At Uniben, electiona are won at pepper soup joints

THE SUN Newspaper- Eddy Uwoghiren

At the University of Benin (UNIBEN), students that live mostly in ‘dry season’ (not having enough money) have no reason contesting departmental or faculty elections. Only the moneybags on campus that have the courage to spend thousands of naira at pepper soup joints and cozy restaurants smile after the poll. Some students that contested various elections on campus told Campus Sun how they emptied their pockets at these eateries before the kingmakers on campus endorsed them. Most of the female contestants admitted they got amorous winks from guys, who desired to take them to bed before voting for them at the poll.
When Favour Oghenenkaro Okoro was admitted to study Animal Science in 2011, she had a dream to serve as one of the executives in the National Association of Agricultural Students (NAAS). From her first year in the school, she quietly studied the political terrain on campus carefully before she came out with a bang.
Okoro took a bold step when she declared her intention to run for the position of the President of NAAS. Intimidations, pressure and discouragement to step down were thrown at her. But , she stuck to her campaign. In fact, rumours had it that her boyfriend was sponsoring her election. Her opponent gave her tough times coupled with pressure to step down but she remained resilient.
As the election drew near, the tension at the Faculty of Agriculture was high. The contenders, Oghenekaro and Joseph Nwabara wooed students for votes. Each gave long list of manifestoes and reasons why they were the best for the job. Their supporters were not left out. From night class to hostels and even fellowships, they campaigned for their chosen candidates.
Oghenekaro defeated Joseph with a vote margin of 202. For the first time in 28 years of the association, the first female president was elected.
Another election drama played out at the Faculty of Law when another female student, Lauretta Nebechi Ezeugbor, was elected unopposed. Ezeugbor and Oghenekaro are good examples of female politicians in Uniben who defied discouragements to achieve their dreams. Many female students loved to become political figures on campus but they are often discouraged by lots of challenges.
At the Uniben Students Union Parliament, less than 30% of the parliamentarians are female. Female students are poorly represented at the University of Benin Medical Students Association (UBEMSA) and the Benin University Dental Students Association (BUDSA), with 10% and 5 % ladies in the congress.
On why female students shy away from campus politics, Ezeugbor offers an explanation: “For you to win elections on campus these days, many things are involved. You have to hold meetings with students who parade themselves as stakeholders of the faculty and university. As you know, those meetings are not the regular kind of meetings. They are often held in places like pub, club houses, pepper soup joints. It is in those meetings that you declare your intention. You also pay for the drinks and everything that will be eaten there. After making your intentions known to them, they are the ones that will sell you candidature to other students. If you fail to play to their tune, you risk losing the election. That’s the first phase. Thereafter, when you get cleared, you begin printing posters. These things are expensive. Not all the girls have the money to engage in this, thus they shy away.”
Fejiro Akpovete, a student of Microbiology at Uniben expressed similar views, saying that finance and corruption limit female participation in campus politics. “Last semester when I was contesting the position of Vice president in my state, Kparakpo (a cultural association for students on campus), I took the stakeholders in the association to a pepper soup joint along Ugbowo Lagos Road, for a meeting where I declared my intention. I spent not less than N15,000 buying pepper soup and alcoholic drinks for them. Unknown to me, my opponent, who was from the Faculty of Education, also had a stakeholders’ meeting with them at Kada Cinemas at Sapele Road in Benin. After the meeting with my opponent, the head of the stakeholders forum called me again demanding another outing with them. They said my opponent spent more than N20,000 on them and thus they were ready to endorse her. The money I spent on them was my personal savings and few friends who saw my vision and were ready to key into it.
“I pleaded with him that I do not have money on me, that the one left is for the final campaign towards the elections. He said although I had good plans to implement when I win, but for the fact that I was not ready to ‘spoil’ them with money, I should consider myself losing the election. On the day of the election, I actually lost”.
Oghenekaro, an active female campus politician, explained that although politics seems to be a dirty game on campus, it is only for the strong- hearted. Having served as Vice President of the Biology Students Association (BSA) and later Vice President of the Students Union Government at the College of Education Warri (COEW) in 2009 and 2010 respectively, she had known the terrain quite well.
She recalled her experience, saying, “I was harassed and threatened by cultists to step down. Initially I was afraid but I had one thing in mind, the desire to serve my fellow students. I just kept my campaign high and to the glory of God, I won the election landslide. There are lots of girls out there with the intention to serve, but they are incapacitated by the threat thrown at them from various angles. That’s the reason I said politics is a game for the tough girls on campus. You really have to be tough to overcome.”
Oghenekaro explained the temptation that would likely come to female students that contest elections on campus. She noted that as female aspirants become more friendly to everyone, male students often try to take advantage of such closeness.
“Normally, if you want to win elections, you have to be friends with everyone, both male and female students. During my times at COEW, guys were hovering round me and if you are not wise, they will take advantage of you. I had to play the motherly role to those guys that came around me back then. I treated everyone as a friend and set boundaries to avoid falling victims to their trap.”
Uwa Erhabor is the Clerk of UBEMSA. She is a first time congress woman. She contested to represent her class in the congress last year but lost. The following year, she contested again and got the ticket and went in as the Clerk. She shares her experience, saying, “When I got to the congress, many persons told me that I cannot become Clerk because that was my first time in the house. They told me that I was inexperienced about the procedures of the house. I simply told them to show me the section of the constitution that forbids a first time congress woman from contesting for clerk. When they could not show me, I bought the form and entered for the race. I did my campaigns very well and won the election,” she said.
Uwa said girls must first believe in themselves before going into politics. She is currently sponsoring a bill at the Congress of UBEMSA, which will increase the number of girls holding principal positions in the congress. She argued that aside the position of Vice President reserved for girls, the constitution needs to be amended to accommodate more participation by female students.
Another student, Joanita Ighodaro, expressed disappointment that only few ladies participate in campus politics. The second year student of Economics Education at the College of Education Igueben said she came up with a plan to get more ladies interested in campus politics.
‘I formed an association which we called Coalition of Female Campus Politicians (CFCP). Our aim is to dialogue and connect female aspirants as well as mentor girls to hold key positions on campus. We achieve this by holding regular symposium where we get mentorship from females in circular politics. At times, we could sponsor a female aspirant’s political ambition when we see that she is restricted by funds. We also campaign for the aspirant and sell her over to other students. We make people see reason why they should vote for her. I must tell you, we have achieved so much. There is an awakening and I am happy championing it,” she added.
UWOGHIREN is a 300 level student, Medicine and Surgery, UNIBEN


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