INDYPRESS recently met up with Valentine Igbonekwu for a thorough interview session. With assistance from Alao Abiodun Joshua, we quizzed him on his plans, background and the controversies surrounding him. Read on!
CAN WE MEET YOU, SIR?
I am Valentine Igbonekwu, a 400 level student of the Faculty of Law, University of Ibadan, with an ambition to serve in the capacity of Students’ Union President this session.
WHY DO YOU WANT TO CONTEST FOR THAT POSITION?
I am contesting because I want to make an impact in the union and the university community at large. Also, I want to identify and solve problems of the union.
WHAT PREVIOUS EXPERIENCES DO YOU HAVE?
Right from childhood, I’ve held different leadership positions. From primary school, I was the senior prefect. I was privileged to pass through a seminary where I held so many presidential positions. I was even the president of the press. President of United Comrades, being my class. Then, I was also privileged to be the Senior Prefect of my school (St. John’s Seminary, Nsukka). Here in the University of Ibadan, I was the class governor for three good years. I was the Assistant General Secretary and General Secretary of my state association. I was Finance Minister of Nigerian Federation of Catholic Students (NFCS). I was also the Hall Secretary of the Great Nnmadi Azikiwe Hall, University of Ibadan. These are some of the leadership experiences I’ve had.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE STATE OF THE UNION?
First, we must reflect on the existence of the union. As per my understanding, a union is a pressure group that serves to protect the interest of its members while creating a platform for united actions and singularity with respect to voice. Now we see that the union has the primary responsibility of protecting the interest of its members. This is one of the reasons I am aspiring to serve in this capacity because I feel we can make the union stronger and better.
SO, HOW DO YOU DEFINE STRENGTH IN THIS CONTEXT?
Permit me to use a scenario – the Mote struggle. I discovered that we do not have that united front and the instruments we need seem not to be in existence in entirety – legal practitioners to back us up legally, the journalists – that is the presence of external media like the newspapers and whatnot. I think that we need to have the media to our own side and even the police force and unite ourselves as students to champion a collective cause. I feel we do not have a particular aim which we are pursuing. People have divergent views about the union and that makes us to be weak.
WHAT PARTICULAR AIM WOULD YOU CHAMPION?
The particular aim I am going to champion in the Union is to consolidate this Union because I am a fan of consolidation. We have three Cs to aluta: Consultation, Consolidation and Confrontation. Now, we should not be talking of confrontation as the only means of solving our problems but how to negotiate and solve the problems, rather than creating more problems. I am going to champion an aim that is highly built on problem-solving.
SO, WHAT ARE THE PROBLEMS YOU HAVE NOTICED?
The problems I have noticed in the Union is: one, advocacy. Our advocacy strength is not solid enough. In a situation whereby a student goes before the SDC with Nigerian constitution because we lack the fundamental basis of advocacy. It is a problem in the Union and we need serious legal backing. Then, I have identified a problem in terms of welfare. I think basically, our welfare should be creating an environment where students can be happy, have the needed resources. When we talk of welfare, we talk about the availability of the relevant resources students need to have a conducive atmosphere for learning and research, which is basically – water, light and security. Security, for me, is even a problem on its own. In the sense that the University of Ibadan is not properly lightened. From Idia to Awo hall, I think there is need for streetlight there because our ladies could be raped, people could be killed or kidnapped. So, security, apart from welfare, is a problem I have identified and it is high time such situation is being taken care of.
WHAT EXACTLY IS YOUR AGENDA FOR THE UNION?
My agenda is consolidation. Consolidation, from my own perspective, is making something stronger. This burning desire to have the consolidation agenda is premised on the fact that we keep on fighting and losing. And we do not move from a battle to a war-field with the same amount of strength and we need to fortify ourselves. It is high time management lost wars against us while we win the wars. If we make our union solid, because from conSOLIDation, you get solid.
SO, IT IS BASICALLY A “MANAGEMENT VS STUDENT” AFFAIR NOW?
It is not a management versus student affair.
BUT YOU SAID IT IS TIME FOR THEM TO LOSE.
It is time for them to lose, in the sense that it is time for them to hearken to our needs because most often, we make demand and they are not being granted and they are winning. If we have all the needed paraphernalia and we can make our Union stronger, we will be able to make demands and our requests will be granted. We can do for ourselves most of those things that we feel the management can do for us while at the same time, influencing those ones which we lack jurisdiction to do.
DOESN’T ALL THIS TALK OF NEGOTIATION MAKE YOU LOOK DOCILE TOWARDS THE SCHOOL MANAGEMENT?
Negotiation, from my perspective, is not being docile to management. It is just to create a balance and weigh two options. We negotiate. If considering the available resources, they cannot achieve this aim, we can at the same time, from our own perspective beat it up so both the management and students could meet at a united front.
