[Analyses]–The year 2013 came with a certain glow of optimism. I strode into it with the sort of regal elegance theatricalized by one who was set to conquer. It birthed in me an athletic rush of adrenaline because of my imaginings. It was the year I gained admission into the University of Ibadan. And for me, that meant everything. It meant my personal journey of being a fully-realised socio-political being would be further validated by the vehicular momentum of the legendary atmosphere which was the premier university. I was certain I would find myself in a community of political animals wide awake to their societal realities. Believe me, I was dead wrong.
Resuming later than expected – 2014 – owing to the infamous six-month strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, I did not witness the paradise I had envisioned. Perhaps that was largely due to my subjective, arguably-unrealistic expectations of what the environment was supposed to be. Still, I felt my heart sever itself into a million pieces. The dearth of social consciousness among students was alarming. The level of indifference to fundamental issues surrounding their existence was sky-high. And I realised this was part of a wider problem in the nation – young people being prone to acquiesce to whatever political reality is bestowed upon them. It was as though the revolutionary youths I had read about in the books by Nelson Mandela and Wole Soyinka had gone with the winds of the twentieth century. The percentage of the conscious scholars I met was too minute to amount to much. However, stubborn and selfish in my liberal ambitions, I decided to write the environment back to my vision of the ideal. So, I became a pressman, penning consciousness-awakening articles. But all of that failed, the student-society continued to be a necropolis of ideas, where frivolities mattered most and intellect was buried beneath sands of triviality. Nothing changed. But that was until the recent events which led to the suspension of certain arms of the Students’ Union at the University of Ibadan.
THE COMICAL TRAGEDY
Only those with true magic of evasion could have escaped the recent violent riots on the streets of social media or the tyrannical dominance of the television news hour caused by the suspension of the executive and legislative arms of the University of Ibadan Students’ Union leadership on the 30th of May, 2017 alongside the interruption of undergraduate activities. These happenings and their constituent engenderment have conspired to create a glimpse of the boisterous spirit of awareness I had expected to find in the students in the very first place. And I cannot help but take a little, guilty joy in the way things have turned out. Let us dig into what really happened, shall we?
There were a number of factors which led to this beautiful catastrophe of a phenomenon but there was one which towered above them all – the non-issuance of identity cards. In the previous session, 2015/2016 academic year, the students of the University of Ibadan paid a token required for the production of identity cards as part of the school fee. The year passed by and the generality of students went without identity cards, save for the freshmen and finalists who were issued theirs late in the session. Many students took issue with this. But they decided to be quiet about it. It was rather characteristic of most of my fellow students, to keep mute in the face of apparent denial of rights. This session, the fee for the identity cards were paid again. And as the first semester nears its end – making it three semesters of lack of identification – the students began to speak out. In ways I had never quite seen before, there was a surge of awareness being formed. Students began to clamor for what they felt was theirs. A congress [albeit its legality somewhat being in question] was called for the discussion on what the stance of the students would be on the matter of identity cards and a host of other issues. The majority of the students present decided to hold a mass protest outside the walls of the university. Enraged in their assurance of purity of purpose, they marched out a few days later to draw the attention of the external media in a giant demonstration. The fire of agitation and rebellion burned bright in their bellies, its smoke fumes choking the attention of the world into submission – the campus of the University of Ibadan took the center stage.
In a Nigerian society where consciousness is not mainstream, the youth culture being one which glorifies the mundane, owing to the anti-intellectualization caused largely by the popular media; the display of intellectual mutiny was a rarity to watch. Of course, protests by students are not sporadic in the country. After all, it was from this same institution that the internet-dominating “Free Mote” protest originated. Then again, hardly do you see the youths truly united in a cause which they do believe to be just, without the addition of certain frivolities which portray them as puerile troublemakers. The morality of the actions of the Vice Chancellor, Professor Idowu Olayinka and the student-leaders could be debated forever but the silver-lining is the rebirth of principle.
