Huffs and Puffs of Nigerian Students

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By: Olajide Oladokun

Few months ago when Obafemi Awolowo University elected their new VC, some sects, indigenes, were out in the street, protesting. The bone of contention for these landlords was that a son of the soil has never been in charge of the Great Ife! They threatened fire, hail and brimstone if an Ife indigene is not made the VC. For several weeks they displayed their ignorance of the academic world, where merit is upheld over ethnicity. Fortunately, they didn’t have their way, and Adebayo Bamire, the appointed VC, is in charge of the university. 

However, the protesting Ife indigenes are not alone in this dance of shame, they have with them the National Association of Nigerian students (NANS). Reacting to the sad reality of the Nigerian Students’ on the constant ASUU strike, NANS threatened to disrupt both primary and general elections coming in 2023, if nothing is done by the Federal Government to call off the strike that has lingered on for over three months, and still counting. To register their resolutions, the association staged peaceful protests and road blockages across the nation in the past few days. One would think the protests and demonstrations will yield good fruits and that the government will eventually dance to the tune of ASUU and the Nigerian Students at large, but it will only take a keen and patient observer, like this writer, to see beyond these facades put up by the association, and face the reality that nothing good will ever come out of Samaria. You may call it pessimism!

The reason behind this writer’s notion is not farfetched; this is not the first time NANS is breathing fire and brimstone. In 2017, when one of her own, Ojo Aderemi, was rusticated by the management of the University of Ibadan, NANS threatened to shut down the university until he was reinstated. Dear reader, need I remind you that Ojo is still out of school and NANS has moved on as if the incident never happened. Benedict Azubuike, Joy Odeyemi, Funmi Odusina, Joseph Odeh, Okoro Oluchi were all Nigerian Students, but today they are no more. Wondering their significance to this piece? Here it is, after their avoidable deaths, NANS also threatened fire and brimstone, but nothing was done and year after year, gory deaths of Nigerian Students keep denting the national scene.

It would interest you, dear reader, to know that the narratives have not always been like that, the National Association of Nigerian Students had witnessed some good old days. NANS, formerly known as National Union of Nigerian Students was formed in 1955 as a body to bring together all Nigerian Students home and abroad. In 1978, the body went on a protest against tuition fees in Nigeria, it was named ‘Ali must go.’ It was a huge success. Similarly, in 1989, Nigerian students vigorously protested the “Babaginda Must Go” anti-SAP demonstrations. Then they didn’t have the advantage of using mobile phones and social media like we do today, yet their actions spread across Nigeria like wildfire. Nigerians from all walks of life enlisted in that historic struggle to set the country free from the shackles of draconian rule.

One then begins to wonder how they were able to record such laudable achievements even when the odds were not in their favour. I mean, they did all that in the military era, with little or no technology in their arsenal. I would say they had their sense of purpose intact, they knew what they stood for and didn’t compromise for nothing. What would you expect from a supposed student body that has been politicized? What change can a biased student association effect? What jeep-riding, bribe-collecting, vote-promising NANS executive do you expect to come out and speak the truth, and defend the interest of the students they vowed to protect?

In recent times, it has become obvious that the national students` body is being used for selfish political gains, it has become a training ground for self-centered politicians. For example, during the campaign leading to the Presidential elections of 2019, while students were at home during the strike by University lecturers, executives of the Students` body travelled to meet President Muhammadu Buhari. In a televised statement, the President of the body, Danielson Bamidele Akpan, promised President Muhammadu Buhari, who was campaigning to return to office for a second term, twenty million votes!

Little wonder it is not uncommon to see NANS executives cruising in cars with plate numbers indicating their offices in the association Few days ago, I decided to join the peaceful protest organized by the National Association of University Students, another student body in Nigeria. While we were at the convergence point waiting for more people to join us, a sleek, tinted car bearing a customized NANS plate number dropped by, and NAUS president, thinking the driver was there to show solidarity with us, approached the vehicle but before he could get there the car zoomed off. Apparently, the driver was there for another reason – he simply picked up a skimpy-cladded lady and left. I doubt this is part of NANS objectives, I guess it’s one of the benefits of being a NANS executive.

According to Fletcher, Student activism is work by students to cause political, environmental, economic, or social change. That is why in the 60s, the German Socialist Student Union fought for the democratization of society and vehemently opposed the Vietnam War. That is why the Hong Kong Student activist group known as Scholarism occupied the Hong Kong government headquarters on 30 August 2012 to protest against the government’s introduction of Moral and National Education as a compulsory subject in their school. They turned the protest into a musical concert attended by 40,000 persons and the government was forced to retract. Also, students of Indonesia are credited to have carried out the most important acts of student resistance in human history. During the political turmoil of the 1960s they staged demonstrations calling for then-President Kusno Sukarno to eliminate alleged communists from his government, and the students later forced him to resign in 1967 because they felt that he stayed for too long in office.

Maybe the present day NANS executives need to be constantly reminded the core reasons of the association’s existence in the first place; to improve the welfare of Nigerian students, fight for social justice, good governance, better educational system, improved funding for education, improved and gender balanced school enrolment and the rule of law. Maybe when they are constantly reminded of these, they’ll stop putting up facades called protests and they’ll look for effective means of making the government care about the plight of Nigerian students. Until then Aluta may continua but Victoria is not ascerta.  

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