Away from the Presidential election issues, today I want to take us back to the issues that form the main focus for this column, issues of student unionism and activism, and I have graciously elected to talk about the resolution of student union conflicts in tertiary institutions. This is going to be in series, as we shall be looking at the various types and forms of conflict involving the student unions of tertiary institution.
According to the Oxford Advanced Learners’ dictionary, Conflict means a situation in which people, groups or countries are involved in a serious disagreement or argument. However, Mariam-Webstars dictionary defines conflict as an extended struggle; fight, battle, : a clashing or sharp disagreement (as between ideas, interests or purposes): mental struggle resulting from needs, drives, wishes or demands that are in opposition or are not compatible. Lastly, Dictionary.com defines conflict as a fight, battle or struggle, especially a prolonged struggle or strife, controversy or quarrel.
Student Union conflicts can be in various forms, sometimes among the students – between the various arms of the student union government, the various offices or individuals in the executive arm of the government, in the legislature; between the members and leadership of the student representative council or even between the various camps of the student union constantly battling for the control of the student union government, and at other times between the student union and the management of the institution.
Conflict resolution is a way for two or more parties to find a peaceful solution to a disagreement among them. The disagreement may be personal, financial, political or even emotional. When a dispute arises, often the best course of action is negotiation to resolve the disagreement. In some instances, when it becomes difficult to resolve a conflict, it is advised to manage the conflict. Conflict management is the process of limiting the negative aspects of conflict while increasing the positive aspects of the conflict; the aim is to enhance learning and group outcomes including effectiveness or performance in an organizational setting.
There are certain basic conflict resolution strategies that should always be engaged in trying to resolve a conflict situation, no matter the parties involved. These strategies include, but not limited to; mediation, arbitration, negotiation, perspective-taking, active listening, assertiveness, communication, compromise among others. In resolving a conflict situation, there are some basic steps to be taken, and these include acknowledging the conflict, defining the problem, meeting on neutral ground so that none of the parties seem to be in an advantaged position, although this is usually not possible in practice when the conflict is between the student union and the institution management, and most importantly letting everyone have a say, then agreeing on a workable solution.
I have been involved in resolving student union conflicts, mostly among the students themselves, and in some occasions, between the student union and the authorities of the tertiary institution. During my time as President of student union, I have been at the center of conflicts both amongst ourselves as students and between myself as student union leader and the institution management. In the later instance, people made effort to resolve the conflict, but when it became difficult, it was managed until I was able to resolve it myself. These details are already provided in my book, “The Pains and Gains of the Struggle – the Story of Student Union Activism from the Experiences of a Veteran Student Leader”.
For the purpose of this discussion, let me present a few instances where I have been directly involved in resolving student union conflicts. During my time as President of UNIZIK student union, I was instrumental to the resolution of the student union conflict between the SUG President of Abia State University, Uturu, Comrade Revo and the other members of the Executive Council of the Union. In resolving that conflict, in a meeting that lasted almost four hours during the night of my Presidential visit to my colleague, Comrade Revo, I applied some of the basic conflict resolution strategies enumerated above, particularly letting everyone have a say, and I realized that was the basic thing the other Exco members were agitating against, that the President does not allow them carry out their constitutionally assigned duties, and when they complain, he does not give them listening ear. Even though the meeting did not hold on a neutral ground, as I convened the meeting in the Presidential lodge, where the SUG President had provided accommodation for me for that night, yet it did not affect the outcome of the meeting as the other Excos were confident that they would get justice with me convening and presiding over the meeting, and when it was time, I applied certain levels of assertiveness, and we were able to arrive on a common ground.
The other instance was a few years after I had handed over as President, precisely in 2002, when the Legislature of UNIZIK student union commenced an impeachment proceeding against then SUG President, Kenchyke on allegations of misappropriation of funds. The conflict developed into a major crisis in the university after the news of the removal of the President was aired on the State Broadcasting outfit, Anambra Broadcasting Service (ABS), the camp of students loyal to the impeached President visited their anger on the ABS facilities vandalizing their properties in the process. It was at this point that the university authority, through the Dean of Student Affairs and upon the directives of the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Pita Ejiofor, invited me to step in with a view to resolving the conflict in the student union government. In a meeting held almost all through the night in Suite 208 of Tracy Hotel, Awka, I was able to resolve the conflict by applying all the necessary conflict resolution techniques and strategies, and we were able to arrive a common ground, accepting that the removal of the President was constitutional, though he reserve the right to challenge the impeachment and removal at the SUG High Court, however, we also agreed that the said impeachment and removal need not be broadcasted further in the media to avoid further crisis while the Vice-President who is constitutionally empowered to chair the Students’ week committee should go ahead and organize a befitting students’ week activities to mark the end of the government so that the university can go ahead and conduct election for new student union officials.
Comrade Igwe Patrick Afubera writes from Abuja.