In all climes students are the conscience of every nation. They are the ones who call attention to social malady, bad governance and other ills of the society. They are usually radical and often resolute about issues concerning the welfare of the people. Governments ignore them at very great risk. Indeed the gale of reforms now sweeping through China was brought about after students seized the Tianemen Square and demanded for political changes some few years ago.Though it was at a very high cost the students were able to force the hands of the political authority. Thanks to that struggle China is now a more open society with a blossoming economy.
Philippines and Russia are some other countries that have witnessed positive changes through the intervention of students’ activists. Time was when the Nigerian Students proudly held successive governments accountable through incisive pieces in newspapers; open debate and when necessary street protests, that were carried out in very civilized manner. I remember with nostalgia the efforts of the indefatigable Segun Okeowo who in 1978 led the then National Union of Nigerian Students in a struggle against the educational policies of the Military Regime. The students fought on all fronts and brought education to the front burner of national discourse.
However what struck most Nigerians was their deployment of carefully marshaled points to fault the educational policies of the government. The Nigerian Students in 1989 also picked up the gauntlet against the Ibrahim Babangida regime over the crippling effects of the SAP (Structural Adjustment Programme). Indeed the Nigerian Students virtually rose the populace to action when they trooped out in Lagos, Kaduna, Ibadan, Kano, Enugu and other major cities to protest against SAP. Nigeria was grounded for days. And the Federal Government after taking punitive measures against the students, with the closure of the Universities in Lagos, Ibadan, Benin, Enugu and Kaduna, reversed some of the provisions of SAP and also provided some palliative measures for the people.
Nigerian students in the days of yore also played vital roles in the liberation of other countries. During the apartheid era, Nigerian students joined the band of protesters in front of embassies of countries perceived to be supporting the apartheid regime in South Africa. There were even volunteers among the rank of Nigerian students who were ready to go to the apartheid enclave to fight for their fellow African Students. That was the golden era of students’ unionism in Nigeria. An era when write-ups and articles by Nigerian students were a compelling read. An era when oratory became the norm on campuses. An era when students even taught politicians how to practice democracy. That was when students’ union election was akin to the presidential elections in the USA with robust campaigns and oration from the intellectually deep.
Unfortunately, the last few years has witnessed a descent into the abyss. Without fear of contradiction I make bold to say that, Nigerian students today have not lived up to the expectations of the Nation, let alone become positive participants in the business of nation building. I must however admit, that we live in a very difficult milieu, an era where all the ideals that give meaning to life are being gradually eroded. Unfortunately the Nigerian students have not escaped the societal rot that in a way may be partly responsible for the sorry state of students’ unionism. Things that were done with fear and trepidation in those days because the society recognizes them as inherently evil and anti-social are now flaunted in our face by our students. The incidents of cultism, prostitution, armed robbery; drug addiction and other heinous crimes now seem to be the hallmark of students and unionism on our campuses. It is now common to hear that some students are armed robbers, cultists, prostitutes etc.
However, there can still be a paradigm shift. Just like the way the administration of Otunba Gbenga Daniel infused governance with a new breath of fresh air then in Ogun State, students of this generation can also change the ugly tide. We can decide to begin to go back to the era of responsible students’ unionism and contribute our quota to National development. As Oscar Wilde puts it,
” the youth of America is their oldest tradition…”
We should begin to say the same for the Youth of Nigeria. Nigerian students especially those in higher institutions can affect a break with the present era of ineptitude and moral decay by electing to stay on the path of truth, righteousness and probity. Permit one to use this old cliché,
” You can’t give what you don’t have”
Nigerian students have to purge themselves of the prevailing level of indiscipline before they can stand up to be counted alongside the makers and builders of contemporary Nigerian Nation.
As the conscience of the Nation, Students must be actively involved in developments in their environment. Students can form local pressure groups to monitor the programmes of their elected representatives. This local pressure group can also influence the society through the carrying out of socially beneficial programmes such as debates, street carnivals, environmental sanitation and education on the harmful effects of drug use, prostitution etc. They must through debates and intellectual discourses make their feelings known to the governments and the leaders . They should never allow unscrupulous politicians to use them as cannon fodders in their political battles. Nigerian students, especially FEDPOFFITE (Federal Polythecnic Offa Students) should know that the era of physical confrontation on every real and imagined problems should belong to the past. Students should become barometers to measure the performance of every government. They can do this if their unions become credible enough for everybody to believe the verdicts they give. But when students hit the streets on the promptings of power mongers and begin to wreak havoc on the society then they have degenerated to the level of the common thug who is ready to do the evil bidding of his paymaster for a mess of pottage. They must also shun social vices. Conscious efforts must be made by all students not to fall into the trap of cultism, for as Philip Massinger puts it,
” He that would govern others first should be the master of himself.”
Again, the proclivity for shortcut to success must be jettisoned. Students must study hard and desist from all forms of examination malpractices. This is to ensure that we preserve the sanctity of our examination process and of course certificates issued by our institutions. Our students, our youth, remain, the most vibrant part of our population. They are not called the leaders of tomorrow for nothing. They are actually tomorrow’s people. However we can have a foretaste of that tomorrow through the way they conduct themselves today.
For now there is little to cheer about.