Human Rights in the Ivory Tower – Ahmed Adetola-Kazeem

Ahmed Adetola-Kazeem Human Rights

Mr. Ahmed Adetola-Kazeem, Director Prisoners’ Right Advocacy Initiative (PRAI) was a guest speaker at the 1st Judicial Summit of the Student Judicial council of the Lagos State University Ojo, Lagos where he presented a paper titled “Human Rights in the Ivory Tower”.

The event which had as its theme: Human Rights: The Need for Urgent Awareness in the Academic Palance was held on Tuesday, October 17 at the Moot Court, Faculty of Law. LASU.

Read the Paper Below:

I thank the Students’ Judicial Council of the Lagos State University Students’ Union, for inviting me as a speaker at this auspicious occasion. I am particularly pleased to be delivering my 1st official speech in Lagos State University when my friend and mentor is the Vice-Chancellor. I congratulate the Vice-Chancellor, Lecturers and Students of this great school on its recent strides both home and abroad.

The University is a mirror of the larger society and that is why we have the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary in the university as well as in the larger society. The Students’ Judicial Council comprises of the High court and the Court of Appeal which are constituted by Law Students.  Law Students of the University equally acts as lawyers in the courts. These courts are statutorily established by the Supreme Constitution of the Students’ union to deal with election matters, misappropriation or embezzlement of funds by any elected officer, flagrant disregard to the constitution and abdication of duties by an elected officer amongst others.

It is pertinent that students are aware of the courts and what they stand for. They should be bold to approach the courts when they feel aggrieved. They must also hold officers of the court accountable. If students are able to govern themselves and hold officers of the three organs of the students’ union accountable, then the future of our nation will be brighter.

I was informed that one of the activities slated for today is the launch of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers and Legal Practitioners of the Students’ Union. I was equally informed that one of the reasons for the enactment of the Code of conduct is the unruly behavior of some counsel who appear before the courts. I must say that this is very unfortunate. The rights of citizens will be in jeopardy if we have bad and unruly lawyers. Student Legal Practitioners who appear before the courts should learn to follow good examples of lawyers past and present rather than the very many bad examples we see on TV and Newspapers irrespective of how rich they might be. As budding lawyers, you must set your priorities right and do not allow money and fame be your driving factor.

Professor L.C.B. Gower, a jurist and well-known legal educator, warned that the public responsibilities of the legal profession in a developing country are even greater than in the highly developed industrial states. About the needs of developing countries, he said with characteristic forthrightness, inter alia:

“They need commercial, corporation, and property lawyers if they are to achieve an economic take-off. They need bilingual, international, comparative and constitutional lawyers if they are to survive as states and to enter into large unions which Pan-Africa sentiment and economic development demand…. They need courageous lawyers with the highest ethical standards if the atrophy of the rule of law and of personal and academic freedom and the corrosive growth of corruption, nepotism and elitism are to be arrested, and if military and police power is to be kept within bounds. Most of all, perhaps, they need constitutional lawyers sophisticated in other disciplines if they are to find a viable substitute for the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy.”

Professor Orojo, equally noted the remarks by Sir, AdetokunboAdemola, Chief Justice of Nigeria (Rtd) (of blessed memory), who emphasised the role of Nigerian legal practitioners as that of legal advisers to the government, commerce, industry and private citizens, as champions of reform and as defenders of human rights and concluded significantly that “the respect in which the Bar in any country is held is the best indication of freedom in that country.” The learned author finally stated thus:

“The Nigerian legal practitioner (as in other developing countries) bears a much heavier responsibility to his society than his counterpart in a highly developed country. In the first place, the Nigerian legal practitioner has to face not only the problems of the developing society but also many of those of the developed one into which Nigeria is moving at a hectic rate; the present rate of change in every facet of life could not have been foreseen. Secondly, he is one among the very few privileged people in an environment where the vast majority are not only illiterate but also ignorant, superstitious and poor; his social and traditional environment clogs him and he requires to make a great effort not only to break through but to play his proper role of social catalyst. In the circumstances, Nigerian legal practitioners must be able not only to perform their traditional functions of catering for the professional needs of the citizens, of administering justice and manning the various legal institutions of the state, but they must also be involved in social change; they must be committed to law reform to ensure the harmonization of law with the culture of the people and they must strive to ensure a strict adherence to the rule of law and among other things, ensure that the newly acquired political power is carefully watched and controlled so that it is not used to protect or perpetuate the status quo or class domination. As the watchdog of the people, they must, through their independence and total commitment to social justice, provide the necessary support to sustain equally independent and fearless judiciary, the last hope of man for law and order, peace and progress.”