BUT DO YOU THINK IT IS POSSIBLE FOR NEGOTIATIONS TO OCCUR WITHOUT THE MANAGEMENT HAVING THE UPPER HAND?
I feel it is possible, if we are smart enough.
THE OJO OLUWANIFEMI ADMINISTRATION CAME OUT AND SPOKE SIMILARLY DURING THE CAMPAIGNS AND THINGS HAVE NOT TURNED OUT AS PROMISED. WHAT STEPS DID HE TAKE THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO CORRECT?
I am a Law student. I have realised that the University of Ibadan community operates by the book and someone who understands the basic principles of the school will be able to negotiate better because he will do so both from the point of law and the basis of fact. I am not saying Ojo Oluwanifemi Emmanuel lacks the knowledge of the law because probably that is why he failed or why he could not negotiate properly. But we are coming with a different approach.
BUT THIS IS ALSO A MANAGEMENT WHICH BASICALLY WANTS TO HAVE ITS WAY ALWAYS…
Once the management understand that you know what they know, they will give you their place. In the sense that they think we are not smart enough, we do not understand the laws. Sometimes we even lack the fundamental knowledge of what the Students Disciplinary Committee means. These are some of the things they know. For instance, when a Law student is leading the Union, they have to buckle up because from the angle of intellectualism and experience, he knows what they know. This time around, we are ready to hit the nail on the head. We understand the law and we are ready to fight the unjust laws with just laws.
ARE YOU SAYING ONLY LAW STUDENTS CAN COMBAT THE MANAGEMENT?
NO, but at a time like this in our Union, allowing a Law student to champion the collective interest of our Union should be a collective task of concerned unionists.
SO, IS THERE A LAW AGENDA HERE?
There is nothing like Law agenda. I am talking because I am well-experienced and well-exposed in the aspect of Law. It is not a Law agenda per faculty of Law. It is a Law agenda from the angle that these people operate by the laws and we are fighting them back with the law, while at the same time, giving room for other options.
IF YOU DO EMERGE, WHAT WOULD BE YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS WITHIN SIX MONTH OF TAKING OFFICE?
I have four concrete achievements I would like to make within the first six months. One is that the Students’ Union Reading Room has to be upgraded. We need to work on a 200-seater Reading Room. Two, we will influence the installation of streetlights from Idia Hall to Awo Hall within the first six months. Also, we are going to work on advocacy. That is why we have sought the aid of Femi Falana, Barr. Aiogwu, SAN and a legal adviser fot he National Assembly. We will also make sure there is an overhead-tank in Awo Hall.
OF ALL YOUR OPPONENTS, HAVE YOU HEARD ANY OF THEIR PLANS?
I have not.
WHAT MAKES YOU THINK THEIR PLANS AREN’T BETTER THAN YOURS?
I am a realist. I say things that could be done. As a matter of fact, I took my time for the past three years to work on this ambition and pull the necessary connections to get the necessary resources. For instance, a candidate saying if elected, he will ask all halls and faculties to close the accounts and open new accounts because he is the SU president. These are not feasible. We operate a system which hinders us from doing certain things. I feel my plans are realizable.
WHY DO YOU THINK ZIK HALL ENDORSED OJO ADEREMI?
One, it was fate. Two, there was no endorsement in Zik Hall. There was just an involvement.
ARE YOU SAYING HE IS NOT A VIABLE CANDIDATE FOR THAT POSITION?
Everyone is qualified as long as you are a student of the University of Ibadan and you meet the criteria. One, I am an intellectual by virtue of being a Uite and being a Law student and I am highly experienced.
ARE YOU SAYING THE COMPOSITION OF THOSE GATHERED AT THE ENDORSEMENT WAS IRRELEVANT?
It would have been an endorsement if such processes were not compromised. The purpose of endorsement is for a hall to throw its weight behind a particular candidate while asking the other candidates to step down and support the other candidates. We were never asked if we will step down if not endorsed. If a Hall Chairman cannot confidently walk up to a candidate and ask him to step down, what is now the rationale behind the endorsement?
WHAT WERE THE ACTIVITIES THAT WERE “COMPROMISED” THAT LED TO THE ENDORSEMENT?
One, there was poor notification and invitation to the meeting. Two, the composition of stakeholders generally should be just finalists, excos and at least those who are experienced in politics generally. At that particular meeting, there were 200 level students present. I wonder if that was a stakeholders’ meeting or town-hall meeting. Also, there was no announcement for that meeting. And the meeting was highly elongated – 8:30 pm to 6:47am. A fact-finding committee was set up in the previous meeting and the Hall Chairman, in his own volition, told the committee chairman not to find any facts about the presidential aspirants because the hall was not going to endorse presidential aspirants, and then the presidential aspirants were endorsed. On what basis?
WHAT CAN MAKE YOU STEP DOWN?
The only thing that can make me step down is that which I have not seen.
