The management of the University of Benin dispelled rumours last week that it intended to suspend ongoing semester examinations in order for students to participate in the voters registration exercise. Their decision to proceed with the exams could well mean that most of the over 60000 students of the university would be unable to register and hence denied the right to vote in the April elections.
During the last voters registration exercise in 2007, some friends of mine opted to register in the university campus. On the day of the elections, the school wasn’t in session and their voters’ cards were useless in other polling stations. Even those who resided in Benin could not make it to the campus to vote because movement was restricted. It would be foolish to repeat the same mistake but as it stands, students are left without a choice. The two weeks of the registration is the peak period of the semester exams. For non-indigene students like me, travelling out of Benin would be a suicide expedition.
I first raised this issue in November with a professor of mine. His response was, “Go and be voting nah. We are talking about writing exams, you are talking about voting. It’s like you don’t want to graduate abi?” I told my friends then that he did not know what he was saying. He obviously did.
I can understand why the management would want to carry on with the exams. The university calendar was significantly affected last year by strikes, coupled with some poor planning and sheer bad luck. Besides, the university also intends to host the next NUGA Games sometime in March, after which would be the April elections. It is obvious that there is very little room to manoeuvre and I understand that. But I disagree that my franchise should be sacrificed on the altar of a balanced calendar, no matter how painful the alternative would be.
I think it is bad judgement to manoeuvre with my right to choose the leaders who would act on my behalf for the next four years; the leaders whose policies would largely determine if my calendar would be further disrupted these next four years. The option of registering in Benin leaves me at too great a disadvantage. The governorship candidates of my state, Rivers, would not be on the ballot in Benin. Neither can I vote for my senator nor my representative in Benin. I lose either way.
The university management’s haste in dispelling the rumour on the purported suspension of the exams tells the students that we have two unfair choices: Shut up or bear the consequences aka fail/forfeit the exams. None of those choices suit me but they don’t seem to care. I am just another voice in the wind. All I can do is whisper and plead and expect that the university authorities rescind their decision and do the right thing. Suspending the exams, even for only ten out of the fourteen allotted days, would go a long way. I and all the other students who would be disenfranchised if this edict is seen through have only one vote each in April. But the vote is ours. It should not be taken away.