Students’ protest in University of Ibadan: Of character and learning
At every graduation ceremony, particularly before students receive scroll of honour and are pronounced “graduates”, the Registrar will invoke what could be regarded as academic ethos, saying “the persons standing have been found worthy both in character and in learning to be admitted to the degree of ...” From this phrase, character and learning are the two major constituents of a degree a graduate parades as a symbol of academic training. Interestingly, one of the mission statements of University of Ibadan is to produce graduates who are worthy in character and learning.
But, what is character? An online dictionary describes it as “the inherent complex of attributes that determines a person’s moral and ethical actions and reactions. Indeed, education has for its object, the formation of character. The synonyms of character include attitude, nature, attributes, disposition, reputation, among others. To underscore the importance of character, an American author, John Maxwell says attitude is the librarian of our past, the speaker of our present and the prophet of our future.” In other words, bad character can only lead to a dwarfed destiny, just as someone argues that a bad character is like a flat tyre, you can’t go far unless you change it.
It is against this backdrop one is compelled to examine the recent students’ protest at the University of Ibadan (UI) and some of its emerging sociological phenomenal. The protest, under the aegis of Students’ Union began two days before commencement of planned first semester examination. The union, led by a 200-level student, Ojo Aderemi had issued a six-point demand at a “congress”, which management describes as illegal. Some of the demands of the students included a two-day ultimatum given to the university management to constitute the students’ welfare board.
The union also wanted a fact-finding committee to be set up to look into the issue of the use of hot plates in halls of residence. In addition, Aderemi led union insisted that examination would not be allowed to take place unless the management issued them identity card. They also resolved to disrupt the scheduled programme of Oyo State government at the International Conference Centre to be chaired by Governor Abiola Ajimobi. They decided to occupy the Ojoo/Agbowo/UI Sango Federal Highway as well as all faculties, lecture rooms, and lock up centre for General Studies.
Sadly, all efforts to pacify the students by the management including several meetings, interventions from different stakeholders, pleadings with the students not to disrupt the planned first semester examination that had already dragged on endlessly failed. “The Commanders-in-Chief of Aluta Forces” as they often call themselves vowed to dance to the market place naked by promoting shadows over substances. Going by their short-fused, hell-raising and impetuous grandstanding, it was glaring that there were more to the protest than meet the eye. Apart from wanting the examination to be postponed, there was a suspicion that the students were being manipulated by some subterranean forces on campus in order to settle scores with the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Abel Idowu Olayinka. At last, the rampaging students got the effect they wanted: the examination has been postponed, just as the school has been shut down against undergraduate students, while the post-graduate students are in school for their research.
However, it will be unscholarly to generalise that all undergraduate students support the protest and are happy with the aftermath. To draw a distinction, let us agree that students are in various classes: decisive, dreaming, and drifting. Let us briefly examine the attributes of each category. The decisive students in this context, are the first class candidates. They are apex-minded. They don’t like protest or disruption of any kind. They want to graduate on time and take on the world. Their movements revolve around the classrooms, library and religious centres. UI has this class of students in abundance. They don’t participate in unionism neither do they get involved in Aluta.
The second category, the dreaming students are those ones aspiring to make good grades. Many of them are from poor homes. They want to graduate on time and get job in order to change their economic status. They want to make their parents happy. They have no god-fathers. They run away from trouble. They are mostly found in religious centres, praying. They may be poor, yet they are dreaming of a better tomorrow. They hardly participate in unionism. Do they even have money for electioneering? Thousands of them are in UI and other federal universities because the cost at the public universities is the cheapest.
And, the last category, the drifting. These are the students who are very vocal. They have a foot on gown and another in town. They drift to receive one or two lectures in school and dash to town to participate in political rallies. They are politically savvy. They fester on campus like pestilence. Their mates call them “NFA” that is No Future Ambition. They see campus as their home. Even when they have graduated, they won’t go away. They are the students union kingmakers. The Dino Melayis of this world. They are the nightmares of the university administrators.
