The President, Student Union, Polytechnic Ibadan, Okikiola Joshua, shares his views with DANIEL AYANTOYE on the reasons behind the students’ protests that led to the suspension of the Student Union Government in the institution
Your union recently embarked on a protest which led to its suspension. What informed the decision to embark on a demonstration?
We had the protest so as to agitate for changes in our institution. We believe there are things that should be improved upon. We want Governor Seyi Makinde to visit our institution because since he started his administration, he has never visited. We believe this will mean a lot to the changes we demand. We are lacking a lot of things in the institution, and this informed our decision to go on the protest.
What specifically are the things your institution is lacking?
If the governor can step into the institution, it will shed light into some darkness in the institution, and this will help to resolve some issues. A lot of things I will not be able to disclose because it is an internal crisis which we know that the governor can handle. I was surprised when I began to hear different news about the protest, especially when they said it was for increase in (hostel) refusal fees. We can’t just march our students out protesting just for hostel refusal fees. That is something that we can handle as a union. So, I want everyone to know that we didn’t protest for hostel refusal fees. The protest is for the development of the institution, for adequate infrastructure to be put in place, reduction of school fees and we want enough manpower in the institution.
What were the steps your union took before embarking on the protest?
We actually sent a letter to the State Secretariat last month (December) that we want a meeting with the governor. We made series of efforts, but I would like to leave it at the position of the letter we sent there for now.
So, were you able to meet with him?
No, I think for one or some reasons, the letter was not attended to. It was after the protest that we had a meeting with the Commissioner for Education and our management on Tuesday.
What is your reaction to the suspension of your union?
When we heard about the suspension, I wasn’t worried because I had expected it. I am aware that in anything that has to do with humanitarian struggle, such thing will surely happen. I am not bothered because I believe it (protest) was the right thing to do at that time for the management. So, it was expected and of course, that should be the action of our management because we took our protest to the secretariat without informing them. But government made it known that we had the right to protest. Again, it was a peaceful protest to echo our demands. So, we were suspended, and the suspension has also been lifted by the management.
The management of your institution said your union did not make any formal complaint before protesting. How true is this?
We are actually in the same school environment, and we believe we all know what has been happening in the school. Even before our coming on board, those things we are demanding have been tabled before the management. We believe the issue is beyond the management and as such, if we had informed the management about our plans to go on the protest, there is a probability that they would not want us to do it (embark on the protest). We can’t just sit back without getting reasonable changes. We want a change, and that’s why we took the steps to protest.
You mentioned decrease in fees. How has it been affecting the students and which aspect of the fees were increased?
In all ramifications, although I don’t have the fact on hand now, with what the economy is saying, the students are having issues and they are complaining. As the Student Union, our responsibility is to listen to their demands and that’s what we have done.
The management of your institution said the protest you had was politically motivated. How true is this?
We are students and a union. I am a union president and not a politician. There is a difference between a unionist and a politician. So, I wish to use this medium to clarify that our protest was not politically motivated, and it was not ill-motivated. We protested for a just cause and nothing ignited this than our desire to drive change and for the development of our dear institution. So, there is no political backup, setup or implementation anywhere.
The protest also led to the suspension of the examinations. Do you have any regrets that the protest was held?
I was a little bit worried because the day that we were supposed to have our examination, it got suspended as a result of the protest but at the same time, in life, there is a point where you have to make sacrifices if you desire a change. I believe that the agitation is for a change and as such, a sacrifice must be made. So, the suspension of the exams is what we sacrificed. But I know that the management understands enough to ensure that we start the exam as soon as possible.
You are aware that tertiary institutions, especially federal institutions, have begun to increase their tuition. Why do you think Ibadan Poly should be an exception?
We are all aware of the economic situation in the country and I don’t think the government at the federal and state levels should be allowed to suffer the brunt. The leaders should understand this and help Nigerian students. The government must look out of the box to rescue the situation. Increasing fees will be a burden on students because majority of them are finding it hard to provide for their daily needs. Increasing tuition fees will mean giving additional problem and this should not be so. Government should solve the people’s problem and not to multiply the problems. Do you know some parents struggle to sponsor their children in school? There is less sponsorship programme for education today. If the government can look for a way out, students will be happy, especially those that are sponsoring themselves in school.
The management also said the protest brought hardship to your colleagues and others. Is the protest not planned in consensus with students, or was it just an executive decision?
Well, it is clear that students marched out in their numbers; thousands of students came out for the protest. If the students are not comfortable with the decision, they won’t have come out in such a large number. So, we have the support of the students because the issue concerns everyone.
What efforts did you put in place to ensure the protest was not hijacked?
You know a large number of students came out for the protest but before we began the protest, we spoke to each other, and we adequately informed the students that it was a peaceful protest and that there should not be any form of destruction. We all understood that we are students and the need to comport ourselves. We also thank the DPO, Sango Division, who sent patrol even when we didn’t inform them about the protest; the DSS was also there.
Some institutions have expressed the need to scrap students’ union. What is your take on this?
Scraping students’ union of any institution is wrong. They are voices and representative of the students. Also, most leaders we have today were once comrades, student leaders of the institution they graduated from.
On Tuesday, you had a meeting with the state Commissioner for Education. Tell us what transpired?
The meeting was held with the commissioner for education. The Governing Council of our institution was there; the school management was there, and we as student union executive members and other stakeholders in the institution were there. We presented our demands at the meeting, in the area of manpower in the institution; non-academic and academic members of staff are needed. We demanded for electricity, but they assured us that they would work on the demands and that it was a work in progress. Although we have not been told the specific time, we were told that it was a work in progress. So, what we intend to do now is to work in line with that to make sure that the demands are implemented as soon as possible.
There are situations where student leaders are victimised by the management of the institution, have you or any of your members experienced such?
Such happens everywhere; such action is normal. If the management does not take such action, people may begin to think that the management instigated the action. But if you ask about our institution, I have not experienced such due to the kind of management team we have. The Rector of our institution has always been playing a fatherly role. Every action that the student union takes, there is always this fatherly spirit in him. He always understands; or else we will bite more than we can chew when we are agitating for things. So, when we are agitating for things, we ensure we are orderly, and it is done maturely; no destroying of property and no disrespect to the authorities while pressing for our demands.