ON THE 17/11/2014


It was the 28th of October 1939 in Prague. Students of the Medical Faculty of Charles University had gathered to mark what ought to have been the independence anniversary of Czechoslovakia, the only nation they had known, and to protest the theft of their national identity by the Nazi government that had overrun their country, occupied it and changed its name to the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. However, their gathering was brutally suppressed by the Nazi regime and, in the process, a student named Jan Opletal was shot and wounded and would later die of gunshot wounds on the 11th of November that year. Not deterred by the brutality of the regime, the thousands of students who graced Opletal’s funeral turned the procession into an anti-Nazi demonstration. The Nazi government responded drastically by closing down all the higher education institutions in the country and clamping down on students and lecturers. More than 1,200 students were arrested and sent to concentration camps while nine students and professors were summarily executed on the 17th of November, 1939, 75 years ago today. The international shockwaves generated by that incident led to the recognition of the 17th of November as the International Students’ Day.

I am happy to join the government and students of Ogun State in the celebration of this day. I am aware that barely three months ago, students of Olabisi Onabanjo University had misunderstandings with the government over demands for fee reduction and that the ensuing violent protests led to the closure of the school. I am glad that those misunderstandings have been resolved and that the school has since been re-opened. Conflict resolution through dialogue is the hallmark of democracy. The fact that negotiations led to compromise and trustful give and take suggests that it is a relationship between a listening government and a reasonable people. I salute the government and the student leaders for arriving at common grounds in the resolution of the crisis. Nevertheless, I am a bit disappointed that the problem, at some point, degenerated into violent protests that led to the destruction of property.

As you all know, I am an advocate of citizens demanding their rights from the government and holding government accountable, if need be, through protests. However, I have never been an advocate of violence as a means of registering one’s displeasure or making one’s demands known. While I question the use of tear gas to halt a protest that was initially peaceful according to reports, I completely disagree with the resort to violence. Destroying property to make a point is tantamount to cutting one’s nose to spite one’s face and, sometimes, it is hapless members of the public that bear the brunt. It makes no sane point at all. Maturity demands going to the negotiation table. Where negotiations are stalled, there are civilized ways of navigating roadblocks.

When one is certain that one is fighting for a just cause, the guiding principle, even in the face of repression, should be: no revenge, no reprisals, no rage, no resentment, and no violence. That was our mantra when the Save Nigeria Group confronted the government at the Gani Fawehinmi Park, Ojota, for five days over corruption in the fuel subsidy regime. It is what I recommend to any activist group that must engage the government in the demand for good governance, and I particularly recommend it to students who are here on this day to celebrate. I commend the state government under the leadership of His Excellency, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, for putting that sour incident behind and counting the students of this state worthy of celebration.

Indeed, etched on the foundation story of the International Students’ Day, which I earlier recounted, are the marks of courage, patriotism, the crusade for justice, and resistance to tyranny. The commemoration of this day represents the promotion of activism; activism that is hinged on the realization that there is no such thing as free freedom, for, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed”. It represents the elevation and furtherance of a culture of protests, a culture that concurs with Gandhi’s posturing when he said, “Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly”; a culture that corroborates the words of American author and poet, Ella Wheeler Wilcox who said, “To sin by silence when they should protest, makes cowards of men”; a culture that recognizes that “the man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny” as our own Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, succinctly put it.

Furthermore, this day represents the elevation of the philosophy of “might is not always right” and that a people must have faith that “right makes might” and, in that faith, dare to do their duty, as was once espoused by Abraham Lincoln, the man whose definition of democracy as the “government of the people, by the people and for the people”, has survived the ages. That duty includes dissent, which is, indeed, the bedrock of democracy for as Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of modern democracy, once said, “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority”, which implies that the government owes the citizens a corresponding duty to provide honest answers. This culture of accountability in public service, characterized by people questioning government and the government providing honest answers, is the only guarantee of good governance.

What then, one may ask, is good governance? It is what results when the best, brightest and fittest are given the opportunity to serve the people. It is what results from the rise to power of the righteous such that the land becomes saturated with the rejoicing of the people. It is what results when public servants realize that service to the people on behalf of God, is the purpose of their election, appointment or ascendancy, and therefore resolve to serve with the integrity of their hearts and the skillfulness of their hands.

