CASE BACKGROUND: During the April 22 Congress, copies of the Students’ Union Constitution Amendment Bill were passed around. They contained a number of proposed changes. Many stood out but perhaps the most notable, and relevant considering the current dispensation, is the motion to disenfranchise first-year students in Students’ Union elections. The Scribes debate this motion and its acceptability.
“The soul of democracy is the factor of maximum participation” – Anon.
My Lords, ever since the Presidential Debate held this past week, I have found myself clothed in the cloak of deep ponderings. Being the concerned unionist I am, my heart cracks and nears an epic breakage over the apathy which has sashayed its way into our Union like a thief in the black of the night. With utmost braggadocio, it has personified itself in our candidates and revealed the extent to which it has crippled our political lives. Now, we have a disturbing case of some aspirants being unable to articulate themselves even in the most minimal of ways. And this stems from one evil – apathy. Yet, the S.R.C. wants us to encourage this apathy even more. I am confused.
To disenfranchise first-year students is to take away their rights to determine the destiny of the Union of which they will be three-year, four-year or even five-year members. Being fully-admitted students of the University of Ibadan, they have automatically become stakeholders in the Union. This means that decisions such as how they will be represented and who will get to manage the resources should be decided by them.
They should not be shunned just because of some discriminatory belief that they are not “experienced” enough to vote for the right candidate. What on earth does that even mean? I have been a member of this campus for four years and I still cannot decide which of the candidates is deserving of my votes. And believe me, I belong to a very large club of the undecided not because of any lack of intellectual strength but because choosing who to vote for is not an exact science which requires years of experience. If you do not want them to exercise such crucial rights as elections, then do not compel them to pay such crucial dues as Students’ Union fees.
Furthermore, it is an eminent fact that the freshmen have the most genuinely pure interests when it comes to elections in the University of Ibadan. Luxuriating in the virgin experience of campus life, they readily want to participate in the voting process. The bulk of votes come from this key demographic. Taking them out translates to the erasure of the most important voter base. And that is bad for the political health of our Union.
The non-first year voters often fall into three categories. First category: they eventually get tired of voting when they have seen none of the aspirants rise to the occasion to elevate Union from the pit it has found itself in since its re-instatement. So, they never go out to vote. The second category is filled with the few intellectuals who try to vote based on their subjective views of what constitutes a truly promising candidate. They are painfully few.
The third category comprises the politically-partisan who for some reason or the other – due to hall affiliation, faculty affiliation, club membership, personal economic interests or other forms of compulsion – are sworn to some candidates. When they go out to vote, it is not with the interests of the Union at heart. This means, the percentage of stale students who do vote and do so for objective reasons are so few that we cannot possibly, in good conscience, defend their rights to vote as against the first-year students. If anything at all, those whose voting rights should be put into question are the final-year students whose contracts with the Union will soon be put to an end anyway.
Moreover, the elections often serve as the political initiation of the freshmen into the Students’ Union. It is the only avenue for political socialisation available to them. If we were to deny them this chance to join, and we delay their participation till when they are “stalites”, it may be just too late to rekindle the fire of political interests available to them. For many political officeholders and aspirants who we have, their political interests got piqued during their freshmen days, owing to interactions with the political candidates leading to the polling booth.
I THINK NOT, MILORDS
The only source of knowledge is experience ~ Albert Einstein
As a final-year student of this “citadel of lessons,” it is only logical that I reside in what is known as the finalists’ block of my hall. But – whether due to sheer misfortune or remote-controlled cruelty from the village – I was instead flung to C Block, a block for no one and a block for everyone. As a result, I (a 500 level student) share my room with a 300 level student and a 100 level student, in other words, a “fresher”. But this is only the beginning of my super story.
In the eighth week of resumption, a close friend visited. He lamented that his wallet was stolen in a room among supposed friends the day before. When he eventually left, my good fresher-roommate, in his infinite wisdom, suggested that he report to the porters in that hall. I kept quiet. Later in the day, my friend visited once more and the same issue reared its head. With even greater confidence, my roommate asked why he had not reported. That was when I realised that it was not a slip of tongue. It was nothing but an attitudinal carry-over from high school, both natural and understandable.
Milords, how can anyone suggest that a mind as innocent and naïve as the freshman’s be dipped into the murky waters of campus politics? This is not only unfair to our politics; it is equally unfair to that mind. We may shy away from the truth all we want but reality’s stare is like MTN; it is everywhere you go . Freshmen more often than not cannot distinguish between politics and politricks, between sentiments and excellence, and between political bobo and correct zobo . Should they then be made to attempt a question they understand little of?
There are certain things Students’ Union aspirants do that bait mostly the fresh mind – excessive greeting, generous gifting, fantastic promising, to fetch only a drop. Because they have not stayed long enough to know the major needs of the students and means of achieving them, they tend to be influenced by such things as the sonorousness of campaign jingles, the glamorousness of posters and the attractiveness of faces. And, of course, the quality of leadership is not determined by these. It is rather a function of passion, integrity, experience and intelligence, qualities which are better-gleaned by an expert mind.
The 1998/99 Constitution of the Students’ Union, Article xvi(i) to be specific, states that elections shall be conducted not later than 30 days after resumption in a new session. Milords, some people spend 100 days preparing for a GES course and they still fail. Some couples spend 100 days together and they still do not understand each other. Some have used the same phone for over 100 days and they still do not know its RAM capacity. How then can a student spend less than 30 days in a new environment and yet learn the intricacies of a subject as maddening as politics – mind you, Students’ Union politics – enough to make well-founded decisions?
It is as a matter of fact in the best interest of our dear freshmen to, for that one year, stay off the pitch. Let them stick to political abstinence and remain virgins for that year, while patiently absorbing all there is around them. They may campaign. They may encourage. But voting is, trust me, too big a deal for green hands. This will protect them from being unexpectedly swept off their feet by the heavy tide of dirty politics. It will protect them from being exploited. And it will save people like me from stories that touch, stories of academic accidents caused by head-on collision with union politics.
It is true that the Yoruba say that “omode gbon, agba gbon, ni a fi da Ile-Ife.” But even they will have a further explanation for who an “omode” is. They definitely are not implying toddlers. Don’t get it wrong, I am not comparing our ever-gallant freshmen to toddlers. However, milords, there is a reason the word “sophomore” (referring to a second-year student) is derived firstly from “sophos”, meaning skilled in a craft, clever or wise.
CONCLUSION: This column is about you, it presents the two sides of a case courtesy of two writers from different schools of thought.
“Audi alteram partem” means hear the other side before passing your judgment. Take the gavel, make your decision and slam because you are the judge in this courtroom.
SHOULD FIRST-YEAR STUDENTS BE ALLOWED TO VOTE IN S.U. ELECTIONS?
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