|The Senate building of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife. Photo by Ololade Adewuyi|
A decade after an early morning attack by the Black Axe cult on the Ife varsity campus led to the death of five students, none of the assailants has been brought to book which brings the question of crime and punishment in Nigeria to fore again
By OLOLADE ADEWUYI
A quiet veil covered the George Akinyemi Iwilade House, residence of David Iwilade’s family along Odo-Ori, Ejigbo Road, Iwo, when this reporter arrived there on a Sunday afternoon recently. The house named after the slain former Secretary General of the Students’ Union Government, SUG, of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Osun State is a constant reminder for the Iwilade family that they once had a son who might have been destined for greatness. Described by many as a brilliant young leader, George was the smallest among the students’ executives but certainly the most articulate. He always wore an Afro haircut and tailored Ankara buba and sokoto on his small figure. But their hopes and George’s aspirations all came to naught when he was brutally killed in his sleep in the early hours of July 10, 1999 on his hostel bed by a group of over 15 hit men of the Black Axe Confraternity. It was an incident which turned the serene silence on the campus of Nigeria’s most celebrated university into chaos.
Cultism had never held much prestige on the campus because of the fervent struggle by management and students to keep it at bay. The problem of cultism in Nigeria took a new dimension as innocent students were shot and hacked to their death. For previous cases of killings on campuses had either involved a battle for supremacy among cult groups or more commonly the fight over female love interests. This was an attack at the soul of the SUG for daring to stand up to it. It was reminiscent of the recently concluded struggle of civil society groups against military rule, good versus evil. Less than two months into democratic rule, the country was alerted to the new threat posed by the clandestine activities of secret cults against constituted legal entities, one of the bad legacies of the country’s many years under dictatorship. In that gruesome attack, five promising students of the OAU met an untimely death. Iwilade, 21, a Law student, who was a prime target of the cultists for his stand against cultism, alongside innocent victims Eviano Ekelemu, 24, a Medical student, Yemi Ajiteru, 30, extra-year student of Religious Studies, Efe Ekpede, 26, Psychology, and Babatunde Oke, 24, Philosophy were killed. Blood as well as tears flowed on the well-kept green lawns of the varsity campus as dawn broke on that July morning.
Ten years after Iwilade and others were robbed of existence by this evil group, not one person has been brought to justice for the act. It is a disturbing fact that has made the family withdraw from the public eye for a long time and also try to resist any act that might bring back sad memories to it. Patriarch of the household David Iwilade refused to speak with this reporter in Iwo recently leaving the task to Akin, the late George’s younger brother. Since the intervening years, the family had followed the criminal justice procedure that was setup to find the killers of their son. First it was the Justice Okoi Itam-led Judicial Commission of Inquiry that sat in the varsity campus to resolve the situation. The panel shed great light on the causes of the crisis and reprimanded the administration of Wale Omole for its high handed treatment of students. It also exonerated him of any intent as claimed by a faction of the SUG that he had sponsored the killings. Then it was up to the Osun State judiciary to try three suspected cult members arrested over the course of a week by students of the institution led by its president Lanre Adeleke also known as Legacy. The criminal process dragged on for five years with the court throwing out the case against the suspects for lack of evidence. The families have since filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal in Ibadan. But the suspects have posted bail since and have lived as freemen for half a decade.
Even though the Iwilade’s think it is impossible to rewrite history, the magazine set about to unravel the mysteries which the killings threw up for the society. Immediately after the incident, the SUG led by Adeleke claimed that the killings had been perpetrated at the behest of embattled outgoing vice chancellor Professor Wale Omole who had taken up a strong ground against reinstating some of the expelled former leaders of the union. Omole, a former student leader during his time as a student of the institution was an easy target. From facts available to the magazine, he had been abroad on official duties during the slaying but was quickly alleged by the students to have masterminded the killings, whether in good judgment or otherwise. It was the easiest thing to do anyway because the bulk of the student body had become disenchanted with his highhanded running of the institution. But it was because of his strong principles that made him clash regularly with the SUG over the reinstatement of former students’ leader Anthony Fasayo and his group who had in 1995 disrupted the convocation ceremony of the institution. Omole in lieu with the university Council had requested that the expelled students apologise for their errant behaviour which the students refused. It was a stand that created great tension on the campus in the days leading up to the cult killings.
