By: John ‘Dare Okafor
The Literary and Debating Society (TLDS), is the central literary and debating organ of that serves University of Ibadan students. Technically, all faculties and halls of residence that have a literary and debating society operate under its body. According to the University of Ibadan Student’s Handbook, every student is a member of the TLDS. This means that over 10, 000 individuals are stakeholders in this society, thus having a legitimate interest in the effective and successful running of the Society.
At the heart of the Society’s operations is Jaw War — one of the most anticipated events at the University of Ibadan. It is a sessional inter-hall and inter-faculty debate competition that is reported to have an audience of over 5, 000 people and about 100 speakers every year. This shows the magnitude of this event. The average University of Ibadan student knows that so much efforts go into the preparation for Jaw War.
The Ayeni Otito-Jesu-run administration is one of the longest administrations the Society has seen. Furthermore, it is one of the administrations that have witnessed the longest chain of controversies and ruffles. The smoke that drifts into the sky is, because there is a fire burning. There’s a thick smoke surrounding this year’s Jaw War, one that has seen Bello Hall pull out of the competition. This smoke is visible to all students, but there is a fire burning – the source of this smoke. This fire, many do not know about.
Seeing as the Society has every UIte as its member, it became essential to look into what led to the burning fire. Recent events such as the selection of judges; the grading system; a recalculation of computed results; a hall’s withdrawal from the competition; and the concerns surrounding the Society’s credibility fuelled the interest of this reporter in the Otito-Jesu-led TLDS
For every UIte that has asked: “is this Jaw War still our Jaw War?” out of justified concerns for the events surrounding this year’s Jaw War, the details in the succeeding paragraphs will give you insights into what has been happening.
THE TLDS SENATE: OF NAÏVE SENATORS AND THE RESULTANT EFFECTS OF THEIR NAIVETY
Under the umbrella body of TLDS UI, there are 25 constituencies represented by 25 senators. The TLDS Senate primarily functions as the legislative body of the society – helping in the decision-making process and serving as a check on the powers of the executive council. As the saying goes, power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely; this is the very reason senators representing their constituency have to be functional in checking the powers of the executive body. Unfortunately, this has not been the turn of things as subsequent events surrounding the TLDS have proved that senators know little or nothing as regards decision-making process of the Society.
In the words of a senator who chose anonymity, “Now, I don’t know how other administrations have been, but from what I have heard, the Senate always has enough power to influence things in previous administrations. However, this administration has been distinct; they only run decisions by us. For instance, a decision may be made and they will just come and inform us that this is the decision that has been made and that’s just it. It’s not as if they are asking for our opinions and when they do ask for our opinions, it’s not as if it can really change anything they’ve decided upon.’’
From this statement, it is quite obvious that this senator and others in this administration are ignorant of the power in their arsenal to serve as a check on the activities of the executive body of the Society, and the executive body is having a great ride on such naivety.
Senators are custodians of the law, and the single most comprehensive document that states the laws of any one organised society is the Constitution. It is therefore shocking that a good number of the TLDS Senators do not possess the TLDS Constitution. Beyond this, some of them do not even see reasons why they should possess the Constitution. This further brings to light issues surrounding how the senators have reacted to the happenings in the Society. There is little to wonder about that the TLDS Senate has not been cohesive in its duty of checking the powers of the executive council and also taking an active part in the decision-making process of the Society, seeing as many senators do not possess the Society’s Constitution. This reporter reached out to seven senators – Paul Umeh, Titus Adekunle, Chiziterem Ogbonna, Chidera Anushiem, Lord’s-favour Olajesu, Moses Olanrewaju, including the Vice-President of TLDS UI – Omotayo Adenugba – requesting for the constitution governing the society, they all claimed not to have it. Moses Olanrewaju responded as to the reasons why he doesn’t have the constitution, saying, “First, I have asked the excos in my circle and no one has it. It doesn’t come with the office. I would prefer you go to your constituency senator; you should be asking him for his copy.’’
