The Lagos State University Students’ Union was unjustly suspended on Tuesday, 22nd November, 2011 by the University management for reasons best known to them. This suspension came on the heels of students’ rejection of the outrageous hike in fees introduced by the Lagos State government.
Despite repeated calls and pleas by students, the University management has continued to maintain a hardline stand on the suspension of the union. The continuous suspension of the union constitutes an infringement on students’ right to freedom of expression and association as enshrined in section 39 and 40 of the 1999 Nigerian constitution respectively as well as the African Charter on Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on Human Rights. More so, the union was not given any fair hearing before the suspension was effected as the union officers were not invited to any meeting prior to the suspension. Since then, the university management has taken over the union properties and its secretariat.
As a result of the suspension, the welfare condition of students has worsened. On 8th February, 2012, the University management led by Prof. John Obafunwa unceremoniously evicted the occupants of the female hostel without any prior notification to them despite having paid the outrageous hostel fee of N50,000 per session (per bed space). Till now, the management is yet to refund them and the students are presently squatting with colleagues in neighboring communities. Also, traders and transporters in and around the campus have hiked their wares and fares respectively. All this emphasizes the importance of the union so that students can have a fighting body to defend their right to good studying and living condition.
Since the creation of Lagos State University Students’ Union in the late 80s, the union has been in the forefront of struggles to emancipate the Nigerian masses. The union was involved in the anti-military movement in the 90s and played a frontal role in the return to the present democratic dispensation through participation in mass protests and demonstrations. It is unfortunate that the same democratic government that we fought for now derives joy in denying students their fundamental human rights. It is not surprising that the Lagos State Government has remained silent on this issue as Prof. John Obafunwa is only acting the scripts of Governor Babatunde Fashola and his cabinet.
It is important to note that the absence of a Students’ Union in any tertiary institution particularly in a university like LASU will provide breeding grounds for cultism. If the suspension is sustained, a season of harassment, extortion and molestation of students by cultists will creep in. The union has led anti-cultism campaigns and has successfully confronted and defeated cult groups in the past. The most memorable being the dogged fight against cultism put up by the Comrade Tunde Salau leadership which eventually led to the union presidents’ death on February 13, 2002. The importance of a Students’ Union in an academic environment cannot be overemphasized. Unionism provides a veritable ground for students to be politically engaged and arouse their political consciousness. The union had always organized social, political and academic programmes to empower students and take their minds off cultism and other social vices. The continuous suspension of the union is a threat to the political vibrancy that LASU is known for. As a former General Secretary of the union, I can recall the number and quality of programmes and projects that we executed during the 2010/2011 academic session geared towards promoting the academic, social, economic and political interests of students and laundering the image of the institution. Among these are the first LASU Free Health Week, first LASUSU Essay and Debate Competitions, Keep LASU Clean Campaign, Political Workshops and Seminars, 82nd Lateef Jakande Birthday Lecture, LASU Award Dinner etc.
Through these programmes, the union was able to engage students in discussions and activities to develop their leadership and intellectual capacity and avail them numerous academic and economic opportunities. The Vice-Chancellor of Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State, Prof. Femi Mimiko corroborated this fact at the inauguration of a new executive for the university’s students’ union when he advocated the institution of robust students union in the nation’s university system. The Punch Newspaper of 6th March, 2012 reported Mimiko to have said: “As an administration, we support students’ unionism fully because for us, there is nothing about student unionism to be afraid of. Participation in student unionism is something to be encouraged because we see it as a platform for leadership development and we will continue to emphasize this so that people will know that when they get involved in students’ union affairs, they are getting involved in a process that will help them to develop their leadership capacity.”
This is not the first attack on students’ right to a democratic and independent union in Nigeria since the return to civil rule in 1999. Voracious attacks have always been launched against students’ unions in all campuses across the country with unions being proscribed or suspended and student leaders suffering suspension or expulsion. A year ago, the Obafemi Awolowo University Students’ Union was suspended and the Union leaders (the President, General Secretary and Public Relations Officer) suspended over their demand for a reversal of fee hike introduced by the University Management. For many years now, the University of Lagos has been without a union with the continuous ban on students’ union activities. The present crops of human and civil rights activists were products of students’ unionism. They cut their teeth on campuses and were able to fight against military dictatorship, rights abuse and political and economic corruption. If this onslaught on campus unionism persists, I am afraid that we may not be able to reproduce the likes of Femi Falana, Lanre Arogundade, Segun Sango, Bamidele Aturu, Abiodun Aremu, Joe Okei-Odumakin among others who have consistently stood on the side of the oppressed.
I enjoin all Student leaders and groups, human rights groups and labour unions to call on the Prof. John Obafunwa-led University Management to immediately reinstate Lagos State University Students’’ Union. The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) must wake up from her slumber. NANS leadership must as a matter of urgency begin a campaign for the restoration of all banned unions and reinstatement of all victimized student unionists. The Lagos State University management and the Lagos State Government have had their ways with the outrageous fee hike but they cannot continue to suppress the rights of students to independent and democratic union. After four months of the suspension, the Students’ Union officers must be ready to defy the suspension in the event that the University Management fails to heed to this demand. They must live up to the motto of the union; when we dare to struggle, we dare to win!