THE IMPACT OF STUDENT UNION GOVERNMENT AND DEVELOPMENT OF TERTIARY INSTITUTION A STUDY OF UNIVERISTY AND POLYTECHNIC COMMUNITY IN NIGERIA
A students’ union governmentis a student organization present in many tertiary institutions which protects and defends the right of students on campus. In higher education, the students’ union is often accorded its own building on the campus, dedicated to social, organizational activities, representation and academic support of the membership.
Depending on the country: the purpose, assembly, method and implementation of the group might vary. Universally the purpose of students’ union or student government is to represent fellow students in some fashion.
In some cases students’ unions are run by students, independent of the educational facility. The purpose of these organizations is to represent students both within the institution and externally, including on local and national issues. Students’ unions are also responsible for providing a variety of services to students. Depending on the organization’s makeup students can get involved in the union by becoming active in a committee, by attending councils and general meetings, or by becoming an elected officer.
Some students’ unions are politicized bodies, and often serve as a training ground for aspiring politicians. The combination of the youthful enthusiasm of the various members, a general lack of serious consequences for decisions, and a student media(if any) that is itself often partisan, inexperienced, and under no financial pressure to slant coverage to please a broad readership encourages very vigorous campaigning, debate, and political gamesmanship. Students’ unions generally have similar aims irrespective of the extent of politicization, usually focusing on providing students with facilities, support, and services.
SUG in Nigeria
In a democratic country such as Nigeria, it is always a burden on the Student Union to be on the forefront of promoting and protecting the interest of its members in their common struggle to achieve the required best in learning.
History has shown that even long before independence, Students Union have acted the role of watch dog in checking the excesses of the colonial authorities. Student union then, were more or less a pressure group whose activities were focused in bringing about better education, good leadership, self rule and positive change in the people among other things. Whatever these unions considered unfavorable and unconstitutional’, they stand firm and unthreatened in opposing such and because their course is just, unbiased and honest, they have almost always succeeded in achieving their target objectives.
It is therefore not out of place that, the citizenry were ever ready to render all the necessary support to these student unions is whichever way possible to ensure that they achieve their agitations. Because people then have the belief in the activities and motivations of these groups, it is considered a “forgone conclusion” that whatever they are agitating for, is for the good of the students and indirectly the poor helpless masses hence support tends to be massive and in all forms: financials, moral, intellectual and in cases where applicable, human power. In those days, people seemed to have actually given there all to unionism. A true and bona fide unionism, which yielded the fruits of its activities as effectively as its members are firmly sincere to their responsibilities.
No doubt, historians have acknowledged that one of the key institutions of nationalism among English – speaking West Africa in the inter war period was a student Union.
The west Africa Student Union which was founded in London by LadipoSolanke in 1925 has been very much instrumental in promoting nationalism which brought about rapid independence in the west Africa Sub-region. The effort of Solanke and others officials such as Awolowo, Nkrumah, Azikiwe and other renown activists deserves the loudest of applause and recommendations. It was the unalloyed resolution of these distinguished unionist which equally matched with the stubborn resolve of the colonialists that finally defeated the colonialist and gallantly brought about the string of independence in the sub – region. Indeed this is a unionism per excellence that is unequal anywhere in the world. Even before the independence, the union has been the force behind the major changes in administrative and economic matters reluctantly introduced by the colonial authorities under massive pressure.(Abba Y. in Maiduguri 2013)
Even after independence, student unions formed have continued with the pressure group characteristic of their predecessor and sometime resolving to militaristic tactic in an attempt to achieve their agitation, which were mostly in the interest of Nigerians. The Unions seemed more militaristic in their demands during the military rules. During this period, student unions have to be militaristic in their activities in order to attend a relative equal footing with the military in order to press home their demands. We are all witnesses to the stories of union officials touring the country in total disguise sometimes under the cover the night trying to canvass for support and understanding among Nigerians in order to leave up to their responsibilities to the Nigerian student. Sometimes, the campaign has been tough. Union officials have been beaten and jailed. More gallantly, they sometimes engage in fierce battle with security personnel. Indeed, ‘gallant’ unionists are known to have lost their lives in such battles with the authorities over their rights. A very pertinent example of such killing by the authorities of student union officials was during the students’ protest of 1978 when students protested over the issue of the quality and quantity of meal they were being given at school. During that incidence, government bullets to silence them killed several unionists and students. Truly, these ‘fallen heroes’ are indeed an embodiment of student unionists who fought and died on the altar of serving their fellow students.