When the instance of the TLDS Constitution’s scarcity was relayed to an erstwhile President of the Society, Mr. Sadiq Gbenga, alongside a question as to whether the TLDS Constitution is a document every TLDS Senator should have, he said: “I find that interesting. The society has a lot of work to do in order to preserve institutional memory, however, one cannot take the responsibility away from Senators to be informed about a society they not only belong to, but are an integral part of its decision making.’’
The current President of the TLDS was also asked the same question as to if the constitution is a document every Senator should have. According to him, it’s the responsibility of anyone who does not have the constitution to get the constitution as it’s a document available for whosoever needs it, either in soft or hard copy. “So, if any Senator says they do not have a copy of the constitution, it’s because they did not make any effort to try to get it’’, he concluded.
OF JUDGES’ CONFRENCE
Article 5, Section 2 of the TLDS constitution states: The Senators will be in charge of selection of Judges. Furthermore, Article 5, Section 6 states: Every constituency shall nominate judges for Jaw War.
The reader shall recall that one of the major bones of contention that led to Bello Hall’s decision to not continue in the War this year was the organisation of a Judges’ Conference in the absence of the TLDS Senate. Bello Hall’s notice of withdrawal partly reads: “Further, it is rather surprising that the TLDS (The Literary and Debating Society) held a Judges Conference without Senators (LnD heads) in attendance as customary, eliminating every chance to vet the calibre of judges enlisted for this year’s Jaw War and this was an opportunity for our society in particular to engage the judges on what they consider the best practices in public speaking’’.
Does the Constitution explicitly state that Senators should attend the Judges’ Conference? No. However, there are two clear dictates of the Constitution that were not followed in the selection of this year’s judges. One, the TLDS Senators were only informed of the selected judges; they were not in charge of the selection of judges. Two, every constituency did not nominate judges for this year’s Jaw War.
The 2018 administration of Sadik Gbenga introduced the policy of Judges Conference. When Mr. Gbenga was reached out to as regards what the policy is about and if it’s a part of the policy that Senators are invited whenever the conference is held, he said: “No. That was not the design for the conference of judges. We wanted to give judges a platform to familiarise themselves with the guidelines and scoring criteria, and develop uniform definitions for each criterion. We thought at the time that having Senators present at the conference would interfere with the process that was designed exclusively for judges. As President, I was the only participant of the conference that was not a judge and I was only there to answer whatever questions the judges might have about the competition. The chief judge led the conference and guided the judges with experience.’’
Where then did Bello’s grievance stem from? In speaking to Mr. Dara Olaniyan, Otito-Jesu Ayeni’s immediate predecessor, the Judges’ Conference for Jaw War 2019 had senators in attendance. When Mr. Gbenga was informed about this development and asked if he would recommend including Senators during the Judges’ Conference for succeeding administrations, he said, “well, I do not know what the thought behind that action was, so I cannot exactly comment on it. But as I have stated earlier, we had very good justification for not having Senators present at the conference. None of the Senators that served with me opposed the idea at the time either. So, to answer your question more directly, no, I would not recommend having Senators present at the Judges conference.’’
Asked if it’s part of the policy to include Senators in the Judges’ Conference, Mr. Dara Olaniyan said, “No. Like you mentioned, the Judges conference is a recent innovation. There were no strict guidelines as to how it should be done, neither was it a compulsory part of the TLDS’ routine. I appreciated the idea from Sadik’s administration and noted that a major drawback it suffered was that Senators weren’t involved, so I remedied that during my tenure.” He was further asked if the inclusion of Senators would be something he would recommend to succeeding administrations, and here is his reply: “from my point of view, yes. Though, I also believe every president should do what they believe is best for the society at the time. The goal is a better competition.”
When Mr. Sadik was asked if there were any major drawbacks during his administration resulting from the non-inclusion of Senators during the Judges conference of his time, he replied “All the Senators were comfortable with it. I do not recall anyone who objected to not having senators present at the conferences of Judges. Our administration had many drawbacks, but I cannot recall any of them being a result of not having Senators at the conference.’’
