Student Unionism In Nigeria – The Pains And Gains
With the recent shut down of some universities in Nigeria due to students’ riots and protests, it is expedient we re-examine the effects of student unionism in schools and whether it is really worth the while. I must confess I have read numerous write ups and opinions on the above topic.
I am Olushinaola Taiwo and unusually, I will not be doing this alone. I have the complement of two intelligent friends namely Azubuike Onyeka and Adegoke Oladoyin. I sincerely hope you have a wonderful read.
HOW DID IT ALL BEGIN?
West African Student Union (WASU) which was pioneered by West African Students in London in 1925 was according to records the first step into unionism by Nigerian students. The Solanke and Bankole-Bright led WASU fought for improved welfare for all African students in London. Their influence in Nigeria brought about NUNS (National union of Nigerian Students) which premiered in the University of Ibadan. NUNS now NANS (National Association of Nigerian students) has its wings spread across all tertiary institutions in Nigeria in form of SUG’S (Student Union Governments)
THE PAINS AND THE GAINS
Nigerian students spend (4+x) – (6+x) years in school depending on the course of study. The x stands for extra years spent on strikes, protests, etc. This is due to decay in the educational system and the activities of various Student Union Governments.
In my quest for answers to different questions that ran through my mind, I was privileged to have an online chat with DEMOLA OLANREWAJU. He is a Creative writer, content manager, political analyst and strategist. He was the public relations officer of the then University of Ado-Ekiti (UNAD) Student Union Government. He intelligently expressed his views in the interview below.
Demola Olarenwaju (@demolaRewaju) on Twitter
What impact has students unionism had on you and how has it helped you in your political sojourn this far?
Unionism has helped me tremendously. It includes People Management, Clear-headedness and in Ideology. Addressing crowds, leading and organizing people are things I’m used to so when I do it today, it doesn’t bother me. In Unionism, you couldn’t be A and B; you’re either for or against an issue – that’s Clear-headedness, 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. In choosing PDP, my ideal was nationalism. When I fight for PDP therefore, it is because I believe it has traces of my ideology.
Why the need for Unionism?
Oppression manifested reduced student rights and entitlement such as feeding, accommodation etc. Unionism was the fight back.
Don’t you think students’ unionism is mainly as a result of the decay in our educational system?
Students Unionism wasn’t a result of it but the reason it was needed. The bad trends in unionism today are a result of societal degeneration. Unionism as far as Students Movement is concerned was borne as a result of oppression from government via school authorities.
What is the relationship between unionism and cultism?
Cultism was the negative reaction to such – so Cultism is directly anti-Unionism but these days has become synonymous with it
What’s your advice to student leaders? My advice to Student Unions’ is to maintain solidarity with their students at all times without compromise and pursue their cause with wisdom
What’s your take on the death of the UNIPORT student who died in the struggle?
Peter Ofurum’s death is a sad commentary on the management of UNIPORT and the Buhari government. History will remember him, just like Kunle Adepeju.
Azubuike Onyeka is a first class graduate of accounting from Babcock University. She was the best graduating student in her department in 2015. She shares her opinion below;
Judging from my experience from a Christian based private university, where everything is highly regulated from the clothes we wear to the food we eat and the hostels we stay in, the existence and impact of student unions cannot be over emphasized.
Firstly we have to establish their purpose of existence
They were created to be the voice of the students, serve as a middle man between the school authorities and the students and give constructive criticisms as regards the rules and regulations constantly formulated in the school amongst many others
Moving on to the essence of this write up, as it is popularly said, No Pain No Gain
Although sometimes especially in private universities, the pain outweighs the gain but the Victory is certain. Without a student union in my school, we would have been subjected to civilized slavery as the school authorities seldom came up with ‘unreasonable rules’
Take for instance, the ladies are not permitted to wear trousers and on top of that, we are being forced to wear skirts that are three inches below knee level, make only shoulder length hair dos, forced to attend church services four times in a week regardless of religious background.
All these rules even scare away potential students who foresee not coping with these rules as failure to adhere strictly could attract suspension and sometimes expulsion
We should also bear in mind that we are talking about university students who are old enough to live their lives without the interference of external parties
When the idea of student unions came about, they had a rough start and were given little or no room to fully participate in the affairs of the school. They were sometimes left behind in making some decisions that would affect the entire students of the school
But with time and persistence, their voice was beginning to be heard. The school started allocating a fixed percentage of students’ school fees to the union to enable the smooth running and proper availability of funds. The executives of the student union were paid monthly salary for having to combine their education with fighting for other students
They were involved in some decision making process, allowed to be among the panels that oversee the suspension and expulsion of students, Allowed to hold a week-long of social activities, Allowed to carry out capital intensive projects to assist the school in providing some basic amenities, allowed to defend students that were wrongfully accused of falling short of the schools rules, allowed to also raise fund for the less privileged students that could not afford the school fees. Even when it came to the increment of school fees, a peaceful protest was held and despite the fact that no action was taken by the school, it was acknowledged that their opinions were considered.
The pain here stems from the fact that they were closely monitored and were not given the free hand to carry out some of their plans and also their hands were tied when it came to raising the standards to taut of an average student rant wants to explore life.
The gain however of these student union will forever be enjoyed as they spoke on behalf of the majority, defended the innocent, provided fund to ensure the less privileged could graduate and finally became an Inner voice that couldn’t be shut down
Adegoke Oladoyin is a student of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. In recent years, the school has been ravaged with series of strikes causing them to be about a session behind schedule. With her experience, it will be interesting to see what she thinks. She shares her thoughts below;
I remember the last protest that held in December, how the students refused to come out for the protest claiming that it was not the right approach to the problem but the student union government went on with it anyway. “Why do the student union government always insist on protests”, is it to make history or is it to really get positive answers from the school management? Why can’t we devise other means of bearing our minds to the school management? Probably if we found other strategies to pass our message across, the school management will be more willing to listen to us and give another reply.
After the students union government was suspended again, the academic calendar went uninterrupted. The students were bothered about who will fight for them if electricity got spoilt or water seized but surprisingly when these things happened, the school management got the electricity repaired without students protesting. I guess it’s left for students to take a vote but as for me, I definitely will go for a school without a student union government.
Interesting thoughts from my friends and I must say there is little more to write. Whether you are like ONYEKA who sees more gains than the pains or like OLADOYIN who sees otherwise, the fact is that ‘STUDENT UNIONISM’ in Nigeria needs “REBRANDING’.
Please your thoughts below…