Taking Steps 3
After reviewing the fact that I was not Assistant Sec Gen of the SUG and that I was a Justice of the Judicial Council which was less time consuming. And looking through my plans and seeing that I would only accomplish them if I was president; I made up my mind at the last minute to become the president of the National Association Of Mathematics Students of Nigeria – NAMSN. That I will say is one of the best decisions I ever made in my life because it brought hope to many and myself inclusive. My choice of career today and my lessons in leadership came from that experience.
In previous years, the president is automatically known from his past activities and commitment to the association. Hence I was the choice but because at that time I did not have interest due to my SUG politics and coupled with the fact that many in the department usually ask me for the best candidate to support during elections; some of my classmates became threatened and wondered why I should be a godfather and not them.
I did not see myself as such but only saw myself as someone bringing fresh air to a department that was known for having very reserved and cautious students. When I eventually decided to run for President after a 400 level student discussed with me about my dreams for the department – I gave in. My initial thought was that I could help whoever became president to realise the goals but I was reminded that might not be possible. A friend of mine decided to run against me evidently supported by some of our classmates. The first thing I did was to write out my plans for the association and used them to campaign.
1. To organize the best freshers welcome party in my tenure with a view to making our new students feel welcomed unlike in my own time.
2. To make the best set of souvenirs in the campus for those who pay annual dues. This was to include Prospectus that has never been done before.
3. To start a computer room with our own computers and get connected to the Internet.
4. To continually organize tutorials within the department with the end result of improved academic performance.
5. To bring in professionals for seminars aimed at giving our students an understanding about the viability of Mathematics as a course in the outside world.
6. To make Maths department a jewel in the OAU community where our students are respected
7. To organize the best dinner ever in the history of the department at the tail end of my tenure.
Many did not believe those plans would ever work especially the computer room thing. Some laughed at me and called me Joseph but I continued preaching the message. The more I repeated the goals, the more I believed in them. The elections came and it was very tough. When the ballots were being counted; at a point I congratulated my opponent and told him he has my supports. I did not know that God was intent on making me the change agent for a lot of people and I did win at last. I won with only 6 votes. The electoral committee chairman made a very strange decision to hand over the ballot papers to me which revealed who voted for me and who did not. I found out that out of about 12 votes from my own 300 level classmates (My association had 3 departments – Mathematics in Faculty of Science, Education Mathematics and Computer Science/Mathematics) – I had 3 votes, my opponent had 7 votes and 2 declined to vote for either of us. Interestingly, I had support from 100 level, 200 level and 400 level students even though I had exams on the election day while my opponent was busy wooing voters at the polling booths.
I made a decision not to any extent use the information of who voted against me to spite anyone but actually empathized with them accepting the fact that I was becoming very popular and they were all older than me. That was how I was sworn in as the President and immediately wrote a letter congratulating my opponent on the good race. He told me later that he was surprised and that I was the best person for the job for doing that.
I was now faced with making sure all my promises were kept. Membership of the association was low – just about 150 member from 100 Level to final year. Annual due was about 250 naira which means the best we can get was about 37,500 Naira. How on earth would I be able to accomplish all those goals with this amount. Souvenirs alone was going to cost 20,000 naira. Freshers welcome party almost the same. A computer as at year 2000 at the lowest would cost 75,000 naira. But I knew that God was still there and I was not going to be ashamed. After my swearing, I asked God what I was going to do and he showed me. I wrote a passionate letter to my HOD – Prof Obilade appealing for help. I told him the goal of the association computer room and the benefit it will have on the students. I asked if they can allow us to collect 20 naira each from students registering for Maths courses from other departments. That was a tall order and the reason being that OAU students union frowns against such practices. My letter touched them and they decided to accept but with 2 caveats. We will bear any brunt from the students union and I am responsible for the funds to be used for the purpose it is meant for or I stand to get some disciplinary actions. I accepted responsibilities and that was it.
I then had a meeting with my new executives who were all in my class meaning most of them might be part of those who don’t want me as President :). I gave them a moving speech about how we will leave our names in the sands of time and noticed some were still skeptical. But that day, I gave them a taste of my leadership style. We were going for 2nd semester break and will come back to welcome new students and give them packages. The association did not have money to make those souvenirs and I gave them a proposal. We made a list of everything in the package and told each person to take an item. The person will use his/her money to make those items and bring it to school immediately we resume for the new session. The incentive was that we will pay a 20% interest for those items meaning each of them will make money. They just looked at me and conceded I was the right man for the job as they did not think of that and the result was massive — we had all our packages ready from the blast of the new session and they were the best set ever with prospectus. This ensured my first goals were fulfilled and they were also happy.
20 naira palaver
And indeed we started collecting the 20 naira dues. The first few days were without incidences until the SUG was informed. That was the day I understood why I had to involve myself in SUG politics because as soon as they came – it was me they saw. They were surprised and one of them told me he wasn’t happy that a union officer who is supposed to keep the law is breaking it. I told him we are not breaking any law and explained to him that students use our library to read and the money will be used for something that will positively impact the campus. They left saying it is because of me and I was happy they respected my decisions but we reached a compromise to stop after a few days which we did. At the same time; I was discussing with someone to purchase the computer for us. One would think that our members at this point will believe we can do it, but some were just set in their unbelief.
And it came to pass
It was a memorable day for me as the computer landed first in my room as we did not have a secured library ready. News filtered out and many came to see for themselves. It turned out to be true at last. We moved the computer to the library and secured it. The next day I was summoned to see the new HOD – Professor Aregbesola. He was surprised that I kept my promise and asked how he can help us further. I told him we need all the help we can get from the department. He immediately helped us to get connected to the Internet by giving us a letter to the University ISP. That was how we became the first departmental association in the whole of Obafemi Awolowo University to have a computer room and connected to the Internet. That was in year 2000.
We had a launching ceremony/freshers welcome party and it went very well. Lecturers donated about 30,000 naira to us that day as they were very surprised. That night marked the first freshers welcome party in the department where everyone grooved and grooved till late.
Looking back at those days; I just confirm how important it is to ensure dreams come true. My next post will detail the after effect of these achievements on my life as well as others in my department and beyond.