I have keenly followed the ongoing schism between the student union of the University of Ibadan (UI) and the Vice-chancellor, over insignificant issues like the availability of the student identity card and the use of hot plate in the kitchenette. Issues that should not be in the front burner of any intellectual discuss. Since these issues have remained in the four walls of an ivory tower like the University of Ibadan, this only goes to show the deplorable state of the educational system in the country and the possible hopelessness of many other tertiary institutions in the country. What is more pathetic, is the unfounded dismissal of the reality of the situations on ground, the outright clamping of the right of the students to engage in peaceful protest by the instrumentality of threats from the police force, and the decision to suspend the student union.
The suspension of the student union is a strategy gone sour and should not be accepted. We have had such experience in the past and we can testify to the megalomania tendencies this can result into. I was quite fortunate to experience the transition from the student union transition committee (SUTC) to the student union (SU) (without government). It was disheartening that it took over 10 years before the students could constructively engage the university administrators on issues that bother on their welfare. For the first time in many years, the student had the right to vote into power those they assume were fit enough to govern them and the right to hold the school management accountable. Well, a natural question to ask is, if the SU has been better than the SUTC? That is a conversation for another day.
I believe that students are stakeholders in the governance of any tertiary institution, and as such should be integrated in every process of decision-making. Denying them a unified voice is an invitation to anarchy. Therefore, a transition to the SUTC model of engaging the students would becloud democratic principles. The school management would have the prerogative to hand-pick students who can serve their purpose. The possibility of this agenda is something that should be kicked against. But, if the issues at hand is not carefully resolved, we will simply be sending an invitation to another awry 10 years experience.
Permit me to say that, I am definitely not exonerating the misdemeanours of the student union leaders. Most of them are far from being utopian and more likely to be engineering the nonsense we are experiencing. However, one thing we should bear in mind is that, this is not politics, this is about prestige and purpose. We cannot play politics with the prestige of the University of Ibadan, neither can we be hungry to score cheap points at the expense of the time of students. The leadership of the student union body needs to rise to a more definite call to decency, unity and responsibility, and the students need to stand firmly behind their leaders. They need to intelligently engage the school management, forge constructive dialogues with the management and stop any strategy that will bring disrepute to the university management. Mutual respect is the key! But if these fail, you have the right to a peaceful demonstration.
I believe the Vice-chancellor and his team are people given to reasoning, they are forward-looking and sincere about the growth of the institution. Therefore, they know that a man is not judged by the strands of hair on his jaw, but by the substance of his arguments and his perspective on issues. We expect that the university should be a breeding ground for intellectuals and not dummies, it should be a place where we can freely and intelligently dissect opinions in the context of growth and development, not minding whose ox is gored. But, if we fail in the fulfilment of these goals by clamping down platforms for constructive and prolific thought, what meaning shall we ascribe to the motto, recte sapere fons?
Therefore, as a proud alumnus of this institution, my sincere plea to the vice-chancellor and his team, is that they re-instate the student union, engage the students through town hall meetings, listen to their plights and reach reasonable compromise. The students are sensible people and can see when a case is made out of compassion, care and respect as oppose to authoritarianism. Professor Idowu Olayinka, the baton is in your hand, it is not a sceptre of authority, it is a baton of compassion, care and respect calling you to expand the frontiers of knowledge through provision of excellent conditions for learning and research, to contribute to the transformation of society through creativity and innovation, to produce graduates who are worthy in character and sound judgement, and to serve as a dynamic custodian of society’s salutary values and thus sustain its integrity. To achieve these, it begins with reinstating the student union.