By Modiu Olaguro,
On the surface, the ban on students’ unionism by the senate of the University of Lagos appears as a wise decision needed to quickly tame a fledgling creature before it fully develops into a wild beast capable of taking on whatever comes its way. The proscription, which followed the closure of the school, was contained in a document the students and their parents/guardians must complete before they can, in the words of the university, “be re-absorbed” into the school system. While the students must swear to re-absorption oaths and hall clearance forms, their parents are expected to fill an indemnity form which includes a portion where a witness of not less than level 12 in the public service must assent to.
But deeply, one cannot but notice that the university, having been run without a union in ten of the last eleven years still finds the union as an encroachment into the sphere of influence and authority previously controlled by the management especially the students’ affairs unit in both economic and administrative terms. This is why – in the process leading to the lifting of the ban – a bulk of academics and non-academics in the university folded their arms waiting to make a mockery of the vice chancellor, Professor Rahmon Bello should the baggage that comes with unionism resurfaces.
To these purveyors of doom, the VC was bowing to pressure from unserious and disrespectful elements who, being contemporaries of his children and grandchildren find it impossible to squarely face what they came to school for: to make a first class. With this litany of naysayers whose rank and file contain lecturers even in the faculties of law and social sciences, no one need have a word with the vice chancellor to know how helpless he found himself in the midst of the crises that engulfed the university.
So it was not surprising seeing that the union was proscribed while the second administration had barely found its feet. With skillful underplay of the genuine issues raised by the students, while magnifying the public disturbance caused by the seemingly decorous protestants, one cannot help but conclude that the ban was nothing short of calling a dog a bad name in order to hang it!
Unknown to the university, no amount of propaganda would be sufficient to cover up the ineptitude of the management and the way and manner they hold the students in contempt. Just two years ago, I was still a student in that university and can affirm that although the school bears the brunt for the systemic failure plaguing the country, the management’s difficulty in communicating the state of things to the students has always been abysmal. This is why the claim by the dean of students’ affairs, Professor Tunde Babawale that the students’ union never tabled their frustrations to the authorities is laughable.
From sexual harassment to leakage of examination questions, power issues to the lackadaisical attitudes of the staff of the medical centre to work, the students have never failed to communicate their grievances to the authorities.
While I’m not holding brief for any student who might have hid under the cover of the struggle to engage in any form of misconduct, anyone that is familiar with how spokespersons of our institutions operate would take whatever they say with a pinch of salt. A university that teaches communication ought not to be found wanting in this regard.
It is worth mentioning that the ease at which the union was scrapped ought to send a signal to the students that ULSU, with all its claim of being the “largest Students’ Union in West Africa” was a union only in name. On several occasions in the build-up to the reinstatement of the union, protagonists have often asked constitutional purist to overlook certain abberations in the draft constitution. With such arguments, coupled with the ocean of students who were either indifferent or outrightly against the comeback of the union, it was clear that ULSU, if reinstated, would find itself wanting when such bodies firmly built on pure philosophical and activistic ideals are needed to prove their worth in the public arena.
With a supposedly independent union having as its major source of funding a grant from the university, the University of Lagos Students’ Union deludes itself thinking it could escape whatever machinations of its major sponsor the way INEC under Professor Attahiru Jega skilfully did under the Jonathan-led federal government.
ULSU should not deceive itself that it’s a union because in reality, it appears as though its membership cluster around the members of the executive and legislature and their coterie of friends and supporters; for the members of the university senate, notwithstanding the level of provocation by the students’ would have thought twice before coming hard on the union should they have perceived the body as a truly unifying figure that enjoys widespread support from the students.
It’s been days since the suspension of the union and no one – either from amongst the executive or legislative arm – has deem it necessary to exploit the massive presence of students on social media to inform them on the situation of things, what steps are being made to restore normalcy, and how they can contribute to ensure that what their predecessors fought for is retained.
In this age of information, all the union – which describes itself as one that has a mandate to “keeping the entire University of Lagos Students informed” – could boast of on its facebook page, ULSU UNIFIED, is a total like of 715 as at the 26th of April 2016. On the page, the union tells us of its mission: “to fight for University of Lagos Students Right and beg for their privileges.”
As I write, there is absolutely no post relating to the protest or its aftermath on the said page. A look at the page shows that the three latest posts where made on March 16, March 8, and February 22 respectively.
On the facebook page of the legislative arm, ULSU students’ legislative council, with a claim “to provide students, management and observers with first-hand information on minutes, resolution and updates from the council,” one observes that it has only been updated once since its creation. The only update was the picture of the student’s union logo which was uploaded on January 19, 2016.
It has 93 likes.
The near absence of the students’ union on social media is a pointer to one thing and that’s the unpopularity of the union among the students. Once the school realised that, in addition to its prior knowledge of how Whizkid-crazy and Ikeji-wild majority of the students were, the stage was set to decimate the rank and file of the union once it made them lose sleep. Alas, a union with no visible followership will have no place to fall back to when danger looms!
With the ban, re-absorption, and indemnity forms, the University of Lagos has fully transformed into a fascist academy with generals and warriors who find it amusing to preach democracy to the nation while they waste no time to unleash their clubs and bullets on students’ suffrage. It is not surprising though, a look at the VC, DVCs, DSA, faculty deans and heads of department would mirror to even the least conscious Nigerian, a people who belong to a generation that wrecked our nation and desecrated her values.
For if the University of Lagos was not one that loathes challenges and the rights of man, it would have paused to reflect on the fact that the proscription of the union does more harm than good to the students who would one day leave school to either deepen Nigeria’s nascent democracy or join the army of wanderers in embracing democratic dictatorship. A little bit of introspection by members of the senate would have informed them that the ban was nothing but a repeat of an insidious aspect of history.
Modiu Olaguro writes from Badagry.
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