I have taken myself back to mid last year when, in my hometown, I engaged in a very serious argument with some youths and, if you like, students union stakeholders. Defending my view, I made the following admission: “Some students union leaders have betrayed the struggle. True. Government has not really done much. No doubt. Yet, we all have a collective responsibility for our survival.” I still cannot figure out how difficult this expression is that it was misinterpreted by my audience. Not minding how impolite it may have sounded to them (and of course some persons were offended), I meant it with all sincerity. And it is, perhaps, this honesty to myself — my purity of intent — that has triggered the publication of this article, at least, maybe, to make my point understood.
The struggle for students rights has come a very long way. Beginning from 1925 with the emergence of West African Students Union (WASU), the foundation for active student unionism was laid. The purpose was clearly defined — to fight for the collective rights of students. Since then the students wing has become an important contributor to government processes. It has become an integral part of any developing society, whether small or large. Unfortunately, this is only one part of the story. There are many other sides of the union.
The factors militating against the proper functioning of students unions are numerous. Students groups in recent times have degenerated to what is no longer fit to represent the true identity of the students community. With the unnecessary abuse of powers, corruption, intimidation and disregard for students’ affairs, the soul of the union itself has become an endangered specie in a habitat of diverse conflicting interests. The “aluta spirits” are in a state of comma, or better still, say, a state of deliberate misconstruing of purpose. Societal demeanors have eaten deep into the very fabric of the union. And there is a resultant cancerous effect. The challenges are worrisome. They are what I have, in my opinion, managed to categorize into two factors — “the internal and external imps”. The “internal imps” comprise all the problems caused from within the union itself. They encompass such issues as misuse of powers by union leaders, financial misappropriations and embezzlements, and other indices of systematic corruption. They also border on the behavioural misnomers of the union, that is, the mentality of those who makeup the group, their ideological backgrounds and philosophies. When the members of an organization do no posses strong and reputable characters, it becomes a very big problem to maintain the integrity of the group. Besides these, the roles of the government and other institutions of the state can determine the survival or death of students unions. The provision of financial support and other forms of assistances to students help in fostering active students’ participation in the governing process and ensuring better living for students. But when these responsibilities are ignored, it often results to physical demonstrations and intimidations (the UNIPORT Black Friday incident remains a reference point). The resultant effect in no time aggravates into a gradual and forceful suffocation of students union activities. This is what I refer to as “external imps” of students union in Nigeria. They are all governmental and administrative mechanisms aimed at suppressing the voice of the students community.
The challenges are exhausting, no doubt, but the prospects are motivating. There is still hope for students in Nigeria. I believe. The future is brighter. We can still put things again, together, if only we believe and do the right things. If only we can think back to the past, to the days of Ladipo Solanke, Lanre Legacy, Segun Okeowo, Isaac Adaka Boro and others; if only governments and communities and organizations can accept their responsibilities in nation building; if only we can accept the truth, then a better tomorrow awaits us all. The students union forms a community overlap and is also a microcosm of our society. We have all failed in our responsibilities as stakeholders in the union. May we rise again to our duties. And may God grant us grace to not run away from our future.
Aluta continua! Victoria ascerta!!
David Benson Jack studies at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology. He is an active student unionist. A freelance writer and content creator, he publishes under the pseudonym David-Jack Aribima