OAU Five is the name given to the five students of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, who were killed during a series of shootings and murders which took place on the school campus on Saturday, July 10, 1999. It resulted in the death of five students and left many more students of the school injured. It was perpetrated by a squad of about 40 members of the Black Axe Confraternity branch at the university, in collaboration with some of their colleagues from other schools. They invaded the Awolowo Hall of the university at around 4.30am, clad in black clothes, with their faces hidden by masks, and attacked students with guns and machetes. A former President of the school’s Students’ Union Government, Lanre Adeleke, popularly known as Legacy, who narrowly escaped death as he was also a target, tells BOLA BAMIGBOLA about the incident
When you remember an incident of over 20 years ago where five students of Obafemi Awolowo University were murdered in cold blood by cult members, what comes to your mind?
Well, it is the sad story of a country that is not yet developed, where justice is still elusive, where everything is wrong, where nobody is held accountable, and where the security of lives and property is not assured. It says a lot about the degeneration in the system. Is it the judiciary you want to talk about or the police, academic institutions, vice-chancellors and so on? Speaking of the killing of Afrika (George Iwilade) and the four other students, we have read about those who partook in it with facts to back it up. We want our (OAU) Students’ Union Government to revisit it so that Nigerians can have confidence that we are building a society that is safe for all of us.
For the sake of those who didn’t know what led to the killings, how did it happen?
It was at a period when we were coming out of the military era and cultism was virtually in most other schools but not in Ife (OAU). We had a union in Ife that was quite radical and didn’t allow the influence of cultists to take root on the campus. Aside from that, we had vice-chancellors taking orders from the military junta and equally not democratic. So it was a period when the Students’ Union Government put up strong resistance to the school’s vice-chancellor.
The resistance was about basic things: fighting for welfarism, rights of students to unite, talk and express themselves, demand for whatever they needed, accountability, and against obnoxious school fees and the likes. In a normal society where things are done right, such things would not have been a problem. In such places, a committee would look at them and do what is right but because of the way things were at that time, it was the use of force that prevailed. Students’ union executives were being expelled and the conflict was reverberating through the campus. It takes a university with a dynamic and active students’ union that is devoid of any interference in terms of cultism to have a school where cultism would not prevail and that was what we had in Ife.
Cultists were trying to have their way into the campus and the school authorities created an avenue for that and eventually supported them willfully. I will tell you that we first arrested four cultists on March 7, 1999. They were gathering for initiation and they had some students who were from other schools who wanted to join them in the initiation.
Before the initiation, a student drove into the car park where they were gathering along the road and splashed water on their car. They traced the student to Mozambique Hall and beat him up badly. But because we had a virile students’ union government, the student reported the matter at the Union Executives’ Block and we had to move round to know where those students came from but unfortunately they were not living in any hall of residence. They were living at the staff quarters where lecturers were supposed to be living; they were living in a ‘boys’ quarters’ meant for a lecturer. We found out that the ‘boys’ quarters’ was locked from behind but when those that went there were leaving, they noticed that there was movement inside the house. So, they entered the house and arrested some boys there, and what they found shocked everybody. They found four machine guns, among several other weapons and ammunition under the bed. So it was glaring that they were planning some things and they had to be taken to Awolowo Hall because the issue was beyond molestation of a fellow student.
So, what happened at Awolowo Hall?
Voluntarily, those students that were caught started confessing.They said they were on the campus for initiation and the weapons were for their initiation. One of them mentioned the name of a very senior staff member and said he knew about their activities and was actually their patron. At that point in time, there was no way we could have handed them over to the school authorities, so we took them to the police area command at Moore in Ife.
Since a senior staff member was implicated, we reported the case to the school management so that they could clarify some things. We felt in an intellectual community, that was the most befitting way of addressing the issue. What we wanted was for the person to denounce the relationship he allegedly had with the guys that were arrested and allow the rule of law to take its course. But unfortunately, the school management hurriedly closed down the school and sent students packing, which showed that something was fishy.
You would not believe that the set of students that were detained at Moore had been released before we got back to school. We realised the school authorities were behind their release and at the end of the day, we found out that their trial at the Magistrates’ Court was held between March 24 and 31, 1999, which I knew to be the fastest criminal case ever tried as at that time at the court.
All weapons and other evidence found with them were asked to be destroyed by the magistrate. When we returned to school in June 1999, we had to take it up with the school administration because we expected the school to make sure the case was followed up and that the affected students were expelled or suspended for being found to be involved in cultism. But the students were all over the place, moving round the campus and even attending lectures. We had to write several press releases to challenge the school authorities that it ought not to be so.
