UI students’ protest: Of character and learning -By Sunday Saanu

Filed under: Educational Issues |

 

At every graduation ceremony, particularly before students receive the scroll of honour and are pronounced “graduates”, the Registrar will invoke what could be regarded as academic ethos, saying: “The persons standing have been found worthy both in character and in learning to be admitted to the degree of…”

From this phrase, character and learning are the two major constituents of a degree a graduate parades as a symbol of academic training. Interestingly, one of the mission statements of the University of Ibadan is to produce graduates who are worthy in character and learning.

But, what is character? An online dictionary describes it as “the inherent complex of attributes that determines a person’s moral and ethical actions and reactions. Indeed, education has for its object, the formation of character. The synonyms of character include attitude, nature, attributes, disposition, reputation, among others. To underscore the importance of character, an American author, John Maxwell, says attitude is the librarian of our past, the speaker of our present and the prophet of our future”. In other words, bad character can only lead to a dwarfed destiny, just as someone argues that a bad character is like a flat tyre, you can’t go far unless you change it.

It is against this backdrop one is compelled to examine the recent students’ protest at the University of Ibadan and some of its emerging sociological phenomena. The protest, under the aegis of the Students’ Union began two days before the commencement of the planned first semester examination. The union, led by a 200-level student, Ojo Aderemi, had issued a six-point demand at a “congress” which the university management describes as illegal. Some of the demands of the students included a two-day ultimatum given to the university management to constitute the students’ welfare board.

The union also wanted a fact-finding committee to be set up to look into the issue of the use of hot plates in halls of residence. In addition, the Aderemi-led union insisted that examination would not be allowed to take place unless the management issued them identity card. They also resolved to disrupt the scheduled programme of the Oyo State Government at the International Conference Centre to be chaired by Governor Abiola Ajimobi. They decided to occupy the Ojoo/Agbowo/UI Sango federal highway as well as all faculties, lecture rooms, and lock up the Centre for General Studies.

Sadly, all efforts to pacify the students by the management including several meetings, interventions from different stakeholders, pleadings with the students not to disrupt the planned first semester examination that had already dragged on endlessly failed. “The Commanders-in-Chief of Aluta Forces”, as they often call themselves, vowed to dance to the market place naked by promoting shadows over substances. Going by their short-fused, hell-raising and impetuous grandstanding, it was glaring that there were more to the protest than meets the eye. Apart from wanting the examination to be postponed, there was a suspicion that the students were being manipulated by some subterranean forces on campus in order to settle scores with the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Abel Idowu Olayinka. At last, the rampaging students got the effect they wanted: the examination has been postponed, just as the school has been shut down against undergraduate students, while the postgraduate students are in school for their research.

However, it will be unscholarly to generalise that all undergraduate students support the protest and are happy with the aftermath. To draw a distinction, let us agree that students are in various classes: decisive, dreaming, and drifting. Let us briefly examine the attributes of each category. The decisive students in this context are the first class candidates. They are apex-minded. They don’t like any protest or disruption of any kind . They want to graduate on time and take on the world. Their movements revolve around the classrooms, library and religious centres. The UI has this class of students in abundance. They don’t participate in unionism neither do they get involved in “aluta”.

The second category, the dreaming students, are those ones aspiring to make good grades. Many of them are from poor homes. They want to graduate on time and get job in order to change their economic status. They want to make their parents happy. They have no godfathers. They run away from trouble. They are mostly found in religious centres, praying. They may be poor, yet they are dreaming of a better tomorrow. They hardly participate in unionism. Do they even have money for electioneering? Thousands of them are in the UI and other federal universities because the cost at the public universities is the cheapest.

And, the last category, the drifting. These are the students who are very vocal. They have a foot on gown and another in town. They drift to receive one or two lectures in school and dash to town to participate in political rallies. They are politically savvy. They fester on campus like pestilence Their mates call them the “NFF”, that is No Future Ambition. They see campus as their home. Even when they have graduated, they won’t go away. They are the students’ union kingmakers. They are the nightmares of the university administrators.

Using this classification to dissect the recent protest in the UI which was largely engineered by the “drifting students” and some “drifting graduate-students”, surreptitiously manipulating the innocent, young like – minds, one can only sympathise with the VC for the kind of challenge he has at hand. Is it not surprising that it is a 200-level student who emerges as the President of Students’ Union of Ibadan status? This is probably because the decisive and dreaming students at the 300 and 400 levels see unionism as a distraction, thereby leaving the turf for the drifting. And, less than a month after his election, Aderemi rocked the boat with arrogant juvenility.

In fairness to Aderemi, he is not to blame. At 200 level, what does he know about emotion management? How much of leadership skills does he possess? At 200 level, he is still half-formed, therefore largely uninformed about the nitty-gritty of campus politics. His dramatic denouement not therefore unexpected.The blame lies with the systems that allows a rookie to reign. Examining further the sociological phenomenon that the protest has thrown up, one is sad to note that many of our youths are in a road to ruin going by their rascally appearance, uncouthness, pugnacious conduct and contemptuous temperament.

Since the protest broke out, some of these students have turned the VC to a butt of cruel jokes. On a daily basis over the social media, the VC is called all manner of unprintable names. Various mendacious and malicious comments, intended to besmirch his integrity, are posted with reckless abandon. One begins to wonder if some of these contumacious children know that respect for elders is one of the cardinal imperatives of our traditional customs. I find it absolutely distasteful, disdainful, lacking in decorum and decency when an undergraduate will go on social media to be hauling expletives and diatribes on an elderly person. This is a sad commentary on civility. It is the barbarism of the worst kind. Whoever does this simply lacks manner and hometraining.

By all standards, Olayinka remains the symbol of our collective integrity in the UI. He is the leader of the academic community that is parading the highest number of professors in Nigeria. By extension, he is the first VC in this country today as many other universities look up to Ibadan for leadership, mentoring and inspiration.

Perhaps, it is apposite at this point to call on stakeholders including parents, lecturers, religious leaders among others to work in synergy for the redemption of our youths from the morass of superciliousness and arrogance of ego. Already, Lagos and Abuja branches of the UI Alumni Association have stepped in, to plead for the students. As the Italian poet, Dante Alighieri, notes, “the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality; this is certainly not a time to keep quiet. Some of our youths clearly need what a psychotherapist, Jude Bijou, calls attitude reconstruction. Delinquents in the garb of unionism must not be allowed to pollute a decent academic environment of Ibadan status.

Saanu wrote in from University of Ibadan via [email protected] (08059436919)

 

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