Removee my name from records— Mahmud
Waiting for your official letter— NANS
NANS leaders are state agents— Arogundade

By Mike Ebonugwo & Dayo Adesulu

The National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, is once again in the news, but this time for what many critics deem as all the wrong reasons. The umbrella body of university students in Nigeria is presently embroiled in a crisis that seriously threatens its existence. Though with a long history of activism based on students solidarity against the excesses of constituted authorities on campuses and the society at large, NANS appears to be tottering on a precipice of relevance as it continues to unravel due to certain prevailing circumstances.

At the root of the current crisis is the claim in many quarters that the leadership of the student body has become politically compromised after it reportedly pledged to mobilise over 20 million students for President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election. The pledge was said to have been made during a meeting between the President and NANS’ leaders to seek solution for the on-going strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU.  During the meeting, the President of NANS, Danielson Bamidele Akpan, was quoted to have promised thus: “(The students’ constituency) have a large population numbering about 80 million. I can assure you today that if this constituency is well utilized, we’ll pull nothing less than 20 million votes for you”.

The students’ leaders did not stop there. They had also gone ahead to present a gift to Mr President for his 76th birthday.

This action may have reaffirmed an earlier one taken by leaders of the students’ body in August. They had also congratulated the President when he emerged as Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS.

The congratulatory message contained in a statement signed by NANS’ National Public Relations Officer, Bestman Okereafor, read in part: “We have no doubt that President Buhari will bring about positive changes in West African states. We believe he will promote freedom, equity and social justice, which will bring about the much-anticipated peaceful co-existence among member states.

“Once again from all Nigerian students schooling both at home and in the Diaspora, we say congratulations to our beloved President, Muhammadu Buhari.”

Indeed many may have been left confused by these developments given that NANS had on December 23, 2018 issued a two-week ultimatum to the Federal Government, ASUU and ASUP to call off the strikes by the unions or face the students’ wrath, while also issuing a notice to all NANS structures and organs to commence mobilisation for mass action to that effect.

To add another twist to the unfolding drama, the ASUU had in its own reaction to the NANS’ leaders  recent actions, reportedly accused them of selling out to the Presidency in exchange for N150 million.

University students during one of NANS protests.

This turn of events triggered immediate reactions with the current leadership of NANS on the receiving end of very harsh criticisms from different quarters. Leading the charge was Abdul Mahmud, a former president of NANS, who accused the current leaders of betrayal of the good reputation Nigerian students are noted for and angrily demanded that his name be removed from the records and archives of NANS. In a tweet, Mahmud had noted thus: “As the 8th President of NANS (1990-1992), I ask that my name be removed from all records and archives of the association. I shall issue a formal statement to this effect.

“Recall that following the election of Bamidele Akpan(as) President(of) NANS a few months ago, NANS got in touch with me to seek support for his leadership and request for a visit to my office.

ALSO READ: NANS denies N150m bribery allegations from presidency

“You subsequently sent me an invitation to your ‘Save Education Rally’ pursuant to the Academic Reform, ACAREF, and Programme I launched in March 1991. I declined your requests because I was abroad and still abroad. I promised the association and leadership audience on my return to the country.

“That promise has now been nullified by the following:

1) The reckless threat issued to ASUU to forcefully eject its members from their homes

2) The ill-advised visit to Aso Rock, at a time students reel under the pain of strikes.

“It is your choice to decide your programmes of action, but the choice does not include threatening ASUU, the historical ally of NANS- alliance that dates back to 1982, nor does it include the visit to (Muhammadu) Buhari the then dictator who gave Nigerian students bullets when they asked for bread in 1984.

“Recall that in 1984 when Buhari attempted to hike tuition fees and hostel fees, withdraw feeding and ban students unionism in higher institutions, NANS resisted him. That year- 1984- NANS, which was four years old at the time was banned by Muhammadu Buhari and its President, Lanre Arogundade, arrested and locked up in Ife Prison till he was overthrown by IBB in 1985.”

“Only a generation without a sense of history will continue to walk the shamed path you have walked since 1999. You all have the choice to discover, fulfil, or betray your mission”.

But in a swift reaction to Mahmud’s request that his name be removed from all records and archives of the Association, the NANS incumbent president,    Akpan had in a telephone conversation with Vanguard laughed and   said: “I’ll after I get his letter.”

But in a counter-reaction, Mahmud told Vanguard that he stands by his word.

Current NANS leaders are state agents

Also reacting to the development, Lanre Arogundade who was president of NANS between 1984 and1985, also strongly castigated the current leaders of NANS and accused them of being state agents planted on campuses for that purpose. But he said that while he understands the pains which prompted Mahmud’s strong reaction, he does not subscribe to his decision to have his name removed from NANS’ records.

According to him, “I already made it clear to Abdul Mahmud that while I understood his pains and pangs, it would be wrong to follow that line. I won’t toe that line even though I’m equally baffled and strongly condemn the so-called NANS leaders. I told Mahmud that writing them was even   giving undue attention to those that do not deserve it.  Also like I said, I merited my presidency and served in the best interest of students. So why should I renounce my past because of a group of nonentities?

“For some time now, those masquerading as NANS leaders are state agents planted on the campuses for that purpose. They are permanent students and exist solely to be used by successive governments. So, as it was during the Jonathan regime, so it   is now under Buhari.

“Some year’s back I attended a students’ leaders retreat in Kano and the character who was introduced as NANS President was said to be 43 years old. How can that person be a student? For crying out loud, I was 21 when I was elected NANS president in December 1983 at the University of Jos. The late Segun Okeowo who was NUNS president went to College of Education before attending UNILAG where he was expelled for leading the Ali must go struggle. He got readmitted into the university of Ife and still graduated in his thirties.