In reaction to the absence of senators at the Judges’ Conference, the TLDS President, Otito-Jesu Ayeni, said, “There’s no provision of the constitution that says that Senators must be a part of the Judges’ Conference.’’ He further said that he served under the administration that brought in the policy of the Judges’ Conference and he understood why Senators were excluded in the first place and that’s why he followed suit. On the selection of judges, Mr. President said getting judges to be committed to Jaw War has been a major challenge hence the diversity in this year’s selection process which is based on credibility, experience, and availability. “After this, I called for the ratification of Judges List and no one objected to the Judges after presenting the list. Hence, no Senator can claim not to have a foreknowledge of those that would be judging the competition.’’
Although the selection of this year’s judges did not follow the full dictates of the TLDS Constitution, the body vested with the power to put the President and the Executive Council in check did not do so – inaction that could be tied to their non-possession of the one document that could have spurred them to act. So it was the case of a party having the Constitution, and knowingly or unknowingly going against its dictates. And then there is the other party, unaware of the dictates of the Constitution and thus unable to act accordingly.
It has therefore been established that while the inclusion of senators as attendees of the Judges’ Conference might be encouraged, it is not mandatory and is still subject to the discretion of the executive council. Thus, the Otito-Jeus administration did not err on that path. Nonetheless, there were two gross violations of the Constitution: not subjecting the nomination and selection of judges to the Senate.
THE GRADING SYSTEM
The sea was still at peace for this administration until the notice of withdrawal of the Sultan Bello Hall Literary and Debating Society from Jaw War 21. According to them, this was in light of their undeserving defeat at the opening ceremony. In their statement, “…there is no logic to explain why the President of TLDS decided to exclude logic from the score sheet without running it by the senators for voting as it is customary. When our constituency approached him for explanation, he claimed to replace “logic’’ with ‘’persuasion’’, based on his theory that persuasion is core in debating. Mr. President seems to forget that persuasion is how well your logic convinces the audience even if it’s invalid, half- baked or outright illogical.’’
During this administration’s Judges’ Conference, the judging modalities were stated as follows: Content and Facts (30 marks), Delivery (20 marks), Appearance (5 marks), Time Management (5 marks), Persuasiveness (20marks), Structure and Organisation (10 marks), Refutation (10 marks). What makes these modalities distinct is the exclusion of logic as a category on its own, as it was subsumed under persuasiveness.
Upon investigation into the reaction of Senators as regards the judging modalities, Chiziterem Ogbonna, representing Nnamdi Azikiwe, said, “I’m not sure of how much is accorded to all categories. But I do know that ‘’persuasiveness’’ as a category is accorded 20 marks, and I feel that may be a lot for a category that is quite vague’’. On his part, Mubarak Lawal, representing Faculty of Technology, said, “We hoped to be at the Judges’ Conference but when it held without us, Senators didn’t object as it was really close to Jaw War and most Senators were focused on their constituencies.’’
Paul Umeh, representing Independence Hall, said, “I had personal conversations with the TLDS president and vice president on separate occasions about the judging criteria and the president explained that logic would be considered as persuasiveness. I also felt that we would have properly addressed it during the Judges’ Conference, but for some reasons, senators were not invited to the conference this year.’’ Upon further enquiry on the reasons, he said, “I have no idea. We were assured that this year’s competition was dedicated to quality control and focus on the intellectual aspect of the competition. I can’t speak for others but I trusted the TLDS to deliver on that promise.’’
In an interview with the Union of Campus Journalists, the TLDS President explained that “Logic is not separate from persuasiveness because logic is a way of persuading your listeners. Persuasiveness include logic, analogy, aphorisms and syllogisms. Another component that make persuasiveness sweet is punchline too, it’s one thing to have content and fact and it is another thing to drive home that fact in a way that convinces.’’
