WHY ARE YOU IN SCHOOL?
Perhaps, you must have asked yourself this question a number of times, “what the hell am I doing in school?” Don’t be ashamed if you have no answer—getting an education in Nigeria is frustrating enough to create a situation that seems aimless. On the other hand, maybe your life philosophies are well defined, and you have the immediate answer to the question: to obtain a nice 2-1 academic class, graduate with a degree, and live happily ever after. Along the way and afterwards, you plan to pick up friends, connections, a spouse or spouses, a nice job, save a lot of money, pay your religious dues, die peacefully and go to heaven.
If that’s your ready answer, splendid! It’s quite a nice picture, except—except that a lot of things could go wrong. Your lecturers may victimise you and prevent you from getting that degree, you might find later on that your friends were there only for the fair weather, the job market may have undergone an economic depression, and your connections may have so many people dependent on their favours that you’ll get dizzy trying to figure out who knows whom. You might get frustrated and desperate; you may turn to the life of sin you didn’t plan for, and die in disgrace or through a cruel death and just possibly miss out on the heaven you’ve been counting on as a last resort.
THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU
I’m afraid I’ve painted a very gruesome picture in the preceding paragraph, but only the very unrealistic person will deny that these things do happen. The wretched rarely start out with the goal of living that way. Of course, you may be lucky—or divinely favoured, if you prefer—and have it smooth all the way, and then you may not. If you are not so lucky—it’s largely not your fault, it’s part of the social construct within which we live and operate.
I know a lot of lazy ne’er-do-wells mouth this same excuse of “it’s the system” daily, but such obvious interlopers aside, have you ever stopped to consider that there are quite a number of hardworking people who went to school just like you and who never “make it”, especially in this country?
More importantly, the economic philosophy of the governments we have had in Nigeria has made it quite difficult for the average citizen to achieve more than subsistence living: a day to day, hand to mouth, rumble and tumble sort of life. Therefore, you will have to find a good job or business by yourself—and depend on friends and relatives before you get that, build your own house by yourself—and live in a rented accommodation, or with family and friends before then, and take care of yourself after you retire irrespective of whether you’re capable of working or not.
Now, don’t be mistaken: this is not a plea for socialism or communism, I believe in capitalism, as regulated by reasonable human interaction. And reason argues that no matter how free a market system is, where the basic elements of trade become so scarce, or resides in the hands of a few, the market is bound to become an oligarchy. Let us diverge a little here and venture into economics.
Assume, for example, that air has to be commercialised; it is apparent that, before long, in a free market, some people would accumulate a larger portion of air than others. You can’t blame these wealthier ones: after all they used their productive efforts to obtain that volume of air. On the other hand, if some people, feeling a tad smarter, stole this air in order to resell it, or even some more others decided not to sell it freely at market prices, but to hoard it despite people dying, so they would sell it at the maximum price possible, then you can imagine further that, very soon the market would begin to die and, at the end of the day, other activities which required air for efficient operation will also fail and be destroyed.
Just like fuel.
You’re a student, but you don’t need to be a professor to relate my analogy to our social construct.
A STITCH IN TIME
You have witnessed this scenario at least once: the federal government increases the price of fuel, there is an initial commotion, but soon the citizenry accepts the new regime and things go on just as before. This reaction from the populace inspires the government to continue its performance. And the cycle never ends.
You may not be schooled in the intricacies of oil and finance, and you should not be concerned about attacking every unfavourable government action—sometimes there will be issues on which the government is right in its policy decisions even though negative in immediate effect. What you should be concerned with is the reaction of Nigerians in general and you, a student, in particular.
Nigerians are too accepting, too accommodating and too adaptive. But you have the power to change that. Even if you can’t be revolutionary, you should not be a passive reactionary. In the ordinary course of a government–people relationship, some passive behaviour is necessary for the smooth running of society, but when a government has displayed a continues system of taking the people’s tolerance for granted, then the people are required to look out for themselves.
Now, section 14 of the Nigerian Constitution, which is still the supreme law of the country, regards the ultimate decision makers (sovereignty, is the word) as “the people”, the citizens themselves. That’s right. When it comes to final decision making, the people as a whole have the last word. In Nigeria, as well as most countries, the people are generally: the elderly, the working class, the students, and the young.