If the Students’ Union Government of LASU will be successful, the law students who are judges and lawyers in the court have a huge role to play. Do not think the roles you play now, whether good or bad don’t matter, they will determine a lot about your future.

The second perspective to this topic is Human Rights of students vis-à-vis the school management and government.

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 The media has been awash with news of expulsion of some students recently based on their outspokenness or rudeness depending on which side of the divide you are looking at it. The cases of Kayode Bello expelled from the Law School, Olorunfemi Adeyeye expelled from the University of Lagos and Debo Adedayo who was recently expelled from Redeemers University, come to mind. Kayode Bello was expelled from the Nigerian Law School on the allegation of disorderly behavior and lacking the core attributes, disposition and comportment of an aspirant to the Bar. Olorunfemi Adeyeye was expelled from the University of Lagos for his facebook post titled, “The Senate of Unilag: A conglomeration of Academic Ignorami.”  Debo Adeyeye was expelled for his post on social media where he allegedly portrayed some principal officers of redeemers’ university in bad light.

Back in the days, the average Nigerian student of the university or other tertiary institution is politically mature, intelligent and exuberantly involved in the affairs of his/her community and country. Nigerian students have a history of radical action. After Nigeria’s independence in 1960, Britain sought to retain her hegemony by pressuring the Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa’s government into signing an Anglo-Nigerian Defence Pact. Nigerian students rejected the pact and embarked on protests and demonstrations against what they clearly understood to be an attempt to undermine Nigeria’s independence and perpetuate colonial influence.

All over the world, students and the youth in general are change agents. The students’ revolts that jolted the American society in the early 60s was a warning that unchannelled youthful energy could lead to an explosion that would devastate society. In South Africa, the youth were in  the vanguard of the liberation struggle. The apostle of “Black Conciousness”, the ideological fulcrum on which the struggle for an end to apartheid was anchored was Steve Biko. The African students in the United Kingdom in the early  ’50s were forced by experience to take up the gauntlet of the liberation of their countries from colonialism: Leopold Senghor, Kwame Nkrumah, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo and a host of first-generation nationalists in several African countries were able to influence the course of events as they sojourned in the metropolitan capitals of the colonizing power.

Edwin Madunagu said “Students acquire a critical consciousness which will naturally struggle to express itself in action. Students and academics, historically tend more towards being dissidents and critics who inspire debates and lead social causes.”

It is this critical ardour that had propelled Nigerian students into actually being the vanguard of popular opposition to military rule, the demand for true democracy and popular participation. One of the major champions of students’ rights was Gani Fawehinmi. He said:

“Students are young minds and must not be cut down in their prime by disengaging them from the university system. The students have remained the most reliable group of radicals.

It is not easy to cow students. Why they last longer than governments is that they have that purity of thought, independence of disposition, rational analysis of events from a detached standpoint. And they have not committed the cultural, political and socio-economic sins of adulthood. Then they have the raw unpolluted strength of character. The combination of all these which only a highly disciplined adult can possess, make students a unique specie in our society”

It is very doubtful if the description above defines the present crop of Nigerian students, in view of recent happenings, particularly when one considers the hobnobbing of students’ union leaders with politicians and the immaturity displayed by students on social media with the use of abusive and uncouth language when addressing issues they feel strongly about.

It used to be that the power of a university senate was perceived as exclusive of the jurisdiction of the courts because it would amount to the invasion of the domestic domain of the university. The Supreme Court decision in Akintemi & 2 Ors V. Onwumechili (1985) 1 NWLR (Pt. 1) 68 lent credence to this perception. The appellants had been alleged to be involved in the cheating. They claimed that the university had denied them fair hearing in the processes leading to the expulsion. They lost in the High Court of Ile-Ife and appealed to the Court of Appeal which also dismissed their appeal. The Supreme Court affirmed both lower court decisions. The Supreme Court decision in Garba V. University of Maiduguri marked the turning point

By far the most impactful of court decisions on students’ rights filed by Fawehinmi was Garba v. University of Maiduguri(1985) 2 NWLR (pt. 18) 559. It was the first case concerning students that had gone to the Supreme Court.

