NANS and the angst of finding relevance
Described as a shameless, barking, toothless bulldog, the aluta spirit is missing in the current crop of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) compared with the militancy of its yesteryear counterpart. In this piece, Head, Education Desk, Iyabo Lawal writes that there is more to present-day NANS than meets the eye.
Even the then-dictator, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, could not decimate them. They were like an indestructible army of young men and women. They were idealistic Nigerian youths – with little fear and abundant fervour. They were the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS). But today, the relevance of that group of youths is under scrutiny. There seems to be no more faith in the students’ body. The once fiery nuance of NANS, today, critics said has become cold impotent ash.
A peep into the past will put that criticism in some context.When Buhari – presently the democratic president of the country – bullied his way into power by overthrowing the democratically elected government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari and became a military head of state in 1983, he was presented with a daunting but pragmatic proposal.
He was asked to introduce a nationwide free education policy. In response to that patriotic request, the Buhari military junta claimed there was no money to implement the policy. Buhari and his goons then added that it would cost government N4 billion.However, NANS did not buy the dummy. The students’ union dug deep with its think tank excavating facts, which revealed that the legitimate Shagari government Buhari illegally kicked out of power had saved some money enough for the military government to use to execute the free education policy.
NANS figured it out that the amount of money that would have gone into the payment of salaries and allowances of political appointees and lawmakers at both the federal and state government levels could be used to fund the policy – that money, when calculated by the student body totalled N1.2 billion.
Yet, Buhari and his fellow interlopers said N4 billion would be needed to fully implement the free education policy. NANS was unrelenting in dogging the tail of the Buhari junta. They also figured it out that the Shagari government issued import licences worth N11 billion though the goods that were actually imported were about N2 billion. NANS did its best to change the government’s policies and actions. It was not a lame duck back then as it is claimed to be now. That conclusion is quite understandable.
Take for instance, last December, NANS issued a two-week ultimatum to the federal government and Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to end the lecturers’ strike or be ready for confrontation.“The leadership of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), after a holistic critique of the lingering industrial actions embarked upon by the academic staff of our tertiary institutions has issued a two-week ultimatum to both the federal government and ASUU to call off the lingering strike or face the full wrath of angry Nigerian students,” the group said in a statement.
To show its intent, NANS also felt aggrieved that it was not included in the negotiation between the duelling parties. “To our greatest consternation, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has resisted vehemently, the idea of having students’ representatives during these meetings and rather, called for closed-door meetings between the Federal Ministry of Education and the leaders of the union. And the Federal Government has agreed that we observe the negotiations. Hence, we’re at the receiving end,” it added.
In ending the rhetoric, NANS seemed to have threatened Armageddon by saying that a mass protest – with the mobilisation of 100,000 students in Abuja alone – would be organised across the country. Nothing happened – huff and puff but not a whimper.
Did that make NANS impotent, irrelevant?
Somewhere else in Ogun State, Oladele Itiola, then-Rector of Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, was given the boot following a protest by NANS in the state.Hundreds of students had embarked on a protest tagged, ‘Rescue Ogun State education campaign’, during which they held placards with various inscriptions like: ‘Save Ogun State education; ‘Education must survive’; and ‘MAPOLY must survive’.
During that protest, the students had told Governor Ibikunle Amosun in unmistakable terms that they were not happy with the state of education in the state, citing the delay in commencement of semester examination at the Moshood Abiola Polytechnic (MAPOLY) and expressed their opposition to the cancellation of payment of fees for West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) for secondary school students by the state government, among other issues.
The present-day NANS is not militant; it is not destructive; and it is a little bit less intellectual, education experts have said. They put the blame for that on the quality of education the current crop of Nigerian students is getting in schools.Nevertheless, those sympathetic to the student body claimed that the mental awareness of today’s NANS cannot be ignored or ridiculed.A case in point was when NANS rejected the proposed 15 percent mandatory budgetary allocation to education sector for both the federal and state governments.
The proposal was reached at the National Economic Council (NEC) meeting chaired by vice president Yemi Osinbajo in Abuja. But NANS stood by the 26 percent recommended by United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) budgetary allocation on education.The body had then called on the Federal Government to declare a national education conference where all stakeholders would bring positive ideas with which the sector can be revived.
“The national education conference will help at bringing about the academic excellence Nigerians are known for. We have no doubt that this radical decision will go a long way in reviving our education system as well as drastically reduce crime rates in our society especially among young Nigerians believed to be school drop outs,” NANS had canvassed.
It added: “In most schools in many states, medical facilities are nothing to write home about as we have lost many Nigerian students to this. Over population of students in classes is not also to be ignored; caused as a result of shortage in man power (teachers), lack of adequate welfare package for teachers, lack of conducive learning environments among several others.”
In a related development, NANS has had to appeal to the National Assembly workers, under the aegis of Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN), to shelve their strike last year as it claimed such action would cause a major setback regarding the 2019 budget presentation by the president to a joint session of parliamentarians. “It is no more news that the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) also joined the league as members joined their university counterparts to down tools and NANS could not do anything to force both parties agree.
Last August, the student body issued a notice of mass action over the protracted crisis between the Council of Legal Education and the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) as the crisis had hindered the law graduates of the university from being admitted into the Nigerian Law School for over five years.NANS did not shy from writing a letter to President Buhari of the planned protest. It will be recalled that the body had issued a three-month ultimatum to the Buhari government on May 23 to admit the law graduates from NOUN into the Nigerian Law School.
NANS had described as unfortunate that its three-month ultimatum to the Federal Government received no attention, despite the plight of NOUN law students for the past five years.It said in the letter: “Sequel to our petition dated 23rd May, 2018 in respect of the intimidation, injustices and inhumanity to man meted out to students that were offered admission and graduated in the faculty of law of the National Open University of Nigeria.
“As stated previously, it amounts to fraud, deceit, discrimination and mischief against the Nigerian students and inhumanity to vulnerable citizens, especially the youths to formally admit, graduate and issue them deficient certificates after several years of study despite financial implication.“We will commence our mass actions with Phase-1 in the Federal Capital Territory from 27th to 31th August. Consequently, we have decided that enough is enough and shall inevitably shut down the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, against any public activities taking place in the period.”
According to NANS, the first phase of the protest would be a five-day demonstration expected to take place in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, while the second phase was slated to hold on October 1. Well, you guessed right – nothing happened leading to the conclusion that the association has become a shameless, toothless bulldog.Once upon a fiery student body, established in 1980, NANS was a strong force to reckon with in Nigeria as its stance against the Buhari free education policy illustrates. NANS was the successor of the proscribed National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS).NUNS, the forerunner of NANS, was banned in 1978 after 22 years of existence by the military government of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo because it rose vehemently against the hike in tuition.
But allegations of corruption and partisan politics against NANS have further affected the performance rating of the students’ body. The union, in the wake of the industrial action by university teachers was accused of receiving N150m bribe from the Federal Government.
The executive committee of the union had visited President Muhammadu Buhari on January 3, to discuss issues affecting the sector, however, reports had emerged that the association allegedly collected the said amount during the visit, which resulted in brickbats between the students, ASUU and the Nigerian populace. The report again cast doubt on the credibility or otherwise of the union.
Though NANS may have appeared toothless and not ruthless since the advent of democracy, some observers believe that the association is only responding to the socio-economic and political stimuli of the society. Its current docility should not be taken for its dumbness, they said sounding a note of warning.
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