By OWEI LAKEMFA
EXACTLY a week ago, I was privileged to be a moderator at the National Students Retreat held at the Bayero University, Kano (BUK). The occasion which included Student – Lecturer interaction, was organised by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Amilcar Cabral Ideological School (ACIS)
The occasion gave me an opportunity to reflect on our youths and our future. My belief is that a nation should live for its youths because they are its future. It is the youths that can guarantee its tomorrow.
The youths are the backbone. They are its vibrancy. It is from the vibrant voices of its youth, a nation can constantly review its positions, policies and direction. It is youthful ideas that propel a people. If the ideas be wrong, it is left for the older generation to gently point this out and redirect the energy of the younger generation. The youths are the bloodline of a people. When people talk of youthful blood, it is the required blood to re-new a people.
But when the youths merely echo the songs of the past; especially when those songs are badly composed and awfully rendered, then the nation has a problem. A nation cannot advance if its youths are compromised.
If the youth be morally and socially bankrupt, what future has their nation? If youths are corrupt or corrupted like virus, how can the nation develop? If the aspirations of the youth is to slip into the shoes of a bankrupt elite, what future can the country have? If Nigeria is to be great, as it should be, there must be youths willing to make sacrifices.
My generation of student leaders refused to accept the state of the nation as given. Many of us refused to accept the status quo. We faced formidable challenges. Some were expelled and never re-admitted like one of my co-moderators at the Retreat, Dr. Shola Olorunyomi who was President of the University of Ilorin Students Union.
This was also the fate of fine patriots like my late comrades, Jibrin Bala Muhammad and Abdulrahman Black who were expelled by the Ahmadu Bello University. This was also the fate of the founding President of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) Dr. Tenimu Kurfi.
But these can be said to be lucky, as some were killed during various struggles for better, accessible and affordable education, and a better country. One of the two lead speakers at the Retreat, Lanre Arogundade who was NANS President 1983-85, went to the Ife post office one day unaware he was being trailed by security forces. He was kidnapped, but despite such harrowing experience, his spirit remained unbroken.
My generation of students might not have succeeded in changing our country for the better but it is not for want of determined efforts. And after over three decades of activism, some of us are not about to give up. As bad as things were, as unrelenting as the ruling elite are, It was my generation that ran the civil society bodies, beginning with the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) through the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) to the pro- people organisations that we have today.
With the assistance of our elders like Alao Aka-Bashorun and Beko Ransom-Kuti, we established and ran the Campaign for Democracy (CD) which organised the pro-democracy protests that eventually forced the military out of power. My generation of activists can proudly report that although we might not have succeeded in our goals to build a better country, but at least, we gave our nation some hope, and are primarily responsible for the democratic politics we run today, even if it be corrupted by the elite.
But why were we so committed and dedicated? We were products of the pro-people ideas that ran through the gamut of our tertiary institutions. We did not accept our situation as given. We probed and asked questions. More importantly, we read and debated, and based on consensus, took action. But most importantly, we organised!
There is no substitute for organisation. Our minority elite rule and impose their ideas and politics on the rest of the population because they organise and are organised. They have formal and informal clubs, associations and political parties.
They also have capital and international outreach. With these they rule, and we are ruled. In my student days, we had various organisations that consciously met to discuss, debate, develop ideas and play active part in student unionism. Why has there been a degeneracy in which student leaders have become megaphones for bankrupt ideas and elite? Why have they become crowds-for-hire? It is primarily because the old student discussion groups have mainly been replaced by cults, socially degenerate clubs, regional associations and religious groups, all claiming superiority over others.
In rebuilding, their Movement, students do not have to start afresh because they have a legacy to build on. Most importantly, they have a guiding book, a manifesto on which to mobilise and run their unions. It is called the NIGERIAN STUDENTS CHARTER OF DEMANDS. The Charter was written and debated across campuses before its adoption by the Third NANS Convention at BUK, in December, 1982.
Although this CHARTER was adopted thirty three years ago, and in need of a review to update some details, the core ideas it contains do not need updating. These include regarding education as a right and a demand that the content of education be relevant to the people.
The document also demanded prompt payment of salaries and improved condition of service for teachers, provision of sporting facilities in all schools, abolition of all fees, including WAEC fees. It also called for the democratisation of education including the representation of students in all school decision-making bodies and abolition of discrimination between university and polytechnic students and graduates.
The 33-year old Charter demanded an end to “ a subservient foreign policy” support for all liberation movements, and “a home created for the struggling Palestinians”
My submission is that the youths need such binding policy documents so they can be useful to themselves, the country, and the future.