As I promised, today we shall conclude discussions on this topic by dealing with the Bad Trends or Negative Impacts of StudentUnionism. As we know, Student unionism in Nigeria was known to be a force to be reckoned with. In the sweet old days, students, through their unions, stand firm in criticizing the injustices of our leaders thereby effecting major changes. There were instances when the authorities clashed with students when diplomatic precautions failed to work; the 1978 ABU students’ riots quickly comes to mind. During the uprising many students’ lives were lost while agitating for the ouster of the then education minister, Col. Ahmadu Ali. The protest, tagged “Ali Must Go” riot, like many in those days, was a landmark achievement by student unionism in Nigeria; it opened up the eyes of our leaders to the fact that students knew their rights and can fight oppression no mater the intimidation.
Unfortunately, the situation has in recent years taken a dramatic and very melancholous turn around. Nowadays student unionism is but a lame duck, and to worsen the situation the National Association of Nigeria Students (NANS) has been transformed into a sycophantic cabal. NANS, and virtually the entire Student Union Governments (SUGs) of our institutions of higher learning, have turned themselves into beggars and praise singers of unpopular leaders and governments.
There is need to remedy the situation, knowing that enhancing a better student Unionism will aida better Nigerian future by moulding our students to become exemplary like the biblical injunction says, “bring up a child in the way he should go and when he is old enough, he will not depart from it”. In the same way, adequate character formation of our students through a better unionism is of paramount and cardinal importance.
Religious organizations must take student union formation seriously and specially make out time to relate with students and make efforts to instruct, encourage and pacify them.
Mass and electronic media should be put to proper use to encourage students to participate in student unionism. Our higher institutions are expected to provide quality political programmein our institutions. The things that we see and hear go a long way in affecting our thoughts and attitudes. Like Jesus Christ said, the words that Ispeak to you are spirit and they are life. Educative and informative programmes on the mass and electronic media will produce an educated and informed student population.
The government and Authorities of tertiary institutions should create an enabling atmosphere for student unionism to thrive in our institutions. The government is also expected to organize student union programmes to train our students on such topics as leadership, wealth creation etc, and parents should encourage their wards to participate.
On the other hand, there are lots of positive impacts of student unionism. It is a fact that the future of Nigerian politics strongly depends on the quality of students so produced, therefore the quality of students Unionism in our institutions has direct impact on the quality of our political leaders, hence direction of Student Unionism is of paramount importance to the future of Nigeria. In a society, such as we have in Nigeria, the importance and place of our students is often times relegated to the background, and because students have a natural tendency to be free, to be noticed and to express themselves, hence when they are neglected, there is the possibility to engage in all sorts of activities, some of which could be harmful.
Considering the fact that the Nigerian society of tomorrow belongs to the students of today, it becomes necessary and of urgent need that students and students Unionism must be integrated into the order of things with the current trend of civilization, high scientific and technical breakthrough, and to meet up with global standards and challenges so that the product of Unionism will be able to compete favorably with contemporaries from different developed nations.
Impacts of quality Students’ Unionism have been manifested in a number of ways both within and outside the Nigerian context. For instance the popular “Ali Must Go” struggle of 1978 by the then National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS) over the withdrawal of certain rights and privileges of the Nigerian students – a nationwide protest which led to the proscription of NUNS and subsequent formation of the National Association of Nigeria Students (NANS) in 1980. Also, the struggle against Coca-Cola company and their trucks in 2000 was a national struggle declared by the then NANS President, Comrade Philip Shaibu in a protest that started in Jos but trickled down across the nation within 48hours, but which resolution brought about a partnership that saw the Coca-Cola company building Relaxation spots for the Students’ Union in most campuses, and lastly at the local scene is the fight against hike in pump price of petroleum products as well as struggle to compel Fuel Marketers to adhere to official pump price – I was privileged to be appointed by the NANS President, Comrade Philip Shaibu as Chairman, NANS Petroleum Monitoring Committee (NPMC). At the International level, the Soweto uprising of June 16th, 1976 began in Soweto and spread countrywide, and whichprofoundly changed the socio-political landscape in South Africa. Events that triggered the uprising can be traced back to policies of the Apartheid government that resulted in the introduction of the Bantu Education Act in 1953.The formation of South African Students’ Organization (SASO) raised the political consciousness of many students while others joined the wave of anti-Apartheid sentiment within the student community. When the language of Afrikaans alongside English was made compulsory as a medium of instruction in schools in 1974, black students began mobilizing themselves. On 16 June 1976 between 3,000 and 10,000 students mobilized by the South African Students’ Movement’s Action Committee supported by the Black Conscious Movement (BCM) marched peacefully to demonstrate and protest against the government’s directive. The march was meant to culminate at a rally in Orlando Stadium. On their way, they were met by heavily-armed police who fired teargas and later live ammunition on demonstrating students. This resulted in a widespread revolt that turned into an uprising against the government, spreading across the country and carried on until the following year. The aftermath of the events of June 16 1976 had dire consequences for the Apartheid government, as it brought the attention of the World to South Africa and consequently bringing an end to the apartheid government.
Student Union politics comes with a lot of challenges. As we know, politics can be daunting for anyone; and for students, combining studies with politics can be a really herculean task. Politics is said to be a selfless service; a studentpolitician is, on that basis, presumably called to serve. Meanwhile, different factors serve as the propellants that drive political ambitions of students. However, monetary gains ideally are out of the factors that drive one. Therefore some of the challenges faced by students can deter intending student politicians.
These challenges are also responsible for the inactivity of some student politicians. The most fundamental factor is time. Time is the soul of any and every business! The primary reason each and every bona fide student of the university is in school in the first place is to study and graduate with a presentable certificate; which will look good on a curriculum vitae. However, a student politician has to learn how to spend his 24 hours judiciously; he needs to learn how to go about his studies and also deliver unto the ‘people’ who have called him to service without either suffering. This can be very challenging because there might be times when studies and politics will need attention at almost the same time, hence a difficult pass to navigate for some student politicians.
Another dilemma for student politicians on campus is an attempt to please their closest allies all the time in lieu of the general student populace or do otherwise? Often this conundrum makes some student politicians appear clueless. More often than not, they are confused in the convincing calls their allies and the general populace put to them. More so, the dangerous bend student politicians must always pass each time the will of student populace clashes with that of the management is usually pitiable. It takes a clear-headed student leader to make the right decision at that critical time, as this often results in clashes between school management and students which students cannot win; clashes between different political camps which may turn out to be ghastly or even fatal in some cases.
Students’ Unionism in Nigeria is expected to rise above economic and moral degradation. There isneed for complete and revolutionary change in the present system of Students’ Unionism in our institutions. This can only be achieved by taking drastic measures such as those already outlined. There is no mountain too high to climb neither is there any river too wide to cross, it only begins with a change of mindset. The future of Students’ Unionism in Nigeria, though bleak, can be remedied and it is in the hands of the students themselves to do so. Then, and only then, Students’ Unionism can become a better platform for breeding good leadership.
Comrade Igwe Patrick Afubera writes from Abuja.