The speech below was presented by Comrade Benjamin Ugheoke, Chairperson of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) UNIABUJA Chapter at a public symposium jointly organized by the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) and ASUU on Tuesday 15 December 2015 at the New Law Theatre (NLT) of the Law Faculty, UNIABUJA mini campus.
The purpose of the Student Union Movement is to ensure welfare for students studying in various institutions in the country. By welfare it is meant the totality of the well-being of a student, bothering on academic, economic, social and political spheres of life. The entire Welfare Package of the student include, but not limited to such things as the right to: free speech and association, due process, equality, autonomy, safety and privacy, as well as accountability in contract between the student and the institution,especially the aspects that relate to the treatment of students by teachers and administrators.
With this scope in mind, it is clear that the Student Union Movement cannot do without interacting not just with school authorities, but also with the governance of the environment in which student find themselves. Neither is the vision of the formation of the Student Union Movement insulated from the country’s affairs, because the student body is the bedrock and frame for the growth and development of a country.
This interaction is often complex and needs to be well managed and understood, otherwise, a lot could go wrong. Today, it is very difficult to tell whether most of the Student Union Movements that exist across the various campuses in Nigeria understand the original concept of the Movement and if they do, whether they do understand how to achieve this purpose.
It must be stated that the Student Union Movement, is a pressure group that agitates for and insists on the right thing to be done, not just in the immediate institution’s boundaries, but in the overall affairs of the state. It is clear therefore, that the Student Union Movement and other pressure groups such as ASUU share the same vision and have a common enemy: the oppressor. However, this has not held true for the SUG and ASUU.
The focus of this missive is to point out the missing “U” in the Student Union Movement of today and to point the way forward for the Movement so it can take its rightful place and exert its force on the affairs of the country for the benefit of the education sector and by extension, the country at large. The “U” that ought to stand for Unity has been replaced by potent forces of division, so much so that the entire Student Movement in the country is in disarray. The centre can no longer hold on and resist the capitalistic forces and influences of the enemies of the students.
TODAY’S TREND IN THE STUDENT UNION MOVEMENT
It is disturbing that nowadays, the Student Union Movement has taken a down-turn, wasting so much of its energies and resources on politics and self-aggrandisement rather than pursue the original goals of the Movement. Student leaders are no longer driven by the ideology of common good: “all for one; one for all”. It is no longer uncommon today that the impetus that propels students to seek leadership positions in the Student Union body is nothing other than greed and avarice for material gains; building of political launch-pad for future inordinate ambitions; a total lack of knowledge of who the “enemy” is.
Rather than engage the authorities over breaches, it is now rife to see leaders of the student body clamour and fight establishments over allocation of blind-folding privileges such as large number of hostel accommodations when the students that elected them have nowhere to lay their heads; we now see deliberate personalisation of Union properties at the expense of every other student; trade-offs of student rights for some little morsels of food or money; lustful eyes on anything they could grab. Leaders of this potent Movement are too quick nowadays to forget the proverbs that say “a little leaven leavens the whole lump and “a gift in secret blinds the eyes”.
What explanation can one give for the common-place practice amongst student bodies today to offer or give awards to heads of institutions who in the eyes of the public, are adjudged profane and corrupt individuals and spitefully so, when they do it at the time that some other pressure groups are slugging it out with such administrators over impunity in their transactions? This is simply shocking! The question is: “where did we get it wrong and what could be done to redress this unacceptable and unbecoming trend?”
WHERE DID WE GET IT WRONG?
The very first mistake made by the would-be leaders of the student body is their penchant for “sponsors” in student union elections outside the students and against every rational democratic norm and means. In this process, they get entangled, their soul and whatever ideology the student would have had is immediately swallowed up and subsumed in whatever the sponsor believes. If the sponsor is a thug, the student leader becomes a thug and if a cultist, the student leader becomes a cultist. Thus, student union elections are no longer a product of the ideology of a student showcased in manifestos and organisational prowess, but rather a borrowed culture of the town. The distinctive touch and taste of the gown is gone out of student politics. Here, we miss it.
