One of the recent and highly abhorrent trends among Nigerian universities is their extreme desire to prevent students from associating and exchanging ideas. The latest institution to join this bandwagon of no-student-union is the University of Lagos. The act is not just bad, it is incurably felonious, illegal and totally unacceptable. The decision to suspend the Student Union came as a response to the students' recent protest which was provoked by the lack of electricity and other amenities at the University campus.
It is disappointing how academics, who ought to promote and protect the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution should be found violating same with boundless impunity. The recent suspension of the University of Lagos Student Union by the authorities of the institution is a depiction of the political oppression that Africa has become known for. The aim is to render the students impotent in order to impose oppressive laws that must go unchallenged. Whether or not the authorities of the institution do not see this move as being tyrannical or a violation of the fundamental human rights of these students remains a big question begging for an urgent answer. Under the circumstance, it is the authorities of the institution who ought to be held responsible for whatever may have happened during the protest. Their inability to provide facilities for which students pay inevitably resulted into a remonstrance. How does this justify the authorities?
So after the authorities unlawfully suspended the Union, they hurriedly published a document which all students are peremptorily asked to sign. The document reads in part as follows:
'a. The University of Lagos Student Union (ULSU) Constitution should be suspended until further notice .
b. The ULSU Executive and the Student Legislative Council should be dissolved forthwith.'
It is deducible that the authorities have long wanted to suspend the Union, so they saw the protest as an ideal opportunity to eventually fulfill their age-long appetency. Whatever may be the case, the University has no legal ground to prevent its students from associating freely. It must be emphasised that the right of any Nigerian to belong to an association of their choice is not guaranteed by the University of Lagos Laws but by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) which has binding force on all laws and enactments throughout the federation. It follows therefore that the University of Lagos has no right to withhold same from students. Doing so is illegal. For the avoidance of doubt, section 40 of the Constitution provides as follows:
'EVERY PERSON shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests'
By the above provision, the Constitution empowers EVERY NIGERIAN CITIZEN to form or belong to any Association of choice FOR THE PROTECTION OF INTERESTS. This provision is corroborated by Article 20(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
'EVERYONE has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.'
The University, by publishing the document quoted at the start of this treatise, sadly explains that the authorities are incognizant of the constitutional provisions as enshrined under sections 1 (1) and 1 (3):
‘(1) This Constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
1(3) If any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution, this Constitution shall prevail, that other law shall to the extent of the inconsistency be void.’
It is momentuous to add that the authorities' decision to announce the dissolution of the Union's executives is patently illegal, cack-handed, dictatorial and utterly diametric to the democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution. No doubt, one of the commonest manifestations among oppressors is that they live under a cloud of self-delusion wherein they believe that the oppressed are under the obligation to accept whatever garbage that is thrown at them without uttering a word of protest. In most cases, when the oppressed revolt, the oppressors come up with a mass of mendacious claims which are heaped upon the oppressed, who clearly have no mouthpiece to mount a defence. This explains why oppression, civilian dictatorship, human rights violations, etc parade today with impunity through the length and breadth of much of Africa.
The University of Lagos, with its reputation, should have devised an ideal way of resolving whatever crisis that may have erupted during this period, knowing that protest is entrenched in human nature, especially when rights have been violated.
This view is corroborated by acclaimed novelist, Professor Chinua Achebe in his apt remark:
'The whole pattern of life demanded that one should protest...'
The University of Lagos should realise that the right to reaceful assembly and association and such other rights as guaranteed under chapter four of Nigeria's Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and People's Rights are meant to be enjoyed by all Nigerians and the entire human race. NOBODY, including the authorities of the University of Lagos is empowered to question or withhold any of these rights.
Universities are expected to show respect to the Rule of Law in line with the knowledge they transmit to their students. Their mission to impart knowledge and excellent qualities would be contemptible if all the examples they exhibit is to ruthlessly violate the laws of the land.
This writer stands in firm solidarity with University of Lagos Student Union and its executives, for he believes in the saying:
'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'
Elias Ozikpu is a writer, polemicist, activist, social commentator.