The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) concluded its 26th convention yesterday in Uyo, capital of Akwa Ibom State. Yinka Gbadebo emerged as the group’s newly elected president.
Student delegates from institutions of higher learning across Nigeria converged in Uyo on Thursday, December 13. In addition to electing new officials, the enlarged delegate conference was also expected to discuss the state of the nation.
However, in a departure from past conventions that discussed the state of the nation, the just concluded convention focused only on elections, with no attention to Nigeria’s current situation. One disappointed delegate described the failure to discuss current issues as “evidence of the level of degeneration in NANS.” He added that the organization used to be at the forefront of the struggle for the liberation of Nigeria’s downtrodden and oppressed classes.
NANS is the umbrella body of all students’ unions in Nigeria. Nigerian students converged at the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos to establish NANS in 1980 after the then government had proscribed the National Union of Nigerian Students, (NUNS) whose last leader was Olusegun Okeowo.
NANS served as an active resistance group during the era of military regimes in Nigeria. It was part of the movement that fought for a return to civil rule in the country. By 1990, NANS was at the peak of its glory, having played a significant role in rousing Nigerians to protest the Structural Adjustment Program imposed by the Ibrahim Babangida regime at the urging of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
1990 also marked the beginning of what would be a split within the organization five years later. NANS annual convention was fixed to hold on November 30, 1990 at Auchi Polytechnic. Eventually, after much intrigue and disputations, the convention opened a day later and at a different venue: the University of Benin, (UNIBEN).
After that convention, NANS witnessed a purported split along ethno-religious lines when one Wushishi from Usman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto (UDUSOK), announced a “Northern NANS” which was immediately rebuffed by the generality of students. However, that split fostered deeper ideological conflicts and schisms between different interest groups and weakened the broad platform of NANS.
For some veterans of student union activism, the current state of the students’ movement gives great cause for concern. “Student unionism has been infiltrated by dirty money politics as well as brigandage by members of some confraternities and cult groups,” said one former student union leader. “We now see ideological hollowness as well as haste by some student union leaders to fraternize with any government in power,” said another critic.
But some activists of the past also strike more sympathetic notes. They see the new developments as not simply evidence of student leaders’ “degeneration,” but as a symptom of broader problems in the larger society.
One activist noted that “there has been a general collapse of social values in the society,” adding that other factors to consider are “the collapse of the Soviet Union/East Bloc; a virtual death of the left’s cultural movement’s culture; the rise of human rights ‘NGOism’ ; the ascendancy of cultism and campus gangsterism; the globalization of capitalism; and the monetization and corruption of Nigeria’s democratic process.”
Even so, some of the delegates at NANS’ Uyo convention said they expected newly elected leader, Mr. Gbadebo, to do his utmost in order to redeem the group’s image and return NANS to its days of glory.