death have been exposed as hypocrites.
These were guys who most likely aspire to elective positions outside of the University system. It was thus painful especially when it is logical to conclude that such impunities happening in that small enclave is potentially the reality of what will always obtain outside. And that is why I am not surprised again no matter the news coming from our political space.
Bro Seyi re-contested the next election. This time around, people were unhappy with Legacy and the DSM crew. This paved way for their rival who didn’t have such violence in them – the Pacesetters to capitalize. Dr. 3As, Adenekan Adeniyi was a brilliant medical student who gave a rousing presentation during the July 10 debacle. He later became the presidential candidate.
That year, I was encouraged to contest for the ASG position by Have You Eaten and so a partnership was formed. Two men with similar goals. The Christian community did not recover from the hurt of Bro Seyi’s loss of the previous election and the fact that DSM and other parties hounded Christians for their involvement in politics (No fellowship openly campaigned for him, nor formed a campaign group). This was a false accusation but it worked and many Christians refused to vote on election day citing security reasons. Dr 3A’s won, Bro Seyi was second.
The Pacesetter candidate won the ASG seat while I also came second out of 5 candidates with no backing from my fellowship or any other body. Only few of my friends participated in my campaign. Both of us (Have u eaten and Me) operated a 2-man army campaign. I was then appointed into the judiciary of the Students Union as a Justice. I guess you know the significance of this election to the Nigerian polity. When people don’t register and vote during elections, when people are too Christian or Islamic to vote. A nation gets what it deserves! I diverted most of my energy to my department where I became president, bought the first ever student-owned computer, set up the first student-owned Internet room in the whole of OAU Ile-Ife.
When brother Seyi came into my room late one night to declare his intention to run for the third time; I thought he was crazy and obsessed at the same time. By the time he left, I was able to empathize with him and also agreed to be his campaign manager. I saw a man who genuinely wanted to implement his visions. Unlike other contestants, his vision was already written down with clear objectives and ways to get them done. They were never going to be white elephant projects. When the campaign kicked off, the DSM were very angry. Some of them asked for a meeting with me and they expressed their dissatisfactions. Why would I support Have U Eaten after such a brilliant session as an officer of the SUG? But they know the war was lost for them. The support we got was very big! A lot of friends who were hitherto non-committal to politics joined the campaign committee. We were on a roll. My newly found status as a known departmental president, faculty influencer and SUG Judicial council justice helped a lot.
We used ICTs in our campaign. We took computers to halls of residence showing power point slides and playing music whilst some of our guys and babes danced. It was a totally cool campaign and ultimately people still hated DSM and then Pacesetters didn’t perform very well in a tenure where they won all the seats they contested. I won’t go into details because a former post I made has it all. But a day to the elections, DSM violently disrupted the manifesto night, maimed our supporters including Bro Seyi himself who was hospitalized in OAU Teaching hospital for days and claimed that he couldn’t contest as he was not a student.
The election was put on hold. We asked the University to confirm his studentship and got a ridiculous answer. The school advised that the Judicial council, an arm of the SUG must determine that. How apt? The justices have the burden of determining if he was a student and thus qualified to run. School authorities even provided us with security and sitting allowances during the case, how convenient? I had to disqualify myself from sitting on the case after some altercations and after ensuring a DSM member also got off the case. On the day the Justices made their ruling, another lesson was learned. A certain Justice Esan, my colleague in the Judicial council allegedly held a grudge against “Have U Eaten”. They held a common ground of being Christians and members of the University Joint Christian Mission (UJCM) but fell out because Esan though Bro Seyi didn’t support his bid to become the Secretary General of the SUG when he contested a year earlier. Esan eventually held the card to decide his fate and guess what? He voted against us. And that marked the end of an era. Bro Seyi never became President of the Great Ife SUG. I know what we missed. I was able to analyze the guys who eventually became Presidents. Legacy, 3As and Burkina. Those who went to Ife in that era can testify to those tenures and what we gained and lost.
I painfully look at all those poli-tricks and gimicks. And I look at the bigger Nigerian society and don’t see much difference. It is a fact that a better future for our country is not dependent on young people but on young people who are ready to make a change. Young people who have the true love of our nation at heart. It is a reality that we are not all on the same page. Many of us are only about the gains and not truly committed to change.
Maybe one day, we will not just condemn the “Have You Eaten” of our nation as many did back then. Maybe one day, we will stand for the truth and not be easily coerced by the few thugs who chased Technology faculty students away from exercising their rights. Maybe one day, the religious bodies in Nigeria will remember such men as Martin Luther King Junior who continuously stood for the truth and was not afraid to speak his mind. I crave that day when we will see more Tunde Bakares. I long for that day when we will stop whining and stand for elections despite that fact that we have been told it is only for the dirty.
I have not seen Brother Seyi since 2001. I spoke to him on phone in 2005 and lost his contacts since then. If you are reading this and happen to have his phone number or email; please send them to me. I want to salute that man again.