In the wake of recent protests at the University of Lagos, by the Unilag Students’ Union (ULSU) and students, the school has been shut down till further notice. The protest has been tagged as irresponsible by some, while some others have tagged it as a brave one. The disturbing issue here is the divide. Why is there a divide and what lessons are there to learn from this?
PHOTO CREDIT: bellanaija.com
Issues with the protest were motivated by the description of the protest as one against the management due to poor power supply which has also led to poor water supply. The issues were based on the understanding that the present epileptic power supply is a national and not a municipal problem. Hence, the intelligence of the protest was questioned.
Unknown to many—like me—who questioned the intelligence, the protest was not predicated by the national epileptic power supply, it was based on the school’s mismanagement of funds meant for the procurement of generators to beef up power supply (receipts to prove this are with ULSU, and would be released soon). This and other reasons, such as the monopolistic operations of UNILAG water, which has led to poor supply of sachet water in school.
The poor representation of objectives of the protest backed up with the lack of proper public relations such as sharing pictures of receipts, were disincentives to many students who concluded the protest was not one that could be taken serious.
PHOTO CREDIT: naijj.com
Consequentially, this led to a discord between many students and ULSU (including students that supported the protest), resulting in the forceful coercion of students who did not agree with the protest to join the protest. The forceful coercion was the last straw; aggrieved students took to various social media platforms to verbally attack the union.
Bearing in mind that objectives of the protest were already being perceived as unreasonable, the attacks worsened the public’s perception of the protest, an anomaly the school took advantage of by tagging the protest as a violent one.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unilag Press Club
To make matters worse, the handler(s) of ULSU’s twitter account seemed insensitive using the wrong choice of words—most likely due to the pressure at hand—that aggravated the anger of aggrieved students more so. This weakened the strength of the protest, and the ability to resist the forceful eviction by the management.
To be clear on my stand, based on new information, I believe the management needed to have been tackled but in the manner ULSU did. ULSU’s approach was everything–brave, strong, etc.–but intelligent, that might sound harsh but it is the truth. What could ULSU have done better?
There is no case without valid data. Just as ULSU got the receipts to prove collection of funds for the purchase of generators, it should have gone a bit further. ULSU should have struggled to access data on the school’s finance, a tough but possible feat. Armed with such data, loopholes can be pointed out and listed in proper analysis on such documents.
Secondly, such documents and analysis could have been sent out to media houses, which have led to a case similar to that of the Panama Papers. Which such documents out there, motivating students to protest would not have been as hard as it turned out to be.
Thirdly, ULSU should have lucidly defined its objectives instead of using vague words that led to misconstrued interpretations. That is ULSU needs to look into its PR arm and see how it can make things better when it comes to spreading information and handling reactions. In that vein, ULSU should apologize for the irresponsible replies and comments from its twitter account, the rough handling of students by ‘protest hijackers’, and the innocent ones that were left stranded.
Fourthly, there are better ways to attract the management’s attention; these days locking the gate is not one of them. The gate-lock system is an overused and archaic system. With the gates locked, management staff was still able to go home as many of them live on campus, leaving innocent people stranded.
Alternatively the strategy of occupying areas can be employed. Students could have occupied surrounding areas of the Senate building from as early as 6 am, preventing entry and exit from the building. That way, the impact would have been felt more.
In conclusion, the protest was a really brave move by ULSU. That said, ULSU needs to look into developing its members in the areas of crisis management, public relations, and strategy development/execution. Also, the body should organize and strongly push a press release that would override that of the management. Things could have been better than they turned out to be. God bless ULSU! God bless UNILAG!