Student leadership anywhere is about protecting the interest of the students’ populace. What this also means is that they are formed to promote and defend the welfare needs of the students’ community on our campuses, depicting the way our society exists in such a way that a small unit can be a mirror to the whole. For instance, the family has one of the smallest units of the society is to an extent a representation of the larger society.
Put simply, leadership and governance across students’ unions in Nigerian universities replicate the modern day government. The Students’ Union is the apex body of students in our various campuses, created primarily for the purpose of promoting and guarding our interests. The Union, especially in times of crisis, is supposed to be the mediator between the whole student population and management on issues that concern us. In fact, they are even supposed to be the first point of contact for vital information.
But what do we get today on our campuses, students’ union leaders that mostly represent the interest of their pockets only. Like what is obtainable in mainstream politics, student leaders are also guilty of almost all the wrongdoings associated with politicians. As a result, it has become very difficult for Students’ Union leadership across board to agitate for students’ interest, further making it a far cry from what was practiced some decades ago.
It is therefore no surprise that there is a higher rate of incompetency now associated with Student Unionism across tertiary institutions. Many have even argued that the body has outlived its purpose. Or how else do you explain that many demands of students go unaddressed or that student leaders these days now go to the negotiation table as mere spectators.
What has gone wrong?
Many reasons have been advanced as responsible for the ineffectiveness of students unionism leadership across tertiary institutions but chief among them is that many of these leaders lack knowledge of the key objectives for which they were established.
Unlike in the past where student leaders are an important part of the decision making process, these days we now have student leaders that have little or no skill in governance to oversee the affairs of students, resulting in disorderliness.
More recently, student leaders have also been accused of occupying positions to amass wealth. Depending on the institution, there is this access that leading student populations give to union leaders. At that point, they now have access to influential people, money and more but unfortunately, all these are not being channeled to students’ cause.
This situation has taken a dramatic and surprising turn around. By this token, we now have student unionism in some schools that are nothing but a lame duck and a toothless bulldog while in some schools they instead represent the interest of the school authorities. To worsen the matter, the umbrella body – National Association of Nigeria Students (NANS) – has also been transferred into a sycophantic cabal. NANS, together with the entire Students Union bodies across institutions in the country now represent two mistakes that should never have happened to us.
They have turned themselves into beggars and praise singers of politicians in the country. This we all know is far from the basis of students unionism. It is so bad to see union leaders engage in societal politics and this seems to be the order of the day. They now ridiculously resorted to dining and wining with those in government for monetary gains. By doing so, they have relegated themselves and totally lost bearings, jeopardizing their essence in office.
The purpose of student unionism is to represent the interest of students at all times in a bid to promote a robust and healthy academic environment. Their main objective is to solve students’ problems that can either be related to academic life or societal nature.
Therefore, there is the need for current student leaders to re-evaluate the essence of which the union exists in the first place. Their responsibilities beyond the title that they hold goes beyond the fame and benefits they get in office. They need to retrace their steps.
They need to further realize that positions held are a call to serve. To students that elect them into offices, what we want are student leaders that are at every level committed, dedicated and show results of effort invested into solving a common problem and this must be pursued with every form of integrity and honesty for effective representation.