Earlier on March 7, late Iwilade had led a group of students to arrest nine alleged cultists who had arms and ammunition with them at the staff quarters of the school. The nine boys, Evimori Kester, Dele Aromoloye, Larry Obichie, Uche Obichie, Ikechukwu Mordi, Mayowa Adegoke, Olakanmi Ogundele, Bruno Arinze and Lanre Ajayi who belonged to the Black Axe Confraternity had been paraded around school by Iwilade and Kayode Usamot, also known as Pintos, the financial secretary of the union. The boys were later handed over to the police at Moore Police Station for further prosecution. The school management sent out a release announcing a suspension of the nine boys and commended the union for its fight “in wiping out cultism” on the campus. That singular act by the students’ body was to set in motion the killings that occurred five months later. Angered that its top members had been shabbily treated which created a seeming impenetrability of the OAU by cultists and cultism, the Black Axe family got together to exert a revenge on the university, most importantly, the student leaders. Hence, the attacks that led to the deaths of Iwilade and his comrades.
But from TELL investigations, the attacks might have been just a smokescreen to achieve some other ends in the university. Chief among these aims was the removal of Omole as vice chancellor, to discredit him and the process which he had put in place to select a new VC seeing that his tenure was about to come to an end. Prior to the killings, a panel had chosen three names out of a list of 22 eminent personalities that had shown intention to become the new VC when Omole left the institution that he had served for 31 years. Top on this list were men that had worked with the outgoing VC and who were seen by the student leaders as his cronies. They perceived that if any of these three became VC, the policies of Omole would live on through them, chief being the refusal to reinstate Fasayo and the expelled students. A form of chaos was needed to undo the process as the names were about to be sent to former President Obasanjo for ratification. Another twist in the race was the issue of the agitation of lecturers from Ekiti state to produce the next VC of the institution. Being the largest group of teachers in the school, the body of eminently qualified Ekiti professors had always agitated for one of their sons to become the next VC but the process of selection had ensured for the umpteenth time that they were not going to have that satisfaction because the top three people came from Ondo and Ogun states. It was a tense period in the academia.
Another of the major reasons for the chaos according to sources is that of the crack within the leadership of the students union itself. Prior to the killings, there had been a falling out between Adeleke and Idris Faro, the public relations officer of the union. Faro had led a breakaway which included Usamot, Tolu Ogunnimo, the welfare officer, Tunji Lawal, assistant secretary general and Bimbo Faloye, the director of socials. They were at loggerheads with Adeleke’s faction that included Iwilade for its dogged attitude towards the reinstatement of the expelled students. In a release titled Fraudsters masquerading as activists, Faro had called for an end to the struggle for reinstatement because the students involved had not shown penitence as required by the school. Furthermore, he alleged that Adeleke had jettisoned the struggle against the reinstatement by refusing to participate in a rally that was aimed at disrupting the Nigeria ’99 football championships to hit home their point after allegedly receiving some money from the Federal Government. The counter claims and charges on all sides went on till the attacks on the institution were perpetrated.
After the attacks in the early morning of that fateful Saturday, many people grieved all over the country. It was not the first time cultists were killing fellow students but it was the first that involved casualty that was non-cultists. The melee that followed saw the students leaders and activist types hit town in search of the perpetrators. One of those apprehended was Efosa Idahosa who under torture alleged that Omole had been the brains behind the attacks. He later recanted. Two others, Aisekhaghe Ikhile and Olufemi Samuel were tortured to death in the custody of the students and their leaders. In the scamper to leave the boiling atmosphere of the school, many students made unscheduled trips home. Seyi Ojewale, a final year student of Economics died on his way to Lagos to become part of the collateral damage. Several others had been hurt during the attacks on the students and ended up being treated at various hospitals in the town. Idahosa would later appear in court on trial for murder alongside two other suspected cultists Kazeem Bello and Emmanuel Oguaju. They were later discharged and acquitted after a three year criminal process by the late Justice Yusuf of the Osogbo High Court after the defendants put up a plea of “no case submission”. Niyi Adewumi, lawyer to the students union who assisted the Osun director of public prosecution, believes that the case was caught up in the internal politics of the state judiciary at the time seeing that Justice Yusuf lost interest in the proceedings because of his being overlooked for the position of chief judge by the Bisi Akande administration. He says in spite of a positive evidence of identification by a witness who claimed to see Idahosa with arms on the morning of the murder, the court held that he had no case to answer.
