The dawn is back upon us; that time of the session when our campus echoes the beats of political drums. But let’s ignore the smaller battles for a moment and focus on the centre. The Students’ Union comprises the elected representatives of the student populace whose best interests they are expected to reflect at all times. As they obtain this responsibility for a chosen term, they are not allowed to bear it forever. Thus, at some time, each representative must leave. And it is the Akeju-led administration’s time to leave.
THE ELECTORAL COMMITTEE
The electoral committee is, asides from the body language of aspiring politicians, one of the foremost signs of an election. For the UI Students’ Union, that sign has been created. Its establishment is guaranteed under the articles of the Union’s Constitution, and its start is signalled by the issuance of letters from the Student Affairs Unit. In the present case, sources within the administration confirmed that the Unit distributed letters to faculty and hall constituencies. These letters requested the nomination of candidates to the committee. For every constituency, there is a single representative with electoral responsibilities.
THE STRUCTURE OF THE ELECTORAL COMMITTEE
The Students’ Union constitution provides for the establishment of the electoral body under the supervision of the Deputy Registrar. Telephone conversations with some members of the committee indicated that it is divided into six sub-committees namely: Welfare, Budget, Security, Screening, Logistics, and Publicity committees. While there is no particular student head second-in-command to the Deputy Registrar, these sub-units operate under their individual leads.
The activities of the committee since its creation have largely remained obscure. However, a conversation with the President of the Union, Mr. Akeju G. Oluwasegun revealed that it had convened a number of times. Their meetings have also entailed the discussion of other pertinent activities, of which members spoken to insisted they could not disclose. Mr. Ibrahim Okeyode, the representative from Lord Tedder Hall and Head of the Screening Committee, expects to see a spike in meetings in the coming weeks. This implies a rise in intensity.
ISSUES AROUND THE ELECTORAL COMMITTEE
The Deputy Registrar and Student Leadership
It is an iteration of the obvious to state that the coming election is a matter for the student populace. From preparation down to the actualisation stage, students, whom the election concerns, are capable of managing affairs. However, the presence of the Deputy Registrar on the committee suggests an unnerving message. First, to students who are already wary of the management’s history of keeping the union on a short leash, the registrar’s involvement may symbolise a planting of its stake in the election.
Secondly, it engenders the question of managerial doubt in students’ ability to expertly handle electoral affairs. Whichever one it may be or is absolutely not, a supervision of the election in this manner injects an unsettling mien. Despite these, however, we cannot be so blinded as to omit the likely benefits. The presence of an authority figure on the committee can prevent electoral intrigues within the body.
Where the registrar actively supervises the goings-on, conflicts can be minimised and strategies smoothed to ensure success. In the opinion of the Speaker of the Students Representative Chamber, Rt. Hon. Omitoyin Feranmi, the registrar’s presence is only to guide the students. The bulk of the work is actually done by the subcommittees. This view was echoed by committee members who were interviewed separately.
In sum, it would be better to have a student head for the electoral committee, while the Deputy Registrar serves in an advisory role. Of course, this would require a review of the Students’ Union constitution, and perhaps, we would have that discussion someday soon.
A Potential Air of Mystery?
In the process of conversations with various representatives, there was a common tilt towards reluctance. While it is understood that a convention in public offices is to refrain from stating certain particulars, the demeanours of respondents were unnecessarily restrained. In one instance, there was a request to delay inquiries for an approximate period of 24 hours.
This guardedness in matters that affect the general body of students is never the best option, especially when facts requested are totally harmless. It is therefore important for student-politicians to understand the dynamics of information disclosure in serving those they represent. Moreover, secrecy should not be carelessly invoked. It is more than a tool for politicians to think themselves fashionable.
Now, a question which may be lingering on your mind as a reader is why you never heard of the constitution of the electoral committee, immediately or a few hours after its constitution. When was the committee created and why did you not know? Our discussion with the President of the Union, Mr. Akeju Oluwasegun revealed that the formation of the body was at the instance of the Students Affairs Unit. Call-ups for representatives were coordinated by the unit, making direct publicity unlikely. When asked about a notification of the Union of Campus Journalists, Mr. Akeju intimated that there is no legal obligation to do so.
The fortunate aspect of the membership of the electoral committee is its nationality. Its members are young Nigerians, who it can be supposed, are aware of the general political culture. Such awareness can only be expected to guide their interaction with members of the electorate in the best manner possible. For if truly we are nation builders, youth activities today will tell on future performances in leadership.
Then, the committee, the Union, and all other bodies that are connected to the process must pursue the most appealing standards of practice. Their role entails an engagement with the grassroots and anything that contradicts this invokes a generally poor impression, and even distrust. Therefore, if the current body of regulators desires to stand out, transparency will be essential.
