By Prisca Aniemeke
In this interview with the UCJ-UI Interview Editor; Ayeni Otito-Jesu, the President of The Literary and Debating Society (TLDS), University of Ibadan, talks about the Society’s annual debating competition, Jaw War, and the effects the COVID-19 Pandemic and ASUU strike have had on it.
Kindly introduce yourself.
Hi. My name is AYENI, Otito-Jesu Joshua. I am a final year LARIS student and president of the Literary and Debating Society, University of Ibadan. I am a logophile and have keen interest in public speaking, communications and personnel management.
As the president, what are the (novel) plans you’ve put in place to further drive the progress of TLDS?
To start with, it’s imperative to posit that, a major challenge we have been facing (generally in almost every organisation) is sustainability. If you notice, many of the novel ideas that leaders in organisations bring on dies with their administration. That is because every leader wants to bring an amazing/novel idea for them to be appraised to have done greatly.
However, while the introduction of new ideas are welcome, we must understand that sustaining the ideas (which are sensible and worthy) from past administration is important so as to establish a fact that this Organisation is peculiar to this, not having new administrations with new ideas which won’t be sustained.
What ideas from the past administration do you plan to sustain?
First, ‘Speak and Live’. This is a training for public speakers (within and outside the University community) which gives them the opportunity to learn from excellent communicators, exercise the art and network to gain more experience.
Then, ‘Ibadan Literary Festival’. This was an incredible idea from the past administration which exposed writers, art lovers and creatives to the world of art and literary development. This is meant to be an event that will earn global recognition (if greatly sustained and planned).
Asides these, an idea is to expand the reach of the society beyond the University Community and this is by employing several means of curating TLDS’ events for visibility of the members and promotion and the art. (Seeing things happen using tech during the pandemic has got us exposed).
Lastly, ‘Jaw War’, the annual public speaking tournament in the University.
You’re saying these are ideas from the past administration?
I’ve never heard of the Ibadan Literary Festival.
Really? The maiden edition held last year at the Wole Soyinka Theater. Now, you see why there’s an actual need to invest in making the previous ideas stand the test of time so that the populace enjoy more benefits that they did at the last. So, more of sustenance than introduction.
The world is not yet free from ravaging war of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Has this also affected the Society?
Of course, it has, like every other institution—in so many ways.
Okay. So what plans were made for this year’s Jaw War?
Well, for the annual debate tournament, some things planned were: One, a general meeting that’ll have all registered members of TLDS in attendance. This is to debunk the notionsthey might have had about the competition, which has affected the quality of speeches and delivery.
Also, partnerships with media houses to further expand the frontiers of the competition; and lastly, an extension of viewership through the use of video conferencing platforms, to mention but a few.
Can you give an example of such notions?
Ehm, punchlines over quality content. Thinking the use of fake sources/facts to back up a point will slide (smiles). And, insult of personalities over attack on subject matter.
Can you expatiate on point three about the use of video conferencing platforms?
So, for the extension of viewership/attendance, rather than use the regular Instagram live, other media platforms could be complementary— YouTube, Zoom and Facebook.
You go live on Instagram?
Yes, we do but the challenges we face with it has brought about these alternatives… And if we are lucky to have a station like BBC on ground, (smiles). It would be great!
BBC? Are there plans for that or it’s just wishful thinking?
(Laughs) It’s something we wish to actually explore. But even before speaking to BBC, I think our local stations are a good one to start with.
We both know of the massive crowd that turns up for Jaw War each year. If UI had resumed alongside private universities, do you think Jaw War would have held amidst COVID-19 restrictions?
Yes! Jaw War would still have held. Here are my arguments. One, COVID-19 has taught us that anything is possible using technology. Again, with the regulations made by NCDC, there would have been very strict adherence to the number of participants required in an event (following an uncompromising stance from our end to ensure that) with an alternative for those who can’t make it to stream online. If the UI Vice-Chancellorship screening (and many other conferences) could have held despite the pandemic, definitely nothing would have stopped us.
Do you think Jaw War would be Jaw War without a live and full audience? That’s based on what you just said about technology and all.