Instantly, the federal government suspended Omole and appointed Roger Makanjuola, a professor of Psychiatry and former chief medical director of the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, OAUTH, as acting VC. Makanjuola, who had lost out in the race for VC, was seen by many as a unifying figure to help move the university forward from the imbroglio. He set to his task helping to heal the wounds of the recent past with a new style of administration that could at best be described as hands on. He moved among the students freely and tried as much as possible to ease their pains. A while after his appointment he made a move to reinstate Fasayo and his expelled colleagues which doused the tension on the campus. In a recent interview with the magazine, he stated categorically that he never found any evidence to link Omole with the killings, instead blaming it on the humiliation suffered by the Black Axe.
But a decade after, Adeleke still holds the same old grudges against Omole. Speaking from his fish farm in Ota, Ogun State, Adeleke’s countenance still remains strong. He spoke like he was on the dais addressing a political meeting. Sometimes he got carried away and raised a finger in the air with a penetrating stare that tells at heart he is a politician. He alleges that Omole bought away the other half of the executive. On his part, Faro, now a barrister at law with a thriving practice of his own on Lagos Island, claims Adeleke lied about the incident. He said Adeleke was quick to point accusing fingers at Omole because he knew about the attacks. He claims the attacks were aimed at eliminating his group and that Iwilade happened to have been the only major victim within the executive. Usamot, now an accountant in Port Harcourt also corroborates Faro’s views. Usamot says he “got tired of life and wept” and claims it was obvious that the cultists explored the crisis within the executive to perpetrate the attacks. “If the wall is not cracked, lizards will not enter,” he says. United in their anger, they all regret that ten years after, no one has been sent to jail for the killings. “It is a statement to the fact that persons can commit crime and go scotfree in a country that lays claim to the rule of law,” says Faro angrily. For his part, Adeleke feels that it is “unfortunate that the porous nature of our judicial system would allow the hand of justice to be turned away”.
But more important a lesson that should have been learnt from the Ife crisis is the fact that cultism has grown unfettered in Nigeria, first from the schools and now into a lingering problem which has eaten deep into the nation's politics. The Federal government had an opportunity to fight cultism through the Ife experience but did not, only releasing a meager N10 million for each university to raise up billboards on campuses denouncing cultism instead of rooting out the malaise. It is an approach that failed which has resulted into a bigger problem in society. “The cult boys of yesterday are now the political leaders of today,” says Omole. “Our politics has been hijacked by former campus thugs. Now cults fight for political relevance on the political sphere rather than on campuses because there’s more money there.” It is a view supported by Dayo Fadugba, a former PRO of the Ife SUG. He says that society’s decadence led to the increase in cultism and that it is glaring to all with the situation in the Niger Delta where politicians have been sponsoring cultists to fight against their opponents thereby heating up the system. Makanjuola posits that there are three ways to end cultism. These he says are prevention, rehabilitation and punishment. But the most important thing he says is the need to have a cohesive students union that can band together to bring an end to the malaise because it is the students who know their colleagues that are into the vice. “If any organized students union decides to get rid of cultism on campus, they will do it,” Makanjuola emphasizes. Adewumi believes that cultism will continue to thrive until the governmental agencies in charge of prosecuting illegal activities wake up to their duty. “The attitude of the police and government have made cultism thrive in Nigeria because they have not pursued tenaciously the trial of people accused of murder,” he says.
Far from the problem only being with the cults, students unions also share a part of the blame. For the most part, most student unions on Nigerian campuses are run like fascist organisations where those with the biggest thugs are in charge of affairs. Instead of being an avenue for training into leadership, unions have become a way to embezzle funds and ensure the rule of force and brigandage. “Many student leaders seem to believe that violence and oppression are the tools that they should use to get their aim,” laments Makanjuola who suffered physical attacks from students’ leaders during his tenure as the institution’s VC. Looking back, Faro sees that there is too much exuberance among student leaders. Like Golding’s marooned boys in the Lord of the Flies, while on campus, students’ leaders forget that they have a responsibility to society and their families but they go ahead and cause havoc. “It is not wrong to try and change a bad system but they become part of the rot on the long run because they end up not being able to account for students’ funds and they try to hide their weaknesses by appealing to the gullible sensibilities of the generality of the students to ensure they’re never expelled or made to account for their stewardship,” Faro says.
Still for the families of the victims of July 10, 1999, the long wait for justice continues. “We don’t care if the criminals were A or B, it doesn’t matter who they are, all we are concerned about is that justice is served for us the victims,” says Akin Iwilade. Time will tell if the victims of Ife’s carnage ever get justice as the years roll over themselves even as the dead turn in their graves with anger at a society that allows the blood of its young to be spilt needlessly by criminal gangs. The Abelian blood of Ife’s dead still cries out against the sons of Cain that perpetrated the evil act.