Greatness won with honest toil
Guide our people this to know...
For a mind that knows, is a mind
[The University of Ibadan Anthem]
In the past month there have been elections in a lot of faculties and departments cutting across the entirety of the campus. There were the Press Nights, Manifesto Nights and the regular functions but unlike the elections of previous years, there was something fundamentally different: The lack of participants.
In previous years, politics on campus was taken quite seriously. Some executives would be taken to the disciplinary committee for various offences, there would be the regular Excos vs SRC bouts, Excos vs Press bouts and the usual three-way of Excos vs SRC vs Press. Tempers would flare and names would be called, programmes would linger in students' mind long after they had ended or the programmes would be epic flops and feature on a lot of notice boards. Packages would be substandard, some councils would get bankrupt, Faculty and Department weeks would come and go. Safe to say, there was a feeling of unionism despite our large differences. We loved our leaders even though some of them were unscrupulous, we loved our school and we wanted to make it better.
Now, does the fact that there are very few aspirants for political offices mean that people no longer love their school or that the feeling of unionism has died? The fact that during the recently concluded Faculty of Science elections, EVERY post other than that of Social Director went unopposed (Yup, including the presidential seat), the fact that the elections in the Faculty of Law had to be postponed twice due to the same lack of interest (I Don't even know whether or not it has been held as at now), the fact that even those who were elected in the Faculty of Science elections had between 200 - 350 votes in a faculty of over 2,000 students, the fact that even during the Students' Union elections, two of the offices (Public Relations Officer and Assistant General Secretary) went unopposed. With all these facts, what then is the problem with our student political system?
I think the answer is in parts; the first being that the system is unfriendly for aspiring politicians. When politicians meet lecturers to reschedule or give them separate tests because of their functions, the lecturers would say something like "Is that why you were sent to school?", and although they are right, why then are there student unions if students are not meant to occupy them? The stress of academics is so great that a number of students cave under, and then combined with the stress of politics seems too much to bear.
The next reason why there is a lack of interest is the myopia of students. In my school, there is no salary or allowance for the Executive Council members and as such they generate revenue themselves by sourcing for funds, looking for sponsors, organizing programmes and functions and various other activities (Yes, I know what I am saying. I am currently on the executive council of my faculty). Politics is stressful: a known fact, but it does give one a sense of what it is like to be outside school, searching for a job or as a commercial worker, searching for a potential buyer, it helps one to anticipate customer reactions and tastes as in when we issue out the faculty packages. It helps to nurture a person and give the person control over their emotions when under stress and unfavorable conditions, for example, after hours upon hours have been spent deliberating on what to present as a package and then going to markets in other cities to procure the goods in bulk, some students would at the end of the day say "Una no try, na rubbish be this"; the position of a leader would breed tolerance to such remarks. Notwithstanding, it would also breed negotiation skills with your superiors, one would learn how to hold their ground when even talking to a professor or a huge marketer. It also helps in building communication and inter-personal skills, teaches one how to write standard proposals and builds up their follow-up skills as well.
I could go on and on about the benefits of being a politician in school but I know a question still lingers: "Does it pay?" Monetary-wise? No, it doesn't. You source for whatever you are to use and if the sponsor is nice, they may give the council a token, otherwise everything goes to the faculty purse. In my opinion, this is an advantage rather than a disadvantage in the sense that it makes one open up their minds for possibilities in generating revenue without breaching the constitution; so far, it has been really tough but some little revenue has been generated.
The next reason I should cite for the lack of interest in student politics is that a lot of students see politics as boring. It is not, I daresay. The thrill of planning for hours for a programme, of inviting speakers and chasing the deans and HODs from pillar to post to sign off on venues or to honor the events with their presence. Of coaxing students to attend events even when they know there is no "item 7", of bargaining with marketers and putting your feet down when lines are crossed, the thrill of debating with the Representative Council for hours over certain issues, the meeting of dignitaries far above your station, the respect accrued to you by your mates and generally everything that an average person would see as a challenge. Politics gives one a sense of belonging and purpose and enables one to be a team-player. It teaches one how to give sly answers without telling lies or breaching the constitution. It teaches one patience as well. Politics is a game of mind and soul and only the "sharp" emerge winners. The payoff being the satisfaction of the electorate who voted you and the applause that follows you the day you don the convocation gown. A good name is better than riches and what better way is there to get a good name than by being of memorable service to people?
On this note, I would like to say that although situations may be against it and one may feel that politics is a waste of time and energy, I advice that if you are called to it, do it and be done. The benefits one gets from it are more valuable than any meager sum dancing before the eyes presently. We can never change our nation without changing ourselves and our attitude to service, if we do not take care of ourselves, who will?. Selflessness, my compatriots, selflessness. We are Nigerians, we are one.