By Ahmad Muhammad Auwal
Ideally, higher education ought to instil not only knowledge, but moral values in students. Accordingly, tertiary institutions are to impart knowledge, critical and analytical skills, appropriate values, norms and attitudes on individuals. The National Policy on Education (2004) highlights the aims of higher education to include: the development of the intellectual capacities of individuals to understand and appreciate their environments; the acquisition of both physical and intellectual skills which will enable individuals to develop into useful members of the community; and the acquisition of an objective view of the local and external environments.
Politics is a social relationship involving the intrigue to gain authority or power. Politics has found its way into almost all facets of human life. In Africa and other parts of the world today, politics is conceived as a “do or die” affair. Sentiments such as ethnicity, tribalism, nepotism and religion have affected politics in most parts of the world. These also influence politics among students, inevitably creating tension, and at times, unrest, on Nigerian campuses. Today, student politics on campuses are taking the coloration of politics in the larger society, and are becoming serious issues to contend with the schools’ authorities. The aim of students’ political association is to press for their interests at different levels.
Regrettably, politics has turned many of our campuses to battlegrounds on which students get injured or even killed. Hundreds of students have died, while many have been seriously injured in campus struggles. This dates back in history. In 1981, a students’ crisis in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria Kaduna State saw a number of fatalities and the vice-chancellor of the university dismissed. In 1984, many tertiary institutions rioted over the proposed introduction of tuition and the scrapping of catering services. This led to the closure of many universities for months. During the military era, the introduction of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) also generated crises in many tertiary institutions in Nigeria.
There have been other crises too on our campuses since the return to democracy in 1999, especially as a result of increase in the prices of petroleum products. Recently, there were reported cases of violent demonstrations alleged to be kick-started and fuelled by student union leaders in tertiary institutions. In May 2014, the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) was shut down after a violent demonstration by students over a hike in tuition.
There was a reported case of violent confrontation between men of the Nigeria Police and students of Al-Hikmah University in June, 2014. The vice-chancellor of the university was reported to have said that the men who claimed to be policemen came into the school to arrest a female student, a mission opposed by some students who insisted that the policemen, who were in mufti, must properly identify themselves and notify the school authorities before taking the female student away.
To the detriment of the teaching-learning atmosphere, students’ crisis is a constant feature of tertiary institutions in Nigeria. There are many student bodies with different inclinations and national outreach in Nigerian and African campuses. Prominent among them are the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), All-Africa Students Union (AASU) also known as Union Pan-Africane Des Etudiants, in French, the West African Students Union (WASU) and Student Union Governments (SUGs).
The quest for power or recognition by students of tertiary institutions under these platforms and others often endanger the stability and peaceful co-existence of tertiary institutions. Today, Students are involved in hitherto unheard of evil practices just to gain power on campuses, including sending death threats and visiting violent attacks on their political opponents using hired thugs and cultists to cause tensions or disrupt election on polling day. For these reasons, some believe that one-third of the students who run for political offices on Nigerian campuses belong to cult groups.
A sustained cordial relationship between the school authorities and students is imperative, if we are to change this crisis situation on our campuses. The involvement of students in decision making processes can serve as an effective strategy for curbing students’ crisis. In order to stamp out crisis from schools, there should be effective leadership on our campuses.
Dialogue can be another effective measure of curbing students’ crisis. School authorities should be more democratic, and diplomatic, in handling students’ affair. The use of the Police can only aggravate crisis situations, especially when students are involved. Also, tertiary institutions should offer compulsory courses in conflict management and resolution, peace education, civic education, good governance, human rights, the rule of law, and virtues of peace, tolerance, patience and respect for life, among others, for all students, regardless of the field of stody.
Auwal is a Final-Year student of Mass Communication at Nasarawa State University, Keffi (NSUK), Nasarawa State, Nigeria