While many have their minds bugged with the question, ‘is this it?’, others strangely feel a sense of fulfilment, or excitement in the least. By the 20th of June on which date the university has been scheduled to resume, students would have used a total of 55 days at home. Though some dogged ones refused to go home, nonetheless for the majority, it was nothing but 55 days of unproductivity; 55 days of sleeping; 55 days of honeymoon with WhatsApp and Facebook, of gaining weight and getting updated on thitherto forsaken season movies. To cap it all, not only has all that time been void of academic growth, the crisis behind it remains unresolved by the powers that be.
The past two months have indeed been full of intrigues. In fact, scratch that. The entire regime under the current ‘Abel-leadership’ has been full of intrigues. Subvention from the government has suffered a great plunge. Both teaching and non-teaching staff are vexed. Freedom of expression seems to be labouring under sedation. Freedom of movement suffers a similar fate. The place of eloquence and diplomacy in leadership has been forgotten. The ideal priority of the university has been uppercut not even to the passenger’s seat but straight into the boot. Things are falling apart and the centre is struggling to hold.
The climax of the entire roller coaster was the SDC verdict against Mr Tunji Ekpeti. This decision, observed from every angle, was unfair and the school has not been able to justify its decisions, especially on rational and extra-legal grounds. The National Association of Nigerian Students was not going to have any of that. Uites were equally appalled and because of varying motives, they joined the campaign for the unconditional freedom of MOTE. Expectedly, those on the other side of the buffer zone dived right away into their arsenal of ancient tricks and drew an aluta-proof master plan right from the outset. They would not give up that easily to the second-class citizens. Besides, were they not the ones with many years of experience and piles of degrees? What good would all that erudition be if they appear fallible and cannot outsmart mere undergraduates?
To cut the long story short, the echoes of #FreeMote have now diffused into thin air and the spirit of activism has been crushed into specks of dust under the overwhelming force of ‘schoolsickness’. And we hear statements like, ‘we voted for speaker to protect the interest of all Uites and not the interest of one man … we have tried enough’. On Saturday, we even learnt some students created a WhatsApp countdown to resumption and that some disgruntled finalists have threatened a counter-protest should the Students’ Union remonstrate again. They have forgotten that the campaign is not only for one man. It is not even only for this generation. It is for all of us and countless generations to come. Understandably, student leaders are afraid to take the lead in a new protest as strong doubts exist as to the loyalty of the followers. Nobody wants to bell the cat. Whether you like it not, regardless of how cheap it has become, the SDC letter is still a force to reckon with.
Students of the university first got it wrong with respect to their motives. It is now obvious that the greater part of students, including those who took to the streets, were not sincere with their agitation. As always, we had those who simply derived pleasure in resting after long weeks of lectures. Even our dear Vice Chancellor seems to see it as a ritual which future generations (when they become VC) are also entitled to sustain. Some thought they needed more time to prepare for the looming examinations. Ironically however, they perhaps now have less. We also had the cohort which, reports say, only sought undeserved spotlight for themselves. And so, there was no unity of purpose from the genesis; and so later revelations have been unpalatable. We trod the same road but had different destinations, and so the bus of aluta inevitably imploded.
At this moment of spontaneous musing, the motto of the university miraculously comes to mind – recte sapere fons (for knowledge and good judgment). I wonder to what extent all the parties involved have exercised good judgment, student and management alike. The students, at some points, employed impolitic means of venting their anger. Without remorse, they blurred the moral line between the young and the elderly. They freely cast aspersions on staff of the university at the slightest provocation, or even no provocation at all. They abused those who are to them, in loco parentis, in the glare of the public – and they forgot to use innuendos while at it. Vulgar language was hired, shocking adjectives were broadcasted and unprintable names were indiscriminately published. One individual, who is not a medical practitioner, even went to the extent of proclaiming the Vice Chancellor dead. Leaning on hindsight and viewing the side mirror from this dimension, I now understand why we are at a dead-end today.
We are all humans and even jurisprudence, through the functional school of thought, acknowledges that sentimental factors often influence judicial decisions. If that is the case for the law court which is most prudent in its methods, then what is to be expected of administrators who enjoy a vast icing of discretion? It is only natural that they allow themselves to be swayed by emotions and the desire to avenge (even if pipelines of sanity would be blown up in the process). Asides the aforementioned fact, some have gone ahead even to suggest that #FreeMote as a slogan was too arrogant. If we had used #PardonMote instead, perchance we would have gotten a better result?
Of course, there is also need to examine how much of good judgment the school management can lay claim to over the course of the saga. In my opinion, not much either. Sending students home for almost two months was not the way forward. It shall not provide a lasting solution. What the school ought to have done is call the student leaders to a round table in order to rub minds, present the hard facts and draw a blueprint for a better tomorrow. What they should have done is allow students to fix their problems if they wanted to and not sacrifice the lamb of public welfare on the altar of technicality. What they should have done is take off their cloak of ego and be sincere with the figures. All students need to see is sincerity, sportsmanship and the accordance of reasonable respect to the student community. But no, the school seems to prefer the easy way out.
Students will soon be back on campus to resume academic activities, and surely they will be facing exactly the same conditions. MOTE will still not be free, and no convincing reason will be given. Porters will still have their shoulders flying above their heads in a reflex angle (as though they are bats). The Students’ Disciplinary Council will still be fundamentally imbalanced, anti-student and typical of an Orwellian‘1984’. Power and water supplies will still be as sporadic as good news in the Nigerian polity, except of course in the first days of resumption just to lull students into approval. Power will only be given in order that we may be powerless; but fast-forward to the examination period, a relapse into old times is very likely. This is not the way to go.
My two cents worth, in closing, is firstly for students to recognise their duty to the union and to humanity. It is like a social contract. If the union to a large extent keeps its own end of the bargain, we should too. How? By supporting its every move calculated for the betterment of the students – whether one or all or all in one. If you are not in support of a protest, go to the congress ground and state your reasons. Let us know of your dissent. Do not sit in your room, run home as soon as the door is flung open and expect to come back to an El Dorado. It doesn’t work that way. It never can.
Mote is not free today because the management understands the pusillanimous psychology of most students. They know that just a couple of weeks at home is all that is required to dampen their starched garment of aluta. And most certainly, they are never reluctant to play the card. At least, they have nothing to lose.
Also, the foundation of our coexistence needs to be revisited. We need to draw a new institutional order just as we have the European order. All parties should come together to come to terms with their needs, efforts and means of remonstration. Students should stop viewing the administration as the devil in academic gown. And the school management should also see us as partners in progress. The new leadership has to understand that it needs the students towards achieving its objectives (which are even ultimately for the good of the students). The Students’ Union President lamented recently that the new Vice Chancellor has never given him a call for any reason since his assumption of office. That is a very suggestive omission and it certainly is not the way to go.
I also move that the union realise the validity of Einstein’s statement – insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Students of the university have been battling with the lack of power and water since the Second Republic while they have been flexing confrontational aluta muscles even before independence. Yet, today we are still facing exactly the same set of problems. I think this should signal that other approaches have to be explored in supplement. Student leaders have to think outside the box and be progressive in their steps. This is the time to focus more on priorities (such as developmental programmes and infrastructural uplift) while deserting frivolities (which we all know). It is trite that tough times require tough measures. As we ought to have discovered, jaw-jaw and work-work often prove more efficacy than war-war (especially one where one party lacks bargaining power). Verbum sap!
God bless the MOTE in us!
God bless the University of Ibadan!
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!
God bless Africa!