Dunnex Samuel, OAU, Ile-Ife

Students of Nigeria’s tertiary institutions are now are at the receiving end of the wave of insecurity in the country. Earlier in April 2021, an initial set of 3 (three) students abducted from a private university, Greenfield University in Kaduna State, northwestern Nigeria were found dead. On 26th April 2021, two more students of Greenfield University, who are still in captivity were killed bringing the death toll from the attack to six. A member of the school staff was killed during the invasion of the school.20 students along with three non-academic staff were kidnapped in all.

     Equally, 39 students were abducted by bandits including a pregnant student abducted from the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, Kaduna state. The bandits had released 10 of the abducted students, leaving 29 of them in captivity.

   Against the background of the spate of students’ killings, mum has been the word from the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), the official federation of Nigerian tertiary institutions’ students. This again exposes the reactionary nature of the National Association of Nigeria Students (NANS).

   Historically, the Nigeria Students’ movement has played a key role in struggles/protests of national significance, especially during the anti-military struggle. The participation of the Students’ movement in the struggle of the working people for democracy will remain remarkable. The proscription of the National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS) in 1978 by the Obasanjo-led regime led to its reconstitution as the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS). NANS also played a progressive role as a fighting vanguard of Nigerian students in the 80s up to the 90s.  

   However, the student movement has been weakened rather than strengthened since the return to bourgeois civil rule in 1999. The collapse of the Stalinist deformed workers’ states of the USSR in the early 90s dealt a blow to several ideological organisations and opposition in Nigeria, including in the country’s students’ movement, who viewed the collapse of Stalinism as the end of the pursuit of the socialist groups.

   Priorly existing left coalitions in the students’ movement under the umbrella of Progressive Youth Movement of Nigeria (PYMN) had openly subscribed to Marxist ideas, albeit under the colouration of Stalinism looked up to the Stalinist states in the USSR for inspiration. It was equally the ideological spine of NANS and provided a radical leadership for NANS up to the late 90s. The weakening of the ideological bulwark in NANS that provided semblances of pro-working class or pro-oppressed ideas has been replaced by a thuggish bulwark of cultists that politicians often depend on as enforcers.

    In practice, the students’ movement at the national level has been hijacked by cultists, sometimes non-students, whose idea of fighting for students is begging politicians for money and cornering scholarships or endowments meant for real students. They do this with the tacit, sometimes overt support of the state, because of the state’s preference for a toothless NANS over a progressive, fighting NANS. On local campuses, the situation is not different. Student Union officers have become an appendage of their Divisions of Students’ Affairs that bribe them with remittances of union dues deducted from exorbitant fees of students and occasional travels abroad.

      However, the situation is not completely gloomy. The historic #EndSARS protests that shook Nigeria in October 2020 radicalized a large section of Nigeria’s young people, most especially students of tertiary institutions that were at home and free due to the ASUU strike. With a mass of these students now returning to their various campuses after the #EndSARS protest, this will impact the way students’ unionism is organized in the country.

      Undergraduate students played a major role in the #EndSARS campaign to such an extent that the government desperately wanted to resolve the ASUU strike during the protest. The government believed that sending students back to their campuses might thin out the #EndSARS movement. What it did not know is that Nigerian students would carry with them a culture of radicalisation and protest, which they have learned in the #EndSARS movement. But the reawakening of political consciousness amongst Nigerian youth will push the role of a vibrant national student movement to the fore again.

   Students returning to their campuses after the #EndSARS protests where each and everyone saw each other as a leader will refuse to be led by treacherous leaders in their students’ unions. This does not mean that there would not be a need for leaders in the students’ unions again. Rather, it will mean that Nigerian students will generate a new crop of leaders that will be democratically accountable to them and not the school authorities. It will mean that the tradition of regular Congresses and Students’ Representatives Council will be revived.

    Also, there is great hope that the broken ideological foundation in students’ unionism can be rebuilt if socialist students and activists dedicate systematic effort to it. There is a thirst for political ideas among many participants of the #EndSARS campaign, who are genuinely committed to social and economic justice in Nigeria. This thirst will not be quenched anytime soon in the face of a recession and quasi-military oppression of the people. Socialist students must brace themselves for the roles of political education and organising that the new period has opened up.

      It is important to encourage the rank and file of Nigerian students that the fight to restore student unions on our campuses is not yet lost. Upon resumption of schools, students must return to campuses with a renewed determination to challenge all anti-students policies and with the ultimate goal of reviving the spirit of unionism. Socialist students and activists must equally seize the opportunity to build a new ideological foundation for the student movement, as a precursor to building an alternative national student movement. This may start as a coalition of socialist students, activists or radical and progressive unions and be opposed to NANS corrupt departure from fighting against victimisation of activists, fee hikes, ban of union and re-establishing the cross-campus solidarity known with the NANS of the 70s and 80s.

     This is already taking a concrete shape in Obafemi Awolowo University, a university known for its long-held radical and fighting tradition where the management of the University recently reinstated the Students’ Union of the University, after agitations by students’ activists. The Obafemi Awolowo University Branch of the Movement for A Socialist Alternative will play roles in pushing for a fighting, democratically-run Students’ Union, accountable to the mass of students. This can be an important foundation for reinventing a pan-Nigerian students’ fighting movement in the coming period.