How could the culprits we apprehended be moving freely without any meaningful trial? We found out after July 10 from the judicial panel of enquiry that they were actually not given any trial as they had claimed. They were actually given letters after July 10. And eventually, they carried out their attack on July 10. What was glaring was that we resisted the attack after the killing of five students by going after them in the early hours of that day and apprehending them. The confessions those caught made that day made it glaring that the senior staff member supported them, even by giving money to them from the bursary.
It was corroborated by the bursar that money was given out for security operation to one man, who was alleged to have received the money and given it to one of the alleged cultists who came from Lagos. All the evidence was there and the judicial panel of enquiry was baffled.
It was even more glaring when the security officers of the school were asked how the cultists were able to escape when they came so early, around 4.30am, they could not say anything because contrary to the norm, the university closed its (main) gate at 12 midnight and didn’t open it until 6am. The cultists went out through that same gate they came in before 6am and were able to escape. Interestingly, the university had security gadgets like walkie-talkies and radio sets that were used to communicate at the halls of residence, quarters, main security unit, Senate Building and the gate. The walkie-talkies were connected and they all worked for 24 hours.
It will surprise you that when the security officers were asked questions before the judicial panel of enquiry, they claimed that all their batteries were flat at the same time, which must be a big lie. All we needed at that time was for a government that was determined to ensure that justice was done but unfortunately that did not happen.
What roles did you and some others play after the students were apprehended at the boys’ quarters?
I was not in school when they were apprehended. I was at a programme in Lagos State, but Afrika (Iwilade) and some others were the ones who apprehended those students. When I came back, they gave me the report and told me why they had to hand them over to the police at Moore. And to me, it was the best thing that they could have done. As the President of the Students’ Union Government, I had to send a letter to the school management, only for the vice-chancellor to shut down the school.
What eventually happened to the weapons found with the students?
The magistrate ruled that the four machine guns should be returned to either the armory of the police or that of the Nigerian Army; I’m not too sure now. He also ordered that other weapons should be destroyed and that the boys should be released. The trial was concluded within eight days; I have never seen that in my life.
Can you recollect what happened on the day the five students were killed on campus?
Those boys found their way back into the campus in June after the school resumed. And right from the time we saw them on campus, we started alerting the university that we were seeing the guys they claimed they had suspended. They were a threat to the peace we enjoyed on campus and as far as we were concerned, justice had not been done. We had some programmes on July 7 and 9; we had some remembrance programmes in honour of the late Kudirat Abiola and some others. We invited lots of people from Lagos for symposia. We had about two or three programmes before July 9 and lots of guests, including human rights activists were giving talks.
And I was supposed to be at a programme in Lagos on July 10. I would have left on July 9, but some of our comrades wanted to attend that programme with me. So, because of the logistics and some other things, I had to wait behind but our guests who came for the July 9 programme left for Lagos.
While I was in my office, one of the cultists just walked in. And like I said, I was not around in March when they raided their home and found some weapons. I only got the report. He greeted me, said Mr. President and walked out. Fortunately for me, someone was with me in the office, giving me the appraisal of what we had done so far. It was around 7pm or 8pm. It was that gentleman that told me that one of the guys we were looking for was the one who just greeted me, so I had to quickly ask our people to look for him. We searched everywhere and couldn’t find him.
Then I went to my Hall of Residence. I never knew they had already planned to attack that night. While I was in my room, Afrika came to see me. There were some other comrades in my room that day. The ‘Kegites’ were having their annual programme – ‘Gyration’. It brings all Kegite clubs in the country together. Being the international headquarters, they all came to Ife for that festival. They wanted to honour Afrika by making him a member but he was too tired because of the programmes we had had.
So he begged them to allow him sleep till the moment when he would be honoured. He said they should send someone to wake him up. I told Afrika that to honour him, when they came around to wake him, he should call on me too. So we all went to our rooms, and his room was close to mine. Apart from my room, the room between my room and Afrika’s room, there was only one room left (on that line), which was next to the toilet. We went to bed but all other persons in my room went downstairs to join the Kegites’ gyration.
I was on the rug while others were on the bed, on the floor and on the rug in my room. When they left, I remained on the rug because I was tired. Around 4am or thereabouts, a lady came to wake me up. She wanted to see me and when she was told I was not at the Kegites’ gyration, she came upstairs. You need to know that in OAU, you could walk at anytime in the night regardless of your sex or age. You could be sure no fellow student would harass you, let alone cultists.
