UNILAG Students’ Union and the Challenges Ahead By Babatunde Kawthar
On the 25th of March 2015, students of the University of Lagos voted in new executive of the student union, which was banned 10 years ago as a result of violent protests staged by students in and around the school. Protesting students in 2005 vandalised many property in the university campus including the residence of the then Vice chancellor, Prof. Oye Ibidapo-Obe.
The union was, however, reinstated this 2014/2015 session by the VC of the school, Prof. Rahman Bello, after several pleas and agitations from different quarters.
The reinstatement of Unilag Students’ Union (ULSU) seems to have come at a crucial point and amidst challenges facing the institution at the moment. The University of Lagos is currently experiencing erratic power supply, which according to the school authority ‘is as a result of technical problems in the power supply system of Eko Electricity Distribution Company’. Due to this, agitations are coming from different angles of the campus calling for decisive actions to tackle the problems accompanying the erratic power supply.
The school management on April 29 sent information across to students informing them of the challenges and efforts being made. In the message signed by Dr (Mrs) Taiwo Ipaye, the registrar and secretary of Unilag Governing Council, ‘all efforts are being made by Unilag engineers and Eko electricity engineers to address the issue’. She said electricity is currently being supplied through generators.
Despite the efforts of the school authority to supply electricity, Unilag has been characterised by inadequate water supply, leading to incessant protests by students and call for postponement of examination by a fraction of the students.
In the face of these challenges, ULSU has found itself unable to organize the students and speak with one voice. Some students believe the executive of the body led by the president, Martins Abiodun, is not ready to take a pro-student stand. Until recently, the governing body of ULSU had been disturbingly quiet regarding issues of electricity and water supply. The only information from the body was a message through its PRO to students informing them of an agreement with the school authority to supply electricity within the hours of 7pm and 10 am daily. The said agreement was not honoured by the university, which created doubts in the minds of some students that the message was a hoax and ULSU didn’t meet with the school authority.
However, on May 3, the ULSU president through its PRO sent out messages to students saying the body will stage a massive protest if the agitations of students are not addressed and attended to within 24 hours. The agitations include but not limited to; constant power supply, regular water supply, adequate internet service in halls of residence and extension of examination date. The union later shelf its decision to stage a protest, which many of the students were not satisfied with.
The student body as of present has no means of effectively communicating with the students, making one of its duties as a link between the school authority and the students more difficult. The students rely on social media and hearsay to get information from the body. Hence, most students feel disconnected and believe that the era of fighting for their rights without a student body is not over yet. Also, the seeming silence and lack of presence of the body but only at strategic times seem to be causing a feeling of distrust between students and ULSU.
Unilag students have been known to have over the years staged peaceful protests effectively without the presence of a student body. For this reason, students have taken it upon themselves to stage protests against the school authority. Not less than two protests have been staged in about a month. In all these, ULSU has found itself dwindling in popularity. Majority of the students now believe ULSU is anti-student and that it cannot agitate for their interests.
There have been several calls on the students to stage a protest on Monday 4, to agitate for the postponement of examination by a week – the grounds for the request include the electricity situation, several holidays that characterised the semester, which has unable many lecturers to complete the syllabus for the semester.
Eventually on Wednesday 6, May, some aggrieved students staged a peaceful protest within the university campus, demanding the postponement of their first semester examinations which has been scheduled to commence on May 11.
The students lamented that the erratic power supply and scarcity of water on campus had hindered their preparation for the forthcoming examination. Students find it very hard to study in such difficult situations
It is, however interesting to note that some students of the institution including members of ULSU were not in support of the postponement of their forthcoming examination, noting that the epileptic power supply and non regular supply of water on campus, were not enough reasons for the examination to postponed.
One of such students is the PRO of the University of Lagos Geoscience Students Association, Oladeni Ajibola Ibrahim who stressed that neither the epileptic power supply nor the holidays are enough reasons to not hold examinations as scheduled. He called on ULSU to organise a debate regarding the issues raised. He also urged students to join ‘a thank you management rally’ for delivering an uninterrupted semester.
A student who wishes to be identified only as Femi said, ‘the agitations are baseless, nobody wants examinations to be postponed.’
Another challenge faced by the students’ union body has to do with the issue of distrust and division among its members and members of the union parliament. Some parliament members are accusing the union president of incompetence and lack of capacity to protect interests of the university students. Hon. Timi Akegbejo from the Political Science Department accused the ULSU president of ineptitude and regarded him as a ‘colossal failure’.
The challenges that ULSU face are not peculiar but quite common and can be overcome. The body must redeem itself amidst the students and let them know that its takes a pro-student stand in all issues on campus. They must communicate effectively with students so as to let them feel their presence and keep them abreast of information regarding their welfare. The body should unite its house and make unanimous decisions, internal conflicts must not be allowed to grow as this could lead to division amongst students.
It is quite apparent that the fear of facing yet another ban is affecting the union ability to protect the interests of the students. ULSU executive must realise that they cannot continue to remain silent on matters that affect the welfare of the students, which they represent. Unilag students want a vibrant union that will be able to fight for their interests and protect their welfare all the time.
Taking into consideration that this is the first year of ULSU after being banned for 10years, much cannot be achieved by the current administration. Notwithstanding, the present executive must work hard to lay the foundation of unionism on campus. It must however thread carefully.
Babtunde Kawthar is a 300l student of Petroleum and Gas Engineering at the University of Lagos.