Creating a cultural touchstone, promoting consciousness and unity
When College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences PhD student Joseph Efionayi ’70 petitioned Ohio State’s Council of Graduate Students to approve the establishment of the Nigerian Student Union in 1969, it wasn’t a matter of simply rubber stamping the paperwork.
The Council of Graduate Students tabled Efionayi’s request initially, citing concerns that the organization’s constitution restricted membership to Nigerian students—a violation of the student handbook’s policy forbidding discrimination on the basis of national origin. Several council members also expressed their hesitance due to the ongoing civil war between the government of Nigeria and the secessionist state of Biafra. They worried that Biafran students might not be welcome in the union, or that approval of the new organization would signal the council’s support for Nigeria’s brutality against the Biafran people—up to 2 million of whom died of violence or starvation.
Efionayi later addressed the council, stating that anyone could join the union. He insisted Biafran students would be welcomed, and that he had already been working to recruit Biafran members. With those assurances, the council approved the Nigerian Student Union, which was established “to promote consciousness and unity in Africa; to cooperate with Nigerian students in Nigeria and in other parts of the world; and to cooperate with other African student unions in the Americas.”
“Regardless of events in Nigeria, we have to serve as an informative and educational organization. Our duty is to promote the image of our country.”
What Efionayi started in the late 1960s continued as an important touchstone for Nigerian culture at Ohio State for decades. The organization hosted events that shared Nigerian food, arts and culture on campus, and convened speakers on topics of importance. In 1981, the Nigerian Student Union gave voice to students from Bauchi, one of the country’s 19 states that sent students to Ohio State through its Nigerian Education Program. The union protested against unfair rent disparities that charged individual students who shared living quarters the same amount as students who lived alone. The result was a new, more equitable rental agreement for campus housing.
As turbulence continued in their home nation in the mid-1980s, Nigerian students at Ohio State and elsewhere struggled. Tunde Aiyeru, then a senior, told the Lantern that some Nigerians “have to work jobs illegally to survive, while others have been pushed out of their apartments because they have no money to pay rent. The emotional strain of being in another country without money is unbearable.”
Adeboye Adejare, PhD ’85, then-president of the Nigerian Student Union told the Lantern, “Regardless of events in Nigeria, we have to serve as an informative and educational organization. Our duty is to promote the image of our country.”
Despite the challenges they faced, many students persevered. International Student Services Director Dorothy Brickman said in a 1984 Lantern story, “We are very proud of Nigerian students here. Those who have graduated here have gone home to very important positions.” Today, Nigerian students at Ohio State are well represented within the African Youth League, a student organization that fosters an environment where individuals from all cultures can learn about African culture.