Student Union Governments: Expectations, Challenges and the Way Forward, By Chukwuemerie Uduchukwu

Chukwuemerie Uduchukwu

Government is widely believed to be an instrument through which a society is organised in order to maintain law and order as well as advance the necessary social amenities in a community.

Popularly referred to as SUG, Students Union Governments were established in various institutions of higher learning to promote unity, orderliness and smooth relationship between students, school authorities and the state or Federal Government.

It is unfortunate that most SUGs in Nigerian Universities do not know the key objectives for which they were established. This is why some student governments see the freedom they enjoy as an opportunity to cause mayhem and anarchy in their institutions. It is true that there are legitimate issues  of poor service and maladministration for which students should feel genuinely aggrieved, but it has since been proven that violence is not a solution to any problem. Violent protests in Nigerian higher institutions have always led to destruction of properties and disruption of academic studies. Most often, students themselves  end up bearing the brunt of their actions as they are compelled to pay for property destroyed during such protests. Institutions at times increase fees as a way of punishing students and recovering funds to repair damaged facilities.

Instead of violent protests, peaceful demonstration is definitely a more viable option in getting authorities to listen to students’ grievances and explore opportunities for dialogue.  Most of the disagreements between students and authorities are usually caused by communication gaps. By tabling their grievances reasonably and respectfully, students might find that what they consider the weaknesses of  their school authorities were caused by some forces outside their schools.

If the peaceful protests fail to achieve results, SUGs can then switch to online campaigns to press for their demands instead of embarking on violent street protests.

It is unfortunate that lives have been lost as a result of violent protests and this is a big blow to the families of victims. The unfortunate incident at the University of Uyo could have been avoided if the above steps were taken. It is gratifying that the Federal Government has agreed to bankroll the cost of the funeral rites of those who died in the protest and its aftermath while also settling the hospital bills of the surviving executive members of the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS. But I am of the view that students should exercise enough caution before embarking on protests in future to avoid a reoccurrence of the Uyo crisis.

Also, it is necessary to reserve the position of SUG President and leadership of the Students Representative Council, SRC of the various SUGs for students in the faculties of social and management sciences to ensure professionalism in the management of student affairs. This is because undergraduates of social and management sciences are more technically and mentally equipped to carry out the governance of student affairs. The position of the SUG judiciary head should be reserved for the Faculty of Law because law students are meant to be umpires and have no business with leadership. The position of environmental officer should be created and reserved for Faculties of Medicine, Sciences and Engineering as they are more equipped to offer leadership in that field.

Allowing a student that has little or no skill in governance to oversee the affairs of students can easily result in disorderliness and unorganized government which might result in the use of violence to achieve a goal that can easily be achieved through dialogue, petitions and online campaigns.

Furthermore, the various SUGs in our tertiary institutions should know that they were elected to serve students and represent their interest in order to promote discipline, orderliness and unity among students and their school authorities. SUG positions should not be seen as an avenue to amass wealth but as an opportunity to serve.

Also, the use of posters and sharing of gifts by contestants during SUG election campaigns should be prohibited. The avenue for campaigns should be public debates organised by school authorities. This will provide platforms for contestants to present their campaign promises to the electorate. This will go a long way in discouraging contestants from spending on campaigns and then seeing their  elective positions as opportunities to amass wealth. That measure will also encourage indigent but talented students, who do not have the financial wherewithal to distribute gifts and posters, to contest.

Finally, the anti-corruption agencies, such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, should mandate the various SUGs to periodically submit financial reports of their Unions for public information and probe, if necessary.

Chukwuemerie Uduchukwu is a political science student at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka

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