The lady asked why I was sleeping on the rug. She told me to sleep on the bed. About the time that I was about to sleep on the bed, someone knocked on my door. I think that was the last time they came to confirm if I was in the room. The person knocked and called my name – Legacy, Legacy. The lady answered and said I was tired. He advised the person to come sometime later in the day and allow me to rest. I knew she left me about that time and went to her hall. According to her, it was while she was on the stairs that she heard the first gunshot in Awolowo Hall.
Later, we got to know that about 48 armed men came and were shooting indiscriminately to disperse those at the Kegites’ gyration. Some of them were already on the floor where Afrika and I resided. But about the time they fired the first gunshot downstairs; I woke up and ran outside. The light in the corridor had been switched off. They had attacked someone that was sleeping outside; that was Yemi Ajiteru. He slept there with his girlfriend. He was equally a final-year student. The lady ran into the Kegites’ room downstairs. I think their attention was diverted to the person who was running behind them and they saw Ajiteru. As at the time they shot Ajiteru, I was right behind them and I saw as three guys opened fire on Ajiteru.
I was lucky to have come out when I heard the first gunshot that was used to disperse the Kegites. I was not sure if the gunshot came from Awolowo Hall until the time they opened fire on Ajiteru. That was when I ran back into my room.
There was a medical student living in the room between mine and Afrika’s. I had to go to the guy’s room and together we moved to the last room. It was a two-storey building. When they entered my room, they didn’t see me, so they went straight to Afrika’s room. Unfortunately for Afrika, he was sleeping in the room. Tunde Oke was also in the room as of that time. They shot Afrika right there on his bed and shot Tunde, who was by his side and hacked at their bodies as well.
When the medical student and I got to the last room, we met some other students there. At a point, I struggled to come out because I thought they were going from one room to another as they were shouting my name. They were shouting, ‘Legacy, if you’re bold, come out.’ I felt the right thing was to go out and confront them. But the guys in the room held me down. When they left, I came out and went to Afrika’s room. Afrika was dead but Tunde was still alive. He called my name and stretched his hand towards me to help him. I immediately looked outside to see if I could find a student, but I couldn’t find anybody. I went up and down. The person that I saw thought I was a ghost, so he ran back. I had to convince him that I was alive but before we got to Tunde Oke, he had lost so much blood, and he died. If I had got assistance early enough to be able to rescue him, he would have been saved.
When the cultists were coming upstairs earlier on, they met one guy on the staircase and he was also shot or probably it was when they were leaving. The guy’s name was Efe Ekidi. That made it four students – Afrika, Tunde, Ajiteru and Efe. They also attacked a lot of students with machetes and axes. There was one student (Charles) they met while going upstairs, they slapped him across the face and the guy retaliated, so they shot at him. They used an axe to cut him and he ran behind a door. The guy lost consciousness. When we picked up Tunde Oke, we were able to carry Charles too and take them to the General Hospital. He was unconscious for seven days and when he came out of his coma, that was when he knew that he had been brutally dealt with by the cultists but he survived it. I saw him last year or two years ago at Ijebu Ode. He is a successful lawyer.
The cultists branched at Fajuyi Hall while they were leaving and from one of the blocks, a student came out, not knowing they were there and he was shot. His name was Eviano Ekelemu, a Part 5 medical student. That made it five students that were murdered. Several other students were injured; some had minor gunshot wounds. Eventually, the cultists went back to my office where they had actually seen me earlier, thinking the information they had about me being in the room was not correct. They went to the students’ union building, broke into my office, shot at the glasses there, and used their axes to damage the fridge before they drove out of the campus.
The funny thing and the big question you ask yourself is why the batteries of all the walkie-talkies in all the halls of residence, at the Senate Building, and the different security checkpoints were flat at the same time as claimed by the school authorities. That is unbelievable. And the gate was left open for them to leave without anybody questioning them.
What did you do immediately after that?
I called a congress immediately and at the congress of the students’ union, what we did was to set up some committees. We had a Search and Rescue Committee that started looking for all the students that were injured in the bush, on the paths, in their rooms and taking them to the Health Centre. We had another committee to look for people that would donate blood to the wounded persons. We had a security committee that went round Ife town and blocked all the exits leading out of Ife. It was later that we were able to catch Efosa and Emeka.
And when they were arrested, they were caught with clothes bearing the insignia of their cult group with blood on them. These guys gave us the list of names of all the cultists that came – those that were students of OAU and those that came from other schools. And it was the list that we used to track the students that we knew because we didn’t know some of them. They also confessed that the school authorities gave them N350,000 to buy ammunition on July 8 and the money was given to one man before it was later given to somebody from the University of Lagos, called Ado.