The overall goal of good governance is the empowerment of citizens. Not only is it characterized by the presence of the right people in public office, it is also typified by systems and structures that guarantee the realization of this objective of citizen empowerment – systems and structures that not only facilitate growth and development but also asphyxiate forces such as corruption and insecurity that could hinder the realization of the state’s objectives.

The features of good governance are what some have described as the dividends of democracy and include features such as security, law and order, people-focused fiscal and monetary policies, infrastructural development, food security, decent and affordable housing, affordable and good quality education, job creation, healthcare and social services, among others. These features are the outcome of an excellent spirit in public service.

The principle of democracy suggests that citizens find able persons from among themselves upon whom they confer authority and power to act on their behalf as provided for by the constitution with a view to realizing good governance. Good governance is therefore the promise of democracy. Nevertheless, where fallible men govern fellow men, the best of men would still be men at the very best such that government may fail to fulfill this promise to the extent of the fallibility of the systems, structures and people in government. Where government fails to fulfill the promise of democracy despite its honest efforts, the citizens have a right to question the government, which, in turn, owes the citizens a duty to provide honest answers. This would, at least, douse tension and foster an atmosphere of understanding and cooperation between government and the people with a view to finding solutions.

However, where government refuses to provide answers or where there is a policy of repression and a deliberate denial of the rights of citizens and where government becomes an institutional tyrant oppressing, suppressing and subjugating the people, robbing them of their identity as free citizens of their land such that, in the words of Martin Luther King, the people find themselves “an exile in their own land”, then the citizens owe their country the duty to resist tyranny, a duty once described by Thomas Jefferson as an act of “obedience to God”, a truth corroborated by American author, Edward Abbey, when he said, “a patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government”. The patriotic defense of country against tyrannical governance and the courageous pursuit of freedom, democracy and good governance, was the spirit that birthed the International Students’ Day, the 75th anniversary of which brings us here today.

The historical backdrop of this day would suggest that, following the 1939 incidents, the world acknowledged the role of students in the crusade for good governance. This leads to the question: What, in the configuration of the student, makes him or her suited to this role? Perhaps, it is the fact that studenthood often coincides with youth which connotes drive, adventure and passion, with little care for risks. It was Helen Keller who once said, “It is not possible for civilization to flow backwards while there is youth in the world. Youth may be headstrong but it will advance its allotted length”. The tendency to challenge the status quo, a tendency that is inevitable if the duty to defend the course of truth and freedom must be performed, is found naturally in the youth. It is why all through history, older men may declare war but it is the youth that must fight and die, as Herbert Hoover once observed, perhaps drawing inspiration from the biblical story of Ahab in the 14th verse of the 20th chapter of the 1st book of Kings.

However, youth is not just a matter of age; it is a quality that has much to do with the state of the mind. John F. Kennedy captured this in the following words: “This world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the life of ease.” This accounts for another probable reason for the intricate connection between studenthood and the inclination to protest: the power of an enlightened mind. Albert Einstein once observed that when one stops learning, one starts dying. Henry Ford made it clearer when he said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or at eighty. Anyone who keeps learning keeps young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young”. The reason is not farfetched. An enlightened mind is more likely to demand its right than a mind that is kept in the darkness of ignorance. You have to have an enlightened mind to realize that the power you face is the power you perceive. In other words, the oppressor’s power is your perception of his power; the oppressor’s power is first conceived in your thoughts. The source of his power is in your mind. If you do not think that a man has power over you, he has none. It takes an unblocked mind to realize this and knowledge is the key that unblocks the mind. The educational environment, being a repository of knowledge, becomes a breeding ground for a radical breed that is opposed to an undesirable status quo and is ready to challenge it, no matter the risks involved.

This is why oppressors in every dispensation, regime or garb hate sound education. In the words of John Dewey: “Education is a social process. Education is growth. Education is not a preparation for life, education is life itself”. Add to that the words of Edward Everett: “Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army”. No wonder Boko Haram, their sponsors, and supporters hate education. Ladies and gentlemen: “Only the educated are free” (Epictetus). As a matter of fact: “Education makes people easy to lead but difficult to drive, easy to govern but impossible to enslave” (Henry Peter Brougham). Perhaps this is why President J.F. Kennedy declared to Americans: “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. Indeed, History is replete with the risky connection between the student and the crusade for good governance, from the Civil Rights Movement in America in the 1960s to the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989 which was brutally quashed by the Chinese government.

