Aluta struggle is not tea party, hence not a business of lily-livered persons. Premised on the above assertion, the topic of today’s discussion is taken from the topic of my speech at the Leadership workshop organized by the office of the Dean of Student Affairs of Rivers State University for the Student Union Government and the Post-Graduate Students’ Association on Saturday 29th July 2022, which was actually derived from the title of my book, ‘The Pains and Gains of the Struggle’. For the purpose of this discuss, I will break it into two, hence this Volume 1 will deal with the Pains of the Struggle, while Volume 2 will deal with the Gains of the struggle.
For proper understanding of this discussion, there is need to define some basic terms. The student union is a system of practice or principle and theory of Labour Union in an educational setting, specifically for the pursuit of students’ interests. The student union was created to, among other things:
– Be the voice of the students,
– Serve as intermediary between the University management and the general students,
– Give constructive criticisms, when the need arises, regarding the policies of the University management and/or the government,
– Serve as an avenue of training students in leadership and governance for future political endeavors.
Student Unionism was born as a result of oppression from government through the school authorities, thus unionism is a direct manifestation of students’ oppression by way of reduced students’ rights and privileges such as adequate feeding, affordable accommodation etc, hence Unionism is a fight back.
Struggle means a forceful or violent effort to get free of restraint or constriction. In the context of this discourse, struggle means forceful effort by students to obtain freedom, justice and equity, hence, the assertion among student union activists that “Freedom cometh by Struggle”.Therefore, student union struggle is the combination of efforts by the students’ body for the advancement of the course of the students or the protection of the interests and welfare of the students. Such efforts by students in demand for the rights and/or privileges most often involve civil disobedience such as lecture boycott, hunger strike and sometimes barricades, in line with the established ‘rules of engagement’ or laid down principles of the struggle which involves the observance of the three C’s of the struggle – Consultation, Consolidation and Confrontation. Recall that these principles and rule of engagement have been discussed in my earlier writings.
Before venturing into student unionism by offering oneself for student union leadership, one needs to ask himself or herself certain pertinent questions bothering on his/her readiness to offer himself or herself for service to the general students. This is because, as a student leader, you are a servant to the students, you have to sacrifice your personal comfort for the good of the students. As we know, the primary reason of coming to the University is to acquire knowledge and obtain a Degree that will look good on a CV, every other thing, including student union leadership, is secondary. However, the moment one emerges as a student leader, that primary reason becomes threatened because you now have to share your time between your studies and offering service and leadership to the students’ body. This is the reason for the requirement of a minimum academic standing by way of CGPA as a condition precedent to qualify to stand election for student union leadership. Political leadership can be very daunting for anyone, and for a student, combining studies with politics can be a really herculean task. Therefore, a good student leader should learn how to manage his 24hours judiciously, he should learn how to go about his studies and also deliver on his mandate to serve the students, without either of the two sides suffering. This can be very challenging because there may be times when studies and student leadership duty will need attention at almost the same time, hence a difficult pass to navigate for some student leaders.
The Pains associated with Student Union struggle include, among other things, the sacrifices and personal discomforts endured by individual student leaders and the general students in upholding the true essence of the student union struggles. Based on the resolve and determination of the student leader to ensure the protection of the welfare and interests, rights and privileges of the students, the student leader is likely to step on some toes in the University management, and most times those toes are very powerful toes. But what is important is that the student leader is actually fighting for the general interest of the students, and not for his personal pecuniary interest. If this is the case, then the student leader only needs to realize when to seek alternative approach to resolve the issues on ground, and I can assure you, he or she will never be consumed by that fire. I say this because I know for a certainty, that the members of the University management are parents too, and they know when the student leaders make honest mistakes in their approach to issues based on their sense of judgment upon the information available to them at the material time, and they are willing to pardon the students when the student leaders show that they have realized their mistakes and are willing to make amends for the good of the institution. Some student leaders, however, were not so lucky, as they ended up with suspensions/rustications and expulsion from the institution.
The pains associated with student union struggle may be classified as very bitter pains because in most situations, these pains live with the victims all through their lifetime, for instance, some student leaders upon being expelled or rusticated, goes to other institutions to start afresh, thereby loosing the time he or she has spent in the former institution, and when this person runs into former classmates of the previous institution much later in life, he is faced with the realities of the time he lost as a result of student union struggle. It is said that when preparation meets opportunity, the result is excellence. Thus it is very good for a student leader to have focus, by this I mean that, a student leader must, and should have what he or she is bringing to the table of student leadership, so that he or she can make a positive impact and leave the office better than he or she met it. Therefore, a student leader should be prepared to serve. It was for this reason that, upon my election and inauguration as President of Student Union, I visited some schools, including, University of Ibadan, University of Lagos, University of Benin, FUTO and University of PortHarcourt, just to learn how they have thrived and made progress, with a view to adapting their approaches and localizing same to our own institution. That was the secret of my success as President. We will continue with the Gains of student union struggle in Volume 2.
Comrade Igwe Patrick Afubera writes from Abuja.