The Lagos State Criminal Intelligence Department arrested Ado and what Ado wrote was exactly the same thing the guys told us. We were able to apprehend about 33 persons out of the 48; some of them were arrested by the police. I know a guy who confessed to his pastor in church and somebody who was there and knew about the case called the police and he was arrested.
We monitored the case for three years and despite the distance, I made myself available in Lagos every Monday to Thursday. I used to travel between Ife and Lagos for three years, only for the judges to be fighting among themselves about who would become the state Attorney General and because of that, we heard that the case was transferred to Iwo. Before we got there, we were told the boys had been released. The Director of Public Prosecutions appealed and that also failed. That was the drama we saw and the police could not track the suspects again.
Reports say that immediately after the massacre, you addressed the students, how were you able to calm them down?
Yes, I did, as the President of the Students’ Union Government. I could have run away and let the students retaliate, vandalise, and molest anybody. Even the school’s principal officers could have been killed. If you recall, the child of Prof. Wale Omole was beaten but I ensured that nothing happened to her because the issue had gone beyond the use of violence. We had to follow the due process.
As a leader at that time, despite the shock, what mattered to me most were those who were injured or shot at because they needed urgent medical attention. So my priority was their safety. So what I did was to call a congress and we set up a committee to oversee that. It was at that congress that I addressed the students, so addressing the students was not very difficult. But I had to coordinate them.
Can you remember what you said to the students during the address?
We talked about the fact that cultists attacked students on campus and that they were calling on students’ union leaders to come out. We mentioned the fact that we had written letters to the school authorities that the cultists were still being seen on campus. We talked about the fact that all those students had earlier been arrested in March. The major thing I talked about that early morning was that we must apprehend the cultists that carried out the attack and that was what we did. After we apprehended Emeka and Efosa, we were able to get all the information about how money was given to them.
You called for the resignation of Prof. Wale Omole as the vice-chancellor, why?
Yes, they mentioned his name at the station earlier in March 1999. They also mentioned his name after July 7 when we arrested Efosa and Emeka. We had also written several letters about the fact that the cultists were on campus. We had also written a letter that people’s lives were not secure, especially when the cultists were first caught and the VC couldn’t do anything about it. Those were the clear issues on the ground. They claimed that the batteries of all the walkie-talkies in the university were flat during the attack. It was a deliberate plan and we wouldn’t have called for anything lesser than that.
A judicial panel of enquiry made up of lawyers, educationists, students and journalists was inaugurated, how would you describe the job they did?
Well, they did the little they could do; they called for the vice-chancellor’s arrest and trial. They were not a court. And I know they equally asked that some persons who tried to alter some reports in order to muddle up facts should be punished. They called on the associations of some of them like the Nigerian Bar Association to punish them.
Some reports say the suspected cultists that you apprehended were tortured, is that true?
Efosa made his statement at the office of the Commissioner of Police; his statement was taken by a senior police officer. All the confessions he made to us tallied with what he wrote at the office of the Commissioner of Police. That was just before we arrested Kazo or Kareem Bello. Kareem Bello was arrested in company with people from Special Investigation Bureau in Osogbo; nobody tortured him. Yes, you could say that in the early hours of July 10, the cultists that were arrested could have been beaten by the mob of students in school. I won’t dispute that because there was so much anger in the air. It wasn’t any principal officers that gave us any evidence; I made sure we got the best of the evidence from them.
It was reported that one of the suspected cultists apprehended died, how did that happen?
That was not in our custody. Like I said, Emeka and Efosa were arrested and none of them died. Though the students were outraged by what happened and were seeking justice and all that, I must put it on record that even policemen joined in the search and arrest team that we constituted eventually, so there was no way that could have happened. So if there was anybody that died, it was those that were arrested in the early hours of that morning when we got the information.
Our students went to the University of Ibadan, University of Lagos, The Polytechnic, Ibadan and several other institutions, based on the information they had. They were picking up all the notorious students that were involved in notorious acts in their various institutions. Imagine we didn’t have July 10, God knows what our citadels of learning would have turned into by now.
Apart from the five students that were killed, how many were injured?
I don’t know the number of students that were injured, but I remember that about 20 students were taken to hospital. Some broke their legs while running, some fell down, and some jumped and got injured. There was a student that was shot and was in a coma for several days.
It was said that six of those who carried out the attack were from OAU, four from the University of Ibadan, four from the University of Lagos, eight from the University of Calabar and possibly some from the University of Benin, is that true?
