Wednesday, 5 November 2014

ERC'S POSITION ON UNILAG STUDENTS' UNION CONSTITUTION REVIEW

We hereby republish this document (first posted on this blog on September 2, 2014) to assist students of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) who may wish to suggest changes and alterations to the proposed constitution draft of the Students Union that is expected to be presented for adoption by the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) at a public meeting by 10am on Friday November 7, 2014  at Afe Babalola Hall of the university

The Chairman,
Constitution Drafting Committee
University of Lagos
Dear Sir,                                             
                                                                        OPEN LETTER
PROPOSED CONSTITUTION FOR ULSU
OUR RESERVATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
We are glad by the opportunity to contribute our opinion and recommendations to the draft constitution being proposed by the Constitution Drafting Committee for the running of the much-awaited University of Lagos Students' Union (ULSU).
We have perused the new constitution and have some reservations and recommendations.
Ordinarily, we believe there was no need for writing a new constitution. A new constitution would have been appropriate if a Students Union was to be created for the first time. However in this case, a Students Union existed up till about ten years ago when it was proscribed and its constitution, tradition and norms are still very much in existence. As with all cases of proscriptions, a reversal should logically and legally mean the restoration of the status quo ante.
To us rewriting a new constitution is a wasteful exercise if the resources, time and energy invested in it are considered. It also lends credence to the suspicion that there is a conspiracy to limit the effectiveness and power of the much-awaited Students Union through constitutional provisions that would make it a dependent, undemocratic and bureaucratic union run by a selected few.
Having said the above, we shall proceed from here to highlight the main provisions of the proposed constitution that we strongly believe if not amended could pose serious threat to collective aspirations for an independent, democratic and mass-based ULSU.
We shall start from the congress which we believe is the most important organ of any union and the nature of the congress will ultimately determine the nature of the entire union.
Article 6: ULSU CONGRESS
Section 2: Composition of the congress
"The Congress shall comprise all the registered and matriculated students of the University of Lagos. However, congress members whi shall have voting rights shall be:
(a) Two Class Representatives (across all levels including DLI)
(b) Departmental Association Presidents and general secretaries
(c) Five representatives each from Faculties of Law and Pharmacy
OUR OPINION:
By virtue of the above-quoted section, congress membership is conferred on all "registered and matriculated students of the University of Lagos" but they have no right to vote. This means that the mass of students of the University will be reduced to the position of spectators while decisions that would affect their education, career and life are taken by a few "wiseacres".
By this section alone, the constitution has alienated the mass of students to vote on issues discussed at the sitting of the congress limiting it only to a few number of students referred to as the "congress Men and Women" who "shall be inaugurated by the vice-Chancellor of the university".
This to us in the ERC is a calculated attempt to put the congress (which should be the highest authority of students to formulate tactics, strategies and actions to promote and defend  interests and welfare of students and hold union leaders accountable) in the hand of the school management. If this section is allowed to fly, it means that the management will have control over the union which negates the principle independent unionism We challenge this section of the constitution and urge students to agitate for its removal from the constitution.
RECOMMENDATION: The taste of pudding is in the eating. To effectively play the role of congress members, all registered and matriculated students of the University of Lagos must have speaking and voting rights at the ULSU CONGRESS. We therefore recommend that Article 6, section 2 of the proposed constitution be amended accordingly.
Article 2, Section 3: AIMS AND OBJECTIVES
OUR OPINION: The aims and objectives of the union stated in the constitution do not point to vital issues affecting students on campus and in the wider society. Issues such as the exploitation of students, injustice to students, fee hike, education commercialisation and underfunding should be clearly stated as the activities the union officers will challenge. More so, some of these issues have been the major problem students are facing in the recent period and many of these issues may still occur in the nearest future. The aims and objectives of a responsible union should be wide and extensive enough to anticipate and accommodate all possible developments now and in future which the union may need to respond to.
RECOMMENDATION: We urge the committee to accept and add the following to the aims and objectives in the draft of the constitution:
- That the union shall defend students rights to provision of decent hostel accommodation for all students
- That the union shall campaign against any anti-students policies on campus such as exploitation, injustice, late or non-release of results, victimisation, fee hike and education commercialisation.
- That the Union shall campaign against sexual harassment of students and uphold the right of every female student to an academic environment free from sexism, rape and other gender-based negative practices.
