Student Activism and Global Politics. Nigeria in Focus

Academic Paper, 2009

8 Pages

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Students, as an organized body, have had considerable impact on the global political situation. They have influenced policies and alliances and have acted as pressure groups that often time shape the direction of governments’’ political agenda. In discussing the impact of student activism on participation in global politics however, it is essential to indicate that the students hold a position in the society that is non-exclusive. That is, he or she is a student, he is also a son, a daughter, a sister, a brother, mother, father and perhaps even a grandmother or grandfather. Likewise, the student is also a member of a community or a several communities. This includes communities within his or her school such as his faculty, dormitory, student groups or union that he or she belongs to and perhaps a religious community within or outside the campus such as the chirch or mosque. He/she also belongs to several other communities outside the school such as where he or she lives or reside, his maternal or paternal home, town or village.

The occupation of several positions in society means that the student has a multiplicity of roles and responsibilities, one of which is the role of an activist. This paper examines the activist roles of a student in relation to his communities’ participation in global politics. The paper drew inferences from the Nigerian situation and makes suggestions as appropriate.

Conceptual Framework

Activism: In a general sense, activism can be described as intentional action to bring about some form of social, economic or political change, economic justice or environmental well being. The word activism is often used synonymously with protest or dissent but activism can stem from any number of political orientation and take a wide range of form from writing letters to newspapers or politicians, political campaigning, economic activism 9such as boycotts or preferentially patronizing preferred business rallies, blogging and street marches, strikes, work stoppages and hunger strikes, or even guerilla tactics. In some cases, activism has nothing to do with protest or confrontation. For instance, some religious fervent or vegetarian/vegan activisms try to persuade people to change their behaviors directly, rather than persuade government to change laws. Activists are those that are engaged in activism. These may be advocators or militant reformers, one who is politically active in the role of a citizen especially one who is conspicuously more active in carrying out logical actions.

Global Politics: Global politics is the discipline that studies the political and economical patterns of the world. It studies the relationship between cities, nation and states, multinational corporations, international, inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations among, which is students’ organization usually referred to as Students Union. It has been argued that global politics should be distinguished from the field of international politics, which seeks to understand political relations between nation-states, and thus has a narrower scope.

In the late 1800, several groups have extended the definition of the political community beyond nation-state to include much, if not all, of human rights advocates, environmentalist’s peace activists, feminists and dalits. Current areas of discussion include national and ethnic conflict resolution, democracy and the politics of national self-determination, globalization and its relationship to democracy, conflict and peace studies, comparative politics, political economy and the international political economy of the environment.

Historical Origin of Student Activism

Student agitation is not generally a new phenomenon; it dates back to the medieval period. Records show that they were incidents of disorder and demonstration in medieval institutions such as at Leipzig University (Hasking, 1923 in Ajibade, 1993). The first student movement in Europe history started at University of Bologna in the early 13th century. Bologna University was a student university, where students employed their teachers and directed the affairs of the university, and the position remained the same for over a century. Organized student protest was virtually coeval with the emergence of university in southern Europe where it became endemic for the about two hundred years. The first student crisis at the Bologna University was the conflict between the law students who were mainly foreigners, and the students of the other faculties. This crisis led to the splitting of the university into two Citamonstane and untramonstrate, each of which has rector choosing by its old members. The more serious crisis at the university was when some students clashed with other cities to set up their own university such as Padua in 1221 (Cobbam, 1975:172 in Ajibade, 1993).

Student activism in the United States also dates to the 19th century. Agitations were at their highest at the University of Virginia in the 1830s. One such agitation led to the death of a Professor and armed Constables were called in to restore order (Ufot, 1970). At the Princeton University, New Jersey, students protested against what they described as the suppression of their natural rights, and in 1807 over half of the students’ population was rusticated (Brubacher and Rudy, 1968).

Andrew Dickson, a former Yale University who wrote about his experiences on students’ life in the university, commented thus:

“I had, during my college time, known Sundry College Tutors seriously injured while thus during police duty, I have seen a professor driving out of a room, through the panel of a door, with books, boots and the boots jacks hurled at his head and even the respected President, a doctor of Divinity while patrolling building with the janitors, subject to outrageous indignity” (Brubacher and Ruby, 1968 in Ajibade, 1993).

According to Ufot (1980) while this eruption were going on in the United States of America, students in Europe took to the street in an outbreak of violence sporadic demonstration. The English were protested against apartheid and continued investment in research in the area of biological welfare. In France, a prolonged strike by students in 1968 merged with the nationwide strike by workers visibly shook the government of General Charles De Gaulle.

In Africa, activism can be traced back to the 19th century. Most Africa countries during the period were under colonial rule. Due to the influence of the socialist and other ideological groups who kept constant touch with their fellow comrades in Africa, the tempo of activism was raised and sustained beyond the initial drive of the spirit of struggle. A Nigerian, Ladipo Solanke, formed the West African Students Union (WASU) in 1925. The WASU was responsible for advancing the socio-political interest of students during the colonial days and it formed the centre for militant nationalism. The activity of WASU and students’ life in Britain and America plus contact with liberals, socialists, communists, West Indians and Americans stimulated the spirit of nationalism in African students. All these culminated in the formation of African Students Association in 1941. The activity of WASU contributed to the emergence of the National Union of Nigeria Student (NUNS).

