-BY: Chidera Anushiem
“Our lives begin to end the day we keep silent about the things that matter” – MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
How pleasant were the stories of events I was regaled with as a fresher-in-waiting. I was told of the WhatsApp BCs that would flood my WhatsApp account like a swarm of bees; I was also told that the SU week was usually the highlight of the session and a way to step down from the after-stress effect of excessive jacking. But today, almost two years after I heard such stories, myself — and close to 7,000 others — do not know what it feels like to be undergraduates in a university that has a students’ union.
Sometime last week, I attempted to board a bike from my hall of residence (Independence) to my faculty (pharmacy). It was 7:55 a.m., meaning that I had only five short minutes to get a bike for myself, get to the faculty, and settle in for my 3-hour practical session. To cut the long story short, I got a bike, but helpless me had to pay #100 to the rapacious motorcycle operator.
Away from the short exordium, I once read in an article online that Prof. Wole Soyinka once said that a university without a students’ union is a dead one. Nothing is closer to the truth than this. Whenever we have to satisfy the appetite of extortionate bike and cab men, we remember that we need a union back in this university; whenever I remember the echoes of the underlying complaints that birthed the #FreeMote, #NoTo100k and #NoIDCardNoExam protests, I am more convinced that a union is the only way for us; whenever unseen acts of oppression are meted out to UItes, it is only logical to conclude that we need the union back. In short, there is nothing the university needs now more than adequate infrastructure and a vibrant union.
In the meantime, students have been going through unbearable occurrences. From the ban of hotplates to the exorbitant fees they now have to pay, it is now more necessary than ever for the voice of the students to be reinstated. Quite frankly, an association of Hall Chairmen and faculty heads and, more recently, the Union of Campus Journalists, does not suffice for the students’ union. They either do not represent the interests of the students or they do not do so as vehemently as they should, which of course, is beyond their precincts.
The Vice-Chancellor acted in loco parentis by promising that he would restore a ‘responsible and mature union’ when the time is right. However, where this logic is lost on me is that from my little knowledge of biology, an extinct phenomenon, or specie if you like, cannot manure. Quite simply, a baby who has not seen the light of the world cannot grow to become a mother; or, more appropriate for this case, one cannot talk about seeing a dinosaur mature since the specie is now extinct. Therefore how our Vice-Chancellor wants a non-existent union to mature is what I cannot understand. If you want to see a ‘responsible and mature’ union, you reinstate it and provide it with the right nutrients and then watch it mature!
In ensuring that this great university maintains its sanity, the management, after restoring the union, should truly ensure that we are ‘partners in progress’ as the Vice-Chancellor is wont to say. A conspicuous stain on the garment of the management — which has also been the prime reason for the tension between the students and management — is the fear of victimization. In the soil of victimization, only bad fruits of misunderstanding can be produced. Therefore as a matter of need, victimisation should be sent to the trash can, which is where its rightful abode is.
Furthermore, students, on their own part, must not take one sip too many from the gourd of laxity that they forget to hearken to the counsel of Elie Wiesel that “there may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” And most likely, by protest, the counsellor did not mean that all hell must be let lose in the name of carrying placards and chanting ‘aluta’ songs. In fact, that methodology currently suffers from what my friends in philosophy call the fallacy of antiquity. It is what got us here, it doesn’t work any longer, and it should be relegated to dwell among the vestiges of strategy – which is where outdated stuff languish.
In conclusion, the words of the great Albert Einstein ring true in my head in these perilous times. His words: peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding. Instead of the university management to be concerned about union or no union, they should be concerned about bridging the mistrust between them and the students. That way, the university will be a better place for all.