13th November, 2013
The death of Prof Festus Iyayi ran a chill down the spines of many Nigerians. His death slipped ASUU and Nigeria as a whole into mourning yesterday afternoon. The 66-year old award winning Nigerian writer and former President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, died in the recent struggle between the Federal Government and the union.
As president of ASUU, Iyayi challenged heavyweight politicians and military rulers including General Ibrahim Babangida, former head of state in 1986/87. But more pronounced was his face-off with Alele Williams, then vice chancellor of the University of Benin. At the time, Iyayi, was a professor of Business Administration at Uniben and a popular radical. His quest for transparency, justice and social fairness led Alele Williams to sack him from the tertiary institution. Iyayi’s lawyer, Falana, took Alele to court and won; Iyayi was then reinstated.
Iyayi’s death is the biggest price ASUU had to pay in recent years. Iyayi died on his way to the national executive meeting of ASUU holding in Kano, along with the chairman University of Benin chapter and Benin zone of ASUU, Dr. Anthony Monye-Emina and two others, in continuation of negotiation with the Federal Government.
Iyayi, famous for social realist novels that depict the grinding poverty of the Nigerian people, won the Commomwealth Prize for Literature for his novels, Heroes, a novel in which he posits that the civilian populace are actually the winners of the Nigerian civil war.
In other quarters Iyayi was more than just a radical. He was an exceptional man with an exceptional brain. His literary works also include Violence, The Contract and Awaiting Court Martial. Born in 1947 in Ugbegun, Ishan in Edo State, the late Iyayi obtained a Masters Degree in Industrial Economics from the Kiev Institute of Economics in the former U.S.S.R.
He became a lecturer in 1980 at the Department of Business Administration, University of Benin. It was at Uniben that he was widely heralded. During his time at Uniben, students revered him for his astute judgment. Iyayi once suspended all the students in the faculty of social studies for two weeks. He challenged the then VC Adamu Baike who ordered the students to resume lectures and he won.
Iyayi was described as a delight to listen to in the classroom. Students often wanted him to keep teaching for longer hours. For this reason, Iyayi, lumped his classes together because he had a lot to deliver. Iyayi, vehemently opposed oppression, a reason he was supported by cerebral Law student Martins Mukoro who had fallen out with the VC on account of the latter’s insistence that student’s rights be protected and the their interests taken into account in policy making.
On social network sites, Facebook and Twitter loads of tributes have poured in for the late Iyayi. Described as irreplaceable, Iyayi was popular for his positive stubbornness. He never supported half measures and would not have given in to the government’s half measures to placate ASUU.