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News, last week, that some land-grabbers poisoned Opa Dam, the main source of water supply to the Obafemi Awolowo University (formerly the University of Ife), Ile-Ife, made me sick to the marrows. What has taken over this country? How bold has criminals and criminally-minded persons become? How come impunity bestrides our nation like a colossus? Why does sanctity of life mean nothing these days? And why are people going to any length in search of filthy lucre? Otherwise known and called “Great Ife”, OAU is home to about 35,000 students (Nigerian and international); not to talk of tens of thousands of others who are lecturers, non-teaching staff, and other folks from Ife town itself and the surrounding towns and villages who throng the University daily providing multifarious essential services. Had OAU security not been alert to their duties; noticing and aborting this nefarious activity; and had the poisoned water been pumped to the students’ hostels and staff quarters, we would have had a disaster of unquantifiable proportions on our hands. I am an alumnus of Great Ife. Following in my footsteps, I have wards there. I also have a retinue of friends and relations who work there and or have wards there. Imagine also the avalanche of negative comments and reactions the country would have suffered internationally!
What is the grouse of the elements so determined to wipe out an entire University community prided as one of the best on the African continent? Simply put: Land-grabbing! In Lagos where I live and work, everyone is aware of the devilish tendencies and dubious antics of the ubiquitous “Omo oniles.” Despite the Land Use Act which vests state governors’ with the custody of land in their domains, the reign of terror of “omo oniles” looms large. They are dubious, vicious and audacious. They lay claim to land even in government acquisition areas; they sell the same land to multiple buyers; they re-sell the same land again and again; they introduce all manner of arbitrary levies; they jump on hapless land owners at will; and they are law unto themselves. They form themselves into armies of enforcers, terrorising, maiming and killing and dispossessing people of their land only to re-sell such land to their next victims. They have no jobs or, better still, this is the only job they have from morning till night. Some of them are so well organised you cannot escape their scrutiny. They go about monitoring their sphere of influence on motor bikes, Keke Marwa, or even in vehicles. Because corruption runs from head to toe here, they are able to purchase the services of law-enforcement agencies and errant servicemen to give legality and teeth to their illegal actions. I would have thought that this takes place in all its nudity only in Lagos; for, as the saying goes: “Eko gb’ole o gb’ole”; meaning that Lagos accommodates all sorts, thieves and the lazy inclusive. Hearing that “Omo oniles” also stalk OAU in the ancient town of Ile-Ife baffles me.
For sure, the University, established in 1961, and its hosts, Ile-Ife, have not gone without skirmishes. I remember my last session in the University (1981/1982) when students trooped into Ife town on protest and by the time the dust settled, four of our colleagues lay dead. I still remember some of their names and have their photographs in my album – Fatima Adebimpe, Wemimo Adebolu, Paul Adetunji Alonge, etc. This is not peculiar to OAU/Ife, though; everywhere, gown and town, as they are euphemistically called, experience turbulence like an air-borne aircraft once in a while. But to think of poisoning an entire University community is blood-chilling. According to reports, the immediate consequence of the poisonous chemicals poured into Opa Dam was the extermination of the dam’s aquatic life. This, in itself, is a heinous crime that must not be allowed to go unpunished. Otherwise, impunity and audacity will record another success story and our pretence of being a nation under law will take many steps backward. Mercifully, a lead has been provided in respect of which direction investigation should proceed to unmask those behind the dastardly act. According to reports, a group self-styled Great Ife Development Board is said to have been at logger-heads with the University authorities over land issues. The Western Nigeria Regional Government headed by the late Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo mooted the idea of the University; the land in question was acquired for the purpose of establishing the then University of Ife, which took off the ground in October 1962 during the tenure of the late Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola as premier. It was re-named after Awolowo (1909 – 1987) on 12 May, 1987.
Sources said some elements intruded into the University land and sold a swathe of it to unsuspecting members of the public. Close to N500million is said to have exchanged hands in this illegal dealing. The University authorities chose to handle the infractions through appropriate channels instead of being compromised, intimidated or drawn into panicky measures of going to court or entering into negotiations with the land-grabbers. A new hostel, which would have eased acute accommodation problems of students, was also locked down by fetish means by intruders claiming that their fore-fathers released too much land for the University. When this, too, did not make the University authorities to bulge, the poisoning of the dam became the next desperate, arm-twist-them resort. The Great Ife Development Board, which was mentioned in this very serious issue, must move quickly to clear its name. There are always peaceful channels to resolve issues. Endangering the lives of others, especially the innocent and those in the position of wards to us, amounts to engaging in the unthinkable. Ife traditional authorities, the Osun State Government as well as the security agencies must treat this issue with all the seriousness it deserves. If they vacillate, then, the alumni of the University must waste no time in mobilizing local and international public opinion to force the concerned authorities to do the needful.
It is four days now since I read the story linking one Great Ife Development Association with the lingering issues at OAU but I am yet to read their rebuttal; neither has the Ife, Osun State and security authorities said anything. That is not good enough. It reminds me of an incident during my tutelage days at the Ibadan-based Sketch newspapers. If, as a reporter, you were lucky that your story would make the cover, you would most likely be the last to leave for home that day. You would sit with the Editor and Chief-Sub as they edit, re-write, and plan the cover page because they would need to ask you a million questions as they worked on the story to satisfy their professionalism. I was so fortunate one Friday that Mr. Bunmi Iyeru, Editor of Sunday Sketch, told me my story had been selected for Sunday cover. I sat before him and answered trillions of questions. After having worked for close to three hours, discounting one headline after another and squeezing and throwing into the dustbin one planned page after another, he finally arrived at what he thought was the final cover design. As he heaved a sigh of relief, someone came in and said “Sir, the MD said you should accommodate this story on the cover” Iyeru was livid! “Which Damaging Director is that? How can he come and damage the work I have been doing since morning?” As if the MD, Peter Ajayi, knew what to expect, he was following the story. He popped his head in the door at that moment and said “Bunmi, pele o!” You think Mr. Bunmi Iyeru would be cowered? He was not but attacked his boss frontally. “Yes, I said so. You must be Damaging Director to bring cover story by this time, bla bla” Peter kept his cool, calmed Iyeru down, and went his way. Iyeru eventually started all over again, accommodated the story and we eventually left the office close to 12 midnight.
I must confess I don’t know them. All the same, I am tempted to think their name sounds so lofty they cannot be capable of such bestiality and barbarism. But whichever Board will poison a dam serving a whole University community cannot be development but damaging Board. It is only a destructive and dangerous Board that will commit such a heinous crime. It is a devilish Board that will do such a heartless thing. Oh no! There can be nothing great in such a Board but must be mean and little-minded. In saner societies, the culprits – whoever they are – will be unearthed and skinned alive. You can now see why the Great Ife Development Board must come clean; ditto for all concerned Ife and Osun State authorities. The University has contributed a lot to the development of Ife and its environs. So many communities will give thrice as much land as the Ife community gave to have OAU transferred to them. It is said that someone does not know the value of what he has until he losses it. Let that not be the experience of Ife!