Alternative grievance resolution: Redefining the concept of campus a luta
It is a fact that man runs mad after having too much dose from the gourd of power. Oh how wonderful it would be if he only runs mad. But no! He also runs after the bliss of others for the madness thrills him so, and only he must have a taste of it. He knows full well that to graduate in madness, the sanity of others is a threat; and to broaden his highway of power, walls of liberty must be crushed.
It is a fact that when man beholds the sight of power through the grip of other’s liberty, he shall not be talked out of it except with a decree from the world unseen. Either for the fear of ‘retrogression’ or for the protection of his albatross-like ego, he will not voluntarily let go of this grip. And it is because of this that struggle, alias a luta, is inevitable. I’m not sure this reality has been better captured by any other than Malcolm X who said, ‘nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it’. For the record, Thomas Jefferson also remarked once that ‘the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is the natural manure.’
‘Struggling’ for the attainment of freedom has taken several shapes over time – protests, rallies, riots, assassinations or even outright revolutions. History blesses us with more than enough examples, ranging from the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom to the Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989, from the Soweto uprising of 1976 to the 2011 Occupy Wall Street Protests. Back home, we also have such demonstrations as the Aba Women Riot of 1929, the 1960 Rally against the Anglo-Nigerian Defence Pact, the Ali Must Go protests of 1978 and of course the 2012 Occupy Nigeria Movement.
Many have debated the efficacy of protests generally. Some say they are unnecessary, that they wreak more havoc than they bring advantages. Some even assert that they are ungodly. This they say is because of the divinity of kings. God has chosen our rulers for us and we must submit to them just as a wife must to her husband. What we can do is call them privately and talk gently to them, or look inward to effect a change through our own lives. Besides, are the rulers not an inseparable reflection of the people?
Well, as lip-smacking as this moot point is, it is not my instant concern. The focus of my pen at the moment is to suggest improvements and replacements for the hackneyed methods we are used to, especially on Nigerian campuses. This is in the light of recent developments in places such as University of Ibadan, University of Lagos, University of Port-Harcourt amongst others. The school administrators have now become analogous to the proverbial bird which has learnt to fly without perching because the hunters also have learnt to shoot without missing.
The failure and inadequacy of the presently popular approach to unionism is too obvious to deserve illustrating. The approach mostly is no different from a man trying to spit on the Sun. No doubt, the more he tries, the more saturated he becomes for his sputum has just about enough fuel to get it back home. The best way to describe it is thus activity without correlative productivity such as characterises the merry-go-round which provides a thrilling sensation but only ends where it started, on and on and on. I am sure even Sisyphus would have a good laugh if told about the Nigerian student who has been clamouring for just about the same things (water, power, reduced fees, improved conditions of learning etc.) since the first republic.
The time has come for the iris to dilate and let in more light. The time has come to ferment new wine for our new bottle. And the hour is beyond ripened for a revised edition of the means of grievance resonations and remonstrations. Do our ‘foresires’ not affirm that when the music changes, the dance also must? And is it not true that the biggest room anywhere in the world has always been the room for improvement? On this, app developers who know their onions will never differ.
It is painful to observe that many student unions lack the basic tools needed for a successful protest. They call congresses of more than a thousand students in attendance, yet they use cheap megaphones with worn out batteries for public address. At the end of the day, the student leaders end up speaking to themselves and most students, during the eventual protest, will be unable to highlight the hard facts or the basic premise even. This is wrong. Solid, sound and standard public address systems have to be acquired, if for nothing else, for the purpose of protests. It will not only aid mobilisation and communication but understanding too.
Also, I have found that 21st century student unionism is yet to grow beyond 20th century technological reality. We easily accuse our parents and lecturers of being old school and conservative, but how different are ourselves in the things that actually matter? Protests today are mostly about raising dust, beating drums and shouting eloquently to the high heavens. We are yet to really understand and fully utilise the potentialities of the social media as well as similar channels. The struggles always start and end within the four walls of school premises, except perhaps someone dies and it reaches the desk of a judge. This is not good for student welfarism.
The Bring Back Our Girls campaign showed us in HD how much something as small as a hash tag can help a campaign and put the government on its toes. The 2014 arrest of Mr. Yusuf Onimisi (@Ciaxon) by the SSS also comes to my vivid recollection. Mr. Yusuf, who tweeted photos of a jail break, was arrested and detained. But with non-stop clamours on the social media for his release and protests (planned through Twitter et al), the police was forced to free him 11 days later. There is another case too of an activist who was able to tweet of his arrest just in time, thus enabling the wind of the internet to blow open the anus of his accosters. Hence, the power of the media should never ever be underestimated.
