Four deaths too many: A revisit of how student leaders trapped between politics and unionism died five years ago

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“We all went to donate blood to the last survivor. Some of us were still in the laboratory undergoing test when we got the news that he had died.

Not too many student leaders in Ondo State will forget the event that occurred on the 13th of July, 2012. It was a red letter day on a fateful Thursday. The student leaders had journeyed together in a 12-seater passenger vehicle on this Thursday morning enroute their various campuses after a meeting in Abuja. Ramming into a vehicle, only four of them were victims of the accident which would later claim their lives. Five years on, Waliu Alao who had barely alighted before the accident occurred spoke with BABATUNDE ALAO on events that necessitated their trip to Abuja and a possible avoidance of the accident, if they had travelled earlier.

What a narrow escape!

Mandela as widely called, Ismaila Waliu Alao had swallowed up death in victory, a ‘luck’ he will never forget in a lifetime. Mandela was few months away from being a graduate of History and International Studies at Adekunle Ajasin University Akungba Akoko, AAUA and his position as the SUG President of the institution obviously placed him on the platform to access the ‘Abuja powers’.

Counting himself lucky, Mandela recounts, “We had earlier survived a robbery attack in Okene. They were gang of terror-men with the Nigerian-Soldiers camouflage uniform fully tied round their heads.

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“Surviving this earlier was a great thing for me. By grace, I was lucky to have alighted at Oka-Akoko to join my friend, Ashogbon Henry, who many saw as my political enemy.”

Waliu Alao

Mandela had left the remaining comrades enroute their various destinations via the dilapidated Ikare-Owo road.

Few minutes afterwards, it dawned on him he had cheated death when he received a call. 

“Some minutes after, I got a call from Ademola, my then Chief in the Kegite Club International AAUA chapter(ilya Du Hill), who was on his way to grace the coronation ceremony of the new Kegite Chief of Ilya Du Tractor (Federal College of Agriculture, Akure).”

A narrow escape Mandela saw as divine.“I will say I was miraculously saved by Almighty Allah who has been my source of safety.”

“Immediately, I ordered for the Union bus and I got some comrades to join me. It was a bad day at FMC, Owo. May we never experience such again.”

The Dead

Upon receiving the news of the accident involving his fellow unionists, Mandela, at the drop of a hat ordered the union bus be made available for a journey with other students to the Federal Medical Centre, Owo, where the victims were reported to have been transferred to.

Dapo Awopegba, the Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA) Student Union President; Abiodun Akinola, the Student Union President of Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo and Akinlosotu Oyinkansola, Union President for Ondo State School of Midwifery Akure had bitten the dust at the spot. Aremo Gbenga died few days later due to alleged neglect.

Popularly called DPO in his days,Dapo Julius Awopegba was elected the Student Union President of FUTA for the 2012/2013 session. 

In his tribute to DPO, his predecessor, Salami Ismail Oyewole(SAMA) described him a courageous comrade whose good to humanity can never be forgotten.

A second victim was Akinlosotu Oyinkansola from the School of Midwifery while the third was Abiodun Akinola Akindojutimi of Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo. 

Abiodun who was popularly called Abbey  and the only child of his mother, he was described a freedom fighter and the Martin Luther King of his time, by a student leader from the dame institution, Tayo Marcus Olubode.

Just when many thought Aremo Gbenga Oyebode had only been at death’s door to tell the story, the student community in the state was shocked about the news of his death just when they thought he was recuperating.

Mandela regrets, “He died after a few days at the Federal Medical Centre, Owo. 

“We thought he was recuperating until we got a notice that he would need some pints of blood to survive. We all went there for blood examination and donation. 

“But alas, he died while some of us were in the laboratory undergoing test. 

“It was to be my turn when the news of his death filtered in from the Intensive Care Unit of FMC, Owo.”

Gbenga, a 27 year old 400-level student of English Department, Adeyemi College of English, and also the Vice President of NANS, External Affairs, was an unfortunate victim of the poor state of public hospitals as he was confirmed to have died of undiagnosed internal bleeding.

The living

Owonola Abiodun, known as Equity was an undergraduate of Adekunle Ajasin University Akungba Akoko(AAUA) before the incident and remains one of the survivors of the accident. 

In a press release published by Sahara Reporters and credited to the Zonal Treasurer of the National Association Nigerian Students, NANS, Com. Olawande Ajayi and dated February 15, 2014, the association accused the then state government of molesting the survivor when he had attempted to gain access to the governor (then Dr. Olusegun Mimiko) 0n January 30, 2014 at the commissioning of a project in Akure.

Of a truth, time heals the wound, but does not take away the scares. 

A former chairman of Ondo Axis of NANS Joint Campus Committee (JCC), Owonola has been going about in clutches. 

Equity (middle in crutches)

He has at a point lamented how the incident was a setback to his academics and also severed him from his aged parents, who he has been avoiding for precautionary reasons.

Living to tell the story, He had sometimes in 2016 dedicated an article titled “Ondo4 – Watch Well As  You Rest Your Souls” to his fellow comrades who unlike him did not live to tell the story.

Abuja trip, a mix of politics and activism

The union leaders had a busy night penultimate day before the incident thanks to an award night organized to honour the former governor of Ondo State, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko and also had their journey delayed owing to a meeting with the then Minister of Education Prof. Ruqayyatu Rufai.

On the part of the journey that involved activism, Mandela recalled, “Adeyemi College of Education was in crisis during that period and dire necessity for common intervention of the state body of National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS).

“Abiodun, the President of the campus seem helpless as he was not on the good record of the then provost, Prof. Idowu.

To the NANS goons, they never knew our intention.”

Mandela pointed out, “The event also marked the official end of the national leadership of NANS under Comrade Dauda Mohammed. 

“We graced it as Student Leaders in our own right. After all, we were there as audience without any official role or endorsement for our state governor who was awarded. It was all ‘their’ affair.”

Overwhelmed with surprise and shock, they overtly condemned the idea. Mandela continues, “We condemned this idea in its fullest term and this we equally did by sending a protest text message to the Governor himself, the then Secretary to the State Government, Dr. Aderotimi Adelola and the then Vice-Chancellor of AAUA, Professor Femi Mimiko, whose influence we strategically sought to get some of our demands met from the state government. We condemned the award.”

 The France-based diplomat explains, “Strategically, we met the Minister while the event was on to get our position paper on Adeyemi across. 

“That guaranteed the appointment she fixed with us for the next morning we were to leave Abuja. 

The living survivors would agree that it was this meeting that delayed our movement when we were to return from Abuja on July 13th, 2012.”

 

Forgotten forever or dead to be remembered?

Five years gone, humans might have forgotten but time will never forget there was an accident that claimed the lives of four young Nigerian minds.

Perhaps moved with emotions, the former Governor made promises to the victims as well as the student body, none of which was fulfilled before the expiration of his administration. 

NANS had demanded that the slain comrades be immortalized.

To Mandela, the event has left him to be more grateful than ever. 

“The psychological torture lingers. You may need to know that my sleeping habit has been badly affected ever since then. I’m still battling with this. 

“In my own human thought, I feel life would have been better growing with them. But today, they are gone.

“I feel bad whenever I thought of not having any of my generation of SUG Presidents to relive experience with. 

“This almost crippled my radical activities upon resumption for second semester as the incident occurred during the AAUA first semester break.

“A chapter of my memoir would capture this well. I only wish I’ll be lucky to write it,” he concluded.

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