- That the Union separately and in collaboration with other students unions, staff unions and other progressive groups shall campaign from time to time for improvement in the funding of public education starting from the UNESCO recommendation of 26% budgetary provision side by side with democratic management of resources to include the elected representatives of education workers and students
- That in accordance with our belief that Nigeria's resources if judiciously and democratically managed can ensure the provision of free and quality education at all levels, the union shall vigorously campaign for the Nigerian state to provide free education at all levels.
- That also to this extent, the Union shall separately and in collaboration with the genuine platforms of the Nigerian people also campaign for the justiciability and implementation of all provisions of Chapter 2 of the 1999 constitution (amended).
Article 5: ULSU LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL
Section 2: Composition of the House
The House shall comprise members who shall be:
(a) two (2) non-executives and one (1) executive member from each faculty
(b) three (3) members from DLI
(c) Nine (9) members from the College of Medicine and
(d) Three (3) members from each Hall of Residence
OUR OPINION:
Our first observation is that the idea which runs through the entire constitution that being a faculty or departmental executive or class representative automatically confers a seat in any organ of the union is dangerous. The mandate and requirement of faculty or departmental executives and class representatives are obviously not the same. Someone may be a good class representative well loved by his or her colleagues but becomes a crass opportunist or incapable of functioning once they get to a post of responsibility at other levels.
If this arrangement which we may liken to a "caste system" is sustained, the kind of union that would emerge from such an arrangement would most certainly be a bureaucratic union based not on the mass of students but on a few bureaucrats whose qualification is not their ability to defend students' rights.
Secondly,  no clear means or process by which the other proposed members of the House from DLI, College of Medicine and Hall of Residence would emerge is stated. Who will select or elect them? Is it the Vice Chancellor or the mass of Students?
RECOMMENDATION:
The "automatic" or "caste system" should be expunged from the constitution. We recommend that all proposed members of the House be elected. Any faculty or departmental executive or class representative who wants to hold a seat in the house should seek a fresh mandate from students. This is the best way to erect a solid measure of check and balance into the union to guard against its deterioration.
Article 7: ELECTION MATTERS
Section 1 (a): "Election into the ULSU Executive Council Shall be conducted through an Electoral College".
(f) The Electoral College shall compose of 10% of the total University population with
- 5% equal representation from each faculty
- 5% to proportional representation bases on the population of each faculty.
OUR OPINION: As everyone is probably aware, election is not just the most important part of a democracy, it is its soul. Where the rights to vote are severely curtailed, what will emerge will not be a democracy but a dictatorship. It is a complete injustice to UNILAG students to propose a constitution that would banish 90% of them into the status of spectators in the running of their affairs. As bad as Nigeria's democracy is and despite the military-imposed 1999 constitution, voting right is not restricted to this extent.
A University is supposed to lead the rest of society onto the highroad of progress not push it back into antiquity. Indeed is it not going to be an absurdity that while "all registered and matriculated students of the University of Lagos" are able to participate in general elections to elect political office holders at the Federal, State and Local Government levels, they are curtailed from electing leaders of their own union? Their rights to vote is to be exercised by their own colleagues who are in all probability not more brilliant, knowledgeable or better than them. We can go on and on. However the last point we will like to make is that democracy by proxy is a fraud and should not be entertained in a University of the stature of the University of Lagos.
RECOMMENDATION: Electoral College should be scrapped. A genuine Union can only function through direct, unrestricted democracy. We therefore propose that all officers of the union especially members of the ULSU Executive Council be elected by "all registered and matriculated students of the University of Lagos".
ELIGIBILITY
SECTION 2:
(i) The candidate must have at least a 3:00 C.G.P.A to contest for any ULSU Executive positions as shall be established by the result of the preceding Semester.
(iii) Any candidate found guilty of misconduct in contravention of the University rules shall not be eligible to contest.
(iv) Any person previously convicted for an offence by; or having a criminal case pending in; any recognized court in Nigeria shall also not be eligible to contest in the Students Union election.
OUR OPINION: To start with, nobody should have a problem with this section which seeks to ensure that the best of students academically and morally, not unserious students and felons, are those eligible to lead the union. However we believe that these provisions can also be seized on indiscriminately by the management to disqualify radical students who already have proven record of uncompromising defense of students' rights.
