Guise of “No Election Break”: Youth Disenfranchisement by ‘Lakunle Jaiyesimi

youthIt is few days to Nigeria’s Presidential elections; and as expected, rumours and counter-rumours are really flying around like birds that have lost the compass to their nests. And facts, figures, forms of statistics, all get dug out even from the darkest recesses of our political community and thrown into the ashtrays on the tables before us. They are not food but information that we can quite well choose to make use of or ignore; and if we choose the latter, we rather ignore forever but the effects may never leave us, similarly, forever. Anywhere there’s light, there definitely has to be some shadows.

It is the presence of shadows in the form of threats and paranoia that seems to give credence to the light in the political life of my dear country, Nigeria and this is a thing to ponder. No thanks to desperate goons, who are dead-scared of losing their seats in power and, well, mostly likely their hands in the national treasury; thereby resorting to cheap propaganda, smear campaign and miscalculated affronts even by those, who should know better to be couth. It is rather too unfortunate that the newest in their arsenal against the Nigerian ‘we, the people’ is massive disenfranchisement of the youth. The Minister of Education, acting out a script, orders all public schools to remain open during the election season. Smh. But for the light that needs to be kept aglow, no thanks to individual stakeholders, who have deemed it fit not to be silent in the face of deceits, corruption, murders, daylight robbery, 700 million naira in the house of a minister, 30 trillion growing wings, contracted but unfulfilled projects, ‘we, the people’ being massacred by unapologetic insurgents, a thieving rogue governor presenting himself as a role model of what and who we pray Nigeria should never be.

As a stakeholder in the Nigeria public educational system (or public schooling system, if you prefer the nomenclature that perfectly suits the kind of “hand-to-mouth” typed education that many Nigerians are wont to be deceived with), I daily come in contact with subjects, witting but mostly otherwise, of that warped system, to say the least. This is therefore a rare privilege, considering the paucity of our unique system around the world.

A casual walk around my University, like every other with no significant difference, accompanied by the sight of students singly or congregating at their various you-can-imagine-all activities will immediately reveal, even to a mind that is less than discerning, that the Nigerian youth cum student is confronted by myriad challenges on all fronts, that even they have come to accept it as a norm to be neglected, extorted from, defrauded, yet victimized and pushed to desperate limits even if without the ambit of the law with such statements as “To whom much is given, much is expected”. What much have they been given, one dares to ask?

Today, the school anthem is extant but the essence is gone. The sincere passion with which that anthem was rendered in the past, with its attendant fever, is no more a thing on display. The lyrics of the Great University anthem are no more believable to current students, maybe even future students. Of course, unless a tangible something is done about it, who’ll ever believe this used to be “Africa’s most beautiful campus”? Are we anywhere close to being “conscious, vigilant, progressive”? Even in the face of the worst form of provocations, will we ever, or are we in the least prepared to, stand for justice, declaring like the fire-spitting Sango “Aluta against all oppressions”, “Forward ever, backward never”? And the most significant but currently the least believable, “For learning and culture, sports and struggle”, comes to mind as the bedrock upon which we must necessarily base our faith for the good future of Nigeria. But curiously what do we get? A disposition that is almost less than a general apathy amongst those who today pride themselves at being students; thankfully several steps ahead of peasants. Alas, what a show of pride you’ll be confronted with.

The golden fifties and few subsequent years were years many of our sit-tight leaders today reminisce about in terms of gloriousness. They had full chicken for dinner and it was a right; this right was not derived from the amount of fees paid but it was government’s way of doing the right thing, at least one of such. Today for instance, no government provides full chicken for Nigerian students. Full chicken? For where; not even an immature snail! Yet, students pay ‘heavily’ to receive this sham called education. When students put up a little protest against increment in school fees, leaders who, in their time, enjoyed free public education accompanied by the largesse of full chicken, are quick to remind them, “Nowhere in the world is education free”, “If you can afford to eat shawarma often, then you should not complain”, “Look at your phone, it’s costs thrice your school fees.”

Some students who accidentally break laboratory glassware, some as cheap as a thousand naira and some much more expensive, are asked to use personal funds to replace the broken glassware and that is in spite of having paid ‘exorbitant’ school fees agreed to at a compromise. Like sheep, there’s absolute compliance; can one then imagine the incongruity of such a student singing “Aluta against all oppressions”? We must have forgotten how many millions and billions the people we voted into power sneak around with. Well, Nigerian students should not be bothered much as there’s a plan to finally prevent them from going through the hassle of having to vote in the first place.

There is so much to say about the Nigerian student and what to expect of them when the Minister of Education orders, as done already, schools to be kept open during the election season, citing the Ebola break, which had made many of the schools to be behind. Lie lie. Na all school dem close that time? No thanks to Presidents of Students Union Governments, who out of partisanship or sheepishness supports the order to keep the school open. How quickly we forget to take more seriously the first election after Nigeria clocks 100 years as a supposed country?

The game-play is obvious but the Nigerian students are not screaming against this disenfranchisement enough. Maybe not at all. Many of these students registered to vote in their hometowns and would need to be home to exercise this civic responsibility. By asking the management of their universities to keep them back in school (seems to me ‘at a gunpoint’) is another way of saying, “If the huge number of Nigerian students are allowed to vote, most likely they’ll vote the other. So, disallow them”.

This amounts to a good play to win political points for the incumbent, but that is only if the students, as characteristic as they have always been and aided by their ‘yahoo’-savvy union leaders, remain docile in the face of yet another oppression. However, this time, the said oppression is not trivial; not about chicken and shawarma, not about cheap glassware and payment of increased school fees, not religious fanaticism or clubbing. All these at the expense of asking pertinent questions that affect their (and our) immediate and future. This oppression goes to the real core of who we are and what we want our dear country to be. Having been born 100 plus years ago, this point is critical for Nigeria and for us. Together, we must admit that this is not about Ebola break; it has nothing to do with regularization of the University calendar; it is about us, our future and the future of our children and their children. It is about Nigeria, the heart of Africa and this is beyond one person or a few of them.

The Minister of Education, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau also stated that schools that are “already on mid-term break should recall their students, while those yet to embark on the break should hold off.” What does that suggest if not that on no account should students be home. It is at times like this that the advice becomes pertinent to “vote and protect your vote”.

Conclusively, I’ll revisit the anthem of that great university, “Even in the face of the worst form of provocations, will we ever (or are we in the least prepared to) stand for justice, declaring like the fire-spitting Sango “Aluta against all oppressions”, “Forward ever, backward never”?

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