After a long military interregnum that lasted from 1966 to 1979 Nigeria heaved a sigh of relief as it welcomed a newly elected civilian government in 1979 under Alhaji Shehu Shagari. Even though the government came in under a whiff of the 12 2/3 controversy Nigerians were happy to see the back of the military boys who had brutalised the country’s psyche for many years. Various sub-groups in the country were also happy to resume a life of normalcy.
The Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) held its convention in June 1980 to reset its profession and work out a vision for the future. This conference was held in Calabar, Cross River State where I, as Editor of the Nigerian Chronicle, assumed the important role of Chief Host. It was at that conference that we decided to hold another conference two years later to elect new officers that would lead the guild in this post-military era.
By 1982 when the conference was scheduled for Minna, Niger State I had taken up a job in Lagos as the Editor of the high-flying and highest selling Sunday Times published by the eminent Daily Times Group. I decided in consultation with my friends Yakubu Mohammed, editor of the National Concord and Dele Giwa, editor of the Sunday Concord that I would run for the office of the President of the Guild. When the Editor of the Daily Times, Mr. Martin Iroabuchi learnt of my decision to contest the election he told me that Alhaji Umaru Dikko, an NPN kingpin had decided to sponsor me in the election as the President of the Guild.
I told Mr Iroabuchi that since it was just an election of media professionals I would not need any sponsorship by any politician. This response apparently did not go down well with the NPN enchilada Dikko. He therefore decided to sponsor someone else to face me in the election. He picked on the Director General of the NTA who only became a member of the Guild at that conference. I appointed Yakubu Mohammed and Dele Giwa as my campaign managers.
The conference was held at Shiroro Hotel, Minna, Niger State. On getting to the hotel, we noticed that some of our colleagues had already been camped there many days before our arrival. We found out that this was Dikko’s agenda. Nevertheless, we campaigned vigorously for the office only to realise that our opponent and his co-conspirators were doling out cash to the editors in exchange for their votes. I lost the election by one vote but the Guild died because those who were offended by the prospect of the Guild being teleguided by Dikko and co set ablaze the documents of the Guild.
When we returned to Lagos my election managers, Yakubu and Dele informed their boss about what happened in Minna. Chief M.K.O. Abiola, who was Dikko’s fierce opponent in politics told my colleagues that if they had told him it was going to be a money affair he would have matched Dikko naira for naira and dollar for dollar. They told him that it was purely an election by journalism professionals and that the Dikko affair was simply an aberration, which was unacceptable to many professionals. It took 10 years for the NGE to be resurrected in 1992.
Similar intrusions have happened in a number of sub-groups such as the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) to mention but a few. In the sub-groups where these intrusions and interferences by politicians have occurred you have a situation where the hand is that of Esau while the voice is that of Jacob.
For seven months now members of ASUU have been on strike. For students and their parents this is a gratuitous piece of irritation for which there is an unsettling urgency for resolution. They all have been thrown into the abyss of grief because as things stand even the end of it is not yet in sight. It seems likely that these students will lose an entire session through no fault of theirs. I suspect that the students and their parents must have drowned themselves in the pool of reflection, wondering what the way out ought to be. Being a matter that is completely out of their own hands they seem to have very limited answers to the problem.
The students in particular seem lost. They are behaving like the centipede who, when asked which foot it moved first, froze. That is why they would go to the streets of Abuja, the federal capital with pots and pans. Were they trying to cook food for Muhammadu Buhari or for ASUU members? When it appeared that Buhari who lives in Abuja didn’t notice what they were doing they now resorted to blocking public highways. Buhari still goes to wherever he wants without any hindrance. Those that they are punishing are innocent people including other students, their parents, those who are opposed to the long strike and those who are in sympathy with the plight of our students generally.
Now they also want to block airports with the prospect of disrupting flights. That would be unreasonable. They blocked Lagos Airport road yesterday morning. Those who use the airports are not the ones keeping them out of their classrooms. The lives of air travellers have already been disrupted by exceedingly high fares and poor management of flights.
The students do not need to add insult to injury. They should simply face Buhari and ASUU. The rest of us who have children in these shut institutions are also victims of this unprecedented crisis in our tertiary education. We are all suffering from this effect of this broken window theory whereby a badly managed situation has graduated into an epidemic.
By the illegal disruptions of normal life on public highways the students have shown that they are not focusing on the dramatis personae in this matter. These are Buhari and ASUU. They should take the battle to them instead of causing inconveniences and offence to innocent bystanders.
From the recent controversial elections of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) it is evident that our students have efficiently borrowed a lot on election from the copybook of our national politicians. From the information available in the public space a student of the Federal University of Technology, Dutse Mr. Usman Barambu was declared the new President of NANS after the election.
Another student, Mr. Umar Farouk Lawal of Bayero University, Kano also declared himself the new President of NANS. In media interviews each of them has dismissed the process that produced the other.
Barambu says that “he picked up the hotel bills of about 80% of the delegates for seven days amid delayed accreditation that preceded the voting. Barambu told Sunday Punch that Farouk was among those who proposed the shifting of the convention because he was aware that I was accommodating a large number of the delegates. He made that proposition hoping that I would be tired and send the delegates out of the hotel rooms so that he could use that against me. But glory be to God we were able to accommodate them till the end although I am indebted to the hotels as I speak.” He accused Farouk of courting partisans in the larger society for financial support.
Farouk, on the other hand, alleged that there were sundry irregularities in the election. He accused his rival of doling out N20,000 to charlatans from whom he purchased voters but he confirmed that contestants footed the bills of delegates because student leaders from the universities could not access funds because of the ongoing industrial action by ASUU.
He explained further that it was the contestants that managed to mobilise them, pay their transport fares and hotel bills.
It is obvious that the NANS fellows had peeped into the bag of tricks of our politicians in the larger society on the matter of election rigging and their unwillingness to accept the results of elections. So it is obvious too from day one that NANS, which ought to fight for the Nigerian students from a united front is already factionalised and fractured. Such miniaturisation of the union that has challenges to deal with, will result in the NANS becoming a toothless bulldog, which may eventually become a helpless lapdog. If that happens it will merely be yelping like puppies not soaring like the NUNS of the Ali Must Go era in 1978 led by the indomitable Segun Okeowo.
The contestants obviously spent a lot of money and one wonders where the money came from? From their parents? Not likely. From their own pockets? Not likely. From political partisans, very likely. It is obvious that those who funded their elections will control them because there is really no free lunch, not even in Freetown. And that piper who paid them will keep calling the tune to which they will dance sexily. So if a leader emerges from such a corrupt arrangement what quality of leadership will he give?
If they spent as much money as they did how will they recover it? By embezzling the funds of the organisation? I don’t know.
Does this shameful shenanigan have the potential of truly serving the best interest of Nigerian students? I doubt. It is clear that the Nigerian students have not been left untainted by the poisonous influence of the larger society. So when they tell us that the oldies should leave the political stage for them it sounds shallow, very shallow because even in small matters they have not proved to be positively different.