For taking part in a protest in 1983 against the perceived high handedness of the university authorities, scores of students of the University of Maiduguri were expelled by the then Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jubril Aminu. In an action filed at the Borno High Court sitting in Maiduguri, Fawehinmi challenged their dismissal, contending that the fundamental human rights of the students to a fair hearing had been breached by the university authorities and thereby asking for a mandatory order reinstating the expelled students. The learned trial High Court Judge, Justice Adagun, (as he then was) upheld Fawehinmi’s submissions and ordered the reinstatement of the expelled students. The university appealed to the Court of Appeal which reversed the decision of the lower court. The students further appealed to the Supreme Court.

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In the leading judgment of the apex court read by Justice Andrews Obaseki, a powerful Supreme Court Bench consisting of Justices Eso, Uwais, Nnamani, Coker and Oputa unanimously allowed the appeal on grounds inter alia that the University authorities had no power to try and punish students for the alleged criminal offences, namely: assault and arson, the trial of which, by the University Disciplinary Committee amounted to usurpation of judicial functions.

The Garba decision has become a powerful precedent on student rights. It is a benign decision that has gone a long way in curbing the excessive resort by university authorities to damaging sanctions which has the capacity to compromise students’ future aspiration.

It must however be noted that in the more recent case of Unilorin V. Oluwadare (2006) 14 NWLR (Pt. 1000) 751  the Supreme Court held that:

in matters which involve serious criminal allegations against the State such as arson, stealing, indecent assault, etc., the suspects should, for obvious reasons, be tried in a Court or tribunal properly so called under the Constitution. But where the matters involve the award of degrees, diplomas and certificates and matters incidental thereto like examination malpractices, an aggrieved party, be he a student or a lecturer should first exhaust all the internal machineries for redress before a recourse to Court. Where he rushes to Court without first exhausting all the remedies for redress available to him within the domestic forum, as was the case of Akintemi v. Onwumechili (supra), he would be held to have “jumped the gun” and the matter would be declared bad for incompetence.

University management must ensure that all the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution are strictly adhered to in its dealings with students. These rights include:

  1. Right to life – (Section 33) Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.
  2. Right to dignity of human person – (Section 34) Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of person and accordingly no person shall be subject to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment.
  3. Right to personal liberty – (Section 35) Every person shall be entitled to his personal liberty and no person shall be deprived of such liberty.
  4. Right to fair hearing – (Section 36) In the determination of a person’s civil rights and obligations, every person shall be entitled to fair hearing.
  5. Right to private and family life–(Section 37)The privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondences and telephone conversations  is guaranteed and protected.
  6. Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion – (Section 38)Every person shall be entitle to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief.
  7. Right to freedom of expression and the press– (Section 39) Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions.
  8. Right to peaceful assembly and association – (Section 40) Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons or political party.
  9. Right to freedom of movement – (Section 41) Every citizen in Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof.
  10. 10. Right to freedom from discrimination – (Section 42) No Nigerian shall be discriminated upon on the basis of his community, ethnic group, sex, place of origin and political opinion.
  11. Right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria – (Section 43) Every Citizen shall have right to own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria.
  12. Right against compulsory acquisition of property– (Section 44)
    The above are fundamental human rights enshrined in the 1999 Constitution and accorded to all Nigerians.

Students must however realize that their rights under the constitution are not absolute. They must pursue their rights within the confines of the law with maturity and tact.

