How Nigerian student unions lost the spirit of activism

In higher education, the student union is often accorded its own building on the campus, dedicated to social, organisational activities, representation, and academic support of the membership. It’s a formidable movement formed by realists for the sovereignty of many countries including Nigeria.

History will be kind to the Nigerian students led by Ladipo Solanke who fought and restored the Independence of Nigeria with formation of West African Students Unions (WASU). Founded in London in August 1925 by Ladipo Solanke and Herbert Bankole-Bright, a member of the National Congress of British West Africa, the West African Students’ Union (WASU) became the key political, social and cultural organisation for West Africans in Britain and the main African organisation in the country for over thirty years.

The WASU developed out of the activities of earlier student organisations such as the Union of Students of African Descent and the Nigeria Progress Union, established by Ladipo Solanke and Amy Ashwood Garvey in London in July 1924.

The WASU campaigned against racism in Britain and against colonialism and for independence in West Africa. Its activities included producing a journal, Wasu, and founding four hostels in London to provide lodgings and a ‘home from home’ for West African students and other African visitors at a time when as a result of racism and the colour bar’ it was difficult or impossible for them to secure accommodation.

The WASU acted as a training ground for future West African politicians and from the late 1930s established branches and distributed its journal throughout West Africa and internationally. Through its branches and individual links it was a major influence on the anti-colonial movements in Nigeria, the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone and Gambia. Its members included individuals who would play key roles in the anti-colonial struggles in West Africa, not least Kwame Nkrumah who led the Gold Coast/Ghana to independence in 1957.

In Britain, the WASU maintained links with a host of organisations from the League of Coloured Peoples to the Communist Party and had its own parliamentary committee of MPs through whom it lobbied on African concerns in the House of Commons. It was one of the most important political organisations in Britain from the 1920s until the 1960s.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 the United States, student union often only refers to a physical building owned by the university with the purpose of providing services for students without a governing body. This building is also referred to as a student activity center, although the Association of College Unions International (largely US-based) has hundreds of campus organizational members. Outside the US, student union and students’ union more often refer to a representative body, as distinct from a student activity centre building.

In some cases, students’ unions are run by students, independent of the educational facility. The purpose of these organisations 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 organisation’s makeup, students can get involved in the union by becoming active in a committee, by attending councils and general meetings, volunteering within a group, service or club run by the union, or by becoming an elected officer.

Some students’ unions are politicised bodies, and often serve as a training ground for aspiring politicians. Students’ unions generally have similar aims irrespective of the extent of politicisation, usually focusing on providing students with facilities, support, and services.Some students’ unions often officially recognize and allocate an annual budget to other organization’s on campus. In some institutions, postgraduate students are within the general students’ unions, whereas in others they have their own postgraduate representative body. In some cases, graduate students lack formal representation in student government.

Today, in Nigeria, the reverse is now the case because most if not all of the existing students unions have turned to begging and award given organisations.They most funny of all is that those awards are in return of a token as most of the awardees are either corrupt or are directly the reasons for the problems of the Nigerian students and youths in Nigeria as a whole. It is with great concern that students who have graduated for decades still parade themselves as students unions comrades and stakeholders, which clearly speaks volume of their compromise in the problems confronting the Nigerian students.

The unions have become an epicenter of an award given body as against the culture of activism anchored on delivering the mandate of Nigerian students. It is therefore unfortunate that today these unions have sold the rights of Nigerian students for a token by turning into watch dogs of the political elite in Nigeria.The Nigerian students unions have become an endorsement and a group of advocacy to the political elite.

Unionists are known by history as those who stand for justice just like Ladipo Solanke who’s activitism gave birth to the independence of many African countries including Nigeria. Today, we have seen a complete deviation from those core values and mandates. Those mandates have been destroyed by the current generation of unionists that run from one political office to another painting corrupt leaders with gold in return of a token. We are unfortunate to have in our midst fake activists who cannot voice out the problems of students.

The spirit of West African Students Union that fought for our independence has been reduced to a mere laughing stock and begging organisations that only compound the existing problems of the Nigerian youths and students. Unless our students unions turn a new leaf, the dream of making Nigeria great again will remain an illusion. They must think outside the box and adopt the stone age struggles that gave us the independence we enjoy today as people of Nigeria by stopping this street begging.

Danaudi, National President of Arewa Advocate for Peace and Unity Initiative, writes from Bauchi via [email protected].