Festus Iyayi, former national president of the Academic Staff Union of the Universities dies in a motor accident on his way to Kano for a national executive council meeting of the union over its union’s four-month strike, November 12
| By Olu Ojewale | Nov. 25, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
THE nation was full of expectations over the peaceful resolution of the more than four months of strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, in the week. But then, the unexpected happened; one of the leading lights in ASUU struggle, Festus Iyayi, a professor of business administration, and a former national president of the union, was killed in a vehicular accident involving the convoy of Governor Idris Wada of Kogi State, on Tuesday, November 12. Thus, the national executive council meeting of the ASUU slated to hold at the Bayero University, Kano, on Wednesday, November 13, was suspended indefinitely.
Nasir Fagge, national chairman of the union, who announced the suspension, said the ASUU could not do otherwise because the death of Iyayi in a ghastly auto crash in Lokoja, on Monday, was a great loss. Fagge said: “You (journalists) have to bear with us because we are in a mourning mood over the loss of one of us, who was a strong pillar.”
Reacting to Iyayi’s death, President Goodluck Jonathan, while commiserating with the leadership and members of the ASUU, also extended his sincere condolences to the family as well as his colleagues, friends and associates all over the world. In a statement issued by Reuben Abati, his special adviser, media and publicity, on Tuesday, November 12, the president noted that: “Iyayi rose to national prominence in the 1980s with his courageous leadership of ASUU in its struggle for a better working environment for teachers and academics in the nation’s university system.” Jonathan said he was particularly dismayed by the fact that Iyayi had sadly lost his life while going to contribute to efforts meant to finally resolve the current ASUU strike which had unfortunately disrupted academic studies in most of the nation’s universities for more than four months. Jonathan prayed for God to comfort all who mourn Iyayi and grant his soul eternal rest.
Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, speaker of the House of Representatives, in his tribute, said the Nigerian academic community and the family of Iyayi had lost a great man. In a statement by Imam Imam, his special adviser on media and public affairs, Tambuwal described the deceased as a respected teacher and unionist, who gave his all for the progress of the education sector. He said Iyayi’s lifetime of struggles would, no doubt, inspire many upcoming lecturers and unionists to render selfless services to the country. While urging the ASUU and the education ministry to immortalise the late union leader, Tambuwal prayed to the Almighty God to give his family the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss.
Similarly, Peter Esele, immediate past president of the Trade Union Congress, TUC, described the death of Iyayi as “tragic and a gruesome murder.” Esele said the labour unions, civil society groups, the academic world and the nation at large, would miss the immensurable contributions of Iyayi to the society. In a statement issued by Chirs Ogbodo, his media strategist, Esele said the death of Iyayi in the hands of mindless elements he strove to liquidate in all his struggles had robbed the labour unions of an intellectual activist of uncommon repute.
“He was a labour avatar of no mean repute, a warrior of the pen and a brilliant academic. There is no gainsaying the fact that the nation has lost a rare gem, a mobile activist and a fighter who has fought the course of the oppressed and the downtrodden unto death. Not only would his tenacious, liberating feat be missed as a man who used his intellectual strength and physical struggle to collapse the dictatorial prison wall erected by the military boys against Nigerians, but also his creative literary acumen that has pointed the part to good governance.”
Also, the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, said the death of Iyayi was a tragic loss to the nation. Issa Aremu, vice-president of the Congress, in a statement, said the Nigeria labour movement had, indeed, lost a tested and committed activist of decent work in the universities and Nigerian labour market. He said Iyayi would be remembered for the honesty, commitment and abundant energy he brought to the struggle of working men and women for improved working and living conditions.
“Late Festus would be remembered for the honesty and commitment, as well as abundant energy he brought to the struggle of working men and women for improved working and living conditions. The fact that he tragically died while travelling for the resolution of the four-month long strike of university lecturers was an eloquent testimony to his life and deeds, service to the working people and humanity! Fighters and comrades like comrade Festus hardly say goodbye. In literary and metaphoric terms, Festus is the latest major casualty of Nigeria’s crisis of governance,” Aremu said.
Iyayi was part of the ASUU negotiating team, which met with the federal government and was travelling to Kano in continuation of efforts to resolve the logjam that had ensued over the strike with his colleagues, before his death. The Kogi State government, in a statement on the incident, said the governor’s convoy was “on a speed of 80 kilometres per hour when a bus collided with the escort van. Sadly, in the storm, it was discovered that a renowned academic and respected human rights advocate, Prof. Festus Iyayi, who was in the other vehicle, died in the accident.”
But a preliminary investigation by the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, blamed the government driver for illegal overtaking. Femi Falana, SAN, and human rights activist, said he would push for the prosecution of the driver who drove the governor’s convoy vehicle. “The trip would not have been necessary, if the President did not wait till now to resolve the ASUU matter. If the train had been working, may be they would have gone by train,” Falana said.
Until his death, Iyayi was a professor at the University of Benin where he started his teaching career. Born in 1947, in Ugbegun in Ishan, Edo State, Iyayi was a Nigerian writer known for his radical and sometimes, tough stance on social and political issues. Iyayi started his education at Annunciation Catholic College, ACC, in the old Bendel State, finishing in 1966, and then went to Government College Ughelli, graduating in 1968. In that same year, he was a zonal winner in a Kennedy Essay Competition organised by the United States embassy in Nigeria. He thus went abroad to pursue his higher education, obtaining a Master of Science in Industrial Economics from the Kiev Institute of Economics, in the former USSR, and then his Ph.D from the University of Bradford, England.
In 1980, he became a lecturer in the University of Benin. He was involved in the academic staff politics of the university and a few years later, he became the president of the local branch of the ASUU. He became the national president in 1986. In 1988, the union was briefly banned and Iyayi was detained. In that same year, he won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Heroes, his novel. He was later sacked by the university authority during the tenure of Grace Alele-Williams as vice-chancellor. It took many years of struggle to get him reinstated.