Tuesday, November 19, 2013

#CODED-ish News::Students’ Day celebrated Amidst ASUU STRIKE in Nigerian Varsities[PHOTO]

7:04 PM

The need for a more vibrant student unionism in the country resonates as the world celebrates students' day, CHARLES ABAH writes

Madu Justin, a-300 Level Business Administration student of the University of Benin, looked helpless on Sunday. He practically did not do anything tangible on that day. Apart from the church service he attended, the 21-year-old undergraduate could not explain how the day went.
He was just at home soliloquising and thinking of what has befallen him and the majority of the Nigerian students. Four days earlier, the young man had thought that Sunday would have ended his long stay at home following an industrial action embarked upon by members of the Academic Staff of Nigerian Universities since July 1.
He had hoped that following the alleged fruitful discussions President Goodluck Jonathan had with ASUU leadership and the subsequent planned convocation of the union's National Executive Council meeting in Kano last Wednesday, the strike would end on Sunday. So, he bubbled with enthusiasm and optimism, intermittently dusting his books, getting set to return to school.
However, the bubble ruptured on Tuesday. The NEC meeting where ASUU members would have decided whether to call off the strike or not could not hold following the death of a former ASUU President, Dr. Festus Iyayi, who interestingly was a teacher at the UNIBEN. Iyayi died along the -Lokoja Abuja Road in an accident involving the convoy of Kogi State Governor, Idris Wada. The academic was on his way to Kano to attend the ASUU NEC meeting when the incident happened. Although, the rest looks like history now, the academic community is mourning and the issue of resumption of schools is now on hold. The strike is 142 days today.
Justin had also looked forward to last Sunday because it coincided with the International Students Day, which is marked every November 17. He had looked forward to celebrating this day on campus.
On November 17, 1939, the Nazis – German occupation forces – stormed the dormitories of the University of Prague and took away more than 1,200 students to concentration camps. The forces also executed nine student representatives on the occasion. Following this development, students from Europe converged on London and there the International Students Council, in accordance with the allies, declared November 17, as the International Students Day. Ever since then, students in their quest for truly 'democratic' education and society meet on this day.
It was therefore not surprising that across the world two days ago burning issues concerning education, democracy, egalitarianism and students activism, among other academic or social activities, topped the gatherings on campuses.
But in Nigeria, there were little or no activity in its more than 70 public universities. In fact, the day dedicated to the observance of student activism largely went unnoticed. The majority of the Justins were at home bemoaning their fate, especially with regard to the continued closure of their schools.
Again, had schools been in session, many analysts and students argue, there would not have been any difference as student activism seems to have died in the country. They posit that pecuniary interest has taken over the mandate of the student unionism in Nigeria.
According to Kayode Shittu of the University of Ibadan, student activism has waned in the country. He notes that many of the participants in students' struggle today are political jobbers guided by economic interest.
Nowadays, many student leaders are government agents and contractors, he insists, noting, "That is why they are even opposed to ASUU in its current face-off with the Federal Government.
"For so many years now, have you heard NANS, for instance, strongly canvassing anything that will benefit the generality of Nigerian students? Cases of sexual harassment, cultism, extortion, arbitrary tuition increment and poor infrastructure, among others, abound on campuses. What has NANS done to stop such."
Also, the Executive Director, Civil Liberties Organisation, Mr. Ibuchukwu Ezike, notes that student activism has collapsed in the country.
He says, "The truth, however, is that since 1994, when the son of a former police boss was sponsored by the state to clinch NANS presidency, the umbrella organisation of all student movements in Nigeria has collapsed.
"What has contributed more to this decline is the challenges that face human rights movements such as the CLO, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Campaign for Democracy, United Action for Democracy and the death of Chief Gani Fawehinmi, who spurred students activists by giving them free legal services and support."
The President of Campaign for Democracy, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, agrees with the CLO chief.
She notes, "I can describe the students' movement in Nigeria as being in a very sorry state."
"We cannot but agree that the infiltration into students' movement by the political class in Nigeria has gradually eroded the spirit of activism among the students. Today, student unionism is largely controlled by state-sponsored elements who have jettisoned the essence of activism for the pursuance of personal interest and wealth."
But the National Association of Nigerian Students President, Yinka Gbadebo, disagrees. He insists that the union has lived up to expectations in pursing the cause of students and in the promotion of democratic culture in the country.
Noting that NANS organised a seminar in Lagos on Sunday in commemoration of the International Students Day, he states that all hope is not yet lost in student unionism in the country. In fact, he promises to speak more to our correspondent after the ISD to respond to some of the criticisms against the association. But he did not respond to later calls and text messages sent to his telephones.
However, another student, Yetunde Salau of the Lagos State University, Ojo, shares Gbadebo's view. She notes that student unionism in the country should not be totally written off. According to her, it has produced the likes of the Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, as well as other politicians and academics and so cannot be dismissed with a wave of the hand.
But as Gbadebo and Salau hold this view, Ezike, who was NANS Financial Secretary in 1992, notes that there is need to revisit the establishment of cadres and popular movements on campuses. This, he says, will help to resurrect student activism in country.
Similarly, Okei-Odumakin states, "My advice to students is that they should use the opportunity of this year's celebration to holistically review the past historic role of the students' movement in Nigeria and use such to redefine a future for NANS in line with global practices by other national students unions."

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