Sulaiman Adeyemi, the Student Union Leader at the Lagos State University, was cornered recently at a public function by GBENGA AGBOOLA who took him up on some knotty issues about the institution that are begging for answers. He shared his views. Excerpt..
Tell us about yourself.
I happened to be the first Students’ Union President in LASU to take the IEC to court. The IEC is like INEC. It is the electoral committee at LASU. I took IEC and the management to court when they said I cannot contest simply because I have a pending case with the management. I told them because I have a pending case does not mean I cannot contest because I have not been found guilty. People found it difficult to understand why a student will take the management and the IEC to court. I will have gone down with that particular challenge. I just believe in myself that if this thing happened, it means I need to look for a way forward. I took them to court and I won. No matter how big the challenge is, I faced it and tried to conquer it. Even, if I fail to conquer it now, I don’t see myself as a failure. I have tried my best and that means I cannot do it now. I will do it next time around. I don’t get angry and I don’t feel bad about things. I look for a way out of every challenge.
How do such attitude and attribute help your position as a leader?
As a leader, you must not allow yourself to be totally disturbed by unwarranted events. Don’t allow issues to weigh you down. As a leader, you look for solution. If you are the leader, you should be expecting challenges every day. What a leader must do is to solve the problem of other people. As I am here, I am trying to find out how to solve these problems associated with my post. If you allow the problems to affect you, how are you going to solve it? You must prepare your mind, that this seat you occupy is for you to solve people’s problem as a challenge. All you need to do is to know the root of the challenge, identify the issue and find a way of solving it. You don’t run from challenge. Problems must happen and you find a solution to it; that is what leadership is all about. You tackle it, before it creates bigger problems.
What is the cause of what is now known as LASU crisis?
The cause of the crisis at LASU is multifaceted. We cannot identify one thing as the problem of LASU. Firstly, you need to know that the problem of LASU did not start with this administration; it started at the beginning of the university itself. The crisis is as old as the institution itself. Up to this moment, we have had about seven Vice Chancellors, if you look at history very well, you will find that six of them were chased out of the institution because of one crisis or the other. You have students’ issues, staff’s issues, staff’s arrears and promotion, VC’s high handedness and some other issues. The issues of LASU are not just one, we have a lot of issues. Although, other universities have their issues too, we are trying to find a way of solving them. The current one did not involve the student union; it’s between staff union and the management precisely the VC. I see it that way. The VC is no longer in office and the issues still continue because they simply failed to do what they ought to do. The problem is that they are doing the same thing and expecting a different result. What LASU and the staff have been doing to solve the problem right from the beginning is the same thing and the result we are getting is the same. We cannot continue like that, what I am saying is that the moment an issue arises at LASU, we discovered that the staff union together with the students’ union, they will call for VC change. Chase out the VC and at the end of the day, the problems still remain with the institution. Then, it’s time for us to rethink and find another solution. I think institution is very important; we need to build institution and not individuals. VCs usually have their issues, the question is, are they saints? No, they are not. Are the staff and student unions saint? No, they are not. We all have our issues. I believe there is time for us to identify the issues and look for a way forward instead of sending the VCs away. It never helps matters. About a month ago, when Governor Ambode inaugurated the new governing council, I was invited to state the position of the students on the issue. I analyzed a lot of things. I identified the issue of internal revenue generation for LASU. If the staff union is saying that its arrears are not being paid and no promotions and the management replied that there is not enough fund for them to pay arrears or pay promoted staffs; if these are the issues, then we need to think beyond removing the VCs or anybody for that matter. We need to think about how to fund the institution, which will lead to how to increase the internal revenue generation of the institution and increase the subvention. The amount given to the school by the Lagos State Government needs to be increased and UNESCO benchmark on allocation to education must be implemented. We cannot ask the government to shoulder everything as far as education is concerned but if we are getting less than what UNESCO recommended, the issue must be addressed. In fact, if what we are getting is less than 10 percent, then we are going to have a problem. If we have such problem, then the next thing for us to do is to think of how to generate revenue in LASU. I gave them for instance, how we can have LASU bakery, fueling station, we can have lots of income generation ventures. If we have that, then the issue of not paying arrears will not be there. I don’t think any VC will be bad enough to have the fund and not pay the staff because the first primary objective of management is the welfare of the students and staff’s union. The question is ‘do they have that particular money?’ If the answer is no, then let everybody come together including the lecturers. Lecturers can go beyond lecturing. If you are an economic lecturer, you can think on how to increase the internal generated revenue of the university. I believe we all need to come together to tackle that particular issue and some other issues like that. But not by removing the VC, we have been doing that and we are still getting the same result. Don’t forget the VC before Prof Obafunwa was Prof. Hussein. He was chased out of the university by staff union together with students’ union. After Prof. Hussein was chased out, we had Prof. Obafunwa, he tried his best. He made some transformation but we still have the same issues. So, it’s clear that the problem is structural. When people say we don’t have good leaders in Nigeria, I don’t believe that. If you are saying we don’t have good leaders in Nigeria then there are no leaders in Nigeria at all. If you are saying that from independence, we have not had any good leadership, then the problem is the institution. The institution is not well structured, if it is well structured, even if you put someone who is not learned in that particular office he/she will perform because they have already structured the institution the way and manner that anybody can work. If the institution is corrupt, whoever gets there will be stained by the corrupt system. That is the case in LASU; it’s not that the VC is not good. Even, now that they have brought a new person, I still foresee challenges unless things are done in the right manner.
Are you saying if eventually a new VC is selected, he or she might be chased away?
That is what I am saying, expect the same thing within four years. They will find an issue to fault him on. I have already predicted that whoever is selected will be chased away within three years. I am not pessimistic but the structure is not there. And people are not helping matters, we need to come together to help whoever becomes VC. They call us Pro-VC, but I have never supported Prof. Obafunwa. I support the institution. I have never supported the staff union either, our position as students is very simple. When the crisis began, we called a congress and we discussed the issue. At the end, we resolved to play a mediator role. We talked to the parties involved and we sought for solution because whatever happens in this university, we will suffer the most. We identified that there is need for everybody to come together to solve problem rather than putting the blame on one particular party as if, if that party is not there, the problem will be solved. But the party is not there now and the problems still remain. The same thing will still happen if the school is not restructured.
What should we expect from the upcoming SUG election?
The election is coming up on the 24th of November. You should expect the best. Whoever wins will be better than me. That is how LASU Students’ union is structured. I am better than my predecessors, whoever is coming will be better than me because students’ union has its own institution.
Some people believe that Nigerian students are too dormant when it comes to taking action against perceived bad government policy?
Yes, I agree with them because everything has been politicized in Nigeria. Some people went to give one senator in Ogun State an award. National Association of Nigerian Students, (NANS) has turned itself into an empire of what we call “Kisso”. “Kisso” in comradeship means using your intellectual capacity to extort money from people. They don’t do what they ought to do anymore. Beyond that, we still have some students that still believe in the principle of the founding fathers of the student unionism. The fact remains that NANS itself must restructure. People go to NANS because they need money, to set their personal agenda and to be a political office holder in the next two months later. These had destabilized the students’ movement in Nigeria now. Beyond that, political office holders have turned NANS into a forum they use to achieve their political aims. If NANS failed to restructure, a breakaway group will come up.
What is your plan after graduation?
I am going to be a legal practitioner and at the same time a politician like my mentor, Mr. Raji Fashola.