By Abdulazeez Bashir A.

Students' unionism is the demonstration and struggle to promote and defend the welfare and needs of students.

Students' unionism serves as the voice of the Students in all tertiary institutions. The authorities through the Students' Union Government are able to instill discipline and know the feelings and requests of the Students.

Student Unionism is the system or movement of student in an educational setting to pursue and agitate for students' interest. A Student Union Leader is a person appointed by a Caretaker committee or who emerges through an election to guide and inspire the students' body or student community in a representative capacity. He must be representative and participative in that he makes important decisions and leads struggles with the students and not for them. He's like a general on the war fronts; he doesn't fight but with his battalion.

Usually, a student Union leader holds a position in the Executive Council for a stipulated period defined by the Union's constitution.

In Nigeria, university of Ibadan (UI) was the first to begin unionism when it  established students' union in 1964 and its pioneer president was Kunle Adepoju. Its establishment gave a sporadic rise to students' union in other institutions in Nigeria resulting in the formation of a unified union called National union of Nigerian students (NUNS). Then, late ambassador Emmanuel Obe was its first national president.

In those days, students' unionism was feared and respected by government and authorities across Nigerian tertiary institutions. Today, its a travesty of all that. Students are now threatened whenever they stand up against any injustice meted on them by school management.

It is sardonic that students' union leaders nowadays do negotiate students' welfare with managements in return for money or 'juicy appointments'. This in turn renders most students' struggles useless in many tertiary institutions.

In many cases, candidates aspiring for students' unions elective positions do not have well-articulated manifestoes and implementable plans as most candidates do not even understand the workings of the union before presenting themselves for service.

It is very disheartening that some candidates are driven by personal and economic gains and not real service. That mostly leads to financial misappropriation and gross embezzlement of union funds.

Some union candidates are sponsored by certain interest groups within and outside the institutions. This unfortunately leads to imposition, selection, handpicking and coronation of favoured candidates against the wish of the populace and in most cases election are rigged for such candidates through financial inducement against a free, fair and credible election.

These and many other things are the challenges facing unionism today and consequent loss of confidence in students' union leadership and abuse by managements of tertiary institutions.

In view of this, there should be a speedy resolution of issues affecting the Student Unions on campus. There has to be a total shift in our orientation of what unionism is. Unions should not be viewed as adversaries but partners towards organisational success.

Union Executives must be exemplary in their actions and should be alive to their constitutional responsibilities. These may include but not limited to organizing social and sporting activities such as football competitions, traditional attire pageants or cultural days instead of rag or mad days, cultural events, provision of health services and protecting the well-being of students. They must be accessible, transparent and objective.

Student Union leaders must encourage student-to-student interaction by regularly calling congress, forming committees to assign duties, investigating reports of abuse of authority and exhaustively discussing issues before presentation to authorities.

Union leaders must embrace dialogue and negotiation in addressing issues with Management when necessary and deploy time-lines to stimulate response to avoid escalation of demonstrations and the use of brute force should not arise.

Student Union leaders must be astute, vibrant, fearless and courageous in demanding for the rights of students in the most civil manner. They should be careful in doing this and also must know the limits of their powers and cooperate with Management towards achieving institutional goals without compromising standards and welfare of students. They must always liaise with other similar institutional Unions' for purposes of cross-fertilization of ideas and harmony.

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