‘Why we need SUG in UNILAG’
The University of Lagos (UNILAG) is about to have a student union, after almost 10 years without one. The Vice chancellor, Professor Rahaman Bello, recently inaugurated a constitution drafting committee for the proposed student union. Olanrewaju Ogundipe, who doubles as vice chairman of the constitution drafting committee and chairman, council of faculty presidents spoke to Tolu George (400-Level Finance) on the proposed Student Union.
Why the need for a Student Union?
The essence of a union is to protect the rights and interests of its members, the staff have a union, which is the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the Non-academic staff also has a union called Non Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU), so why shouldn’t the students have their own union too? As students of the University of Lagos, we are being deprived of so many things because we don’t really speak in one voice, although to some extent the council of faculty presidents has been playing the role of a union, but that is not enough.
Since students can channel their complaints to the school management through the council of faculty presidents, do you think the SUG is still relevant at this time?
The council of faculty presidents is to an extent a union, but as I said earlier, it is not enough. As chairman council of faculty presidents, I am playing two roles, first, as president of my faculty and second, my role as chairman council of faculty presidents, so, as I am trying to sort things out in my faculty, I am also trying to sort things out at the school level. But if we have a union, it will be clear as to what the role of each person would be. The faculties and departments will still have their own union, so all the burden will not just be on the student union.
Would having a faculty president, a council of faculty presidents and now a student union president not lead to confusion for the students?
Well, based on our own planning, we have not concluded yet, probably what we will still do is to have a public forum, where we will tell students what we have done, although based on suggestions and ideas that have been coming in, it is not likely that we have a situation where a faculty president will be the head of the student union. Being the faculty president and the student union president at the same time may come as a burden to many. A situation whereby the school management wants to communicate to the students, it will do that through the student union body, who will then pass the message to the faculty presidents and the departmental presidents.
Is it just a select group of students that are agitating for a student union?
The students want a student union, but one very big problem that the students and the management are trying to avoid is the problem of having a student union that will lead to chaos and violence in the UNILAG community. We are trying our own best to build a model which will be unique to UNILAG. This community has its own peculiarities and we want to ensure that our model can work well in the school community.
Is the school management giving you full support on the proposed student union?
Yes, the committee was even sworn in by the vice chancellor himself, we have a constitution drafting committee of which I am vice chairman, every faculty also has two student representatives in this committee. All hall chairmen and a few lecturers are also part of this committee. The chairman of the committee is Professor Akinboye of the department of Political science, but let me make it clear to you that the members of staff in this committee are only there to guide us. The vice chancellor himself stated that the management is not in any way enforcing any law on us. My own role as vice chairman is to co-ordinate our meetings and to supervise the process of drafting the constitution.
What is the benefit of the union to the university environment?
I think the first thing is that, the students will have one voice when it comes to issues with the management. The students will also have representatives in some committees of the school. In any university setting, students are the major stakeholders, we are also the major determining factor for everything going on in the school, if there are no students there will be no lecturers.
Don’t you think that having a student union; will lead to disturbances in school activities?
I think one thing we should get clear is that, with or without a student union, if there is a need for the students to agitate on some processes that they are not okay with, the students will do just that. The last protest that was held in school, was there any student union? Before the protest, we as council of faculty presidents tried our best to speak with the management on the issues that were on ground. If you followed the happenings on that day, the students were expressing their grievances over issues much more than course form registration. Recently, in some private universities, students have been revolting against their management by protesting, do they have students union there? If you keep mounting pressure on students, it will become unbearable for them and I tell you, student union or no student union they will revolt. When there is an organized body in form of a student union, there will first be consultations, dialogues before anything like protest will take place.
It is almost 10 years since the school administration banned then SUG activities, do you think it’s going to be a little alien to the activities of the school when they start functioning again?
I do not agree with you that it is going to be alien to the university’s activities. Let me make something clear to you, the school authorities placed a ban on unionism in school in 2005, that ban was on all forms on unions across faculties and departments in the school. In 2009 however, the ban was lifted on faculty and departmental unions and hall of residences were also allowed to have their own union, this was done to test unionism activities in school. Five years after, the management has now decided to allow a student union in school.
How do you hope to form a successful student union body?
As I have said earlier, UNILAG has its own peculiarities, some things must have led to the union getting banned in 2005 and we do not want a situation whereby we will draft a student union constitution and also form a student union body and then we will now go back to the old way of running activities. To this effect we have resolved within ourselves to come up with a model that will be unique to UNILAG, this model will be one that other schools can follow and copy. We are also looking at running a presidential system and also a parliamentary system of government in the union.
As vice chairman of the constitution drafting committee, what are your roles?
Well, my role majorly is to coordinate meetings and to see that a successful student union body is formed. In our last meeting, we formed subcommittees from which we will be getting reports from regularly. There are subcommittees in charge of the structure of the union, finances, faculties, hall of residencies, colleges and code of conducts.
When is the student union likely to take effect?
Well, the management is proposing that there should be a student union that will be effective from next session; this means that elections should hold for posts in the union this semester, but it may also depend on when we are through with drafting our constitution. If we conclude the drafting process in time, then of course there will be a student union in UNILAG next session.
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