Juxtaposed against today’s mercenary students’ activism which has most university unions fractured and their leaders compromised, Okeowo represented a glorious era of the late 70s. His was a world that was influenced by deep ideological divides; a time students took principled stand on national issues and pursued their collective interests with maturity and self-assuredness.

The Ali-Must-Go Protests or the 1978 students’ crisis where students protests in Nigeria following an increase in fees. The protest has been described as one of the most violent student agitations in Nigeria that sparked the greatest political crisis of the 1975–1979 Mohammed/Obasanjo military administration.

During the Olusegun Obasanjo led military regime, Dr. Jibril Aminu, the Secretary of the Nigerian University Commission announced that due to the high cost of living in the country, students would begin to pay extra fees. According to the Nigerian University Commission, tuition fee was to remain free for all undergraduates, sub-degree Diploma as well as students of teacher education. Hostel accommodation, however, would be increased to ₦90 per student per session of 36 weeks or ₦30 per student in a session of three terms. The increment also meant that the cost of meal tickets rose from ₦1.50 to ₦2.00 i.e increased by 50 kobo.

The president of the National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS) at the time,  Segun Okeowo who was a student at the University of Lagos made attempts to rectify the changes as it was unsatisfactory for the students. The students held meetings in Ilorin, Maiduguri, and Calabar before deciding to take the bold step of challenging the military government on the increment.

Apart from the fees, another agitation of the students was that tertiary education was suffering because there were very few federal government-owned universities and no private or state-owned universities.

Tertiary education was therefore seen as a privilege and that the federal government could not cope with the number of people seeking admission. This agitation as well as the increase in fees led to the protests.

The then Minister of Education,  Ahmadu Ali was believed to be at the center of the uprising but he tried to shift responsibility to the Supreme Military Council citing that the increment was made by the Supreme Military Council and not the Ministry of Education. The protest chant, ‘Ali Must Go’ was coined as a result.

Over forty-three years ago, Okeowo, as President of the National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS), had led university students across Nigeria to a protest against what was considered an arbitrary hike in students’ meal ticket by the military administration. After several meetings and consultations with the Federal Government as represented then by the Federal Commissioner for Education, Col. Ahmadu Ali, without achieving a reversal, NUNS called out students on a national protest which was to be tagged ‘Ali Must Go’.

The mass protests spiralled beyond the campuses, spilling into towns and causing apprehension and fear among the populace.

The military administration led by General Olusegun Obasanjo was rash and impulsive in its response, calling out armed police detachments to quell the riots and shutting down campuses thereafter. When the dust settled, many students had been killed while many others sustained injuries. Though the increment was never reversed, ‘Ali Must Go’ protest was a watershed in the annals of students uprising in Nigeria as it conveyed to the military government of the day, the capacity for students to mobilise across the country and carry out effective agitation. The protest was also significant for it helped to further mainstream student unionism as a national discourse, just as it showcased the power of students to agitate and force change.

Segun Okeowo who led this historic action was promptly rusticated from the University of Lagos; he was to earn his first degree in Education two years later in 1980 at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University). Okeowo’s activist trajectory dated back to his days in Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo, where he was also the students’ union leader. He was to become President of the University of Lagos Students’ Union, then National President of NUNS.

After graduation, he went on to a remarkable career as an educationist, rising to be principal in many schools in Ogun State such as Ogijo High School; Makun High School, both in Sagamu and Christ Apostolic Grammar School, Iperu Remo. He was appointed a commissioner in the Ogun State Electoral Commission, 1983; he was also member, Federal Government Panel of Enquiry on Ahmadu Bello University Students’ Crisis in 1986.

He was quite prominent in the activities of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) and the All Nigerian Conference of Principals of Secondary Schools (ANCOPSS). His last call of duty was as Chairman of the Ogun State Teaching Service Commission from where he retired in 2011.

Illustrious and highly regarded in his hometown, Shagamu community, he was honoured with the traditional titles of Akogun of Makun, Obamuwagun of Iperu-Remo and Bobajiroro of Idena.

Okeowo was an iconic figure who defined protests and students activism for his generation. Regrettably, he had not latched on to his early rise to fame and prominence to drive social change and make a lasting impact at the national level.

He was rather subsumed under the bureaucratic inertia of the civil service where he could be said to have served time and lived a sedentary life. It was anti-climactic if not disappointing to his numerous acolytes that Segun Okeowo, the great student leader ended up as a dyed-in-the-wool establishmentarian. He was a great pioneer nonetheless.

No wonder that Segun Okeowo salute spirit never leave the family, as most of his son have always gotten involved in liberation struggles during moves to fight for justice in their different schools and communities. To mention but few; his first son Kolade Segun Okeowo (KSO), Kayode Segun Okeowo (Ikenga) and many other of their siblings.

Ikenga Okeowo
Ikenga Okeowo

The sun, later, finally set on Mr Segun Okeowo, the arrowhead of ‘Ali Must Go’ protests, arguably one of the most violent students agitation in the country.

Okeowo who championed the students’ protest in the late 70s against the General Olusegun Obasanjo-led military government died at about 6.30 a.m. at Olabisi Onabanjo University Teaching Hospital, Sagamu, at the age of 73 in the year 2014, January precisely.

Source: Wikipedia’s and Segun Okeowo’s family

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