Aside focusing on the social media and co-ordinating activities therein, union leaders need to establish a close rapport with journalists and media houses. They should not allow the authorities alone to have a monopoly over the gadgets of propaganda. Both sides must be able to effectively tell their sides of the story. Student Union leaders should, as a matter of urgency, make sure they have an organ for propaganda (the good side of it) and publicity.
However, the inherent powers of Facebook and Twitter nonetheless, they should not be the very first resort. Their instrumentality should be reserved in the arsenal. And just as you would not go to the school principal whenever your pencil is stolen, it is not in all cases you run to the people’s court for justice. The world is too busy to attend to trivialities.
Having talked about the new media, we also must not forget the print media. And the reason for this is simple – not everyone is online at most times, not everyone will come across your struggle on the internet and not everyone in fact has enough patience to want to know what are the goings-on in your school. So print those fliers. They do not have to be colourful. They just need to be simple, factual and free from grammatical blunders. I repeat, free from grammatical errors, because the less knowledgeable you present yourself; the less likely knowledgeable persons would embrace your cause. Get the fliers out therefore and do not just trek from the Students’ Union Building to the State Secretariat shouting. Incite empathy by enlightening passer-by and road users in the process.
Similarly, protesting students need to also learn the crucial role placards and banners play in a public demonstration. They tell the world the demands of the aggrieved persons, and just like tweets, they do so epigrammatically. Pictures which go viral on the media will never carry with them the ‘greatest gbagba’ and ‘greatest gbogbo’ of the Students’ Union President. But with placards, they carry even more. Rather than use this simple tool, what university students today prefer to wield are sticks of varying lengths. Even NASU members are not immune from this oddity. As a result, protests by intellectuals become indiscernible from a typical Eyo Festival.
This brings me to another issue which must be addressed: the fear students nurse against taking of pictures during protests. Often time, students and journalists who try to do this get harassed and have their devices either seized or smashed. It is my humble submission that this is a demonstration of cluelessness, especially when the protesters are enormous in count and the mode is reasonable. Unless, you have got something to hide, there is no need to be aggressive towards the cameras. In fact, if well utilised, the cameras would promote the struggle beyond expectation. If you are afraid of being associated with a protest, then you have no business calling yourself an activist or complaining when things are not in order.
Additionally, there are certain aspects of foreign cultures which may be useful locally to echo our grievances. One of such cultures is that of the colour revolutions of former Soviet Union which generally adopted a specific colour or flower as their symbol. There was also the 1986 Yellow Revolution in Philippines, the Purple Revolution in Iraq, the 2006 Jeans Revolution in Belarus etc. So it is not only during rallies for hall weeks and union programmes that we must be concerned about chromatic uniformity. It can be useful during protests too. The whole idea to is make some silent noise.
Boycotting some activities, especially lectures, is equally a great way to grab attention. The hurdle here however is that students often lack a unity of purpose and a unity of action. When a leader says ‘do not attend lectures’, we will have some, in fact many, who would go, sign the attendance, sit for the test and put the remaining into trouble. This apathy has been attributed in some quarters to the fact that the majority of undergraduates nowadays are timid teenagers who may pee in their underpants should they hear of trouble.
We might also consider importing the art of hunger strike but everyone knows this one is dead on arrival. Our leaders will simply go on with their business as though nothing is happening. If you die, not only will your closest friends join the ‘enemy’ to blame you, the law will fold its hands if not even wave you goodbye. I recently heard though that a student of UI has attempted this not only herculean but sisyphean feat in the past. My source told me others later joined him after they realised he was serious. But then, I still have my doubts. Something tells me the chap was nibbling at some viands when nobody cared to look. In any case, he tried.
Well, well. I take a glance through the pages and I just realised how bored you must now be. If you have endured with my flight of thoughts till this moment, do accept my sincere thanks. I shall sign off by saying protests must never be seen as an end in themselves. They are merely a means to an end. They are tools for a people with lesser strength to jack up their bargaining power and get them to the roundtable. In this sense, you may liken them to shoulder pads. Students should thus approach them with all sense of civility and open-mindedness. They should also never be caught on the wrong side of reason or seen making outrageous demands. Only then can perpetual victoria be certain.
• Adebajo, a law student of the University of Ibadan, is a member of Union of Campus Journalists, firstname.lastname@example.org (08177006861)