As a prelude, the Akwa Ibom State University (AKSU) has suspended its 200-level student, Nkanang Joy Ufot, for allegedly calling the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Eno Ibanga ‘foolish VC’. She was said to have posted the insult on her Facebook wall.
SUSPENSION OF A STUDENT AND ITS IMPLICATION IN LAW
Opinions have been expressed by lawyers and students on the legality of the suspension of Joy by AKSU. Before taking side, what is suspension and its implication in law?
The meaning of suspension has been expounded in galaxy of decided cases. The leading authority on the point is LONGE V. FBN PLC (2010) LPELR-1793(SC) where the Supreme Court of Nigeria said it means a deprivation, cessation or stoppage of or from the privilege and rights of a person and a disciplinary procedure that can be for a fixed or indefinite period.
See also the following cases MOBIL PRODUCING NIG. UNLT & ANOR. v. UDO (2008) LPELR-8440(CA), UNIVERSITY OF CALABAR V. ESIAGA (1999) 4 NWLR (502) 719, 723, MIAPHEN v. UNIJOS CONSULTANCY LTD (2013) LPELR-21904(CA), UNIVERSITY OF LAGOS & ORS v. UCHE (2008) LPELR-5073(CA etc
That is why in the case of CHIEKWE IKWUNZE ESIAGA v. UNIVERSITY OF CALABAR & 2 ORs. (2004) 7 NWLR (pt. 872) 366, a final year student was suspended pending a date that he would be invited to appear before a panel for alleged membership of a banned secret cult. Aggrieved with his indefinite suspension, he applied for the enforcement of his fundamental rights claiming that he was not heard by University of Calabar before his suspension and prayed that the same be set aside. The trial High Court granted the student’s relief but both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court set aside the decision of the High Court. The appellate courts held that the suspension of the student by VC was an administrative action intended to ensure good and stable administration of the institution which he was empowered to do. That suspension of student in a University is an internal affair of the University to enhance good administration and not necessarily a disciplinary measure.
BUT HAS THE AKSU VC NOT ACTED AS A JUDGE IN HIS OWN CAUSE?
However, looking at the instant case from the flip side, and if the information in the media is something to go by, it was the Vice Chancellor of Akwa Ibom State University who was insulted by the student that directed the suspension. Can he do that in the light of section 36 which guarantees right to fair hearing and prohibits being a Judge in one’s case?
In L.P.D.C. v. Fawehinmi (1985) NWLR (Pt.7) 300, Attorney-General of the Federation accused Fawehinmi of misconduct and consequently charged him before the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee. But because Attorney-General is the head of the Disciplinary Committee, the court restrained the Committee from trying Fawehinmi because he was in a position of both the complainant, prosecutor and judge at the same time.
In view of the foregoing, it is my opinion that the suspension is null and void. I said so not because the VC has no power to suspend or because the student ought to have been heard first before the suspension (since that is not even necessary or mandatory before suspension), it is because the suspension is in contravention of Rules of Natural Justice which prohibits one from being a Judge in his own cause. I am not abreast with the law establishing Akwa Ibom State University, but I think what the VC ought to have done was to refer the matter to a relevant committee in his capacity as a complainant for the Committee to take appropriate action.
ADVICE TO JOY
In my opinion litigation is not a solution to her case. It should be the last thing that should come to her mind. To me the matter is simple may easily be resolved through negotiation or mediation. She should just write a letter of apology to the VC for pardon. All possible means of resolving the matter for her to resume school should be explored. The nature of our administration of justice system is so complex that litigation is very slow and therefore takes time for cases to be disposed in court. And for litigants who may wish to appeal from High Court to Court of Appeal or even to the Supreme Court, there is a considerable monetary implication. Apart from the rigors involved, there is no certainty of victory in the long run. In INUWA v. BAYERO UNIVERSITY KANO & ANOR (2016) LPELR-41615(CA), the student challenged his withdrawal in 2012. High Court delivered judgement in 2014 and Court of Appeal in 2016 all against him (four years without any positive result). In KOBI v. USMANU DANFODIYO UNIVERSITY SOKOTO & ORS (2018) LPELR-44665(CA), a law student who was expelled for exams malpractice challenged his expulsion in 2005 till 2018 when Court of Appeal decided on the matter (13 years) both against him. If he intends to appeal against the decision of the Court of Appeal now, it would take him many more years again and there wouldn’t be certainty of success.
Sometimes apart from the fact that it would take years for your matter to be resolved, the decision may be too late in your life no matter how favorable it may be. In FUTMINA & ORS v. OLUTAYO (2017) LPELR-43827(SC), the student challenged her expulsion in 2006 and Supreme Court finally gave judgment in her favor in December, 2017 (11 years after). The court ordered that she should be reinstated. Wouldn’t she have done 3 degrees within that 11 years?
O.G. Chukkol is a penultimate year student, Faculty of Law, ABU, Zaria. For corrections and criticisms, he can reached via [email protected] or +2348032470318