Students’ Union Government: The Microcosm of a Country's Political Outlook
In the evening of Wednesday, 8 February 2023 when the results of my faculty election were finally collated and I emerged as the 30th president of my Faculty in Lagos State University, Faculty of Arts, I felt the sharp urge to share the experience of how I have found the status quo of school politics in similar view with the political activities outside the school. This is what I cannot manage to dabble into without explaining what constitutes the Student Union Government, alongside comparing and contrasting between school politics and national politics.
A Students’ Union body is an association of students in a particular institution of education, usually guided by certain stipulated rules and regulations to regulate their operations and activities; and primarily intended to protect and defend their common interest in line with the society (Isah 1991:2). The Students’ Union Government is in its short form known as SUG and exists in almost every university and college in the world saddled with the responsibility of being the mouthpiece and spokespersons of the student populace in what is in their best interests at every point in time to the hearing of the university management. As a necessity, the association of student Union on campus is guided by a constitution which is in tandem with the laid down rules and regulations of the university; hence, promoting a cordial relationship between the students and the university authority. This constitution of the SUG also gets amended as and when deemed fit due to changes in the political views, ideas and interests of both the students and their representatives, just as a country’s constitution binding on every citizen is also subjected to amendments as and when due. Moving on to the stages of authority and representation in the SUG settings, similar to the grassroot’s level in the political context of a country, there is the association of students at the departmental level comprising the executive and the legislative arms. The legislative arm at the departmental level consists of members of students who represent each level (100L-400/500 levels) of the students' legislative council (SLC).
Futhermore, what can be likened to the state level in this setting is the faculty association which also consists of the executive and legislative arms of government; each department in a faculty forms a constituency sending forth a number of students as their representatives in the house known as the Students’ Representative Council (SRC). Just as the students' executive council (SEC) at the departmental level projects the interest of the students at the departmental level like the Head of Department (HOD) does at the level of university management, so do faculty SEC represents the interest of the students under the Dean of the faculty, who happens to be the head.
The similitude of the federal government in the political setting of a country are the executive council, legislative and the judicial arm of the Students' Union Government representing the interest of the students before the topmost authority of the university; the vice chancellor and the Senate. The SEC of the SUG, therefore consists of political aspirants across all the faculties in the university, while the legislative arm known as the students’ parliamentary council (SPC) comprise the representative members from the SRC at the faculty level.
What is more, unlike the four-year tenure of the political system outside the university, the SUG members reign for just an academic session. Elections are conducted by the committee nominated by the SPC under the leadership of the speaker of the house, the annual atmosphere in which this is done is known as the Transition Sitting. This committee consisting of the chairman, secretary, treasurer etc. is known as the Independent Electoral Committee (IEC), a similitude of Nigeria’s INEC. The whole campaign processes and electioneering of the SUG in comparison to the politics outside the university are the same in its pros and cons, just that that of the SUG is low-budgeted.
During electioneering into offices of student union, most of the students demand that their fellow students who are candidates for the election pay them or buy them drinks before they can be given the opportunity to address the students. This is not only anti-democratic and reactionary, but also a reflection of what is happening in the wider political system of Nigeria. Emmanuel (2019).
This article has explained how a country’s political setting is the advanced level of the students Union Government; SUG is more or less like a preparatory terrain for politically inclined students to test-run their leadership prowess and ability to deliver the interests of the led in a democratic system of government. While it is a testing and preparatory ground, it also exhibits some of the anomalies that characterise the larger political structure such as the need to be politically buoyant in order to apply for an office. This article submits that the university is a microcosm of the larger society and unless we get it right as a nation at the top, the student Union body will remain a reflection and the undesired will be perpetually passed downward.