Student Opinion: Challenges of student unionism

Student Union 
Some of the challenges faced by students can discourage them from playing an active part in school politics

Politics can be daunting for anyone; and, for students, combining studies with politics can be a really herculean task.

Politics in this sense does not entirely mean occupying a post in the faculty association or the students union, rather it begins at the grassroots: in this case from being a class representative or being a floor representative in the hall of residence.

The hustle to get to be the representatives can be feisty in some departments and halls of residence, especially in departments or halls where the fire of politics rages. There was, for instance, a spirited battle between two contestants last semester in Kuti hall of residence, University of Ibadan, over the post of floor representative.
These two obvious greenhorns in UI student politics locked horns almost bitterly in order to rep their floor. They were both 100 level students. One of them would eventually win, but some weeks after, his initial 'gra gra' had been sapped by the academic demands of his studies. He learnt so fast that, politics does not insulate one from academic rigour in the university.

Politics is said to be a selfless service; a (student) politician is, on that basis, presumably called to serve. Once a student discovers his/her political calling, s/he informs his/her closest allies and the journey to receiving the biggest anointing for his calling begins in earnest from the majority of the students s/he needs to get to his/her envisioned post.

Meanwhile, different factors, whether openly stated or not, serve as the propellants that drive political ambitions of students. However, monetary gains ideally are out of the factors that drive one. Therefore some of the challenges faced by students, which will form the bulk of the next paragraphs, can deter intending student politicians. These challenges are also responsible for the inactivity of some student politicians.

Time is the soul of a business! The primary reason each and every bona fide student of the university is in school in the first place is to study and graduate with a presentable certificate which will look good on a curriculum vitae. However, a student politician has to learn how to spend his 24 hours judiciously; he needs to learn how to go about his studies and also deliver unto the ‘people’ who have called him to service without either suffering.

This can be a little too much on such a student because there might be times when studies and politics will need attention at almost the same time. This may prove a difficult pass to navigate for some student politicians. The dilemma student-politicians fall into sometimes outstrip that of the Hamletic question of ‘To be or not to be?’ To jettison studies for political demands may be an invitation to the so called CGPA vampires, and to do vice versa is to court the censure of the hard-to-please fellow students.
Moreover, money drives any ambition. Student politics has become so costly that ambitions of many students have been killed because of their inability to compete with others who are able to finance their own ambitions. Making of posters, jingles, banners etc. requires funds, huge funds at that. These are things that are sine qua non in student politics on campus.
All these will go a long way to project and illuminate the politician’s ideas and personality which will crystallize fast and in time before the election. A student with less visibility has less chance of winning the hearts of his fellow students. This point applies to the larger societies as it is often seen that politicians go all out to cover every blade of electoral grass in order to be known and seen by prospective voters.
Meanwhile it is an obvious truth that a politician cannot, and must not try, to please everyone at the same time. One who does this is digging their own destructive pit. There comes another dilemma for student politicians on campus: to please their closest allies all the time in lieu of the general student populace or do otherwise?

Often this conundrum makes some student politicians appear clueless. More often than not, they are confused in the convincing calls their allies and the general populace put to them. More so, the dangerous bend student politicians must always pass each time the will of student populace clashes with that of the management is usually pitiable.

Furthermore, students are always on their parents or guardians tether even while on campus. Keen parents or guardians are anxious to monitor their wards activities as much as possible. They are quick to draw the ears of these young adults on campus to the dangers of engaging in activities that may terminate their academic sojourn or even prolong it beyond the normal time. Therefore it is not surprising when parents and guardians often want to discourage their wards from making political forays while in school.

The most recurrent trends in campus politics are usually clashes between school management and students which students cannot win; clashes between different political camps which may turn out to be ghastly or even fatal in some cases. Parental control is praiseworthy, but it can suffocate students’ latent leadership qualities if taken too far. The best place to begin the long lifetime process of being what one will become remains the higher institution.

The demands of politics and studies can be intimidating. To judiciously harmonize the two attention-demanding tasks is not for the laggards. Therefore, it is usually to the credit of student politicians who are able to navigate the two successfully. To excel at both will be useful in the here and there.

By Tobi Idowu.
Dept: English
University of Ibadan.