A Snoozing Union: Lessons From The Congress

By: Emmanuel Utibe

It is the early hours of the day and ripping the air are several alarms, sounding from different rooms on campus that there is an urgency to wake up and start the day if he/she would like to meet up and do the things they are expected to do for that day. 

For some, the loud chorus of the alarm which may have even become a routine thing is enough to arouse them to action but for others, it is simply a case of hitting a snooze button and proceeding into a level of consciousness between sleep and wakefulness.

Looking at what was supposed to be a congress, a general meeting of students in the union, which was held at the Student Union Building Foyer in the morning of Saturday 14th of October 2023, one would not be in the wrong to say that in the face of the alarming challenges which faces the union both at the university and national levels, the University of Ibadan Students’ Union is taking the posture of the latter set of persons reacting to an alarm.

Yes, a person would be justified if he says of the UI’SU that it is a snoozing union if not a still sleeping union. 

Right from the 18th century when the industrial revolution saw a radical change in the relationship of labour and the entrepreneur as economic factors of production and the system of capitalism, it also saw with it the rise of unions to protect the rights of the workers and make sure their interests are always well spoken for and their demands pressed home when needs to be.

From that time when unions were just springing up, till the 19th and 20th centuries when they became implicated in almost all strata of society as long as there existed a group in the society with interests to be defended, one of the times which has always kept unionism strong and viable is the collective strength they wielded together as a group.

Assuredly, a strongman may easily pick up one or two twigs and break them at his whims but then when the twigs are gathered into a bundle and the more twigs that are tucked into that bundle, the harder it becomes for the strongman to just toy about with them. This in and of itself summarizes the philosophy that has driven and still drives the strength of unions in any part of the world. 

From the above, this is why it now becomes a thing of concern when by actions the UI’SU, which should properly be seen not as the leadership of the union but as the sum total of all students who make up the union, now is not seen to be driven by this philosophy and thus continues to posture herself as a weak union of fearful and cautious heads and even more fearful parts prepared to be disjointed from the body in the face of challenge.

And now to the purpose of this article; in it, we would be looking to take a close look at the recent congress of the union which was held and then we would be drawing out lessons as to what remains for our union to awaken to. 


Article XIII of the Union’s constitution speaks about general meetings of the union referred to as the congress. It makes the president the chairman of the congress, talks about how the congress can be called, and mandates for a congress to be held at least once in an academic year. In the next article speaking on the power of the congress, it establishes the congress above both the executives and legislators of the union and declares the decision of the congress as final on any issue.

From this, it can be seen that the Congress is a very powerful organ of the union and an organ which from history typically sends fear down the spine of any such party that challenges the union.

The Congress was the ultimate symbol of collective force which is embodied by the union and the resolutions of Congress have implications right from within the university community to even as far as the national level. The issue of the Nigeria-Britain Defence Pact of 1962, the establishment of the loan board by the military government of Yakubu Gowon, readily come to mind, among many others.

It was then disheartening to see when such a powerful organ as the congress was then made into a meeting of just any levity and the events of Saturday morning then called for us to do a little introspection as regards our union.


Problems With the Congress

The last time a physical congress was held at the University of Ibadan was on the 27th of May 2017. It saw the mobilisation of students and convention of other activities which then led to the University management, in the usual fashion, clamping down on the students’ union and suspending it.

Since the resuscitation of the union, three administrations have had to pass without a physical congress despite the fact that a number of challenges were being confronted by the students’ community in UI. It was largely because the cloud of fear from the suspension was still fresh in the minds of members.

It could be said that this fear coupled with the duration of time that has passed since the last time a congress was held may have been what contributed to the abysmally low turnout at Saturday’s gathering.

The constitution requires that for there to be a quorum at the congress, 500 students must be present but then the low turnout for the most part reduced the congress to just any townhall meeting of a few. 

Some may blame the publicity of the congress for what contributed to the low turnout but then, while we acknowledge that the officials of the union, both executives and legislators alike, could have been more intentional about the publicity of the congress, I would beg to differ as to it being the defining factor for the low turnout at the congress. 

The congress was slated to start at 7 am, but as of 7:30 am, less than 60 persons were present at the venue of the congress and the president with some other Excos together with some concerned individuals had to move to the various hostels to try and mobilize people to the venue of the congress.

Despite the best efforts of those who went out to mobilize, the congress had just over 300 students present together with those who joined online to complete the quorum of the congress. 

This was very bad in all honesty as two blocks in Indy, Zik, Awo, or Idia houses just about as many people and so it was disheartening to see that a general meeting of students in the UI’SU could not garner up to 500 students at a physical venue. Even if half of a block from each hall of residence showed up for the congress, we would have well over a thousand students attending the congress. 

Now, stemming from the fact that so many people did not turn up for the congress, it then by outlook became a less serious meeting than it would have been, and other issues followed from it. 

For one, by law at the Congress just as in an executive or legislative meeting, resolutions are expected to be proposed, motioned, and collectively agreed on by voting which the constitution mandates to be by a show of hands. But then on Saturday what we had was a congress of proposals and forceless suggestions which should not have been so.

Ordinarily, by the time of writing this article, the clear resolutions that were agreed on at the congress should have already been published by the Union’s officials but then they were yet to do that.

Then there was the fact that in one or two instances in his bid to “inform” students as to what is happening on certain issues, the chairman of the congress seemed to posture himself as a voice of the management at the congress which should not be.

This is together with the fact that he resorted to using words that did not do well to carry the spirit of the congress as a leader. The need for “intellectualism” in our discussion and a corresponding need for caution should not now make us resort to crippling ourselves and turning ourselves into sitting ducks. 


Important Lessons

Now, while it may have seemed the need to not attend the congress may have seemed justifiable for some relying on the aftermath in 2017, it must be noted that this fear is not well grounded. A congress is not a militant call and it is not necessarily a call for demonstrations but rather a congress is from the constitution a general meeting that affords the generality of the union’s constituents a platform to appropriately air their opinions on critical issues.

Like in any democracy as expected, our personal opinions may not be what is at the end agreed. As it is said, the minority would have their say while the majority would have their rule but then it doesn’t equate to us not turning up to express our opinions at all, as that is folly. If there is a fear against a move for demonstrations, that should have all the more compelled us to turn out en masse to express our aversion towards demonstration. 

The Congress being the highest decision-making body of the union in the end would surely make decisions that would become binding on each one of us in the union and so it is not a great idea if we allow those decisions to proceed from the larynx of a few, therefore underrepresenting our collective interests.

Moving forward, for subsequent congresses that may be called or whatsoever meeting of the union, we all as members of the University of Ibadan Students’ union, must always recognize that every one of us is the UI’SU and so it beckons on us to make ourselves available to make our position known. 

Then, for the resolutions of the congress, it is important for the President of the union and its General Secretary to, as a matter of urgency, publicise the resolutions of the congress to prevent the inputs of participants from being irrelevant.

Also, for subsequent congresses, the officials of the unions, both members of the executive and the SRC, can make a more conscious effort to publicise the congress and mobilise people from their halls and constituencies to attend. 

In conclusion, this as the first congress in a long while, would go down in history as a lesson to the UI’SU — a self-acclaimed mother of Students’ unionism, one that is also supposedly intellectual — that at the moment she is a snoozing union, one in need of awakening. It is therefore  a call to action that the Union rouses from slumber so we can effectively speak out and tackle those challenges harassing us.

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