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18 March 2019
The Students' Union of Lagos State University held elections into elective positions in the students' union on 27th February, 2019. The electronic voting system adopted for the conduct of the election malfunctioned particularly in certain faculties during the process of voting. Then the electoral commission during the late evening of the Election Day announced that the election would continue the following day, in order not to subject students to uncertain security situation if the election had continued through the night.
A member of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC), Alowonle Nurudeen (Omomewa), contested for the office of the President of the LASU Students' Union in the election. As a leading member of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) in LASU, he has played active roles in the struggles in defence of the democratic rights of students as well as decent learning conditions. In some of these roles, he has had to confront uncompromisingly the management on certain unwholesome policies– especially over a sexist policy of the school that subjects female students to molestation in the hands of university guards in the name of policing so-called indecent dressing. It should be noted that members of the ERC in LASU have warned in advance of the ploy of the management to disqualify Omomewa at the earliest stage of this electioneering process.
However this ploy became manifest in another dimension, and through the Electoral Commission that made itself a willing tool of manipulation in the hands of the LASU's management. On 28th February, when the election was to continue based on the promise of the commission a day earlier, the electoral body failed to go ahead with the election. At a meeting with aspirants on that same day, the commission cited lack of cooperation from the management, in terms of logistical support, for the failure to go ahead with the election as earlier announced. The commission equally reiterated to all the aspirants that the election was inconclusive, and promised that a new date for supplementary elections would be communicated soon. What the commission eventually communicated to the studentry was a rambling opinion that painted its previous declaration of inconclusive election as an erroneous judgment based on a mistaken belief.
On 13th March, after students had waited fourteen days since the 17th of February's election for a new date for a supplementary election, the commission informed students that it would instead announce the leading candidates from the botched election as winners for the various contested positions. It further justified this U-turn in judgment on the realisation of the commission that the union constitution did not make provision for a supplementary election! Shamefully, the commission had reversed itself on two different occasions, and with their justification growing weaker and desperate still.
It should be noted that the botched election of 27th February was fraught with a suspicious glitch, because the technical problems with the electronic voting system was more pronounced at the Faculty of Education – where Omomewa is a student as well as some members and supporters of the ERC. The comrades had from the beginning of the election noted this anomaly as containing indications of a concerted effort of the management and the electoral commission to frustrate Omomewa's share of the votes in his faculty. Every member of this commission has betrayed the trust that their colleagues reposed in them to have nominated them to serve on the commission. They have proved to be renegers and astute manipulators of popular will – history will not absolve them well.
The results from the botched election of 27th February showed an election that was being keenly contested, and unpredictable at that. Especially because hundreds of willing voters were yet to exercise their franchise as eligible members of the students' union. Until the commission halted the process, the leading candidate was emerging over the first runner-up (Omomewa) with only 59 votes, while the first runner-up was leading the second runner-up by only 59 votes, and the second runner-up was also leading the third runner-up by 57 votes only. If the members of the commission had been conscientious, the nature of this close race would have endeared them to remaining steadfast with the need for a supplementary election. Unfortunately, they yielded to the pressure of the university management.
We have on our hand another odious instance of management's encroachment on independent unionism. The LASU management has a high stake in this election, because of its visible movement lately in the direction of fee increment, which has already taken as victim fresh intakes into the university. The comrades of the ERC in LASU have warned students of the systematic dimension of the policy, which is bound to affect both fresh and returning students soon enough. The university therefore has no doubt about it, as much as the ERC too, that a students' union under the leadership of Omomewa would resist such attempt at increment at a time the nation's elites are resisting the clamour by workers for a new minimum wage.
The ERC comrades have reiterated their intention to seek the impartial intervention of the Election Petition Committee in the matter, and prayed in their petition for the conduct of a supplementary election. It should be noted that the electoral commission had already made a statement before the petition committee that the election was still in progress (inconclusive), when some candidates had challenged the botched election in the first week of March. However, this would depend too on the capacity of the electoral commission to be courageous and independent in its deliberation. It would also depend on the pressure that could be mounted on the LASU management for it to desist from its unwholesome tinkering with the students' union election and activities in general. This development should start a discussion on the financial independence of the students' union in LASU, which would prevent such logistical nightmares in the future – the type of which the commission has complained of.
The LASU management is notorious for its suppressive actions against both staff and students' unions. Recently, the same LASU management suspended the payment of check-up dues to the union of academic staff (ASUU) of the institution. This action must have been taken to break the struggle of ASUU for payment of certain statutory allowances that the university management is owing the staff as well as for reinstatement of their sacked leaders. It is easy to see, behind the action of the electoral commission, the hand of the management at work against the interest of LASU students. Students must maintain a principled position in the defense of their demoractic rights to freedom of association and independent unionism. The ASUU and other staff unions in LASU must see the grain of a struggle for independent unionism in this present circumstance. Transparent management of schools can only be realised when unions are independent and vibrant. The ERC calls on all staff unions in LASU to reject this management's interference in the electoral affairs of the LASU Students' Union.