Thus, while the presence of TLDS Senators is not mandated at the Judges’ Conference, and while we cannot fault the President for acting on his discretion to exclude Senators from this year’s Judges’ Conference, the Senators can be faulted for having these reservations before the War, yet failing to voice out unanimously and act on the reservations – not as individuals – but as the TLDS Senate. Was it then a matter of: “we do not like this, but let’s hope it won’t affect us”? Who exactly is the TLDS? The executive body, or every stakeholder – including the Senators, and you, a UIte? In saying “I trusted the TLDS to deliver on their promise”, Paul Umeh failed to realise that he is as much the TLDS as the executive body, seeing as he is one of the Society’s senators. The statement is one with an underlying tone of distance from the decision-making process, which should not be heard of about the Society’s senator.
THE CREDIBILITY OF JAW WAR AT STAKE?
Following the withdrawal of Sultan Bello Hall Literary and Debating Society on Thursday, 30th September, 2021, The Literary and Debating Society released a statement on Friday, the 1st October, 2021 with a new batch of results for the first leg of the Hall Category’s first round. However, according to Article 5, Section 8 of the TLDS constitution: “The decision of the Judges shall be final and cannot be reviewed. It is therefore surprising that the TLDS saw it fit to revisit the scores of that round, citing computational errors for the exaggerated scores and the initial loss of Sultan Bello Hall, Alexander Brown Hall, and Queen Idia Hall. This recalculation has led to reactions from students at the University of Ibadan as regards the credibility and standard of the biggest debate competition within the university community.
This reporter interviewed some students on campus as regards the credibility of this year’s Jaw War, looking at the events that surfaced. David Adelabu, a 400-level student of chemistry said, “I think it just exposed Jaw War’s fault lines, and it shows the weakness of the leadership structure, especially.’’
For Oluwagbemiga Odunukan, a 100-level student of human nutrition, Jaw War has not fully lived up to the hype. He said, “As a fresher, I was hyped to go for Jaw War this year and being in my departmental press, I went. The first day, it lived up to the hype, but what I noticed was the result at the end of the first day, everybody was expecting Bello – Zik to be a very close margin or there about but when the result came out we all know that Bello protested. I don’t know if Otito-Jesu and his executives caved into that, to Bello pulling out and maybe they wanted to please them. They went back, they said they rechecked the result and they changed all the results and about four to five halls were affected, this basically killed Jaw War, as soon as people saw that the result was changed, they just lost all vibe and truthfulness. If you can host a competition as big as Jaw War in West Africa and you didn’t vet your judges before coming in for a tournament and even after the tournament, they couldn’t take a stand saying this is Jaw War standard and this is what we are doing. I noticed the numbers dropped when it came to the faculties round, then come Saturday like everybody just lost interest as Jaw War 2021 was killed right from the first day.’’
Adeniyi Pelumi, a 300-level student of communications and language art had this to say, “Jaw War has lost its credibility. I will use this as an example, in UEFA, if a Referee makes a mistake in judging or whatever, they cannot recalculate the scoreline, and the highest you will see is for the match to be replayed. So how can they now review the scores of Jaw War, with only the Chief Judge available as their head, after 24 hours? It’s not done anywhere, it’s not.’’
Adewusi Esther, a 200-level law student is of this opinion, “For me, the problem started when I saw a 95 on the score sheet. Like, how exactly is that possible for a hall of residence to have 95 in debate competition, I don’t want to understand how flawless the speech is, the delivery and everything. Those scores were way too high for a program like Jaw War, it doesn’t sound rational. It was quite obvious that there was a problem with the scoresheet. And then, the whole Bello thing, the chief judge said it himself that Bello has the most logical speech, so how they ended up not winning was not the point but having to go behind the back of everybody to review the scores just does not sound right and three halls that lost before became the winners. It just does not sound right, so they miscalculated the scores for the three halls or what? The credibility of Jaw War especially this year is lost, I hope they get it back.’’
Jumoke Opoola, a 300-level student of counselling and human developmental studies has this to say, “To be very honest, Jaw War has lost its credibility because I understand the logic behind you releasing a score and after some days you released another one just because a particular hall withdrew from the competition. The truth of the matter is that most people going there are not there to learn or anything, they are just there for the banters.’’