The Nigerian experience with student activism for good governance dates back to the pre-independence era, first with two London-based students of Nigerian origin, Ladipo Solanke, who founded the Nigerian Progress Union, and Herbert Bankole-Bright, a member of the National Congress of British West Africa. These two Nigerian students would later inspire the founding of the West African Students Union (WASU) in 1925 and lead the organization upon its founding. Aside matters relating to student welfare, WASU actively engaged the British government in London. Aligning with the Communist Party of Great Britain to table its concerns before the British Parliament, it successfully campaigned against an African village exhibition which, it argued, was exploitative.  Solanke also inspired the formation of branches of WASU in West Africa including in Nigeria, Sierra Leone and the Gold Coast. The Nigerian branch became the precursor to the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM). Student activism became one of the anti-colonial campaign vehicles in 1944 when students of King’s College, Lagos, refused to vacate their school premises for British troops.

Upon the attainment of independence, student unionism became a force to reckon with politically when students of the University of Ibadan marched to the parliament in Lagos and put an end to the Anglo-Nigerian Defence Pact which was seen as a neo-imperialist agenda. Again, the UI students, inspired by Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s analysis of the 1963 census figures, opposed the result of that exercise. They boycotted classes and headed for the capital though they were turned back in Maryland by police.

The impact of Nigerian students was felt in the Constituent Assembly of 1978 that laid the groundwork for the 1979 constitution. Segun Okeowo, the then leader of the National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS), caused a stir in the Assembly when he walked into the Assembly clad in communist attire to emphasize an ideological point. Segun Okeowo had led the Ali-Must-Go protest when the military dictatorship of General Olusegun Obasanjo imposed draconian fees and feeding costs on Nigerian students. I was actively involved in that protest because, as a self-sustaining student at the University of Lagos, I had calculated the costs of my education before embarking on the journey and had just enough to pay my fees and cover my welfare and feeding needs. So, when Obasanjo, through his then Education Minister, Ahmadu Ali, arbitrarily increased the fees and costs of feeding, I understood the implications of that policy for poor and struggling students, so I joined the protests. However, General Obasanjo’s government ordered the brutal suppression of that protest; live bullets were unleashed on protesting students. As we proceeded outside UNILAG’s main gate, I narrowly escaped death as Akintunde Ojo, the young man standing just beside me, was gunned down.  Through that incident, Obasanjo carved his name on marble as a villain of democracy. Sometime later, I believe it was November 11, 1978, which happened to be his birthday, Augustino Neto, the then president of Angola visited Nigeria and was led to the University of Lagos by his Nigerian counterpart, General Obasanjo. As a law student and a student activist who had contested for the office of the President of the University of Lagos Students’ Union (ULSU), I had the opportunity of addressing the student gathering. I did not mince words as I pointed to Obasanjo and said to his face; “This government possesses power without compassion, might without morality and strength without sight”. I later found out that was the day the SSS first opened their file on me.

In 1989, when the government of General Ibrahim Babangida sought to barter the Nigerian state with western economic imperialists through the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), under the leadership of Segun Maiyegun, mobilized Nigerian students in anti-SAP riots. Student leaders printed handbills highlighting the thievery of the President and the Chief of General Staff. These were distributed to other students and used to mobilize students and the general public, thereby igniting a showdown with the government. Unfortunately, that protest was hijacked and degenerated into physical violence.

In 1993, when the same General Babangida annulled what is acclaimed to be the freest and fairest elections ever held in Nigeria for no just cause, thereby overthrowing the people’s mandate, the leadership of NANS, after a meeting at the then Bendel State University, Ekpoma, issued a two-week ultimatum to the government for the de-annulment of the elections. Nigerian students subsequently played an active role in the pro-democracy protests that ensued. It is no coincidence that we are gathered here today at the June 12 Cultural Centre to mark the International Students’ Day.