According to the Dean of the Faculty of Law of Lagos State University, Professor F.A.R Adeleke, “Generally students have right to all the rights that are contained in the Nigerian constitution, those rights that are already recognized and had been given effect to by judicial authorities and those rights that are contained in the students’ handbooks. In addition, students also have right to defend these three categories of rights.” He went further to list students’ rights within the university, thus:

  1. Right to be tried within reasonable time for any act of misconduct.
  2. Right to defence including right to be defended by a legal practitioner against any allegation of misconduct.
  3. Right to participate in any lawful students union activities subject to the extant rule of the university.
  4. Right to receive lectures and to participate in any academic activities.
  5. Right not to be discriminated against on account of sex or sexual orientation.
  6. Right to marry and not to be prejudiced on account of same during the pendency of the study.
  7. Right to privacy.
  8. Right to fair hearing at all times in respect of any allegation involving any misconduct.
  9. Right to resist any lecture fixed outside the university recognized timetable, particularlyon weekends and public holidays.
  • Right to see your scripts and to be shown your marks in case of tests or examination and to reasonably contest same within the established rules and regulations of the university.
  • Right to freedom of religion on campus subject to university regulations.
  • Right to appeal any decision of the university senate
  • Right to protest in writing any act or directive that stand prejudicial to the interest of the students through the HOD, DEAN or VICE CHANCELLOR.
  • Right to be shown scripts either examination or tests for confirmation of scores and to contest score through the appropriate channel in the university including demand for a remarking of such scripts without any prejudice.
  • Right to say No to any sexual overture and to resist any act of sexual harassment.
  • Right to use Hijab and to wear cross or exhibit any religious inclination, all with moderation.
  • Right to refuse and report any act of lecturers that forces students to buy their books or academic materials and where any book is to be sold at all such book should be bought directly from the university bookshop and in any event record of the buyers should not be kept.
  • In all other cases, journals, Faculty book of reading and similar books that foster the advancement of learning may be sold to students subject to clarification from the Dean or Deputy Vice Chancellor Academic.
  • Right to speedy response to students request and rtesolution of issues bordering on students interest.
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Without necessarily pointing who is wrong or right in the recent expulsion of students from the Universities mentioned earlier, my observation is that while the agitation of the students might be justified, the manner of venting their anger could have been more mature.

When I was in the law school we wrote a petition against two lecturers to Mr. Onadeko, the immediate past DG of the law school, that expelled Kayode Bello. He was then the head of Lagos Campus. Our petition succeeded and the lecturers involved apologized.

The fact of the case was that, we were denied the opportunity to go for Jumat service because the two lecturers extended their classes beyond the allotted time thereby breaching the rights of Muslims to worship. I and my firend,  Daud Momodu had notified the lecturers during the class that it was almost time for Jumat via a note. They asked us to put our names on the note and we did. We wrote them another note that it was time for Jumat and the class should end, but they ignored. Some of us left the class, but many Muslims stayed in class and missed the Jumat service.

Infuriated, we wrote a powerful but civil petition against the two lecturers to the head of campus, Mr Onadeko SAN. We cited relevant provisions of the Public Holidays Act and the Constitution. We copied the affected lecturers.

We were summoned along with the lecturers to the office of head of campus. We were asked to vocalize our complaint and the lecturers were asked to respond. The authorities apologized for the breach of our right to freedom of worship and promised not to let it happen again. It never did.

My point is, your voice can be heard without shouting.  Students must refuse the temptation to go overboard by playing the hero and seeking the spotlight in a foolish manner. The advent of Social Media has made Student Activists more vulnerable, their activities are easily monitored and tyrannical school authorities can easily latch on defamatory posts made by such students and deal with them decisively.

In Conclusion, I urge the Students’ Judicial Council and Student Legal Practitioners who appear before them to be upright and disciplined, only then can we have a sane Students’ Union. Students should make efforts to be aware of their rights and should do all that is legally acceptable in ensuring that their rights are enforced. The university management should refuse the temptation to always silence the opposing voices of students. They should create an avenue whereby students can air their views without fear of intimidation. The university should recognize the fact that every disciplinary process should comply with the rule of natural justice and fair-hearing. These are the basic principles of fundamental rights of every civilized society and which the constitution seeks to protect and guarantee. The Student Union leaders and activists must display increased maturity in dealing with the school management or government. They must be careful not to unwittingly put their studentship on the line by actions that cannot be remedied in the law courts. They must look at the legal implications of their actions and not be deceived by the hailing of their followers who would forget them the moment they are expelled from the University.

AHMED ADETOLA-KAZEEM, MCIArb(UK) (2017 Mandela Washington Fellow)


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