Editorial: Making Meaning Out Of The UI’SU Congress

The gathering of students at the Kunle Adepeju Memorial Students Union Building, University of Ibadan, on Saturday, October 14th, 2023, and its lessons will play out in history classes but only facts about it will matter. The request for the congress which initially was frustrated with an inexcusable stretch of delay by the leadership of the Students Union brewed out suddenly answered.

Before the eventual call for a Congress, the land and the tree were metaphorically apart. The letter, submitted on Friday, August 25, which requested and made the just held congress possible, did so first in accordance with the Union’s constitutional provision. The letter had it aim as one which pushed the Host–led UI’SU administration into checking the general welfare of students. But, why does the Union really need a Congress? One may wonder or ask. It is moral demand on society to let young people talk and thrive. Youths or students have indispensable voices. The human society has failed to understand that the measure of sense in the words of the young will be determined by the measure of freedom one has given them, over a period of time, for the necessary mistake to be made, and for the lesson to be learned. Despite that holding a Congress of students was long-dated and overdue, the distance between the letter dated 25th of August, which was submitted to the Students’ Union leadership by a section of over 250 UI students requesting for the Congress and Wednesday, October 11th when the Host-led administration heed the call was indeed an uncalled-for protraction Congress should be called as of when due.

The Congress, otherwise called the General Meeting (according to article XIII of the UI’SU constitution) is primarily the highest decision making organ of the Students’ Union. The congress fundamentally provides all members of the Union and their elected representatives with a direct opportunity to present, develop, substitute, argue, defend and resolve idea or matters of concern in an open democratic way. It was simply in light of affective issues of utmost concern that the Students’ community has the idea of a Congress provided for.

The current academic session had started with an increment in accommodation fees which would be paid by a total optimum population of about 7,000 undergraduates put together. But two issues herein. The discriminatory price of accommodation for students and living arrangements were twin, cardinal issues the Students’ Union which the leadership of the Union should have loudly raised or seek redress on. The current system of accommodation, which is quite more than two or three students sharing a room, is no longer a sharing system in accordance with the architectural design and capacity which each room was expected to home. Today, the distribution of students today surpasses the limited environment that will assist each in developing his or academic pursuit. Today many halls of residence in the University have suffered the benefit of adequate maintenance. The reprehensible state of rooms, waterways, toilets, kitchenettes, facilities in the halls, standing parallel to the baffling discriminatory amounts charged for accommodation were potential issues which the Host-led Central Executive Council and Rt. Hon. Liam–SRC 10th Assembly has ineffectively responded to or resolved.

Aside the matter of accommodation in question, the manifold of new fees like utility fee (N20,000), studio levy (N10,000) and laboratory fee (20,000) are dragging but noticeable issues which have not gone well with the Students’ community. Beside the utility levy which appeared on each student’s central portal (as an authorized fee), there has been no official communication in regards to the two other separate fees. The newly introduced fees, studio and laboratory levies, are nothing but duplication of faculty and department developmental dues, which exist in the bundled fee breakdown for students in the natural science. Additional fees to the thousands students pay already appears insensitive and counterproductive to the Acts that establishes Public Research Universities as affordable and accessible. It is in the face of the country’s economic crisis, which has its toll of effect on students too, that the Students’ Union leadership should understand that austerity polices dressed-up as cost-saving measures to the keep the University running, cannot be heavily placed on students and parents, in an institution which is public-funded and oriented. In a country which struggles to pay or increase minimum wage, in a country with a baffling spate of multidimensional poverty. It becomes the ideological duty of the Students’ Union to construct organized resistance and to defend students or Nigerians unquestionable, equal opportunity to education – (as established in the Students’ Union constitution preamble). It is for the need to consolidate ourselves into a united, active and progressive association, in order to protect the right of students and discharge or responsibilities as informed members of the society that a congress exist as the highest decision making organ of the Students’ Union.

What was October 14 Congress like?

The population of students at the congress is the most peerless evidence to depict an intelligible explanation of what students consciousness have been reduced to, despite the University’s 75 years of excellence. The arithmetical value of physical attendees at the congress was only almost 400. Like two sides of a drum, it was an appreciable number following years of tailspin, nosedive, downhill, surge-up and reinstatement of the Union. For students of history, who indeed would want to make sound, prudent and intelligible judgment, it was unexpected that students numerical involvement in the Union’s first Congress would be hushed; since May 27, 2017 when the substantial last Students’ Union congress was held.

Although, physical attendance at the congress could not form a quorum, it faults cannot be distanced from the overdue delay in answering the call for congress, the unpunctual publicity and the failure to itemize the Congress agenda before the main day.

To critique the strength of attendance and participation, at least there were hundreds of student at the congress. Some of whom had other important activities scheduled for the same period which the Congress was to hold. Away from the fact that history has played a role in the Students’ Union present circumstance, the contempt of truth should speak its veracity frankly to students who have no shape of thought or regard for the Students’ Union. It is easy as a piece of cake to castigate but difficult to recognize that much as the individual has rights which are guaranteed, the individual must recognize that he or she has responsibilities which are not to be evaded.