For instance on the basis of subsection (i) above, people can be deliberately failed to make them ineligible. Also using subsections (iii) and (iv), radical students who are at the forefront of agitations against exploitation and worsening hostel conditions can be dragged before a disciplinary panel and declared guilty of contrived allegations. They can also be arrested, detained and convicted on contrived charges by the Nigerian Police acting on the recommendation of the University management.
Recently, protests broke out at some halls of residence over issues of welfare condition. Two years ago, UNILAG was agog with mass protests against the unilateral change of the University's name by the Federal Government. These protests were led by students radicalised by their condition on campus. We observe that the management could use these provisions and invite radical students (especially those identified to be "ringleaders" in the mobilisation for protests) to a disciplinary panel with aim of victimization. We therefore hold that these provisions cannot help in any way to free UNILAG students from the shackles and manacles of oppression  they have been under since the union was proscribed. We think this provision if sustained as it is will discourage students from mobilising against exploitations and bad welfare conditions on campus because of the fear of disqualification from elections. This would not be a progress but retrogression for UNILAG.
We urge committee should try and look at the experience of unions on other campuses especially the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile - Ife to know how managements could use provisions like the one above to cripple the union.
RECOMMENDATION
We propose that there should be no academic requirement for eligibility to contest elections save for evidence of registration and matriculation. As much as academic qualification is important, the paradox of Nigeria; a country whose president is a PHD holder yet wallows in such wanton level of poverty in the midst of inestimable oil wealth shows that leadership is not so much a function of the appropriate CGPA or certificates.
We also propose that subsections (iii) and (iv) be amended in accordance with our opinion expressed above.
ELECTORAL COMMITTEE 
SECTION 3
a) The Electoral Committee shall consist of the following:
i. Supervisor who shall be a Staff Adviser recommended by the Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos shall oversee the election process and announce Election results.
ELECTION PETITION COMMITTEE
SECTION 4
i. There shall be an Electoral Petition Committee set up by the Dean of Students Affairs.
OUR OPINION: If these two sections are passed, ULSU will be the only union in the University of Lagos which allows non-members in this case officials of the University Management to organise its elections. We respectively ask the committee, do ASUU, SSANU, NASU and NAAT chapters operate with the same arrangement whereby the Vice Chancellor recommends the chairman of the electoral commission and the Dean of Students Affairs or DVC Administration heads their Electoral petition? If students are not capable of organising their own elections, then they would not be capable of running the union by themselves.
However running through this provision is the implied degenerate opinion that young people cannot be trusted to organise themselves without crisis so older people have to step in. The paradox of this backward opinion is that elections in the general society are organised by elderly people. Yet this has not prevented general elections in Nigeria since 1999 till now from being rigged by equally elderly politicians who have vested interests. Indeed if the youth have had any role to play in electoral violence, it is often as foot soldiers employed by elderly people who have the means and interests to subvert democracy.
The interest of the UNILAG management here is to maintain a grip on the means to elect the officers of the Union so that only preferred candidates who would not "rock the boat" would emerge.
There is a recent example at the University of Ibadan. During the last Students Union election, the chairman of the electoral commission was a Dr. Soola who occupies the highly exalted position of the Deputy Registrar (Students) of the University. After the elections, the runner-up in the Presidential race having observed some irregularities decided to approach the Election Petition Committee to seek redress. But unknown to him, the same Dr. Soola, Deputy Registrar (Students) who organised the disputed election happened to  also be the Secretary of the Election Petition Committee while the Dean of Students Affairs Prof. Alada was the Chairman. Of course every reasonable person can easily imagine what would the outcome of the petition. Suffice to say however that none of the numerous of witnesses who were ready to come out to give evidence before the commission showed up and for good reasons too: they had been contacted by the Election Petition Commitee and threatened. We have no doubt that it is this kind of injustice and absurdity that would also happen in UNILAG if these sections are sustained.
RECOMMENDATION
We respectfully urge the Constitution Drafting Committee to expunge these two sections. We also propose that members of the Electoral Committee and the Election Petition Committee should be elected at the ULSU Legislative Council and they must all be students.
CONCLUSION
These are our humble submissions. We hope they would be received in good faith and the understanding that they are motivated by the need to ensure that what is restored is a union that can effectively discharge its duties and defend its members.
Once again we are grateful for the opportunity,
Thank you
Adamu Lateef                                                 Julius Samuel
Coordinator ERC UNILAG                       Secretary ERC UNILAG
08032251230.                                                 08189511758

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