WHO THEN HAS THE RESPONSIBILITY?
First, let us eliminate the elderly and the young from the categories of active people, leaving us with the working class and the students (“students” in this context refers to the students of tertiary institutions). These two remnant groups often overlap but are both still distinct.
Now, generally, once a person has joined the working class, the social construct forces he or she to be a pragmatist. Pragmatism, in the Nigerian setting, simply means, doing what you can to guarantee food on your table for as long as possible. The average working class person is keen to find ways of buttering his or her bread—on all sides if possible, and except he or she is an idealist—generally considered a fool, all the slogans and cries that were chanted as a youth are forgotten, he or she joins the rat race and that’s the end of the revolutionary story.
So, we can safely dismiss the working class from the group of people who will be responsible for changing society. We are left with the youths—the students who are at the stage where they can accommodate burning ideals without the worry of a family or the burdens of employment. You students, ultimately, bear the responsibility of directing the course of change in this country.
Let’s see what history has to say on this.
In May 4, 1919, about 3,000 students from universities in the Beijing area demonstrated in Tiananmen Square to protest against a certain treaty, the students marched on government offices and clashed with the police. In an age without twitter or Facebook, the news of the student protests spread out and inspired boycotts by traders and workers’ strikes. With the students and workers already in protest, the intellectuals were able to get into the action and proposed ways to stimulate Chinese nationalism, modernize Chinese culture, and strengthen the Chinese nation against Japanese and Western imperialism. This protest led to the new wave of Chinese nationalism that has affected its politics, women’s rights, literature and economics—and led to the formation of the Chinese Communist party and has emerged in China’s dominant role today.
In France, 1968, a lapse in the French educational system caused disquiet among students. Eventually, the Sociology students at Nanterre University near Paris occupied the campus, resulting in the closure of the university. With the closure of the university, the students’ and teachers’ unions called for a general strike and 9 million workers responded ultimately resulting in the government meeting the demands of the students.
Of course, you may have heard of the anti-war protests in the United States. In the 1970’s student demonstrations against the involvement of US troops in the Vietnam War were common in the campuses of many American universities and colleges. At one of such protests, in Kent State University, the National Guardsmen fired into a crowd of students, killing four people and injuring nine. This incident triggered a nationwide student revolt. By 1971, there was widespread unrest in public schools across the country—the effects of these led to the end of the war and President Nixon’s eventual resignation from office.
HOW ABOUT YOU?
A caution, however: violence has rarely been a solution to any problem. It may sweep the problem under the carpet, but the problem is still there. Violence should never be initiated. In most cases, however, violence is initiated by the government—at that point, the citizens have a civic right to retaliate against their oppressors.
From the above examples, it is clear that at one time or the other, nations have found themselves facing an existential crisis, and it was the relentlessness of students that resolved the situation. I have shown you three examples: from Asia, Europe, and the Americas. You, a Nigerian, can set a trend for Africa.
It is possible you have protested against your vice-chancellor or rector against certain wrongs, but the vice-chancellor is not your problem, neither is the president of the country. Both the vice-chancellor and the president are as much victims of the social construct as the next person. The problem is the system and the problems it breeds, and it is this system that needs to be changed, the entire social structure, from the very roots. And this can be done legally too.
SHAKING THE LEGISLATORS
The senators and representatives may be hardworking, but we haven’t tasked them enough. In fact they spend far too much time pushing themselves out of office—when we could do the job for them. You as a student have a better chance of monitoring the affairs of the legislature much more than the ordinary worker, you students can organise and execute the house to house collection of signatures required for the purpose of recalling an elected representative.
You complain that legislators rarely visit their constituencies, but they would respond fast to your when notice of such a move by the electorate gets to them. Now, if this exercise was co-ordinated by the student body and was happening all over Nigeria, in all senatorial districts and constituencies, don’t you think any imaginable wish of the electorate will be met soon enough?
You may not be able to control the president directly, but when the seats of the legislators become too hot for them, they will do control the executive on our behalf, as they are supposed to.
There is more to say, but this is a time to act. Only you and your colleagues can prevent the present class of students from following the same pattern, graduating into the same working class and continuing the vicious system. When will you take action?
Ayo Sogunro can be found frequently acting as a student should and mounting barricades on Twitter. Join him via @ayosogunro.