Indeed, campuses were the breeding grounds for Nigeria’s heroes of democracy especially those who fought against the military and those who have continued to fight for the cause of democracy and good governance, the likes of Professor Wole Soyinka, Chima Ubani of blessed memory, Yinka Odumakin, Joe Okei-Odumakin, Femi Falana, Festus Keyamo, Omoyele Sowore (now the founder of Sahara Reporters), and others.

Nevertheless, student unionism in Nigeria today is in a sorry state. Not only has it fallen from its pinnacle of intellectual doggedness and ideological astuteness, it has lost its activist steam and has become a mere appendage of ruling political parties and a tool in the hands of corrupt politicians. The apotheosis of the perfidious degeneration of student unionism occurred in 2005 when NANS decorated General Obasanjo as a ‘Defender of Democracy’; yes, the same General Obasanjo who masterminded the brutal repression of unarmed students who were merely registering their displeasure at the hike in fees; the same Obasanjo, who ordered the killing of peacefully protesting students and who went on to proscribe student unionism, was named ‘Defender of Democracy’ by a sell-out NANS. Worse still, when progressives rose up against Obasanjo’s third term agenda in 2005, NANS shamelessly campaigned for Obasanjo’s life-presidency agenda. In essence, Obasanjo killed student unionism in Nigeria. As a military Head of State, he killed NUNS by brutal repression and eventual proscription. Student unionism was later revived as NANS during the Shagari regime. When Obasanjo returned as civilian president, he killed NANS and made it a shadow of itself, doing so this time by corrupting the body. Upon the foundation of corruption of student unionism laid by Obasanjo, NANS has become weak and factionalized in subsequent administrations.

With respect to the disposition of Nigerian students to elections in Nigeria, the trajectory has been from progressive participation to disenfranchisement, from disenfranchisement to apathy and from apathy to complicity. Student participation in national politics began with active involvement in progressive politics in the pre-independence and early post-independence era as well as in the First Republic. At that time, student groups aligned with the politics of ideas and with pro-masses politicians such as Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Aminu Kano. Under military regimes, student groups fought for the restoration of democracy. However, upon the return to civil rule since 1999, students have often been disenfranchised in a somewhat systematic manner. During voter registration, schools are in session and most students are on campus. Therefore, they register within the campus vicinity. However, during elections, schools are closed by reason of the academic calendar or deliberately by the government apparently to prevent mass action by students. Hence, during elections, students return home and are unable to cast their votes as they are far away from where they registered to vote. This systematic disenfranchisement, in addition to the perception that their votes do not count, has bred a culture of apathy. Therefore, we find that a good number of Nigerian students hardly participate in the process that will determine their social, economic and political future. From apathy, some students plunge into complicity in the corruption and rigging of the electoral process while some student leaders become sell-outs to money wielding politicians; worse still, cult groups become readily available for use by these politicians as political thugs.

In line with our theme, we shall examine what should be the role of students in the forthcoming general elections in view of the objective of good governance. However, before we do so, it is important to analyze interactions between the Nigerian state and the Nigerian campus against the backdrop of the state of the nation so as to contextualize and properly situate the proposed solutions. I use the term “campus” as symbolic of higher education institutions.

In relation to the Nigerian polity, the campus exists in the following dimensions:

1. The Campus Exists as a Subset of the Underdeveloped Socio-Economic Landscape of the Nation

A subset is a part of a larger group of related things. By this, I mean that the campus is situated within the socio-economic decay currently plaguing the nation. For instance, take a look at the education sector to which the campus belongs; look particularly at that level of education that feeds the campus:  the secondary level. For a while now, the media has been awash with calls for a state of emergency in the sector following the dismal performance of students in the 2014 West African Senior School Certificate Examinations that resulted in a 69% failure rate. The situation has been even more appalling for the South-West states. While I congratulate the South-East states for a consistent fair performance in the WASSCE in recent years, I must challenge the South-West states for falling from the height that we once occupied and for losing the one thing that we once had as our source of pride. The prioritization of education by Chief Obafemi Awolowo positioned the zone for its pride of place as the nation’s intellectual nerve centre. Ekiti State, for instance, used to be celebrated for its roll call of professors. The painful decline simply questions the authenticity of the claims by the South-West leaders of Awoist inclinations.  I have always pointed out that putting on Awo’s cap does not equate having Awo’s brains.  It was Harold Smith who once said that Chief Awolowo had sufficient mental capacity to govern both the United States and Britain at the same time. With that mental capacity, Awo placed the Western Region at the forefront of intellectual accomplishments; but what do we have today? With Ekiti State, the fountain of knowledge, coming 34th among the 36 states and the F.C.T. in the 2013 WASSCE, have the South-West leaders not removed the ancient landmarks? Perhaps the former governor of Ekiti State took this as a challenge when he began to purge the education sector in that state. His reforms, which, apparently, cost him his reelection, may have paid off after all, going by the fact that the recently released 2014 WASSCE results had Ekiti State in the 12th position. Now that the people have elected a populist governor who emphasizes “stomach infrastructure” over capacity development, we hope the gains will not be lost. But before we look into the affairs of our neighbours and forget ours, let me remind you, your Excellency and the good people of our state, that Ogun State, which came 11th last year with a mere 39.92% pass rate, further dropped to 18th position this year with a 26.92% pass rate.

Beyond education, and beyond specific states, from the national economy, which is reeling from falling oil prices and the cessation of importation of Nigerian crude by the United States, a situation that has once again highlighted the structural defects in the economy despite the assurances of the government, to the capacity deficit in transportation, power, housing and healthcare, the sorry state of the nation cuts across sectors; with the Boko Haram insurgency which has reportedly claimed more than 20,000 lives, led to the abduction of more than 500 women since 2009, resulted in the displacement of over 250,000 persons and the occupation of about 8 local governments in the North-East by terrorists, insecurity might not sufficiently describe the unstable state of the nation. Also worrisome is the monstrous public corruption that goes on unstopped and unabated with criminal impunity pervading the polity across sectors and at different levels of government.

When it is considered that the campus exists within this socio-economic context, the state of the campus should not be surprising. Higher education in Nigeria is bedeviled by human capacity and infrastructural deficit, incessant strikes, irregular academic calendars and cult activities, among others. In the 2014-2015 World University Rankings in which 5 African universities, 3 in South Africa and 1 in Morocco, made it to the top 400, no Nigerian university made the list. Even more troubling than poor ranking is the fact that the output of the campus is largely considered unemployable by prospective employers.

Despite the fact that a Nigerian polytechnic was ranked as the best in Africa in 2013, Nigeria’s inability to turn her polytechnics into centres of technical innovation shows the capacity limitations of these institutions. Instead we waste time debating the university and polytechnic dichotomy in the context of paper qualification. In Ogun State, we have a number of polytechnics, but how equipped are they to become catalysts for technological advancement in the state and nation?

2. The Campus also Exists as a Consequence of the Quality of Governance in the Polity

Despite the efforts of government, from the federal to the state level and even at the local level, to address the challenges plaguing the nation, the failure of government to surmount our nation’s problems is glaring. It is therefore clear that good governance – the objective of democracy – remains elusive and that the undesirable state of the nation is not unconnected with the poor quality of governance. Having in mind the fact that the campus exists in the context of the state of the nation and as a subset of the larger socio-economic landscape, it is logical to conclude that the state of the campus is a consequence of the insufficiency of good governance in the polity. However, it must be pointed out that the challenge of governance is not all about the people in government for, indeed, there are good people in government and some are making genuine efforts to make things work. It is also about the systems and structures of government – systems and structures that take governance far away from the people, stifle local governance and expend about 72% of our resources on maintaining government thereby neglecting critical infrastructure; systems and structures that prevent the different parts of the nation from growing and developing at their respective paces.

3. The Campus Further Exists as a Microcosm of Poor Quality Governance

A microcosm is a community, place or situation regarded as encapsulating in miniature terms the characteristic qualities of something much larger. I will not dwell on the corruption that exists in the governing councils of some Nigerian institutions or how some of these councils have become an extension of the rotten politics in the nation, as that would be talk for another day. As the students are the focus of this day, I would rather make mention of the catastrophic quality of governance in the student unions. With due respect to the exceptions, the corruption, aggrandizement, violence, incompetence and cluelessness that characterize politics in the polity today may have become the same condition of politics and leadership among students on campuses. Also, with due respect to possible exceptions wherever they may exist, student union governments have largely become avenues for enrichment of perennial and never-graduating students. For instance, just as Obasanjo was hatching his third term agenda, it was reported that Kenneth Hembe, the NANS president who became his mouthpiece, also worked to elongate his tenure as NANS president. Such student leadership would naturally lack the moral fibre and intellectual sagacity to engage the government with a view to facilitating the improvement of the state of the campus or to influence government policy beyond the campus.