Yes, they were from different schools. Some were from UNILAG, some from UNIBEN, and so on. We had about six of them from OAU; they were part of those arrested during the March episode and after that, none were arrested. So very few of them came from OAU; others came from different schools like you rightly said.
Can you mention the names of some brave students who played huge roles before and after the attack?
The Speaker of the students’ union, Saka Muhammed; he and Afrika were part of those that led the students to arrest those boys in March. He was equally there all through the time they were taking their records, until they were handed over to the police. Apart from my humble self that came in and took control, we had someone like Oyekanmi Taiwo. He was part of those that arrested Efosa as members of the search and rescue team that blocked all the exits. I can’t remember all their names but we operated as committees. There was also Sunday Adeyemi, who happened to be in one of the committees. I may not be able to remember names because it happened a long time ago.
What actions were taken after the case was dismissed, were there protests?
As at the time the case was dismissed, I was no more on the campus. The students’ union government on the ground held protests and rallies. I was called several times to talk about what happened. We did all that we could in our own capacity. The police commissioner told us that they were going to appeal and rearrest all those involved. But we were surprised that they were not rearrested. We heard that they had absconded, so the whole appeal itself couldn’t move forward. That was the exact situation; there was nothing we could do.
Having interacted with some of the victims, what kind of persons were they?
I didn’t know all five of them personally but I can talk about Tunde Oke. Oke happened to be a congressman. He was just a Part 1 student and was very passionate about the students’ union. He was not even called to any of the executive wing; he would come to congress, sit, and joke with the rest of the students. At protest grounds, he would be seen at the front with placards. He was interested in anything that had to do with the rights of students. He was a very brilliant young chap that was interesting to talk to about anything. Unfortunately, he was the first child of his family; the kind of person that the family would look up to as a source of joy but he was brought down at a very young age.
Talking about Afrika, Afrika happened to be the very first child of his family. Apart from the fact that he was the Secretary-General of the students’ union, he was a law student who believed in the fact that beyond the issue of law, imperialism should not be our path in Africa. He believed we must put African culture, tradition and beliefs into everything we do. You won’t believe he went to class all the time in traditional attire while others were busy putting on ties and shirts. He held the belief that you read and apply law and that it was not about the clothes or the white shirts being worn. At a point, they were forcing him to wear shirts and trousers. When he got to Part 3 and wanted to take a particular course, the condition was that, if he didn’t come to class wearing a shirt and a tie, they wouldn’t allow him in.
I was already waiting for that course and I gave him my support because I knew I was going to protest with him in that class and tell the lecturer there was nowhere it was stated that he must wear a particular type of dress to class. But unfortunately, that day didn’t come before he was killed. He was a very good person; he was very honest, humble, and level-headed. It was a personal pain to me that I lost him because I got all support I needed from him. I would tell you what happened when we were protesting at Yaba, Lagos and the police were firing at me at close range. Only Afrika, about seven others and I were present. We were nine that stayed back while others ran away. The nine of us faced them. I held the megaphone and was talking to an empty crowd that had run away. When the police eventually got to me, they hit me with the butt of the gun and the megaphone dropped from my hands. You wouldn’t believe how brave and courageous the gentleman was. He just moved down, picked the megaphone up, cleaned it and gave it back to me and said, ‘This is the megaphone Mr. President, continue your speech.’
I held that megaphone and continued and this left the police in disarray because they could not believe the kind of courage we exhibited. That was the kind of person he was as a union activist. He was determined, focused and courageous, so losing him at that time was exactly like losing a biological brother. For a brilliant person like that to be brought down and for this country to just pretend like nothing happened, pains me to my bone marrow. I know how his death affected his family; his parents are dead now but I can clearly say that if anything shortened their lives, it was probably the death of Afrika.
For Eviano, a Part 5 medical student, his family were waiting for him to finish. For Ajiteru, his family were waiting for him to complete his extra year and be through. Ekide was just in Part 2. It is so demoralising when you know you’re in a country where nothing can be done. I know their families went through hell because I witnessed what Afrika and Oke’s families went through.
Looking back now, how did you manage to spend the rest of your days on campus?
My interest was to ensure that justice was done. It was just about three months to finish from Ife because I was in my final year. After I finished, I went for my National Youth Service Corps programme but I had to change my state of service to Lagos for me to be coming to Osogbo for the case. For over three years, I couldn’t do anything fundamental apart from the fact that I was trying to seek justice. That means I added three and a half years extra and during those three and a half years, I travelled from Monday to Thursday from Lagos to Osogbo with lawyers. Aside from that, I ensured that every July 10, I was on that campus just to ensure that students picked up that agitation in the quest for justice.