Of course, it would and here are my reasons. Jaw War is Jaw War because of its peculiarities— large audience, catchy theme, exciting topics, brainy judges and its other peculiarities as you may attach to it. Hence, because it is an online event would not have dropped its standard in any form. Rather, it would have reshaped the event to the taste that we have always wanted— a quiet, peaceful and orderly event and two, it would have helped to explore another way of executing the tournament.
So, whether it had held online or not, people would have still participated because, they would be anticipating the form by which it would take (which could have tested our creativity and innovativeness); the topics would still have been thought provoking; the theme, catchy and the judges, stringent and “safe from any harm any participant would have done assuming they lost”.
Okay, this makes sense. But I still think the audience plays a very important role in the competition; with the cheering, booing and singing.
(Smiles) You’re right.
Are there plans for the competition to hold when school resumes eventually?
Yes! And until the academic calendar for the new session is out, we cannot fix dates yet but sure, it will hold.
Is TLDS making plans to ensure safety measures are put in place during the next Jaw War (whenever it is), like social distancing and a “no nose mask, no entry” policy or you’ll stick to the virtual? Or is it just going to go back to normal?
Uhm… With time, we would decide what policy would be employed because, we do not know what next year has in stock—we just really hope it offers us the best.
On a lighter note, which faculty or hall do you think did excellently in Jaw War last year?
(Laughs) Mehn, I may not have concluded until they’d opened fire at their opponents. ‘Cause, if there’s one thing Jaw War has taught me, it is that you should not underestimate anybody. Awo hall really shocked us last year.
Do you have something to say on ASUU lingering strike?
Yes, I do. Here are some of my thoughts. I think it is a shame that we are still experiencing a thing like this—inconclusive decisions of 2009 agreements—a baby born then would have clocked 11 this year. There’s a lot to say concerning this but I’ll resist the urge to get too elaborate.
ASUU on its own has suffered, a lot. They have faced a lot; lies from the government and they’ve become the best striker in the country. ASUU needed this decision—the elongated strike—because they refuse to be fooled. They refuse to be deceived and they have decided to receive their benefits before returning to work. And that is a good thing because, that is the only language the government understands—industrial action.
On the other hand, once the demands of ASUU are met already, our question is, does that make our educational system better? Does that guarantee a better teaching and learning system? These are some of the questions we need to ask because, while they might have met their demands, how do we curtail the bad teaching system that has been created already?
We create more educators yet, our educational system isn’t getting any better. We have been calling thousands of lawyers to bar but has our judiciary system become better to put criminal leaders behind bars? So, when we are talking about revitalisation of institutions, are we assured that we’re not going into a further state of discombobulation?
So, while they might have resolved the issues they are going on strike for, I think what is next of ASUU is to see how we can restructure our curriculum to make sure we meet the standard that is expected and not regurgitating what you—lecturers— have been taught in 1976 for us— students— to swallow in 2021. That is why ASUU should work with the FG to see to the upgrade of educational systems and prescribe necessary regulations that can make their members worthy of emulation and recommendation
Now, on the part of government…
Do you have a thing to say on the Federal Government’s actions so far?
(Smiles). Yes, I do. On the part of the government, they have not been truthful to us as citizens and they have left us in a state of discombobulation. It is high time these people in power started receiving stiff punishments for their wrong actions and acknowledge the fact that there are consequences for their actions.
It is rather unfortunate that things have gone down the drain—no free meals in cafeterias, no free laundry, e.t.c. and even if we will no longer enjoy all these free things, we should enjoy going to school to learn.
Why should the FG recommend filthy jobs for graduates? Why should we sacrifice excellence for diversification? No! That shouldn’t be. If you had wanted to learn panel beating, you should have gone to do so. It is a very wrong thing to do, telling graduates to wash gutters for a token or go to learn a trade because there are no jobs. At all! It is very annoying…
What are your closing remarks?
With what we faced this year, celebrate yourself for all secret battles you have fought and won and the ones you think you lost. Be kind to yourself, begin to look into what you want 2021 to look like for you and start planning. Don’t wait till January to start creating a new year resolution. In the end, you’re the only one who understands the reality of your life best.
Thank you very much for this and thank you very much for your time.