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OAU: Can Unionism and Politics Walk Together


Doyinsola Olagunju

“Let the Unions become engines for the working people to right their wrongs. Not benefit societies, or burial clubs. Let the Unions become civilian regiments to fight in the cause of the people” – Richard Llewelyn

Over the years, I have fallen in love with how big businesses are built and maintained. Growing up reading business magazines like Fortune and Forbes, my thoughts and passions for the Corporate world has been shaped. Howbeit, it was in my explorative studies on companies that I ran across useful knowledge on how to ‘brand’ one’s business. You see, in the business world, priority is placed on ‘branding’. You simply cannot achieve long lasting success if you do know, or seem to forget specifically why your company was built.

In essence, the primary purpose for which a company was built must always rest in the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) left hand. Let’s take a cursory look around. A company like Nike is for great sports apparels, Apple for edgy technological products, Wal-Mart for all kinds of daily needs at the lowest prices available.

In studying companies, I have also realised that not only corporations, but indeed institutions that desire longevity must also be ‘branded’. It is clear that all institutions must have their purposes clearly spelt out.

In similar vein,  A Union-which is an institution, must also learn and relearn for what single purpose it was created. Failure to have good knowledge of this spells nothing but disaster. If a union must know for what reasons it stands, the question then will be, for what purposes did our founding fathers deem us fit for a Union? Or better still, for what reason was our Union built? Is it just for Union leaders to occupy medical floors in halls of residences? Is it solely for the Union leadership to take over the fixing of toilets and the erection of boreholes when the University management and the Ministry of Education are found wanting in their duties? Is it just for the purpose of chanting Aluta songs and blocking major highways when demands are not met? Or maybe our Union is simply to segregate between Influential cum politically conscious students and average ones who have nothing more to do in the University environs than to ‘Jack’ and commit to churches. Please forgive my numerous questions, but, you see, it is until we critically delineate and decipher for what purposes our Union was created that we can then seek to pursue its growth vigorously.

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If I were to give my two cents on what a Union is, I would say that in simple terms, it is nothing more than a group of persons, in this case, students coming together to arm themselves with the needed voice to cry out in the face of perceived oppression or anomalies. After all, history is replete with Student Unions and their upstanding in the face of oppressive and anomalous circumstances. *The Alli Must Go Struggle of 1978 is an example that readily comes to mind.

Now, if traditionally coupled with historically Unions are to stand up and indeed Unions have stood up in the face of ‘perceived oppression or anomalies’, the question then will be, is our Union doing such? I mean, is the ’21st Century Union’ doing such? Has our Student Union in this day and age remained true and true Unions or have they become Union governments? Simply, has the united front needed in struggles been bogged down by the infusion of sentiments and politicking? Has political permutations, ‘chop and clean mouth’, and cementing political hegemony replaced the hitherto ideological framework and Utilitarian model of a Union? Well, your guess is as good as mine. Yes, the latter has replaced the former. Yes, Unionism has descended into the arena and amphitheater of politics, and yes, interest- The chase for power, money, comfort and the likes – has become the main motive of the individuals in this Union of ours.

However, rather than apportion blames with reckless abandon, my opinion is that the way forward from this quagmire would be for us would be to critically assess the situation at hand, determine for ourselves the level at which politics has so taken root in our Union, and then begin to take the necessary steps to reduce the influence of this element called politics. First, let’s start with the reasons for political intrusion. They include:

A.) MONEY: Make no mistake, the love of money is the real root of all evil. Certainly, you do not expect people to remain sane or rational when a whooping N9 million Naira is been handed our Union on a sessional basis. At the sight of money, the Union polity definitely gets heated up. The management increased our Union dues as at the last fee hike, thus killing two birds with one masterstroke. The much talked about bus purchased by Dr. Ibk was funded by a N3 million Naira backlog paid to the Union (Note the word backlog).  Certainly, there can be no peace with more and more money in the system. It is my contention that Union dues be reduced to the barest minimum possible (maybe N30). It is only in light of this that Union leaders can be clear headed enough to face the huge task before them. Have we even ever stopped to wonder why Corruption anywhere in the world is hinged on public procurement? It is because, it is when you send a man to procure an item from the market that cases of ‘price padding’ suddenly springs up. Essentially, how many things do a Union need to procure anyway?

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B.) BED SPACE: The limited bed spaces in the University halls of residence has only necessitated more and more politicking in the system. What limited bed spaces have amounted to is that Unionism has become a modus operandi for getting bed spaces. On top of that, there is the intense politicking that comes with getting Medical floors. Surely, intense politics has no other option but to encroach and thrive in such a system. A system built on survival! It is very evident that Union leaders will keep misplacing their priorities so long as objective views are coloured by the rays of bed spaces. It is in light of this that the general student populace, led by visionary Union leaders must demand for the erection of more Undergraduate Halls of residence. The harder getting bed spaces get, the bigger politics holds as a stake in our Union.

C.) EXCESSIVE COMFORT: Welcome to 2017, where the offices of our Union leaders have become laced with Freezers, Air-Conditioners and Flat Screen TVs! Places that should have books written all over them! Now, give me one valid reason why the politics in this Union wouldn’t be so toxic. In furnishing our Union officers with so much privilege,  we not only run the risk of politicising the system, we also run the risk of alienating Union leaders and making them forget  the about groanings of the mass of students. It takes simple human logic to understand that once you isolate the leader in opulence and luxury, amnesia serves him right as regards the pain experienced by the mass of students. Tell me how a Union  President who habitats in an Air-Conditioned office and resides in the ‘Block 8’ of Awo, can truly really feel and understand the pains of  hellish living conditions in in the same ‘Awo’- this time Block 2. If this Union will succeed, the comfort attached to leadership must be checked, hence ‘politically minded and populace detached leaders’ will spring up like weeds.

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In essence, above is a few of the necessitating factors of politics in our Union. Like I earlier opined, apportioning blames won’t restore normalcy. The solution is for the general student populace, again led by visionary leaders, to look at this  purveyors of politics, and to effectively do away with them. You see, it is my opinion, that even if the biblical Moses is brought to this clime and made to lead in these same circumstances, the journey to the promised land would be near impossible. Indeed, I agree that a society cannot exist devoid of all forms of politics. Political scientists even posit that politics is present in clusters as small as family units, but then, that which we should seek is issues based politics- that which essentially concerns itself with the various approaches to which we can tackle a particular situation, and not interest based politics- that which according to Harold Lasswell, is only concerned about who gets what, when and how in our Union.

Doyinsola Olagunju is a Parliamentarian,  OAU Student Union, Representing Faculty of Law