The Nigerian Experience

Student activism unrest in Nigeria dates back to the colonial period. At that time, students at the prominent schools such as King’s College, Yaba Technical College and University College, Ibadan, undertook several activities to resist colonial policies deemed undesirable, and accelerate de-colonization. For example, in 1944, King’s College students refused to vacate their school for British troops. The phenomenon increased in tempo during the immediate post-independence era. In 1961, students of the University College, Ibadan demonstrated against the proposed Anglo-Nigerian Defense Pact. In the same year, students demonstrated in February in protest of the murder of Patrice Lumumba, President of Congo Republic, and in October, against the American Peace Corps.

The 1970s witnessed less activity, apart from particularized crises of Ibadan and protest over the National Youth Service Corps scheme. In 1978, students all over the country demonstrated against increased food charges on campus in the popular, “Ali Must Go” riots in which they demanded the removal of the Federal Commissioner for Education, Brigadier General Ahmadu Ali. The 1980s witnessed several unrests. In 1986, there was solidarity protest in various university campuses demonstrated against the removal of fuel subsidy. A year later, in May 1989, there was the Anti-SAP riots which involved almost all higher institutions and the general populace. The riots led to the long closure of several universities by the government. In May 1992, another massive Anti-SAP riots was embarked upon in many universities with high level of mass mobilization and involvement (Ikelegbe, 1992). Many localized demonstrations and unrests also took place in Nigerian institutions in the 1990s and 200s but these lack coordinated national orientation.

Nigerian Students Activism and Its Connection to the Global Political Scenario

The incidence of student protest, riots and demonstrations in Nigeria must be viewed against the background of international student activism. At the international level, Nigerian students do join their counterparts the world over to express their pleasure or displeasure about global happenings, especially as it concerns the country. At one time, Nigerian students criticized the Nigerian government’s role in the organization for African Unity (OAU). At another time students complained about the spending spree surrounding the hosting of the OAU and ECOWAS summit conferences, both in Abuja in 1991. Students had at one time or the other queried the “big brother” role Nigeria played to other African countries. Nigerian students consistently waged war against the then government of South Africa and its apartheid policies. The British government was also not spared as her interest in South Africa was called to question.

The records of Nigerian students’ agitation on international issues may be incomplete without indicating the 1960 demonstration by the University of Ibadan students (then University College, Ibadan) against the Anglo-America pact. The students marched to Lagos to register their protest against the issue. It was a one in a million demonstration, the first of its kind then. But fir the students, majority of the citizenry, in and outside the country, would have been ignorant of the development (Ajibade, 1993:38-39).

Under the colonial government, the students played a largely anti-colonial role which culminated in the achievement of independence. They also made immense contributions to external affairs and foreign policies of various administrations. Their anti-imperialist, anti-apartheid and pro people posture promotes Pan-Africanism and no doubt contributed to the Pan African posture of the Nigerian foreign policy (Mayegun, 2008).

Conclusion and Recommendations

The historical antecedents of students’ activism from early times to the end of the 19th century are quite fascinating. In Nigeria, its effects on global development and change cannot be over emphasized. It is evident that students in Nigeria believe it is their historical responsibility to resist oppression, misrule and bad governance. They see themselves as part of the articulate few, and the conscience of the nation. These roles perceptions dispose them towards radical orientations and directions, which in many instances had brought about certain positive changes in the past.

However, in the context of present realities and for the positive contributions of student activism to global politics to be sustained and modified in a more scientific manner, a general and revolutionary overhaul of the Nigerian education sector is expedient, so that the academia could become a catalyst that speeds up the process of sending to abyss of extension intellectual indolence among students such that scholastically inclined activism can become the focus of governance and politics on campus.

As the world becomes globalised, student activism must reach beyond the narrow focus of local interests. Instead, increased energy must be directed towards global issues – issues that address our commonality the world over as humankind and which have effects on our well being and those of future generations. Such issues include stopping global warming, eradicating international trafficking in people, promoting democracy and good governance, among others. In other words, Nigerian student activists must become global development activists; an active pressure group on national and international development matters.

In addition, the powers of emerging technologies in the information and communication spheres must be exploited to educate, inform, energize, mobilize and further radicalize the entire student population and thus boost their willingness and capacity to function as effective watchdogs of the Nigerian state and its activities in the global political scene.


Adeyeye, B.A. (2009). “Where Is Our Tomorrow Today?”, Paper Presented at the One Day Youth Oriented Seminar of the Eti-Osa Indigenous Students Association Held at the Organization of World Peace Centre, Eti-Osa, on 7th May, 2009.

Ajibade, E.S. (1993). Student’s Protest in Nigeria, Emia Publications, Ibadan.

Ikelegbe, A.O. (1992). Student Unrest in Nigeria: A Theoretical and Political Perspective, University of Benin Faculty of Education Occasional Papers, Ambik Press.

Mayegun, O. (2008). “Student Participation in Governance”, A Paper Presented at the One-day Seminar of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS-JCC) held at the Michael Otedola College of Primary Education on 25th June, 2008.

Ufots, O.A. (1980). Student Life and Customs, New York, Appleton Century.

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Student Activism and Global Politics. Nigeria in Focus
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Biliamin Adekunle Adeyeye (Author), 2009, Student Activism and Global Politics. Nigeria in Focus, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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