Using this classification to dissect the recent protest in UI which was largely engineered by the drifting students and some drifting graduate-students, surreptitiously manipulating the innocent, young like-minds, one can only sympathise with the VC for the kind of challenge he has at hand. Is it not surprising that, it is a 200-level student who emerges as the President of Students’ Union of Ibadan status? This is probably because the decisive and dreaming students at 300 and 400 levels see unionism as a distraction, thereby leaving the turf for the drifting. And, less than a month after his election, Ojo Aderemi in his embryonic impertinence rocked the boat with arrogant juvenility.
In fairness to Aderemi, the adolescent boy is not to blame. At 200 level, what does he know about emotion management? How much of leadership skills does he possess? At 200 level, he is still half-formed, therefore largely uninformed about the nitty-gritty of campus politics. His dramatic denouement not therefore unexpected. Certainly, it will be a miracle if he did not record unimaginable infantile errors and behaviour blunders on account of his immatureness and jejuneness! The blame lies with the systems that allow a rookie to reign. Examining further, the sociological phenomenal that the protest has thrown up, one is sad to note that many of our youths are in a road to ruin going by their rascally appearance, uncouthness, pugnacious conduct and contemptuous temperament.
Since the protest broke out, some of these ill-mannered and saucy students have turned the VC to a butt of cruel jokes. On a daily basis over the social media, Prof. Olayinka is called all manner of unprintable names.
Various mendacious and malicious comments, intended to besmirch his integrity are posted with reckless abandon. One begins to wonder if some of these contumacious children know that respect for elders is one of the cardinal imperatives of our traditional customs. Indeed , every student is an advertisement of their background. We certainly know those who come from dysfunctional background by the kind of childish tantrums they throw around. I find it absolutely distasteful , disdainful , lacking in decorum and decency when an undergraduate will go on social media to be hauling expletives and diatribes on an elderly person. This is a sad commentary on civility. It is the barbarism of the worst kind. Whoever does this simply lacks manner and home-training.
By all standards, Prof. Olayinka remains the symbol of our collective integrity in UI. He is the leader of the academic community that is parading the highest number of professors in Nigeria. By extension, he is the first VC in this country today as many other universities look up to Ibadan for leadership, mentoring and inspiration. How audacious can a mannerless undergraduate student be, to describe such an academic titan as a “ disgrace “? Without doubt, it is only a family member that will describe this kind of attitude as malady, but a distant observer will call it madness. With time, all of these bad manners will come home to roost. Let those who are running down the system and insulting the principal officers on social media know that their names are being compiled. At the appropriate time, they shall be invited to come and face the music. Do they know that UI can withdraw the certificate she has issued if discovered that the holder is not worthy in character?
Perhaps it is apposite at this point to call on stakeholders including parents, lecturers, religious leaders among others to work in synergy for the redemption of our youth from the morass of superciliousness and arrogance of ego. Already, Lagos and Abuja branches of UI Alumni Association have stepped in, to plead for the students. As Italian poet of the late middle ages, Dante Alighieri notes “the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality, this is certainly not a time to keep quiet. Some of our youth clearly need what a psychotherapist, Jude Bijou calls attitude reconstruction. Delinquents in the garb of unionism must not be allowed to pollute a decent academic environment of Ibadan status.
It is our duty to reorientate these deviant children to learn how to tame their temper, cage their rage, mind their manners and master their mouths for unguarded vituperations often breed a mindless rampage.These children, by nature, are susceptible to aberration. It is our duty to return them to the ethos and mores upon which our society was originally formed. The consolation, however is that adolescence, with time, will fade into adulthood.
Prof. Olayinka who, as a leader, volunteers to take upon himself social and economic woes of the community should be assisted and supported to overcome the challenges of this time. He should be protected from the arrows of churlishness coming from a few of impudent souls in our midst. Learning without character is a deadly disease. All it takes for the fangs of evil to rip to shreds our collective core of existence is for us to sit and do absolutely nothing. We must all rise to condemn this kind of instigation to anarchy that has brought about this collateral damage to our enterprise. We know that students are driven by utopian fantasies: availability of electricity for 24/7 of 365 days. Good idea. The point is, fantasy is not reality, but will their naivety of their formative years allow them to appreciate this truth? May be, may be not.