Happy new year readers and Comrades. As a follow-up to our last message on the above topic, I decided to throw more light on the Rules of Engagement in Student Unionism and activism, and indeed struggle generally. In this paper, emphasis will be more on what happens when the proponents or Leaders of a particular struggle fail to observe and follow the principles in the Rules of Engagement.

As stated in the last discussion, every business has its own rules, and struggle is not an exception. Even in War situations, there are rules of engagement. Just to refresh our memories, and for the benefit of new readers and those that were not part of the last discussion, Students Union struggles, and the Struggle generally observes the principles of the three ‘Cs’ popularly called the three ‘Cs’ of the struggle – namely; Consultation, Consolidation, and then Confrontation. When student leaders bring an issue to the attention of the Authorities of an institution, that is consultation. When the issue is not addressed within a reasonable time frame, they keep reminding the authorities how important it is to address the issues, that is consolidation. But when it becomes clear that the authorities are not doing anything to address the issues raised, the students may decide to stage peaceful protests to drive home their points and force the authorities to take actions in addressing the issues, this is the Confrontation stage.

I also stated clearly, that in most situations, the protest or demonstration in itself does not bring the required solution, rather it forces the authorities to come to discussion table upon which there may be compromises from both sides to arrive at the conclusive resolution of the issues. And so, most times, with the first and second ‘Cs’ activated, the issues raised may be resolved between the authorities and the student leaders without necessarily waiting for the third ‘C’ to be activated.

I find it absurd and completely out of order that when an issue has been raised by the students through the student leaders, and the authorities are already looking into the issue with a view to resolving same, then the students went ahead to organize a protest on the same issue or when a group of activists raised an issue against the government, and while the government has taken steps towards addressing the issues raised, yet they go ahead to organize protests on the same issue or to continue protesting while the issue is already being addressed by the government. In all my years of active student unionism, we have always acted in line with the above principles in observing the rule of engagement. But the same cannot be said about the present generation of student leaders. And I make bold to say, that in any situation where the student leaders or group of activists have raised an issue or issues against the authorities, and while the issue or issues raised is/are being addressed by the authorities they go ahead to organize protest on same issues, that there is always an unseen hand behind the scene that has plans to bring the authority to ridicule. Let me explain with a clear example.

Sometime in July 2021, some group of students of Nnamdi Azikiwe University started mobilizing for a protest via social media platforms in the University. The issue was about an alleged increment in the school fees payable by the students as against what was agreed upon in November 2019 during the school fees reforms, and it started when some students made an observation that when they went to the University portal to pay school fees, they discovered that there were some new fees introduced such as transport levy and GS fees that were hitherto not included in the schedule of fees as agreed during the school fees reforms of 2019. And when the issue was brought to the attention of the management, the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Charles Esimone, was on official assignment outside the state, and so the DVC (Admin), Prof. Ikechebelu stepped-in, and in consultation with the VC, issued a directive directing the ICT unit to shut down the portal so that students will stop payment to enable the management time to resolve the concerns raised by the students. This is clearly a reasonable response from a responsible and responsive management. But unfortunately, while the issue is being resolved, the group of student activists went ahead to stage a protest on the same issue. At some point, I had to step-in as Chairman of the Council of Past Presidents of the Student Union, and in the course of my interaction with the student leaders and the proponents of the protest, I realized that they were being sponsored to ridicule the management, and I did not hide this fact when I had the opportunity to address a cross-section of student leaders during an emergency congress convened to further mobilize them for continued protest, and it became clear to them that they were being used to cause crisis within the university, and from that moment, I was able to demobilize the plans for continued protest while the leaders were discussing with the management, and the management on their own applied adequate wisdom in handling the issue.

Another example is the #EndSARS protest. I agree that the protest was reasonable and timely given the many incidents of Police brutality pointing to the same Police department, SARS. And so, when that particular incident that led to the brutal killing of that young man in Warri, Delta State in October, 2020, it triggered the nationwide protest, and with the aid of social media via the hatch tag (#EndSARS), the protest grew like wild fire across the nation, and that was why the government had no choice to respond within the first few days of the protest by disbanding that particular department of the Nigerian Police (SARS), but rather than the ending the protests, the protests continued across the major cities of the nation, particularly in Lagos, with more and more demands being made by the protesters. Again, the government indicated willingness to dialogue with the leaders of the protest, and the protesters refused, giving the reason that the protest has no leadership. 

Let me state categorically via this platform, and for the first time after the #EndSARS protests, that the protest did not observe the rules of engagement. This is my view, and I am entitled to my opinion, and that was the major reason most student leaders who had clear understanding of the struggle withdrew from the #EndSARS protest. The action of turning down invitation for dialogue with government with the reason that the protest does not have leadership is neither here nor there because even while I do not hold brief for the government, they have shown by their action that they were willing to listen to the protesters. In January 2002, as Corp members, we had a protest during the Orientation camp in Kano because of the actions of the Camp Commandant. The protest was not planned, it happened spontaneously, but when the authorities needed to sit down and discuss with Corp members with a view to resolving the issues, I stepped forward and provided leadership with a team of other corp members representing the sixteen platoons. So my point is this, I know that the #EndSARS was spontaneous and unplanned, hence no leadership structure, but when the government had started paying attention to the demands of the protesters, and asked for a dialogue with the leaders, I expected that the proponents of that struggle should have come up with leadership or representatives to dialogue with government, and if the dialogue was not producing desired result or the government starts being funny by detaining the leaders that came forward for the dialogue, then the protests will continue until all the detained leaders are released and reasonable compromises reached between the protesters and the government on the issues raised by the protesters. It was because of this failure to provide leadership, and the poor handling of crisis management on the part of the government that led to the unfortunate death of scores of Nigerian youths at the Lekki Toll gate. But like it or hate it, it has been recorded in our history that the almighty SARS was disbanded because of the resilience of the Nigerian youths via #EndSARS protest.

In conclusion, it is my belief that, as long as we respect the rules of engagement by observing the longtime principles of the struggle, there will always be peaceful and amicable resolution of all issues raised by student leaders and activists generally to the benefit of the masses. I remain a pro-masses activist, and I will always be guided by the principles of the struggle in keeping to the rules of engagement.

Comrade Igwe Patrick Afubera writes from Abuja.

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