In April 1978, Nigerian students under the leadership of Segun Okeowo staged “the mother of all Aluta” in Nigeria, to protest against what was considered an arbitrary hike in students’ meal ticket by the military administration of General Olusegun Obasanjo
It was a nationwide agitation that brought the National Union of Nigeria Students (NUNS) into an open confrontation with the Olusegun Obasanjo led Military government and the stern-looking men of the Nigerian Army. The mass protests spiralled beyond the campuses, spilling into towns and causing apprehension and fear among the populace.
The bloody episode which popularized the power of Nigerian students started in April 1978, when the government asked the students to make more contributions by adding 50K to their cost of a meal per day. An increment which meant that their cost of a meal would rise from N1.50 to N2.00.
Following the announcement, which didn’t go down well with the National Union of Nigeria Students, Segun Okeowo, the then president of the union made a move to address the issue.
The students held a meeting in Maiduguri, Ilorin and finally in Calabar before taking a bold step to challenge the military government on the increment.
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 first day of the protest brought the students and the Police face to face at the University of Lagos (UNILAG). A student was shot in the leg and bled to death because Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) and Orthopedic hospital, Igbobi refused to treat him.
That infuriated Okeowo, the national student union president who immediately sent a message to his counterparts at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria and the University of Ibadan and other Federal Universities.
The students’ protests escalated and for over a week, they engaged themselves in an open confrontation with the Police and the Army.
Touched by the incident of the student shot dead by the police in UNILAG, the students, went on a rampage and about eight other students were gunned down at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria by Nigerian soldiers while many others sustained injuries.
The murder of the students caused more problems for the government as the students refused to be cowed by the gun-wielding security operatives sent to put the situation under control.
The protest slogan, ALI MUST GO rent the air because the Federal Commissioner for Education in the regime, Col. (Dr) Ahmadu Ali, was fingered to be the cause of the crisis that led to the students’ deaths.
After a week of violent nationwide students protest, the Federal Government shut down all universities and students were ordered out of the campuses.
Segun Okeowo, the leader of this historic mass 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)
He went on to a career as an educationist, heading many schools in Ogun State such as Ogijo High School; Makun High School, both in Sagamu and Christ Apostolic Grammar School, Iperu Remo. He served as a commissioner in the Ogun State Electoral Commission, 1983; he was also a member of, Federal Government Panel of Enquiry on Ahmadu Bello University Students’ Crisis in 1986.
Significance of the 1978 students Protest
The Segun Okeowo led students union and the 1978 ALI MUST GO saga remains the most significant student uprising in Nigeria. 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 mobilize across the country and carry out effective agitation.
The 1978 protest further showcased the power of students to agitate and force change. The history of students unionism in Nigeria can never be told without mentioning Segun Okeowo and the Ali Must Go Protest.