The National Union of Ghana students, the largest most structured social movement formed at the conception of Ghana's Independence has been true serious turbulent times in the past year. The Union was seen as amateurish, unfocused, divided, and without any disciplined leadership.
It is a year which all Ghanaians and students in particular must face with courage to say 'Never Again!' Anyway, it won't be enough to perform just the usual talk show of 'not allowing to recur' but most importantly, it behooves on the present leadership to operate and conduct their offices as well as their behaviors to conform with that of any serious organization.
As a keen follower of student and youth affairs in Ghana, I wish to examine the poor state of NUGS, dissect its problems and offer (in my candid opinion), the way forward for the restitution of NUGS to its rightful place as a huge power block in educational matters and nation building on the whole.
Here a little bit of history will do in analyzing the situation. History recalls that the fervor for independence gained greater heights when students who had been schooled in both traditional and foreign disciplines started the agitation for Africans and Ghanaians must live like any other people of the world - in freedom and self governing.
As far back as the 18th century we hear of names whose activities together with Caseley Hayford and many others culminated into the formation of the Aborigines Right Protection Association - the first politically conscious grouping in Ghana.
Again it was through the efforts of Dr. Aggrey, Nkrumah, Padmore that WASU, WANS and similar students' organizations were formed. In 1948, the dismissal of students from Adisadel, Augustines, Mfantsipim and the subsequent formation of Ghana National College to accommodate them gave impetus to the dire need for a radical, organized and sustainable/successive student front or force. So from 1949, student activism became prominent and essential from the lower levels to the highest level of learning. In 1959 the National Union of Ghana Students was formed to give the student force one mouth piece and also address the upsurge of tribal/ethnic groupings among students. The Union was however not formalized until 1965 after the University of Cape Coast and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology were in full flight to shed light to all.
At is stage, it is important to emphasize that the running of NUGS was conventionally the prerogative of the University of Ghana at Legon with University of Science & Tech and Cape Coast University playing Secondary roles to leadership until 1962. Dr. Nkrumah realizing that the "imperialist agents" were still in charge of University Education and Student (youth) activism and therefore promoted the two universities and improved upon their facilities for KNUST for example, to become the most endowed Science & Technology institution in Africa.
These developments and the consolidation of C.P.P. activities on the various campuses plus the orientation programmes that all students entering Universities had to take upon admission into our universities gave birth to the rotational leadership style adopted by NUGS.
NUGS and Politics
We need not be shy in the face of overwhelming evidence. In fact, the National Union of Ghana Students is political institution and has a clear political orientation. It its preamble its position is established as 'a progressive organization' revealing its tilt to the left thereby emphasizing the need to continuously seek the welfare and independence of others, creating a just society and working towards continental unity. I have heard about the blaming of political parties or state institutions for the problems of the union especially in the past year.
Here again, I wish to go down the memory lane. No serious state institution, political party or private agency would dare to be at loggerheads with the student front if they really appreciate what the student force is capable of doing. Remember, all serious changes in the world succeeded because the rode on the wings of students and the youth. So yes, political parties have and will always be interested students leadership.
If my party happens to win elections which I believe it surely will soon, the student wing shall be a priority area. Let us ask ourselves whether the Tertiary wings of the political parties are formed for the mere fact having them exist just in names and nothing else. The tertiary wings constitute mainly the foot soldiers of any serious political party. May be a few examples to stress the might of students will help;
1) Religious reforms in Catholic Universities in America became successful in 1967 after continuous students demonstrations.
2) President Sukarno of Indonesia was overthrown in 1965 when students said he should go.
3) The infamous 1966 coup in Ghana on the 24th of February which ousted President Nkrumah became successful because students were quiet or quieted.
4) Hitters' regime/Nazi ruled only when brutal means were used to close down all other groups (except Nazi) on campuses between 1934 and 1945.
5) The June 4, 1979 and December 31, 1981 revolutions were successful largely for student massive involvement.
6) What about the "2000 positive change" in Ghana?
That is the power of the student force. If you dare it, you will burn! I must stress that the Convention Peoples Party, the first and perhaps the only mass based party in Africa could boast of its strength and sustenance because of her students wing - the National Socialist Students Organization [NASSO]. Indeed after many years of serious attempts to drown the name of Nkrumah and the CPP, they still surface mainly because of this wing. The student force truly is great and immense!
