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Sunday, 03 December 2023 07:30

[OPINION] NANS: A-looter Stoppay! - Wole Olaoye

Fiery student leader, Segun Okeowo, and other past leaders of the student movement who have transited to immortality must be turning in their graves. The vibrant movement for which they laboured has been turned into a gravy train with all sorts of rodents savaging its soul. The socio-political decay that has rendered the country prostrate has also permeated unionism. 

The result is that the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) which succeeded the proscribed National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS) after the Ali-Must-Go national struggle of 1978 is no longer recognisable. The current generation of student leaders who should be at the vanguard of agitating for a better society is itself shackled down by the same cankerworm of avarice afflicting their parents in the larger society.

From Nuns To Nans

This writer was in the thick of things as Nigerian students gathered the pieces of their movement after the military came down with a sledgehammer in 1978. Military governments don’t negotiate. They destroy. Or compromise their perceived adversaries. It is either their way or the highway. Their strategy of containing student unionism after banning NUNS was based on infiltration and division. But their attempt to foist a stillborn association of polytechnic students on the student body in order to truncate the massive following of the fledgling NANS was resisted. Thus emerged Danlad Sunday Oladele (Lado) of the Yaba College of Technology as the first NANS president.

 

 

Over the years, NANS has regressed. The association has mushroomed offices and responsibilities in tandem with the rot in the larger political space. The officials now ride luxury cars and have a busload of aides, just like their ‘heroes’ on the national stage. Horror of horrors, many of them are now acolytes of political bigwigs and supplicants of political parties. Little wonder that NANS campaigns are now so capital intensive that a candidate without a fat war chest has no chance whatsoever.

It would be unfair to heap all the blame of the youths without mentioning Nigerian politicians who have used their filthy lucre to blight unionism. Where the military government of the 70’s failed, today’s political leaders have recorded spectacular successes in using NANS as an integral part of their youth wing. 

Shooting War

That much is evident in recent events that led to a shooting war between various factions of NANS in Abuja the other day. According to a report published by Sahara Reporters, trouble allegedly started when stakeholders kicked against the planned imposition of a 48-year-old man, identified as Lucky Emonefe, as president. It was claimed that the said candidate left the College of Education, Warri, Delta State, in 2003! That’s a professional student of sorts.

His campaign is said to be well funded and his opponents— seven, I’m told — seem frightened that he could buy up all the votes on election day. The name of President Tinubu’s son, Seyi, is freely dropped by both sides in the conflict as sponsoring Emonefe. The young man has maintained a loud silence over the matter.

 

Speaking on the African Independent Television (AIT) network, the senate President of NANS, Nnalue Attah, tendered a public apology to the nation on the shooting war.  “When you see the weapons that are being caught with various interest groups in regard to this election, you will wonder if we are travelling to Gaza … I apologise before Nigerians … It is not telling well of us. Various groups who are related to the federal government who are interfering in this election should pull off their arsenals.

Different era, different standards! In the 70s, the mere linkage of an aspirant with an external influencer was enough to disqualify that person. I remember a vice president who was impeached at the University of Ife for being associated with the then ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN). I recall, too, that when we started building the students’ self-help hostel, I had to table the offer of a N10,000 donation by the then Works Minister, Mr. Victor Masi, before the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) in order to fulfil all righteousness. It was only after the parliament okayed the move that I accepted the personal cheque of the minister. Contrast that with how student leaders go about like mendicants these days in their quest for free money.

In those days, student unionism and state security maintained separate parallel lanes. 

Allegations

Now, there are allegations that the Department of State Security is neck-deep in student politics. A group within NANS has called out a DSS official, Mr. Martins Zamani, for interfering in the affairs of the association. They describe the man as the Student Desk Officer of the DSS who is tasked by the government with infiltrating NANS and installing a compliant leadership.

“We request the authorities at the Department of State Security Services to call to order Mr. Martin Zamani whose continued interference is now becoming a sore which may be too late to heal”, they declared. 

 

In the heat of the campaigns and propaganda by contestants, the chairman of the Convention Planning Committee was sacked by the outgoing president, a move interpreted by opponents of Emonefe as evidence that the outgoing president was determined to install his chosen candidate as successor.

In their press statement, the stakeholders iterated: “We align with the majority opinion that the Convention Planning Committee headed by Comrade Adamu Matazu be allowed to conclude the good work it began before his unconstitutional removal by Umar Barambu. We aver that no authority, people or persons can suppress the original owners of NANS, the students, in deciding the fate of her leadership.”

Since 1999 politicians have employed a divide-and-rule stratagem to destabilise and factionalise NANS. In September 2022, the association had two factional presidents — Usman Umar of the Federal University Dutse and Umar Lawal of the Department of Library and Information Science at Bayero University, Kano.

Analysts, however, note that any perceived government interference in NANS is well deserved because the students have sold themselves cheap to the politicians. They make reference, for example, to the presidential campaigns of 2019 when the then President of the association, Danielson Bamidele Akpan, promised on live tv, to deliver 20 million voters among Nigerian students and youths to president Mohammed Buhari during the presidential election of that year.

 

This made a former president of the association, Abdul Mahmud, renounce his membership of NANS. How could the national student body endorse a general who, as head of state, promulgated draconian decrees and clamped many activists, including the then president of NANS, Lanre Arogundade, in detention? 

More recently, in the run-up to the 2023 elections, various NANS groups publicly endorsed candidates that tickled their fancy or filled their pockets — an indication, say some critics, that  they were political jobbers.

Retrace Your Steps

A former activist who now practices law in Abuja put the matter in bold relief as follows: “NANS is now for hire. That’s why you hardly see university students as NANS presidents who nowadays are usually in their 40’s and exposed to the corrupt system of Nigeria… Politicians now use the association for their political gains, and as we know, money is always an issue. The association should retrace its steps back to the original purpose of its existence.”

Victor Hugo’s immortal words ring in my ears: “40 is the old age of youth, 50 is the youth of old age.”

 

At times like this, I remember the inimitable Fela Anikulapo-Kuti who always cautioned us against merely mouthing cliches and slogans without living up to the demands of a revolutionary movement.

“Our people have been suffering for too long”, said Fela. “Stop telling them, ‘A luta continua’. They’ve been struggling all their lives. The struggle must stop. A luta stoppay!”

To every aspirant eyeing some loot with regard to NANS’ unique leverage as a bastion of democracy, I say, ‘A-Looter stoppay!’

 

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