Date Published: 11/28/09
The 'Audacity of Madness' in the University of Calabar Student Union Elections By Jude Egbas
If there is one book Kennedy Nsan loves to read, it is The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama. My guess is that he must have devoured it ten times over from cover to cover. He clutches it like a Bible wherever he goes, making quick references whenever the need arises. Two weeks ago, as I holidayed in Calabar to take my mind off a hectic Lagos lifestyle, Kennedy Nsan (please note that name), brought me up to speed on his University of Calabar Student Union Government (SUG) aspiration. He was vying for the post of President.
Over plates of noodles and juice and a copy of Obama’s bestseller for good measure, on a bright Tuesday morning as he readied himself for the day’s lectures, Ken told me in an emotion laden voice: “I am getting myself ready for higher office with this SUG election. I intend to be a federal senator before I am forty. I have always sought to make a difference in society using the instrumentality of politics and I will……” he trailed off, his left hand placed on The Audacity of Hope.
I had every reason to believe Ken whose election mantra of ‘ The New Deal’ resonated with the Unical voting public and brought back memories of a one time American President. Ken styled his campaign after Obama’s, wowing voters with his eloquence, charisma and a dose of charm accentuated by his good looks. Opinion polls in the University of Calabar community had him leading his closest challenger by twenty per cent. He was not just the new deal, he was the Main Deal.
On polling day, 26 th November 2009, Ken got a dose of what underhand tactics even in a campus election meant. I was livid with rage when a close acquaintance gave me a briefing of the events that had transpired the day before. Mr Kennedy Nsan, early 20s, urbane SUG politician, Gentleman extraordinaire; was abducted by the State Government security apparatus as elections got underway, whisked away to an undisclosed location and told to surrender his mandate as the State Government had an anointed candidate, he was informed. Meanwhile, the same security apparatus had spread word to his army of supporters on campus that their man had thrown in the towel and had decided to throw his weight behind the government’s ‘anointed’ candidate.
‘The New Deal’ was held in custody until close to midnight by which time the ‘anointed’ candidate had been declared the winner. Elections were over, he was told. He had lost while he was incarcerated. Ken had had his say; the State Government had had its way.
Special interest by the State in Student Elections nationwide is not altogether a new thing. In most State and Federal Universities in Nigeria, state governments have been known to throw their weight behind a particular candidate who would have been identified beforehand as one who would do the bidding of the authorities and who could nip student activism in the bud. State governments use SUG elections to identify candidates whose aluta spirit can be kept in check. It is a gamble that could back fire as the supposedly quiet candidate who had ridden on the back of the state to the throne, soon becomes his own man; unwilling to be gagged. Students are a funny bunch. Activism could sprout from an injustice an outsider could consider innocuous.
It is however an infringement of a candidate’s fundamental human rights and a clear case of brigandage, a vice which we are attempting to stamp out in the larger society, for a candidate to be denied his last chance to meet with the voting public via manifestoes—it is condemnable for a state government to abduct a student politician just because some other preferred candidate must win an election. It smacks of an anachronistic variant of ‘Godfatherism’, shambolic as it is nauseating and should be condemned by all right thinking members of the University community and beyond. What hope is there for our country if students who would soon rise to positions of leadership in our country are made to believe that their votes do not count, or that their preferred candidate may never win a free and fair poll?
But should we really expect more in a country where since the advent of our own brand of democracy, elections have been marred by rigging, violence, ballot stuffing and gerrymanders? Really, should the state interfere in a Student Union election? My take on this is that the ruling party in those states would want to harness the latent energy of these young students for some ballot snatching and ‘commando-like’ operations on national polling days in the future so would be better off with lame ducks and puppeteers as Student Union Presidents.
Kennedy Nsan, may have been outwitted, outmanoeuvred and outfoxed by the powers that be in an election in which he was coasting to victory, but his story does not in any way bode well for a nation whose incapacity to hold a credible election is becoming a source of concern for the entire world. His dream (and those of other young and honest Nigerians) of making it to the top echelon of our political space may be sullied by our peculiar politics that is detestable and utterly disgusting in the true sense of those words.
My guess? Ken may soon dump Barack Obama’s Audacity of Hope for Olusegun Obasanjo’s The Animal called Man.
Egbas is a company Executive based in Lagos.