When Akinola Saburi was admitted by Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife in 2000, he had no feeling that he would not graduate on a record time.
His course of study, Agricultural Extension and Rural Sociology, in any Nigerian university is for five years. Though, extension could occur on academic grounds when students have deficiency in one course or another or the school is shut due to students’ unrest or lecturers’ strike, Saburi’s problems were never any of these.
His involvement in campus activism was what held him on campus for additional eight years. All started in 2003 when he was elected as the Secretary General of the students’ union and along the line, he became an acting president of the union when the incumbent president, Akinkunmi Olawoyin, was sick and could not perform his official duties again.
Saburi’s administration was said to be in constant face-off with the school authority on issues bordering on students’ welfare.
The union, according to investigations, always demanded from the authority to put things like accommodation problem, high tuition fee, overcrowded lecture rooms and hostels as well as policies they considered oppressive in the right perspective so as to make their studentship a worthwhile experience.
And at a time when there was no positive response, the students embarked on protests and the management fingered 13 of them as ring leaders including Saburi and consequently expelled them from school.
The students challenged their expulsion at the Federal High Court in Osogbo, Osun State, and the court ordered their reinstatement pending its judgment.
“But when we got back to school, we were advised to plead with the authority to reinstate us fully and this was granted on the condition that we must withdraw the case from the court,” Saburi, from Yewa North Local Government area of Ogun State, recalled.
And after the pardon, according to him, some of them bowed out of unionism but Saburi and a few others did not. “Ï didn’t bow out because I was not comfortable seeing the privileged few using their positions to oppress and truncate the future of younger generation and those coming behind. To do so for me, like other progressives in the society, can make me sick,” Saburi said.
So in 2006, Saburi popularly known on campus as “Malcom X” contested again for the office of the president of the union and one hour to conclude the election and announce the results, the school authority came up with a release circulating round the campus that Saburi was still on suspension.
“The release added that my earlier pardon was not total but commuted to three academic year’s suspension and that if I should be declared winner of the election, the university authority would not recognise me.
The school took this decision to prevent me from becoming the president again because all my mates who bowed out of unionism were left to continue with their studies,” Saburi said.
Unexpectedly, the students’ union objected to this position, arguing that such explanation was too late since Saburi had already done his course registration, issued a valid student’s identity card and contested the election.
And because the students refused to dance to the tune of the authority, a fresh expulsion order was slammed on him and to enforce this, Saburi was arrested by the officers of the State Security Service (SSS) and arraigned the following day at a magistrate court on a 10-count charge.
“Their major allegation against me was that I was among the students who attempted to kill the Vice-Chancellor during a protest two years back, whereas I wasn’t in school on the day of the said protest,” Saburi claimed.
And because I couldn’t perfect my bail on that day, I was taken to Ilesa Prison where I spent the next eight months.” Saburi left the detention exactly on March 12, 2008 and was at home for one year and one month before he was recalled by the school authority to continue with his studies.
“Ï knew I would be recalled one day since my punishment was politically motivated but I wasn’t sure of when,” he stressed. Saburi was asked to write an apology letter to the authority and provide guarantor letters from a first class traditional ruler, a senior lecturer and a student leader on what they called “his good conduct” before he would be allowed back in school.
Saburi returned in 2010 and he still spent another three years due to the prolonged 2012 nationwide lecturers’ strikes and the students protest on campus. He came out of the university with Second Class Lower, the grade that is considered to be for above average students at OAU.
“I am happy to be graduated eventually while at the same time, I have no regret whatsoever over my actions.
I considered my punishment as a sacrifice for a better tomorrow,” he said. About his parents’ position on the matter, he said though they didn’t influence him whatsoever on his campus unionism’s stand, he still let them know that office of the students’ union president particularly in OAU is highly demanding.
“The exception is when you play along with the school management whether it does it right or not,” Saburi pointed out. “So, my parents were fully aware and they did not object to my stand more so they knew I am a child of unquestionable character.
“Ï did tell them whenever they visited me in detention that over 20,000 OAU students and several thousand others from other institutions stood solidly behind me. And truly their consistent clamouring for my unconditional release and reinstatement facilitated the process.”
In the interim that Saburi was not in school, he didn’t sit at home expecting manna to fall from heaven.
He was engaged in productive activities. “Now, I am a Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator and I had also been trained on some entrepreneurial skills,” Saburi, who just returned from India where he went for Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) training, said. On his feeling seeing some of his mates in advantaged positions in the society today, Saburi said.
“Really as a human being, I feel slight pains particularly when you see those riding nice cars and living a bit comfortable; you feel you might be doing better if you had graduated at the same time. This is not about jealousy.
My conviction is that it is not about how far but how well. We have got different paths to tow and what is important is the destination aiming at. Life itself is not about material gains, but about the values you have brought into it. Self fulfillment is my joy.
“I strongly believe that if we have the OAU Ife of my dream, all of us including our children and the yet unborn generations will benefit enormously from it.
What we are enjoying today are the proceeds of some people’s sacrifice in the past.” Now Saburi’s next line action is to settle down, venture into farming and ICT and raise a family.
“I believe with God on my side, I will be great in life and leave good legacy behind,” he concluded