AUTHORITIES MIDWIFED ELECTIONS IN OAU
AUTHORITIES MIDWIFED ELECTIONS IN OAU
An opportunity to reclaiming the students’ union
By H.T. Soweto, National Coordinator, Education Rights Campaign (ERC)
After 11 months of proscription of the Students’ Union of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, by the authorities, elections were held into the union between the 1st and 12th September 2008. The authorities had banned students’ union activities in order to crush students’ agitations against government policies of education commercialisation and deplorable studying and living conditions on the campus.
Led by radical leaders, including members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), the Students Union right from the inauguration of the later ousted leadership had faced attacks from a University management hell bent on scuttling the independence of the Union in order to pave way for the smooth implementation of government neo-liberal attacks on education. As a consequence, over 10 student activists were rusticated while Akinola Saburi (Student Union President), Dairo Olatunde Barryblacky (Student Union PRO) and Hassan Taiwo Soweto (National Coordinator of the Education Rights Campaign) were arrested last year and detained for several months at Ilesa prison on trumped up charges. The last two are members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM).
That the vicious University authorities eventually allowed elections to hold was not as a result of benevolence but due to their fear of the huge agitations of students against the ban of the union. Already, the history of students struggle in OAU against a similar ban placed on the Union in 1995 by the then disgraced Vice chancellor, Prof. Wale Omole, had shown that it is highly impossible for the University authorities to ban the union and contain students’ agitations for ever through repressive means. Thus when the management conceded that elections should hold, it also imposed illegal electoral guidelines meant to ensure the emergence of a pliant union leadership. In flagrant contravention of the Student Union constitution, the University authorities set up an electoral commission. Equally, illegal electoral guidelines were imposed which prescribed 2.5 CGPA as the minimum academic qualification to contest while according to the Student Union constitution, all that is required to contest is a confirmation of studentship. Also, radical students who have been invited to one disciplinary panel or the other as a result of their participation in students’ agitations were debarred from contesting under the excuse of having been indicted.
As a result of all these highly insulting impositions of the management, some ultra-left campus groups raised the slogan of independent elections and when this became impossible simply boycotted the authorities midwifed elections.
In opposition to this, we in the DSM advocated ‘critical participation’ in the election and called on all radical student organizations to field candidates in the elections. On our part, we participated in the elections by contesting into the Student Representative Council (SRC) with 7 of our members while fielding a radical candidate, Comrade Abiona Olayemi a.k.a Castro, for the post of Secretary General of the Union. While we won the elections into the SRC, we lost that of Secretary General of the Union.
To us in the DSM, while admittedly the electoral conditionalities imposed by the University authorities are illegal, unconstitutional and condemnable, the election offered the surest route to the immediate restoration of the Union. This does not mean an endorsement of the illegal electoral guidelines. Rather, as we argued, the immediate restoration of the union will provide students with a platform to fight for reinstatement of victimised student activists, improved learning and living conditions and against exploitation, harassment and incipient cultism which has started gaining ground on the campus as a result of the ban placed on the union.
On the contrary, the advocates of independent election refused to correctly evaluate the correlation of forces which as we in the DSM consistently argued was not sufficiently tilted to make possible the conduct of independent elections. An independent election could only have been possible on the crest of the defeat of the University authorities through sustained mass actions. Whereas, as a result of the ban of the union, the fighting strength of students had been weakened considerably. Even issues of exploitations and harassment which could not be overlooked by a reactionary union leadership, at least on the basis of pressure from below, were left unaddressed during the period of the ban.
Although, those who are opposed to the elections do have a point, they are simply mechanical and therefore their conclusions are logically wrong. Despite the enormous shortcomings of the process, students massively participated in the election into Central Executive Council. About 4,000 voted in the election in which 6 offices were keenly contested while about 6,000 students had witnessed the manifesto the previous night. This shows that while they are against authorities meddling in their democratic rights, students wanted their union back.
Perhaps, the complexion of the newly emerged students’ union leadership would not have been completely reactionary had all radical student organizations, instead of boycotting the elections, presented candidates as alternatives to the reactionary candidates sponsored by the authorities and other forces of reaction in the election. This approach could have possibly mobilised students to cast their vote massively for some radical candidates. However, given the effects of the brutal attack on the union and activists on the consciousness and the forces of reaction in ascendancy in the period, the election might not have seen the emergence of a union leadership as radical, uncompromising and sacrificing as the out gone radical union leadership led by Akinola Saburi and Dairo Olatunde Barryblacky.
Notwithstanding the imposition of electoral guidelines, the conduct of the election is a step forward for the OAU students’ struggle. Even though the leadership that emerged from the election is predominantly pro-management in outlook, the situation still allows for the mass of students to be mobilised to put pressure on them through the SRC and Congress to fight for reinstatement of victimised student leaders, defend students’ democratic rights and agitate for improved academic condition unlike the debacle existing during the ban of the union when students faced all kinds of attacks on their democratic rights without a union that could defend them. Most importantly, the restoration of unionism in OAU is bound to encourage the struggles of Nigerian students in general and particularly in the University of Ibadan (U.I) where union has been banned for the past 8 years and also in UNILAG. These students existing under the vice-like grip of their school authorities shall draw inspiration from OAU students to struggle for the restoration of independent unionism on their own campuses.
Though our candidate lost the election of Secretary General, we remain undaunted, and resolute in defence of rights and interests of students. Besides, the election offered us opportunity to reach the door step of every student with socialist ideas and agitational programme for fully independent of students’ union, recall of politically victimised student leaders, improved living and learning conditions, adequately funded public education and defence of rights and interests of students and workers within and outside the university. All this will not be lost on students. We shall continue to mobilise support of students for the programme through the SRC (where we have 7 members) and Congress as well as public meetings and propaganda and place demands on the union leadership.