By Bonny Ibhawoh,
I wrote this tribute in 1999 after the untimely death in a car crash of one of the most vibrant, energetic and socially conscious students I have encountered in my University teaching career. His name is Moses Oisakede. He was a medical student at Edo State University, Nigeria and a student activist who became the president of the largest student organization in Nigeria, if not in all Africa – the “National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS)” He died while travelling from to another University for a meeting of the Association. Eleven years after, Moses Oisakede remains fondly remembered by many who knew and admired him.
Tribute to Moses Oisakede
Until he became the president of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) about a year ago and his untimely death in a car accident recently, not many had heard of Moses Oisakede. He could have passed for any other Nigerian university student struggling to keep up with his academic work and the challenge of surviving on campus. But for those who knew Moses, his was a short but eventful life marked by an unwavering commitment to the cause of Nigerian students.
I first met Moses five years ago. Then, as a lecturer at the Edo State University (now Ambrose Alli University), where he was a second year medical student, he had approached me to become a staff patron of the Reformers Academy – an inter-campus organisation intended to mobilise Nigerian students towards greater political and social awareness, which he and others had formed. Given my previous experiences with students’ organisations, I was initially reluctant to accept the invitation. But Moses, never one to take no for an answer, persisted.
To convince me that his was going to be a different organisation, he presented me with an ambitious but impressive proposal of how the Reformers Academy would become “the springboard for the social and intellectual emancipation of Nigerian students and workers”. Indeed, under his leadership, the Reformers Academy became a melting pot of students’ activism on campus. Through its regular public lectures, seminars and workshops, it became an influential forum at which both students and faculty addressed a variety of topical issues.
My association with the Reformers Academy was the beginning of a relationship with Moses which went beyond that of teacher and student. He became a friend and a trusted confidant. What first struck me about Moses was the sheer intensity and tenacity with which the young man carried his convictions. When sometime in 1996, he informed me that he intended to contest for the presidency of the University’s Students’ Union, I had my apprehensions. Not that I had any doubts that Moses was eminently qualified for the position, but because knowing the kind of dedication he brought into anything he believed in, I feared that he would pursue the cause at the expense of his studies.
“How can you possibly combine students’ union presidency with your studies as a medical student?”, I recall asking him. His response was typical.
“Sir, I will do my best …but you see, things have just got to change around here and we can’t afford to just sit and watch”. He would often remind me of his favourite Franz Fanon quote – “Out of relative obscurity, each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it”. He believed that there was an urgent challenge to fulfil the mission of his generation.
Moses was subsequently elected president of the students’ union putting, as I feared, all his time energy and resources into the office. His tenure as president is still fondly remembered by students at the Ambrose Alli University (then Edo State University) as the “Aluta era”, an allusion to his uncompromising attitude with the authorities on student’s welfare.
Even as president of the EDSU students union, Moses was actively involved with NANS. As many of his colleagues in NANS would attest to, he was an advocate for unity and reconciliation at a time when the organisation was threatened with opportunism and factionalism. When, after his tenure as University’s Student Union president, he stood for election as NANS president, he was seen by many as a natural choice.
I met him soon after his election as NANS president and congratulated him. His mood was still upbeat. His response to my banters was typical of his humility and sense of duty.
“Congratulations, his excellency Mr. President”, I teased.
“Ah, no sir. I am not his excellency ….just a servant of Nigerian students”
“Where is your mobile phone? (This was when mobile phones in Nigeria were the ultimate status symbol). The president of NANS should be entitled to a mobile phone”
“How will I justify such ostentation before the mass of impoverished Nigerian students?” he responded.
During our brief encounter, he spoke about his vision for NANS which were typically ambitious. He spoke about restoring the lost glory of NANS; reconciling the opposing factions within the organisation and bringing students and workers welfare back to the top of the national agenda. He also talked about linking up with students in other African countries in some sort of pan African students’ organisation.
Indeed, his tenure as NANS president was marked by characteristic activism. He was at the forefront of the fights against cultism in many campuses and was quite vocal in articulating the position of NAN on such contentious issues as the introduction of school fees in the universities. The fact that he died while on a peace mission to a University campus is, in many ways, a testimony of the commitment and dedication with which Moses carried the cause of Nigerian students.
Although he was only 28, Moses Oisakede in death as in life remains a symbol of the promise and potential of Nigerian youth. He may never have become a medical doctor or a biochemist as he so earnestly wished but in his commitment to the cause of Nigerian students, Moses has served the country as well as any doctor or biochemist ever could.