The NUGS Dilemma
Today, NUGS is (supposed to be) comprised of six blocs though one has fallen out, namely: University Students Association (USAG); Ghana National Union of Polytechnic Students (GNUPS)-the breakaway bloc; Graduate Students Association of Ghana (GRASAG); Ghana Union of Professional Students (GUPS); Teacher Trainees Association of Ghana (TTAG) and Regional SRCs representating the second cycle and basic schools grouped in regions (REG/SRCs).
The leadership of the union is no longer rotational but congressional, where delegates from the various institutions gather to elect new officers. I shall now discuss some of the major issues that need to be addressed.
1) Constitution. Representation by accredited schools to congress is prescribed clearly in the constitution on the bases on a range of population which gives an undue advantage to smaller schools. For example, a school or a campus with a population of less than ten 10,000 can bring 15delegates to any congress while those above, can bring 25. Now, if you compare the University of Cape Coast with a population of almost 30,000 and the University for Development Studies which has three campuses treated as three separate schools with a combined population of less than 12,000 but has can present 45 delegates (because of each of the three campuses has 15 delegates), then the issue unfair distribution of delegates becomes clearer.
There are many of such representational disparities especially if you look at the case where despite the fact that TTAG and USAG blocs have the largest population of students yet it is GUPS bloc with the least student population which always has the largest number of delegates at congresses. This must be addressed at once!
Again, the allocation of powers in the constitution must also be looked at critically because after elections, nobody except congress or perhaps Central Committee that can enforce punitive measures on any erring executive. I shall therefore advise that a constitutional review committee be set up now!
2) Most of the leaders are elected on the bases of their involvement in Central Committee meetings and attendance at congresses or how they frequent other campuses without giving much prominence to the substance or maturity of the individual. And this creates lots of problems with respect to team building and adjusting to reconcile their different agenda. It is therefore important that orientation programmes and team building activities are organized for newly elected leaders.
Here I must recognize the initiative of Hon O. B Amoah, (Deputy Minister Ministry of Education, Science and Sports) for organizing such a programme for the executives of the 2006/2007 academic year. We must be sustain such a programmes.
3) The National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS) seems not to have a vision and a strategic plan which could be reviewed from time to time to suit contemporary situations. As a result of this situation, NUGS does very well under repressive and dictatorial governments than under civil and democratic ones. Specifically, the fire and vigor with which students fought in this country and contributed to national development in the 70s, under the PNDC and even before independence is manifestly at variance with the periods under civilian administrations.
One is thus tempted to assume that the union is for agitation and nothing else. But I think the unions' agenda cannot be limited to struggling to bring about change alone but it must also work at maintaining the best changes and establishing an order where, we continue to seek their assistance in all spheres of life. After all that is education is supposed to make them - agents of progressive change and the well being of humanity. The new President and his executive must work at getting possibly a five year strategic plan for the union to pursue. I sure believe it give direction to the union and shape its leadership from swaying into unnecessary engagements for cheap popularity.
If they fail to heed to sound reasoning and the counsel of others and allow amateurish, shallow thinking, emotionally wavering individuals to dictate the pace of their movement they shall end up no different from their immediate predecessors. Care should be their watch word.
The greatest task they must accomplish at all cost is to bring back GNUPS, work at uniting the union and deepen the brotherhood among the rank and file of students.
The way forward:
a. Build positive mental attitudes and behave as leaders.
b. Establish superior human relations, network and build bridges.
c. Set big and challenging goals - big dreamers and great thinkers.
d. Assume responsibility for what you do individually and collectively. No blame game and shirking of responsibility.
Never underrate the experience of your predecessors no matter their weaknesses. They constitute a fountain of information you must drink from. I shall conclude by quoting a great man, Ghana's first president and foremost patriot, Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah; "In all political struggles, there come rare moments, hard to distinguish but fatal to let slip, when all must be set upon a hazard and out of the simple man is ordained strength".
The image of NUGS is dented, confidence among Ghanaian students in their leadership is on the downside, Ghana weeps from a large number of drifting youth yet this great nation must celebrates her golden age of independence next year. This is the period in which you are called to serve Ghana; think, watch and maintain focus!