The 50 Kobo Uprising: Unraveling the 1978 Nigerian Student Protest That Echoes Through History

In the annals of Nigerian history, the year 1978 stands out as a turning point when the voice of students reverberated nationwide in what is now known as the “Ali Must Go” protest. This protest, sparked by a seemingly innocuous 50 Kobo increment in the cost of meals, unfolded into a landmark event, showcasing the resilience and power of Nigerian students against the backdrop of a military government led by Olusegun Obasanjo.

The 50 Kobo Increment:

In April 1978, the Nigerian government dropped a bombshell on the student community— an increment of 50 Kobo in the cost of their daily meals, pushing it from N1.50 to N2.00. At the forefront of this controversial decision was the Minister of Education, Ahmadu Ali, who, at the time, tried to deflect blame onto the Supreme Military Council.

The Rise of Student Resistance:

The discontent among the students culminated in a series of meetings held in Maiduguri, Ilorin, and Calabar, where Segun Okeowo, the president of the National Union of Nigeria Students (NUNS), took a stand against the government’s decision. Despite attempts by Ali to shift responsibility, the students realized that the government was unyielding in its stance.

The Spark: University of Lagos Protest:

The protest ignited on the grounds of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), where students clashed with the police. Tragically, the first day saw a student fatally shot, left to bleed to death as medical facilities refused treatment. Outraged by this incident, Okeowo mobilized students across various universities, intensifying the protests against the government’s oppressive actions.

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Escalation of Violence:

As the protests gained momentum, the government responded with force. Nigerian soldiers reportedly gunned down eight students in Zaria. Instead of quelling the unrest, these violent acts only fueled the fire of resistance. The protest’s battle cry, “ALI MUST GO,” echoed through the air, laying the blame on the Minister of Education for the crisis that claimed the lives of these students.

The Aftermath:

After a week of nationwide demonstrations, the Federal Government decided to shut down all universities, forcing students to vacate campuses. The “Ali Must Go” saga, spearheaded by Segun Okeowo and the NUNS, etched its place in history as a defining moment in Nigerian student activism.


The 50 Kobo increment that led to the nationwide protests in 1978 may seem like a small amount, but its impact was colossal. The “Ali Must Go” movement remains an indelible chapter in the history of Nigerian student unionism, highlighting the unwavering spirit of the youth in the face of adversity. The legacy of Segun Okeowo and his counterparts endures as a testament to the power of collective action, demonstrating that even the smallest spark can ignite a flame that resonates through generations.

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