I have had course to deliver papers at different youth/student functions on the Role of youths in Nation building, but the topic of today is focused specifically on Students’ Unionism. And so, for me to do justice to this issue, I considered it expedient and imperative to define some terms that are pivotal to this paper. They are hereby set out and traversed seriatim:

Students’ Unionism:
Student Unionism is the system of practice or principle and theory of labour Union in an educational setting to pursue Students’ Interests. They were created to be the voice of the students, serve as middlemen between the school authorities and the students and give constructive criticisms as regards the policies constantly formulated in the school amongst many others. A Student Union Leader, therefore, is a person who emerges through an election to rule or guide and inspire the student body or student community in a representative capacity. Usually, a student Union leader holds a position in the Executive Council for a stipulated period of time defined by the Union’s constitution.

Generally, majority of students in Tertiary Institutions are Young Men and Women, best described as Youths, and they constitute the most vibrant and resourceful group in society, Isah (1991). They are valuable assets, indispensable and invaluable to the growth and development of the society. Youths are fragile, vernal, vulnerable and sensitive to stimulus and can be easily influenced positively or negatively. Students need to form associations and come together as a Union to discover their personal competences, attributes, worth, resilience, assert their opinions on issues, take independent positions, ask questions about issues and express their passion in a well-organized environment. This view is supported by Alada (2011), who stated that it is the Students’ Unions that assist students to develop their organizational abilities and strength of character that prepare them for higher responsibility in the near future. A good Student Union leadership provides the leverage for the student community to strive into the socio-economic and political spheres of the institution and the larger society.

Unionism as far as Students Movement is concerned was borne as a result of oppression from government through school authorities. It is safe, therefore, to say that Unionism is a direct manifestation of students’ oppression by way of reduced students’ rights and privileges such as adequate feeding, affordable accommodation, hence Unionism is a fight back. For me, Unionism has really helped me tremendously. From Students’ Unionism I learnt people management – addressing crowds and organizing people, clear-headedness on issues and in Ideology, because in Unionism, you cannot be X and Y; you are either for or against an issue – that is clear-headedness; and you have values guiding your decision. When I go into a cause, I go all out because it aligns with my fullest and truest values and principles. There are, however, some bad trends in Students’ Unionism, but these bad trends are a result of societal degeneration. I will come back to the negative impacts or bad trends in Students’ Unionism later.

National Development:
National development is the ability of a nation to improve the social welfare of its people, for instance by providing social amenities like quality education, medical care, transportation infrastructures etc. It can be described as the overall development or a collective socio-economic, political as well as religious advancement of a nation. This is best achieved through development planning, which can be described as the country’s collection of strategies mapped out by the government at any given time. An ideal National development plan will aim to pursue rapid and sustainable economic growth and development, improve the quality of life of the people, empower the poor and the marginalized, and enhance social cohesion as a nation.

Nigeria has evolved series of Development plans in the past, most often accompanied by a development strategy such as Operation Feed the Nation, the Green Revolution, the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), Vision 2010, the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS), Vision 2020 etc, but without any clear methodological approach towards actualizing them.

From my study, I observed that most, if not all, the past development plans have focused on materials other than human resources. Knowing that Nigeria is a nation that is blessed with abundant human resources, I dare say, that if our past Leaders had focused their development plans on the youths of this nation, being the future of the country, we will certainly not be where we are today. According to the immortal words of Prof. Chinua Achebe, “until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” We shall begin to write our own version of the history of Youths/Students’ role in National development.

In Chemistry, a catalyst is defined as a substance that causes a chemical reaction to take place more quickly or a substance that increases the rate of chemical reaction without suffering any permanent chemical change. A person or thing acting as the stimulus in bringing about or hastening a result, and a person or thing that causes a change is called a Catalyst. In my view, Students’ Unionism can be described as a thing that causes a change in the national body polity, and hence can be succinctly described as a catalyst. A catalyst can further be described as a good or bad catalyst, depending on the kind of change it brings about. In the course of this study, something struck my mind in the definition of catalyst – talking about the feature of “without suffering any permanent chemical change”.

Can we safely say that our present model of Students’ Unionism has not suffered permanent changes in a bid to bring about the desired changes in the national polity. This will lead me back to the issue of Negative impacts or bad trends in Students’ Unionism I mentioned in the first part of this paper, and this will be dealt with in the next episode.

Comrade Igwe Patrick Afubera writes from Abuja.

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