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Student Unionism: The Past, Present, And The Future To Come

A student union is the apex body of students in a higher institution of learning, created for the purpose of promoting and guarding the interest of its members. In Nigeria, we have the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) as the umbrella body of all students’ organizations in Nigeria and in the diaspora with the vision of standing and fighting for justice, good governance and the rule of law.

When the NANS President is an individual who has already graduated, how will the interest of the students nationwide be represented?

A Yoruba adage, “Omode gbon, agba gbon, ni a fi da Ile-Ife”, when translated to English means: “The young and old were wise, Ile-Ife was founded,” affirms the need and freedom of an independent student body to support the school management in the development of the institution of learning.

Student Unionism enhances the effort of school management and aids effective and efficient communication between authority and the students. Arguably, student unionism provides a good learning platform for leadership training for the youths.

In history, student unionism began in 1925 with the establishment of West African Students’ Union (WASU), initiated by some Nigerian students in London. The first president was a Nigerian, Ladipo Solanke. With the formation of the University College, Ibadan, in 1948, there were efforts to commence student unionism and extend its tentacles to other higher institutions in Nigeria through the formation of National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS) in 1956 as the national body.

Student unionism in the past was characterised by robust debates, active or passive resistance to the oppressive tendencies of the Authorities. Indeed, those who were the forerunners of unionism then were highly articulate, intellectually inclined, and very dogged in their ways of thinking and actions.

In 1983, National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) was formed to inherit the same NUNS ideology that envisions a Nigerian federation in which every youth has access to, and can afford adequate levels of education; a country whose citizens, especially the youth, have a reasonably high standard of living and can access all the universally recognized rights due them.

Over the years, NANS has abdicated from its purpose of formation as a series of dramas ranging from violence during convention and election of leaders to embezzlement of funds among others.

Only this year, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the NANS body impeached the president, Danielson Bamidele Akpan for financial misappropriation and further expelled its senate president, Abubakar Gambo Mohammed for extortion, anti-organisational activities offences.

The story avows that the student unionist of today —suppose leaders of tomorrow —clinch the bad side of the leaders of today, this is evident in the violence during students’ electoral process and embezzlement of students’ union funds. The student union leaders fight only for their very own good, where they should be craving for the development of the students at large.

For the labour of our heroes past not to be in vain, the student union leaders must be selfless and sacrificial to the interest of the student body. The collective development of the people living in peace and harmony as a nation must be a burning desire. The student leaders must portray moral values and worthy character in all of their dealings.

Going are the days NANS was a threat to the government but these days, it has become a tool in the hands of government officials. The perceptive of many today is that the current NANS was not the same NANS whose ideology was formed years back. To many, and as we all can see it today, the Association has become a barkless dog. The respect, recognition it used to get are no longer there. When NANS declares a statement not favouring student by the government, it will definitely stand by it. That has, however, become memory and “story for the gods,” if you ask many of the students on campus today.

If we take a good look at history, the youth are not too young to lead and develop this nation. The youth must therefore seek and desire for opportunities to develop the nation. As a building block in nation-building, the youth have a great role to play, we are in this together.

We’ve seen and read as the body visits politicians, have a romance conversation with them at the end, no one hears about the end result of the “indoor meeting.”

For we not to keep stealing defeat from the jaws of victory, the present and future student leaders across the nation must once again embrace the ideology of the frontiers with selflessness and integrity whilst operating in peace, harmony, and unity.

We have to pull the bull by its horn, correct the anomalies, wrongs, and every form of “dirty” acts by the body. The Association needs to regain its freedom, credibility and resilience it used to be known for.

This opinion story has been published on CAMPUS REPORTER with very minimal editing to preserve the original voice of the author. CAMPUS REPORTER does not bear any responsibility for the contents of this story, all views belong to the author.

By Damilola Olufemi and Oluwatosin Ologun

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