THERE ARE LOTS OF PROPAGANDA GOING AROUND ABOUT YOU. LET US DISCUSS THEM ONE AFTER THE OTHER: ABOUT THE SIGNATORY-CUM-HALL WARDEN CASE.
I can never be a party to siphoning or embezzlement of public funds. It is my lifetime principle. The then-administration had issues, whether they had it in mind to embezzle funds or not. I was asked to be a signatory to an account which I constitutionally am not a signatory to. Also, the person before my predecessor was not a signatory to the account. Thirdly, my hall chairman threatened me with resignation if I will not be a signatory to the hall’s account. Why should I be threatened? Just based on the fact that he has some discretionary rights over me? But this is an issue of public funds. If there is no skeleton in the cupboard, why should he insist when it is against my personal conviction and the constitution?
SOME SAY YOU ARE BRIBING A LOT OF INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE TO BUY THEIR SUPPORT. HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO REACT TO THAT?
I am not surprised that such propaganda came up. Propaganda is a tool used by the immature, unfocused and inexperienced minds. People can say a lot of things to get into power. But I wonder the type of Union we are trying to project when we are looking for the downfall of those we know for certain have substance. On the issue of bribing people to vote for me, such has never happened and will never happen.
NOW THAT YOU DENY IT, SOME FEEL THE DSTV SUBSCRIPTION YOU MADE FOR ZIK HALL PRIOR TO THE ENDORSEMENT IS A FORM OF BRIBERY AND INTERESTINGLY, IT SOMEHOW DISAPPEARED SHORTLY AFTER OJO’S ENDORSEMENT.
My agenda is problem-identifying and solving agenda. Charity begins at home. If I am going to preach a problem-solving agenda to Uites, I should have a premise. The idea of subscribing for Zikites came when they were yearning for it and my hall was financially handicapped. As a concerned Zikite, I feel if I am going to serve as President, they should see problems being solved. I spent 20 thousand naira on that subscription and it would be unwise of me to remove the decoder after spending so much money. More so, the hall has a JCR commissioner who acts under the jurisdiction of the hall chairman, so he will be in the best position to account for the disappearing decoder. I never did it for votes.
YOU SAID YOU WANTED TO SHOW THAT YOU ARE A PROBLEM-SOLVER, DOESN’T THAT STILL PROVE THAT YOU DID IT FOR THE PURPOSE OF THE ELECTION?
I did it not just because I was running. I did it because I saw a problem and solved it. During the Awo Hall water saga when the Union bought a pumping-machine, I also made a donation. It is in-born in me to solve problems.
WHICH OF YOUR OPPONENTS WOULD YOU SAY HAS THE BIGGEST CHANCE AGAINST YOU?
All my opponents have equal chances of winning.
HOW WOULD YOU RATE THE NIFEMI ADMINISTRATION?
I will rate them 5.
From my perspective, 5 is good enough for what they have done so far.
RECENTLY, DURING AN SDC SITTING, THE SU PRESIDENT WAS NOT ALLOWED TO GO IN DUE TO THE FACT THAT HE HAS AN ON-GOING SDC CASE. WHAT IS YOUR TAKE?
It is the fundamentally wrong for the president not to be allowed into the sitting. If I were to be in his shoes, I will find my way into it. Because I understand the fundamentals of…
WAIT, YOU WILL FIND YOUR WAY IN? HOW?
He who knows his rights will assert his rights.
SO, NIFEMI DID NOT ASSERT HIS RIGHTS?
YOU SAID YOU WILL ASSERT YOUR RIGHTS, WHAT WILL YOU DO IF YOU ARE CONTINUALLY REFUSED ENTRY?
As a matter of fact, we should understand that there are legal practitioners in the sitting and they understand the right of the Students’ Union president to be at the sitting. That is why I am talking about consolidation. As a Students’ Union president, you should understand that for every SDC sitting, we should have our legal representatives because there are some places where our knowledge of the law will fail us and we will need help to go further.
SO, WHERE DO THE LEGAL PRACTITIONERS COME IN? IS IT DURING OR BEFORE THE SDC JUDGEMENTS?
They come before, during and after.
HOW ARE YOU GOING TO PAY FOR THEIR SERVICES?
These are human rights activists, SANs. There is no money we can offer that will satisfy them. They are doing it pro bono publico – for the good of the public.
RECENTLY, THERE WAS A RECOMMENDATION AT THE SRC THAT JINGLES, POSTERS ETCETERA SHOULD BE BANNED, WHAT IS YOUR VIEW?
Such a recommendation is belated. Some of these aspirants have already given out souvenirs and it is an injustice to ban what they’ve produced at this moment.
WHAT EXACTLY IS THE VALENTINE BRAND SELLING?
A world founded on love lives to see no extinction. I am Valentine and I want to serve my people with love. Love does not create problems, it solves them.
ANY FINAL WORDS FOR UITES?
It is high time we made our Union solution-based, for we fight not for problems but for solutions.