Maybe a Little Trust
No doubt, supervision of the electioneering process is crucial to its success. While the kingmakers may have been appointed to check subpar candidates, they are not infallible. Yet, the management must discard its long-implied view of unionism as a haven for mischief. Instead, it must embrace the ideal case that the union is a ground which tests the mettle of young leaders.
This acceptance imposes an observer role on the administration. Rather than assume offices which, to all intents and purposes, make them active participants, they can operate in less conspicuous circles. And were we to examine the argument that the Registrar in practice allows the committee a free rein in its work, it holds no water for two reasons:
First is the fact that this attitude is subject to change. That the managerial head now does not directly engage does not mean it cannot be done later. In terms of guarantees, little exists on the consistency of the management’s attitude. Second is the fact that there is no dictate in the constitution that precisely outlines the registrar’s role. In other words, we can only argue on conjecture.
If the management, who function in loco parentis, do not trust students to properly handle their affairs, how then can the society, with its distant connection, do so?
NOW THAT THE BAN HAS BEEN LIFTED
The past 24 hours have changed the trajectory of affairs on the University of Ibadan campus. While the disclosure of the activities of the Students’ Union Week hinted at the eventual drawing of the curtain on the Akeju-led administration, nothing has brought this reality as close to the student populace as the lifting of the ban on electioneering activities. The veil has been unshrouded, and now the student populace must acquaint itself with some fundamental truths.
Dear Electorate, Power Lies In Your Quarters; Wield It Wisely
Year-in, year-out, the occasion arises when the most powerful of all parties in governance swings to action. It is that time again, when the votes of students at the University of Ibadan will shape student unionism and administration for the next twelve months, or more than. Electioneering activities will always be electioneering activities. There will be unending broadcast messages, a seeming increase in political awareness, alignments, hall alliances, campaigns, and whatnot. In all of these, do not be carried away by the jamboree. Your hall’s alliance should not define your vote, except for cases where such an alliance tallies with your personal convictions.
Dear electorate, you cannot and should not get tired of broadcast messages. Get familiar with the aspirants and their plans. Attend the speech night; listen to the plans they have for you, and let that guide your voting decision. You may be quick to hold Buhari accountable for your woes as a Nigerian, but how much do you contribute in your own quarters to ensuring that the finest (not in physical attributes) crop of leaders are elected to office? Elections should not be determined by shallow decisions such as “he approached me first”, “she is very beautiful and humble”, “she is from my faculty”, “she is from my hall of residence”, and whatnot. These should not define your vote, because they cannot define the performance of elected leaders.
You must come to the realisation of how much power you wield; with you lies the ability to determine the leaders of over 30, 000 students. How solid, fair, and right will your decision be? Will you hold thousands of people to ransom because you chose to align with unfounded thoughts in your decision-making process? You must also understand how sacred your vote is.
Your vote is yours; no other person should be privy to it, whether in the guise of helping you log on to the voting portal, or sharing their hotspot with you.
While there is no clear-cut statement in the constitution that ascribes voter education to the electoral committee, the said committee must understand that voter education forms a fundamental part of its function. It would be innovative and likewise an improvement on past electioneering activities if the committee saddled itself with educating the voters via periodically shared content – video, text, or image.
What Shall We Say of these Metrics?
Kudos to the electoral committee for releasing the benchmark requirements for aspirants to various offices, few hours after lifting the ban on electioneering activities. However, the metrics beg some questions. First is the choice of the 3.0/4.0 academic benchmark. This is 2021, and there are indications, now more than ever, that academic hardly always define intellectual prowess or leadership potential. It is high time we looked beyond an academic criterion in selecting our leaders. Focus should be placed on drafting parameters that would help gauge the leadership potential of to-be leaders. More so, why is there a difference between the academic requirement for the Students’ Representative Council and the Union’s Executive Council? If academic records are tantamount to leadership potential, does that mean a lower level of leadership potential is required for the Representative Council, as compared to the Executive Council? These metrics are a dint in the requirements released by the committee, and reconsideration would serve to the benefit of the student populace – a body that is larger than us all, first, second, third, and independent estates alike.
As the clock ticks and the tension heightens, we must understand, as a student body, that what we do at this level plays a huge role in defining what we become in the future, what becomes of student unionism years after we all might have graduated, and what this country will be like in years to come. The university system is a microscopic display of the happenings at the national level, and this is a level playing ground where excellent leaders, or otherwise, are bred. What you do, matters. Who you vote for, based on whatever metrics you choose to judge them by, matters. The promises you make, matter and will matter. Your motives and driving force, matter. As you go about the activities of the coming weeks, remember these things, and act to the benefit of the student populace; the people whom you serve. For on the morrow, what shall history say of you?