4. The Campus Finally Exists as an Extension of Poor Quality Governance

It is logical and indeed laudable that student leaders develop relationships with leaders in the polity. As a student activist, I was a member of the youth wing of the Unity Party of Nigeria in UNILAG called The Dyna Club alongside with my friend Gbenga Daniel. I was also on the podium with Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the big wigs of his party the day UPN was launched in Lagos. As young people, we followed Awolowo because of the philosophy of governance that he espoused and demonstrated. Had I not been schemed out of victory in the University of Lagos Students’ Union presidential elections, I would have extended the sagacious leadership style of Awo, who was then my mentor, to the campus environment and its radius of influence within the polity. Therefore I find nothing wrong in mentor-protégée relationships between established politicians and student leaders. What I find disheartening, however, is the hijacking of student unionism by political godfathers with the aid of their student conspirators who go on to extend the bad governance records of their godfathers within student union circles and beyond.

Against the backdrop of these interactions between the state and the campus, what then must be the role of students as we approach the next general elections? Before we find the answers to this question we must first answer the question of what Nigeria needs at this time, going by the current state of the nation, as I said in my television broadcast to the nation yesterday.

At this sensitive period in our polity when the nation seems to be tottering on the edge of a precipice, is a general election the solution to our crises or will elections aggravate the problem? As strange as the question may seem, there could be nothing more pragmatic than providing honest answers to these posers at this crucial juncture in our national existence.

With parts of the North under the siege of Boko Haram in the form of outright territorial control in some cases and guerilla styled terror attacks in others and with the government failing to bring the situation under control, what is the guarantee that there will indeed be general elections in 2015? Even if elections are held successfully in some parts of the country, would results be conclusive without elections in the troubled parts? How would displaced persons cast their votes or are they automatically disenfranchised? How safe would massive campaign rallies be? With politicians and their militant cronies on both sides facing up to one another ahead of the elections and sounding the drumbeats of war should the elections not go in their respective interests, what would be the aftermath of a general election? We may argue that elections have been successfully held in some states under heavy military presence but let us not forget that we do not hold staggered elections in Nigeria. We are talking about general elections.

If one were to ignore the atmosphere of intimidation and the warlike environment that such massive military deployment across the nation at the same time would create, do we even have sufficient security/military personnel for such a mission? What would be the impact of such a thin spread of our military on the safety of terror-stricken areas? In whatever way the results of the general elections go – North or South  –  are we prepared for the reactions that could ensue? Against the structural and systemic backdrop of the chaotic state of the nation, what is the wisdom in holding elections without dealing with these foundational problems? If the politicians ignore these salient questions and go ahead to juggle for power in the midst of chaos, then that would seem to lend credence to the allegation that the politicians do know what the Nigerian people do not know and are behind the crises in our nation, competing among themselves to see who can best manipulate the situation for political gains, not caring how many lives are lost in the process as long as personal ambition is achieved.