It smacks of irresponsibility to say the union is weak, it is a toothless building. It is this and that, without a modicum of self caution. The concept of a weak union is only conceptual in terms of a weak students community. It would be inappropriate to point a finger of blame at the leadership of the student union without recourse. Hasn’t the students’ community defaulted in holding the leadership accountable? Hasn’t the student’ community placed hall politics over the union? Hasn’t the student community being very conforming and complacent about her welfare, despite that this was the same university when free meals, free laundry service and free education was enjoyed?

In spite of the Students’ Union leadership characterisation, the onus lies more on students to learn how to take responsibility. It is cheap and cheerful to effortlessly blame others and not oneself or one’s level of dwindling commitment, just as population of students at the congress was.

The Validity Of The Congress

The Students Union constitution was clear in Article XIII (vi) that “the quorum for a validly constituted meeting of the congress shall be 500”. Without with, by technicality, the gathering on October 14 by students would be merely prank and parody. When asked at the congress if the convergence was a validity constituted one. Samson Tobiloba, the president of the Students’ Union responded positive. He mentioned that there was an online convergence which formed the expected quorum. But at that same point would other issues be raised. Who were the virtual attendees? How many were they? How were they proven to be students? For a section of students who have raised cross-questions about the validity of the Congress, the obligation is on the leadership to remove dust from the surface of the contention.

On Resolutions

The congress resolutions were not anteceded 24-hours before the main day. Agenda of the congress before the main day is generally assumed or believed to be made public as to keep the mass of members of the union abreast about issues to be discussed. This deliberate refusal may have played a role in the degree of attendance which the congress recorded. It may not have played a role either.

While it lasted, it was easy to know that almost all whiff of air that attended the congress, consciously or unconsciously wanted a tangible impact of the Students’ Union against austerity and unpleasant fees. Aforementioned fees like accommodation fee, which was overly discriminatory, between fresh students who were billed to pay N60,0000 for the same share of space which a returning student would pay a sum of N45,000 for. But the disagreeable fees would not stop there. Students’ have found themselves in more quandary. At the moment, it is as if the deer now pursues the hunter. Or like an eater who has mastered the act to dip a sliced piece of white yam in a red oil. Government’s inadequate funding of education has emboldened the act of fixing and dressing fees.

But miracle would not happen, no matter what. The institution needs fund to run. The Government is not funding as it should. Implicitly, the question of who should fund education shifts and then is thrown at students and their parents. It was not like this at the beginning. Transactional education began with the Structural Adjustment Programmes (1985, SAP). For students and their parents, the ability to bear the cost of education cannot however be at their expense. It was for such cardinal reason movements like the labour union grandstanding of Pa Michael Imoudu, the NUPENG 1994 Frank Kokori struggle, #feesmustfall agitation of University of Wits, the ‘No ID Card, No Exam 2017 UISU struggle, all existed.

About four highpoints of resolves were made at the last UI’SU congress. First, the generality of students expressed an unreserved displeasure concerning the state of students welfare. That displeasure was not misplaced. Ask anyone or everyone at the Congress, each would have a clue or claim about his or or her welfare that is not at its best. Students’ welfare, ranging from academic to extracurricular, is not at the fairest best. The University runs an eleven weeks of lecture/semester that does not commences lecture fully until the third or fourth week. But that itself is one among other issues. The need for the University management to reevaluate students welfare on campus, and in all possible aspects, just as it was primarily raised at the Congress, should be prioritized. Jaja health centre, the conditions of rooms, toilets and kitchenettes discussed in passing at the Congress needs to be attended to.

The CONGRESS had also resolved that the management should provide clarifications on the fees charged by Faculties and Departments. The Congress standpoint hence was that all students should make payment only to the centralized portal. This would mean that the Students’ Union do not recognize and encourage her members to make unofficial payments until newly introduced practical/studio levy, which are appears as duplicated fees currently in the basic bundled school fee breakdown, are clarified.

The other two resolves jointly called for an improvement in conditions of service at the University Health Services, as well as regulation against arbitrary charges on transaction below or above 1000 naira.

The Struggle Must Continue

It will be very dangerous for the Students’ Union to contradict itself. The Union being a conglomeration of students and its leaders. The duty to administer resolutions is everyone’s obligation. The request for explanation or clarifications of all newly introduced fees, and the stance of the Union to only recognize the central authorized fees requires more vigour than it has been given. The need to boycott all unfounded fees until clarification is given requires that all students key into the sense of solidarity required to effect unity. Students have to hold their ground alongside the Union leadership.

The Congress held is not an end. The reasons which may have prompted the Congress, even after the Congress, has remained. It is important for the leadership of the Union to give the Congress meaning by maximizing it. The University administrators need to be informed about students’ displeasure. The Union leadership, because it is a Union, must force through every possible means the need for a response as well. It is through an intellectual engagement with the management and in being communicative with the students’ community that an overall meaning can be made out of the last Congress and its resolutions.

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