“Be that as it may, I strongly condemn the so-called NANS guys for threatening the lives and properties of striking university teachers. It is more condemnable that such threat is being aided and abetted by the Buhari government. It is the way fascism begins. It was the same way that the Babangida regime armed campus cultists to attack radical and revolutionary students’ activists and leaders. We cannot allow such state sanctioned anarchism and both the NANS characters and the government will be held responsible should any form of assault be visited on the striking ASUU members”.

On its part, the leadership of Alliance of Nigerian Students against Neo-liberal Attacks, ANSA, described the visit of NANS to the president as treacherous and against the interest of students.

In a statement, its Ag. National Secretary, Obafemi Sodunola and National Coordinator, Adeyeye Femi said: “We reject it as treacherous and a complete violation of the NANS Charter which emphasizes the age-long tradition and historical responsibility of NANS to defend, not just the mass of students but also their poor parents who are organised in various workers unions against their common oppressor- government at all levels.

“ It is appalling to say the least that the ideological degeneracy of the current NANS executives has been allowed to bring forth its hydra head once again. Lovely were the days when we had the NANS that fought SAP; introduction of tuition in 1985, the military government and the  June 12  revolts among other great historical battles.

“It is no wonder even the new executives of this anti-student NANS lack the basic understanding of the fraternal relations built on ideological conviction between the Nigerian Student Movement and their working class counterparts, especially when we all know that these bodies are representatives of the oppressed layer of our society. It is students today that become workers tomorrow.

“Ours, therefore, is not to lament but to understand and proffer solution, guidance and leadership as we are wont to do.

“It should be recalled that the executives of NANS on 31st December 2018 made a call to its structures to commence mobilisation against the ongoing strike of ASUU/ASUP, joining the Federal Government in demanding that the striking Unions call off their industrial actions. The executives of NANS however tried to whip up sentiments amidst the rank and file of students concluding that the striking Unions are making selfish demands which according to the NANS Leadership are the lecturers Earned Academic Allowances.

“Let us try to point out to the Nigerian public that the struggles being waged by the striking lecturers are the struggles the Nigerian students should be leading by now; in fact, we should have shut down the campuses by ourselves considering the animalistic living and learning conditions students are subjected to.

“The statement issued by the NANS leadership, joining government in demanding that ASUU calls off its strike without government acceding to the demands of the Union is a call for mass expulsion of students who would be confronted with the menace of outrageous fee increment.

“The NANS as we know today is split into two factions. The PDP NANS, we know. The APC NANS, we know. Where is the NANS of the Nigerian students?

“It is on this note that ANSA maintains its position in support of the demands of ASUU/ASUP especially those demands enshrined in the NANS Charter.”

NANS reacts

But in his reaction to the deluge of criticisms against NANS, its president Akpan, said: “NANS is sad at the way this visit has been generating negative reactions from both students and the general public.  But we’re not oblivious of the gimmicks by ASUU to keep playing the righteous, causing division in the students’ movement and threatening our members to always support their moves.

“A critique of this reaction by ANSA or whatever it’s called will give you an insight into the drummer of the dance.

“ANSA claims that NANS have not done anything on this issue. Let me quickly remind you that I suspended my journey to Liberia on 5th November, 2018 just to stay back home and address the ASUU strike that commenced on the 4th. I tried to interface with the leadership of ASUU to enable us get full knowledge of the crisis which they rejected. We equally approached the government and couldn’t get positive response. I however led a SAVE EDUCATION RALLY nationwide on the 19th November, 2018. Yet they   say I have not done anything.

ALSO READ: Strike: ASUU after their personal interest, not that of students – NANS

“I have in the past few months in office engaged in resolving students crisis both on campus and off campus. From intervening in the killing of Ambrose Alli University students to University of Jos, where I went to challenge military invasion of hostel and killing of students. You may recall I participated in the burial of the slain heroes. I intervened in University of Agriculture, Makurdi Students, I and my team survived a ghastly motor accident. Only God saved us as some of my team members were hospitalized for weeks. Yet I have not done anything!

“Talking about supporting ASUU as a sister union, especially as ideological demands, I’ve not seen where they did that for NANS in recent times. ASUU is a pressure group protecting the interest of her members and so is NANS. I am yet to see where we have similar interest.

“On our visit to the President, it’s only hypocrites that will say if it were me, I would insult, embarrass or even slap the President. As tradition demands, we respectfully discussed everything that affects Nigerian students before the President, ranging from poor funding of the educational sector, lowest budgetary provision, political victimisation of our members, school managements imposition of SUG officials, management ban on students union activities, lack of accommodation, etc. Nigerians should please demand for the full tape from NTA that put our only a part they like. Remember, no one is allowed to go into the Presidential Villa and all my interface with government have always been done on live streaming via my official facebook account.

“Finally, ASUU or any other union should be made to know that our interest differs and cannot coerce us to always support theirs. They should respect ours too.

“No amount of blackmail or propaganda will stop us”.

For a way out of the crisis, Arogundade position is that: “I have always maintained that nothing is sacrosanct about NANS and it can always be done away with having outlived its usefulness. Before NANS, there was NUNS. NANS arose out of the ashes of the banned NUNS by the Olusegun Obasanjo regime. Another national students’ body, genuinely committed to independent students’ unionism and formation of strategic alliance with mass organisations fighting for improved educational system, like ASUU, should now emerge from the current NANS, which has already burnt itself into ashes. That task however is for the current generation of students’ leaders. My generation can only offer advice and support”.

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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.