Dissident tells of academic repression

December 1, 1995

A former Nigerian foreign minister and academic this week accused the military regime of General Sani Abacha of punishing the country's universities to prevent them becoming the focus of dissent.

Bolaji Akinyemi, foreign affairs spokesman of the Nigerian National Democratic Coalition, now in exile in London, said that the country's universities would need to be completely restructured when the Abacha regime was replaced by a democratic government.

Professor Akinyemi, formerly a senior lecturer in international relations at the University of Ibadan and a research fellow at St John's College, Cambridge, said: "When I was a student at Oxford in the 1960s, the Nigerian university system had a first-class reputation.

"Now the universities have lost their scholarship. The government has not provided enough funds. It thought it would punish the universities because that is where things start - with the lecturers and with the students. If they are starving and without funds, they will have no time left to take on the government.

"The country is just bubbling under the surface. But the students know that if they demonstrate they will be mown down at the gates of the campuses. The university system is in pretty poor shape. There has been a massive exodus of intellectuals."

People like him, who believed in dialogue and democracy might become irrelevant as younger people who felt they had nothing to lose took over the struggle, he said.

Pressure from the international community was essential. "In Ken Saro-Wiwa we have our own Steve Biko," said Professor Akinyemi, whose own younger brother was sentenced to death for his part in an alleged coup, a sentence which was commuted to life imprisonment after an international outcry.

Keith Hart, director of Cambridge University's Centre for African Studies, where Professor Akinyemi spoke this week, said that universities in this country could help simply by "being hospitable" to Nigerian exiles and giving them a platform.

"Universities can play a role in publicising Nigerian issues with some intellectual authority," Dr Hart said.

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