– By Ahmad Muhammad Auwal
Ideally, higher education ought to instil not only knowledge, but moral values on 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 overwhelmed 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, religious intolerance (bigotry) and lots more have affected politics in most parts of the world. This menace has not only affected politics at national and international levels, but also students’ level.
Students’ political activities in campuses of Nigerian universities, polytechnics and colleges of education seem to be creating tension and unrest in the academic environment.
Over the years, vices such as cultism, drug abuse and prostitution were major issues of concern in campuses of higher institutions in Nigerian. Today, students’ political activities on campuses are beginning to take the coloration of politics at the national level and are gradually becoming serious issues to contend with by managements of higher institutions of learning.
Findings reveal that, university systems are in crisis in many parts of Africa. This has been attributed to students’ strife and increasing state violence, which has turned many campuses into battlegrounds. Hundreds of students have died, while many have been seriously injured in campus struggles. The simple fact is that, no meaningful development can take place in a crisis-ridden system as witnessed in Nigeria’s education sector, especially the higher institutions.
Student attitudes have become somewhat more conservative politically. Self-help groups have expanded significantly in campuses. The rebirth of the student political organizations, which were a mainstay of campus life and one of the foci of political concerns, is an indication of the change. Students’ political bodies have been concerned not only with the quality of campus life and with student service enterprises, but also with the representation of students in a wider forum within the university and in some cases in a broader one. The aim of students’ political association is to press for their interests at different levels. Students’ political bodies are mainly concerned with ensuring that students’ interests are respected; these bodies also oppose tuition increases at public universities, argue against restrictions on student rights, and so on.
In 1981, there was crisis in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria where students died and the vice-chancellor of the university dismissed. In 1984, many tertiary institutions rioted over the proposed introduction of tuition fees and the scrapping of catering services. This led to the closure of many universities for months. In 1988, students rioted over the removal of subsidy from petroleum and allied products, which led to the closure of many tertiary institutions for a period of six months. The introduction of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) also generated crisis in many tertiary institutions in Nigeria. In 2003, there was crisis in almost all the tertiary institutions in Nigeria 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 fueled by student union leaders in tertiary institutions. In May 2014, the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) was shut down after a violent demonstration by students because of the tuition hike by the management of the institution. The management attests that the demonstration was led by the student union executives. Also, a student of the same institution (OAU) dragged the management of the university to court over his suspension alongside seven other students during the election into different offices of the student union leaders for violent misconduct during the manifesto of some of the principal officers of the union. A report on this case explains that some of the suspended comrades were disenfranchised during the elections and as a result, they abducted the chairman of the electoral committee during the manifesto.
There was a reported case of violent confrontation between men of the Nigeria Police Force and students of Al-Hikmah University in June, 2014. The vice-chancellor of the university affirms that, the men who claimed to be men of the Police Force came into the school to arrest a female student of the institution and their mission was opposed by some students who insisted that the police men who were in mufti must properly identify themselves and notify the school authorities before taking the female student away and this led to a violent confrontation between the parties.
Students’ crisis is becoming more rampant in the tertiary institutions and the resultant consequence has been to the detriment of the teaching-learning atmosphere. Crisis in tertiary institutions have led to the breakdown of law and order, disturbance of public peace, loss of lives and properties. The effect of student crisis include closure of affected schools; loss of lives and properties among others. Today, students’ militancy in the nation’s tertiary institutions has come to be an issue of serious concern. However, revolts, protests, as well as incessant closure of schools for months in the wake of unrest have become a regular characteristic of tertiary institutions in Nigeria.
There are many students’ bodies with different inclinations and national outreach in Nigeria. These bodies exist with different names in campuses of universities, polytechnics and colleges of education across the country. Notable 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), to mention a few.
The quest for power and recognition by students of tertiary institutions under the platform of these bodies has endangered the stability and peaceful co-existence of tertiary institutions. Today, Students are involved in different kinds of evil practices just to acquire positions in political associations on campuses. There have been reported cases of attacks on students by their political opponents which have resulted to violent conflicts between parties with different interests in campuses. Some students hire thugs and members of cult groups to cause tensions at the point of elections and disrupt the entire process. In some cases, student contestants harass their opponents with death threats, while some kidnap and brutalize those opponents. For this reason, there have been speculations among Nigerians that, one-third of the students who contest to secure positions in students’ political bodies are members of one cultist group or the other; because of the violent nature of the race.
To remedy our institutions from this tragedy and to maintain peace and order in tertiary institutions, there should be sustained cordial relationship between the authorities and students of universities, polytechnics and colleges of education. The involvement of students in decision making processes can serve as an effective strategy for curbing students’ crisis.
Crisis management in schools demands appropriate leadership style. In order to stamp out crisis from schools, there should be effective leadership among school authorities. Greater involvement of students in decision-making processes can reduce campus unrest. Dialogue can be another effective measure of curbing students’ crisis. School authorities should be more democratic and diplomatic in handling students’ affair; the involvement students in decision-making process especially on issues that borders on them can help the situation. The use of police can only worsen crisis situations especially when students are involved.
In addition, tertiary institutions should offer courses on conflict management and resolution, peace education, civic education, good governance, basic and human rights, social justice, respect and the rule of law, and virtues of peace, tolerance, patience and respect for life, among others and students should be mandated to take these courses at specific points of their studies. If the authorities of higher institutions can integrate these into regular courses and across disciplines, not just in social sciences and humanities, all students could have a dose of peace and civic education as well as conflict prevention, management and resolution. It is said, “if nothing is done about anything, things will remain the way they are.” As Edward Albee says, “sometimes it is necessary to go a long distance out of the way (to learn) in order to come a short distance correctly.”
Auwal is a Final-Year student of Mass Communication at Nasarawa State University, Keffi (NSUK), Nasarawa State, Nigeria.