Albeit, the TLDS President wedged in on the recalculation of scores. In an interview with him, he said that the scores that were reviewed was not the decision of the Judges but they only revisited the calculation of scores which was wrongly done because of a wrong formula used by the score keeper on an excel sheet and that caused the announcement of wrong results. He further stated that these scores were manually recalculated in front of the Senators. In contrast to some opinions earlier made by some students, Mr. President said that Jaw War hasn’t lost its credibility because of this.
It is expected that if there was the use of a wrong formula, it would not have affected who won at the end of the day, since the same wrong formula was used for all the halls concerned. Take it that the Sultan Bello Hall had 150/200, and Nnamdi Azikiwe Hall had 100/200, and the division symbol was used in calculation in place of the multiplication symbol (a misuse of formula), the result would still have favoured Sultan Bello Hall. What misuse of simple arithmetic formula gives a lower percentage to a group that has the higher scores and gives the higher percentage to a group that has the lower scores?
To find a basis for this point, this reporter reached out to Alabi Stephen, a 200-level student of economics and an Excel expert, asking if a change in formula can lead to a change in ordinal arrangement when computing percentages. Stephen confirmed the point above by saying a change in formula cannot lead to a change in ordinal arrangement. Thus, if Team A initially had the higher score than Team B, no formula on the Excel app (of which it is believed that the formula used must have been a simple arithmetic formula, since the TLDS claims to have done a manual computation in the end) will make Team B have the higher percentage. It is possible to have a reduction in scores due to the misuse of a formula, but it is not possible to have a change in the ordinal arrangement.
A SEEMINGLY DOMINEERING EXCUTIVE BODY?
As the smoke drifts on and in its wake a visible disinterest on the part of the University of Ibadan students, a question keeps coming to mind: “has the executive body become a domineering force over the Senate thereby affecting their ability to function as they should?
To get clarity on this, the Vice-President of the Literary and Debating Society was reached out to. After granting consent for an interview, a question was asked on how well he thinks the executive body has been working hand-in-hand with senators as regards decision-making. His response: “I respect you and I’m happy you are doing your job which is very great but at the moment, I do not feel like granting an interview.’’
When Mr. Otito-Jesu Ayeni was questioned as regards the perceived rumour of his leadership style being an Abacha-styled one, he responded by saying, “LOL. People are free to make comments and say anything but I want to believe that they can differentiate between being firm and being authoritative’’. At this point, it’s left to you, the reader, to check your dictionary.
The most essential factor that has led to the tracing of events and situations around this year’s Jaw War is the fact that the University of Ibadan recognises all University of Ibadan students as members of the Literary and Debating Society. That makes the TLDS the largest student organisation on the University of Ibadan campus, and the one which by inference has the highest number of students to answer to. It’s important to note that this investigation wasn’t done to paint any administration black but as a searchlight into the problems and challenges affecting the TLDS, how those issues have affected this year’s Jaw War, and how they invariably affect you as a University of Ibadan student and a stakeholder in the association.
So much efforts and resources go into the planning of Jaw War; conditions that could have been met through the involvement of everyone should not serve as the War’s nemesis.
No matter the size of a tree, its status cannot metamorphose from being a tree to being a forest. Africans are not foolish to have drawn out this maxim; it must have stemmed from careful observations of the turn of events over the years. From findings, it is quite evident that it takes the working together of both the Executive Council and the Senate to have a functional central Literary and Debating Society and at the point when either of them falters in its responsibilities, it affects a lot of things. The part of some members of the Senate not having the Society’s Constitution, which includes the specific roles they are to function in, speaks volume as regards the current leadership of the Society and the reasons behind the naivety and ineffectiveness of Senators in the society – as a Senator without a constitution is non-functional as a farmer going to farm without his tools.
The executive arm of the Literary and Debating society has to come to the realisation that due process precedes functionality and that talent is never enough.
The Senate also has to wake up to its responsibilities, going forward. A naïve and lackadaisical senate would only create a bad foundation for future senators and the society in general. Helen Keller wasn’t wrong when she said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.’’