Lecturers' leader arrested

January 30, 1998

AN OFFICIAL of the banned university lecturers' union at the University of Benin in northern Nigeria has been detained by armed police and taken to an undisclosed destination.

Frank Dimowo, branch chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities at the university, was dining with his family after a staff meeting when seven heavily armed police arrested him.

As he was about to get into a police van parked outside his official residence, he asked for permission to get his Bible. At first the request was refused, but a senior officer allowed him to go into his house to get it.

At the police station, he was accused of presiding over an illegal meeting on the campus, threatening a serious breach of the peace, and potentially of derailing efforts by General Sani Abacha to hand over power to a democratically elected government in October.

Dr Dimowo replied that although the union has been banned, the constitution, suspended by the military junta, recognised the inalienable rights of Nigerians to meet and discuss issues of common concern.

He questioned whether lecturers had lost their right to meet and comment on university affairs.

Festus Iyayi, a former Commonwealth literature laureate and former national president of ASUU said that Dr Dimowo was arrested because of his views.

Dr Iyayi, a senior lecturer in business administration, claimed irregularities in the appointment of Benin's vice-chancellor.

The current vice-chancellor, Andrew Onokerhoraye, completed his four-year tenure in 1996 but the then education minister instructed him to stay on an extra year to enable the new vice-chancellor to conform to the government's new scheme for a single five-year term.

When the one-year extension expired at the end of 1997, the new minister and university council chairman extended the tenure for a further three months.

A Benin University professor, Eghosa Osagie, took the university to court alleging he was being excluded from the selection process for a vice-chancellor.

Dr Iyayi, who represents congregation on the council, warned that the outgoing vice-chancellor would be held responsible for any disruption of academic activities because of "his attempt to perpetuate himself in office or provide leeway for the appointment of one of his cronies as vice-chancellor".

The academic staff have said they will resist any attempt to deny their fundamental rights of freedom of expression and association. The university authorities have tightened security on and off campus.

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