It is a classic story of rebellion – the victimized standing up for themselves. The students, hitherto accustomed to being encased in their pile of antiquated books, refused to continue living in a bubble. As if struck by a divine flash of epiphany, they began asking questions, rethinking their positions as students in the rank of priorities. They inquired into how the university was being run. They started to demand more respect as youths in the society. Their online chat spaces have lit up with numerous broadcasts criticising the school management for its actions. On Twitter, they have levelled their complaints, albeit with a rather ad hominem-ridden hashtag which sometimes tastelessly delves into a direct personality attack. I saw my friends, classmates, roommates, lit up by their new-found clairvoyance engage in debates over such concepts as tyranny, social contract, democratic socialism, elderly respect, ageist politics and much more, even though they did not exactly use those terms. No matter your stance on the morality of the peaceful march, you cannot possibly deny the sheer beauty in the fact of a minority group so used to being silenced now expressing themselves with so much chutzpah. It is a volte-face from the usual self-defeating choice of caving in under threats. An activism of a new kind was born and all it took for the students of the University of Ibadan to wake up from their slumber was the suspension of the leadership of the much-revered Students’ Union and the forced seven-week evacuation of halls of residence by the school management. Apparently, all along, the rebirth of activism was just a tragedy away.
In the end, it is not about the vilification of the management or the canonization of the students in this particular context, enough has been written on that. This is a much-larger story. It is about the youths spread across the map of the “Niger-Area” who have been told repeatedly that they are the future of the country but are also advised to wrap up their voices and shove them back into their mouths, to be digested as forgotten relics of a nation which does not know how to raise its nascent minds into splendid leaders. They are the youths who are branded as having No Future Ambition just for being more daring.
The Nigerian situation is truly nefarious. It is in Nigeria that you will have young minds more focused on the goings-on in the Big Brother mansion that they forget that they do live in an Orwellian 1984, where their thinking has been chained and is under the control of the oppressive societal construction which alienates the youths from participating in the leadership of the commonwealth. The future has, over the years, seemed rather bleak for the nation’s youths. But I dare assert that this show of defiance, however controversial, at the University of Ibadan is an oddity, a crevice in the age-mystified assumption that there is no hope for such an otherised demographic to crusade against perceived oppression with intellectual-cum-radical measures.
CONCLUSION: A FOOL’S DREAM
I choose to hold on to this oddity, this rare light of optimism shining at the end of this darkness of a tunnel that is our present reality in Nigeria. Though I may be naïve in my convictions, I believe that this current generation possesses the might of the likes of the young Anton Lemebede, that man whose gorgeous mind birthed a clan of ideas which helped pull South Africa from the cold hands of apartheid; Marcus Garvey who wrote his way into the hearts of the young black Americans in the twentieth century; Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the one whose pouch of provocative lyrics bore death, sending corrupt leaders into early political graves; and of course, the ever-legendary Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, perhaps the greatest example of how an African youth can evolve to become someone truly phenomenal, something truly phenomenal. I believe this generation can produce a crop of youths who will take the works of famed freedom fighters as their vade-mecum, inspired to rise against the Goliath hurdles which stand between them and development. And if we want to truly hone that spirit of activism and nationalism in our youths, we need to start with the little things. To contribute my quota, I am in the process of founding a movement in the campus of the University of Ibadan which I intend to be an exclusivist group of intellectuals who aim to develop themselves through cerebral roundtable discussions on matters of local and national relevance.
With that as backdrop, it can be established that the perhaps-unintended consequence of the suspension of the Students’ Union leadership in the University of Ibadan is that it contributes to a culture of silencing the youths who often do not feel entitled to holding dissident opinions in the way their societies are being run. It is upon this consideration that I passionately urge the management of the University of Ibadan to rescind the decision to suspend the Students’ Union leadership as soon as possible, because to do otherwise would be a great disservice to not just the students, but the nation as a whole.
God bless the University of Ibadan.
Kanyinsola Olorunnisola is a member of the Union of Campus Journalists at the University of Ibadan. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org or +2348148904513Please Follow Us @ThePageNg