Therefore it stand to reason that, the importance of student union cannot be under estimated and that the inherent sensitivity of the union is indeed an effective ‘weapon’ in the hands of the Nigeria students who have no any other ‘weapon’ to fight the over bearing government, to use it effectively ‘against’ the government to press home their genuine demands.
Today however, the discouraging story of students unions in is that of whatever discouragement one could ever think of in their wildest imagination. Looking at the environment, they rarely exist and where may be existing, they do so in what I would want to call a “continuous vegetative existence” in which their existences is akin to nominal existence. Therefore, what remains of student unionism in Nigeria, is that of its final interment to rest in peace. A troublesome “peace” before members meet to seek judgment for all the deceit they have suffered from the hands of their selfish officials. Or, how else could one describe a situation where the very officials who should be the vanguard of the Nigerian students in achieving their common objectives have actually turned out to be actively colluding with irresponsible authorities in order to cheat on the very people who have given them the mandate to represent them. It is even more damning to note the student leaders across the country are hopelessly tied to the apron string of their governments so that their actions and activities are in line with the dictates of the government, however, detrimental or destructive it could be to the student and the education sector in general. It follows that their various government systematically muzzles student unions so much so that a student could complete his/her degree programme without even knowing the name of the unions’ leader in the school. This relative anomalous it seems, out of the fact that unions leader no longer know their responsibilities. It is sometimes ridiculous that student unions leaders don’t even know the constitution of the very institution they are steering its affairs. We have a pour example in our school here.
I often sometimes sit down and think as to what really motivate these student unions officials choose to represent their fellow students. Unfortunately though, the truth is that they are most times motivated by corruption. There has hardly been a student unions that has successfully completed its tenure in office with an allegation of corruption being rebelled against them. If not at least from the school authorities, it could be from the students who elected them. It happens that almost all the student unions in this country were forced out of office earlier than they should due to corrupt practices. Of all the student unions bodies across the country, the so – called student unions government or SUG seems to be the most irresponsible and corrupt of all. The unions, its infinite tendencies of corrupt practices, has actually transmuted itself from its original responsibilities of promoting and protecting the interest of the Nigerian student to that of ‘money making ventrie’. The body has continued to unnecessarily exploit and over burden the poor students it claims to protect. It therefore became an established tradition with the body for every tertiary student across the country to pay mandatory dues whose purposes nobody knows for certain and which have over the years accumulated into hundreds of millions of Naira. To what use have these money being put into and of what significant importance has the unions been to the Nigeria student for all the while that it came around, is a question that would remain unanswered till the cows come home. The best the unions can do, it seems, is attendance of unnecessary and irrelevant conferences across the country and a pretext visitation to politicians in anticipation of “brown envelopes”. And sometimes build one or two mini projects which most times will not amount to 10% of the entire dues students pay.
Weighing the pros and cons however one is tempted to ask whether we should continue to run Students Union Governments in Nigerian schools and I say “YES”. Yes because our constitution allows freedom of association. Could that be the only reason? Certainly not, I say Yes because we cannot fold our hands and watch corrupt individuals rob the many of us who still have good dreams and aspirations for this country the opportunity to learn to participate in the polity. I say YES because SUG is one platform where true leaders of tomorrow are groomed, nurtured and presented with the opportunity to develop into real-life politicians.
The only way out however, is to enthrone true democratic principles within the students union allowing students to run their affairs completely with little guard and guidance from the school managements. Now let us discuss the term democratic values in broad.