We miss it also, when we no longer give it to superior argument, but to him that is able to give us kerosene, noodles, rice and T-shirts today. Did we ever bother to ask ourselves where he got all that from? Wait, we are wrong when we give it to the highest bidder, not in intellect, leadership qualities and all acceptable norms of a just, fair and equitable society, but when we choose to let him buy our conscience with those ephemeral materials and thereby led astray.
We go wrong when we allow the forces from the Administration divide our ranks; when we permit them to “anoint” leaders for us. Are we dumb to discern that when an enemy gives a gift, it will sure be a poison? We now let the Administration to meddle with the affairs of students. They set up moles and traitors amongst us. We permit them to freely operate the divide-and-rule principles on us. That is not and can never be the Student Union Movement!That is not democracy and would never be a substitute.
CONSEQUENCES OF LACK OF IDEOLOGY BASED STUDENT UNION LEADERSHIP
Proverbs hold that “Where there is no vision, the people perish”. Therefore, for most of the Student Union leaders devoid of ideology, anything goes. Democracy is suppressed and or substituted by selection tools put in place by the “common enemy” of the stakeholders in an institution. Leaders are hand-picked from among students to do the bidding of Management and when they have been used, they are dumped and called names.
What do we do?
We must return to our roots. We must give place to superior argument; democracy must thrive. Yes democracy, not like the town would have it, rather it is the democracy that ensures the common good. If you like, call it Socialist Democracy. It is the leadership of the people by the people and for the people. It is not a government per se; it is a way of life for the oppressed who have seen and known that the oppressor is an enemy and that liberation comes only through Unity of purpose; through transparency and accountability; it is a way of life that ensures that crookedness in dealings is fought against and the fight continues until justice, equity and fairness are enthroned and become the guiding principles for all. It is the kind of democracy that brought out Nathan Law Kwun-chung of the Hong Kong Federation of Students and Joshua Wong of the Scholarism Movement into the streets and caused a standstill for the government of Hong Kong for a period of three months over a decision made by the government of China over the people of Hong Kong. Interesting. It was a struggle not for hand-outs from school authorities, it was a struggle for the good of the country.
Permit me to challenge your position with a brief of the life of Joshua Wong. Joshua Wong Chi-fungis a Hong Kong student activist, born 13 October 1996. On 29 May 2011, he founded Scholarism, which is a Hong Kong pro-democracy student activist group. The scope of activities the group covers fall in the fields of Hong Kong's education policy, political reform and youth policy.
The group is known for its stance on defending the autonomy of Hong Kong's education policy from Beijing's unconstitutional interference. He was a student at the United Christian College, and is now a college student of the Open University of Hong Kong.
Wong is most notable for leading fellow Hong Kong students in a massive protest in 2014 that demanded genuine universal suffrage. Due to his influence in Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement, he was named as one of TIME's Most Influential Teens of 2014, nominated for TIME's Person of the Year 2014 and listed by Fortune Magazine as one of the World's Greatest Leaders in 2015.
Joshua Wong saw leadership as a liberating force. Sure, we go wrong when we see leadership as an end rather than a means to an end. Holding an office is not for ego boosting, but a platform to serve humanity. If we must build a strong, virile Student Union Movement, we must embrace the principles of superior argument in all our engagements.
What we need to do now is to organize: the kind of organisation similar to that of Joshua Wong; yes we must begin to organize ourselves against opportunists who have taken over the Student Union Movement and have colonised it as their employment. It is time to confront the oppressors with raw facts that will debilitate their machinations; it is time to enthrone the true democratic visions of the Student Union Movement. The time to act is now, so we can ensure access to affordable quality education for the nation’s student. It is time to bring back the missing “U”.
ALUTA CONTINUA! VICTORIA ACERTA! VIVA SUG!