Still on Morality and Leadership (1)

Behold your NANS

By Dr Sam Amadi

Yesterday, the news media reported that there were gunshots at the national convention of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS). Some officials were reportedly arrested by state security. So many people lamented the moral tragedy that a meeting of Nigerian students could end more violently than PDP or APC conventions. The moral backsliding of contemporary Nigeria seems to pervade every sector of life. Last week we discussed how politicians degrade the morality and even emotional stability of young Nigerian girls in unbridled hedonism. We all took out our angst against the political class. But it is clear that the rot is not in sokoto but inside our sokoto. We have to look inwards to see the mess of immorality that will militate against recovery of the Nigerian state.

NANS is now a mess. Those of who were part of that great organization in the 80s and 90s will lament and blame the new student leaders for lacking the intelligence and integrity to become beacons of hope for a distressed country. I was an Assistant Secretary of NANS in the early 1990s. Those days we used to free-ride to meetings and conventions on trucks going to the north or west. I remember one notable experience when I had no money with me and wanted to get to NANS convention in Auchi Polytechnic. I got to Benin Road by 10 pm. I waited for any help. There was none. I was trapped. I couldn’t go back and I couldn’t go forward. There was no phone to call anyone. Basically I was stranded in the middle of nowhere, with no coordinates. Then I saw a lorry moving towards the north. I flagged it down. “Auchi, Auchi”, I shouted. The Lorry scratched to a halt. Two heavy-built men with bushy beard steered at me. One of them opened the door for me to enter. I jumped in. But no seat for me. I sandwiched between the driver and the co-driver. A few minutes and I was swallowed by sleep. I didn’t know where I was going. After snoring for what seemed like an age., the burly, thickly bearded co-driver tapped me on the leg and pointed across the road. “Na here be Auchi Poly. Come down”. I jumped down, thanked them, and disappeared into the night. That’s how to be a comrade then.

But times have changed. Then we didn’t have any resources to organize NANS meetings and conventions. Apart from that, we had to travel in jeopardy of our lives and the secret police had firm instruction to disrupt and arrest student activists. Many were arrested on such voyages. Some of us were lucky. Imagine my surprise when I returned to Nigeria after graduate studies to see a ‘much improved’ NANS. I had resumed as Special Adviser on Research and Strategy to the Senate President. One morning, my boss summoned me. He gave me a letter and asked for my advice. I fainted. The letter was a request from the leadership of NANS asking for financial support from the Senate of Nigeria for its convention. The expected budget was N200million. N200m to organize a NANS convention? I could not hold my breath. I wrote that the Senate President should not give any support. Let these students go back to classrooms and libraries and focus on their books. Did I feel a sense of betrayal of an institution I helped to nurture? No. Did I feel justification for advising the Senate President to turn down the request? Yes. I felt I was doing a duty to Nigerian students to advice against the request.

Later in the day I was briefed about how NANS has become a cult and thuggish group for politicians. I was told that since 1999, with return to civil rule, NANS was hijacked by politicians and many of their presidents end up becoming political errand boys for these politicians in power. Then it was PDP. Now it is APC.

Now this is transition in public morality and quality of institutions. In the 80s and 90s, NANS was a revolutionary organization because Nigeria faced something close to a revolutionary moment: a popular struggle against military dictatorship. In that environment of repression, anyone who volunteered for student unionism engaged in high risk political game with no rewards. There was no need for financial support from state institutions because you were engaged in life-and-death battle with those institutions. Social dynamics determined private and public morality. The NANS president was a person of certain persuasion and pedigree. Those attributes were reinforced by social expectations. More or less, they all kept faith.

Now things have really changed. There is no revolutionary moment, even radical moment. There are no enemies to fight. Rather there are gravy trains to derail and loot. The new moment creates a new pedigree of leadership. NANS presidents now need to be thuggish, desperate, and unburdened by morality. They have to be as reckless and insensate as their principal- the politicians. That is what was in display at the Old Parade Ground yesterday. The social dynamics has created a different kind of NANS and its leadership. This is how social morality changes. You change the social imperatives and social expectations, you change social morality.

Adieu, the old NANS. Welcome on board, the new NANS.

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