I have consistently alerted the nation since 2012 that if we fail to fix 2014, there would be no 2015. We need first to address the underlying problems by joining forces to deal with insurgency, seeking national reconciliation and integration, forging a new people’s constitution, developing a blueprint for development along zonal lines, organizing an accurate census and establishing a truly independent electoral commission whose head is not appointed by the President and whose financial allocation will be obtained from the first line charge of the Federation Account. The structural framework for such necessary pre-election reforms is beyond the scope of today’s theme. However, in my capacity as a servant of God and a watchman mandated to warn the nation ahead of impending danger, I have already made it clear to the nation that we need a transitional arrangement to pilot our nation out of this chaos before we can talk about elections. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Nevertheless, in relation to the theme of this occasion, that is, the role of students in the forthcoming general elections, I enjoin students to focus first on what they must do before the general elections whenever they hold. I suppose the organizers of this event would expect me to simply encourage students to participate in the pre-election activities, to vote and to protect their votes. That is important and I have, in the past, mobilized young people to do so. We did so in 2011 when I never even knew that I would be a running mate in that election. We gave it the acronym RSVP: Register, Select, Vote, and Protect your votes. At that time, in mobilizing the young as well as the old, we defined ‘vote’ as ‘Voice of the Electorate’ (V.O.T.E) as we vigorously mobilized voter participation using various communication channels. I did this without knowing or expecting that I would later on be canvassing for votes. All we were interested in was mobilizing the people to exercise their franchise wisely by choosing credible leaders. Even now, I do encourage young people to perform their duties as responsible citizens; to participate in the permanent voters card collection exercise, to register if they were below 18 during the last elections and to register close to where they expect to reside  during the elections, to study the alternatives wisely and to make informed and issue-based decisions in exercising their franchise and to protect their votes as much as they can, but I also have a duty to talk to you plainly and in all honesty, given the prevailing situation.

Consequently, in talking plainly to the students seated here and to those represented as well as those across the nation who will later on listen to this speech or read about it, I will be challenging you on what you must do before the elections, whenever they hold. As individuals and as bodies of students, you must, first of all, self-reflect, self-evaluate, self-reconstruct, self-develop and self-organize. Individual students must take responsibility for their lives and take personal development seriously for one cannot contribute meaningfully to societal development without adequate personal development. It was Winston Churchill who once said, “The price of greatness is responsibility”. To this end, you must pursue excellence in learning. You must incline your minds to wisdom, knowledge and understanding for these are the keys to unblocking the mind and unlocking potential.

Then, you must rid yourselves of cultism and other self-destructive tendencies and take back student unionism from hoodlums and charlatans. You must restore student unionism to its glory days. You must bring back the days of the Segun Okeowos, the days of the Segun Maiyeguns, the days of the Yinka Odumakins, the days of the Joe Okei-Odumakins, the days of the Lanre Arogundades, the days of the Omoyele Sowores, the days of the George Iwalades, the days of activism, of ideas, and of principles.

After undergoing such rebirth, the student unions must become a shining light to the dark polity, separating themselves from the corruption and decay that is in the polity. They must then align themselves with nation-builders, not self-seeking politicians. They must become crusaders for the restructuring and rebirth of the Nigerian nation, organizing themselves into a movement for national reconciliation and integration and placing a demand on Government to implement recommendations that will rescue this nation from the looming danger, including recommendations by the just concluded 2014 National Conference in which I participated actively as a South-West delegate, in which students were represented, and in which all the delegates, including the students, signed a Charter for National Reconciliation and Integration. Nigerian students must become the spearheads of the adoption of the spirit and letter of that charter as a necessary step to national rebirth.

Then, they must actively mobilize for free, fair and credible elections when the structural and systemic framework for such has been created. Not everyone may agree with me on this sequence but this, I am convinced, is the path that Nigerian students must follow, given the current state of the nation.

In conclusion, I thank the government of Ogun State for its efforts at providing good governance in the state and I pray to God that the government will find more grace to execute its developmental agenda for the state. My counsel to Your Excellency, the Governor of Ogun State, is that you continue to do what is right no matter what. However, you must always remember that when complaints are not attended to, they develop into problems and when problems are not solved, they become burdens. Therefore, it is our collective interest that those in leadership position should listen to genuine complains when they arise  and to act promptly and wisely in dealing with them. Leaders who act justly and in fairness at all times, will elevate principles above persons and even above party politics.

I enjoin you students, as young leaders of the nation, not to despair and to never again take the law into your hands. As Martin Luther King said to the activists of his day, you must always rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The nation you are used to may seem to be overwhelmed by the dark clouds of instability and confusion, but I assure you that no matter how dark it may seem now, there is a silver lining beyond the dark clouds; for out of this chaotic state of the nation, a new nation will arise and Nigeria will be saved, Nigeria will be changed and Nigeria will be truly great.

Thank you all. God bless the government and people of Ogun State, God bless the students of this nation and God bless Nigeria.

Pastor ‘Tunde Bakare,
Serving Overseer,
The Latter Rain Assembly,
Lagos, Nigeria
The Convener, Save Nigeria Group.