[Letter]–Recall that Abdulrazaq O. Hamzat and Elias Ozikpu, were both rusticated from the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) in 2015 following their role in the call for the removal of the former Vice Chancellor, Prof. Vincent Ado Tenebe, and some principal officers of the school for alleged corrupt practices.
Hamzat, a master’s student of Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution, was also the president of the Congress of NOUN Students (CONS), (the unofficial students’ union of NOUN students across the country), and Elias Ozikpu, a Mass Communication student, served as the group’s public relations officer (PRO).
The rusticated later dragged the institution before a Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos, over the illegal expulsion and the violation of their various fundamental human rights.
The application, which was filed on 11th December, 2015, under suit number: FHC/L/CS/1883/2015 was brought before the court to enforce the Fundamental Human Rights of all the members of Congress of NOUN Students, the unofficial Students Association of the University.
However, the former Vice Chancellor of the institutuion, Prof. Vincent Ado Tenebe, who was part of the 13 VCs sacked earlier last year had said in 2015 that the two students of the institution expelled suffered that fate for allegedly bringing opprobrium to the institution, by externalising issues, without exhausting all the internal mechanisms available for conflict resolution and problem solving in the university.
Stating further, he said, “the Act establishing this University came up in 1983 and in the blueprint of this University, it was agreed that because of the nature of this school; we are not allowed to float or organise staff and students union because we have staff and students in all states of the federation.a union body at the institution will be as having a political party, which will pose danger to the country.” But it has since been reported that this claim is not valid.
In the letters containing the rustication it was also stated that, “the committee also found you wanting in character, which apart from learning, is an essential ingredient for the conferment of a degree of this university on you.”
Two years after instituting the case in court, the rusticated students are yet to find justice as the judiciary has been playing what you can only call a “game” with their fate.
Chief Justice of Nigeria
Federal Republic of Nigeria
My name is Abdulrazaq O Hamzat, an applicant in a Fundamental Human Rights suit at the Federal High Court, Lagos Judicial Division. My colleagues and I at the Congress Of NOUN Students (CONS) ran to court in 2015 to search for justice, when we were unjustly violated and rusticated by the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) for exercising our rights to freedom of Association and Expression as contained in Sections 39 and 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999 as amended).
My Lord, we had thought that the court, as they say, was the last hope of the common man. However, our experience since 2015 only tells us that the court is nothing other than a platform for the powerful to not only break the common man and ridicule him, but to also drain his resources. As a matter of fact, a court is the weapon of the highly placed people to permanently subjugate common man.
My Lord, since our matter first came up for hearing on 26th January 2016, it has been adjourned more than 10 times, all at the instance of either the Open University or the court itself. This was in spite the affidavit of urgency duly attached, signifying the urgency of the matter, not minding Article 36 (paragraph 1) of the 1999 Constitution which provides that every determination of civil right cases must be done within reasonable time. It’s almost 2 years my lord and the time is yet to be reasonable for judgment. The hearing is being started all over again.
May I inform my lord that between when we filed this suit and now, the University has held two convocations ceremonies and most surprisingly, the matter had also been reserved for judgment on two occasions, first on 18th April, 2016 and 26th January, 2017 and on both occasions, no judgment was ever delivered. This was due to application to “arrest judgment” filed by the University’s counsel.
On 26th January 2016, when students from all over the country were waiting for the final judgment for the second time, the judge, Hon C.M.A Olatoregun whose obvious intention was to protect the powerful over the weak did the unthinkable. She ruled in favor of NOUN application to “arrest the court’s judgment’’ under the guise of fair hearing.
My Lord, the same Open University that has done everything to frustrate judgment, that has often deliberately absented themselves from court, that has shown disregard for lay down procedures as contained in the provisions of Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure Rules, 2009), that has knowingly or unknowingly filed wrong responses and outright lied before the court were granted favor of arresting judgment under the illusion of fair hearing. My Lord, who in this world is unaware that application to arrest judgment is unknown in Nigeria’s jurisprudence?
My Lord, can we say Justice Olatoregun is unaware that “arrest of judgment’’ is alien to Nigeria’s judicial system? Most definitely not my lord.
This application was deliberately initiated to waste our time, so we can either run out of resources to start the process afresh or to abandon the case altogether. It is a familiar tactics often used by management of Institutions to dissuade student leaders from protecting their lawful rights and interests, but unfortunately, through the help of the court.
My Lord, it is not hidden that should this matter be dragged on and left undecided till 100 years from today, NOUN suffers no damage whatsoever. As a matter of fact, this is what they desire and are set out to achieve. However, every single day that passes by without judgment being delivered takes away some parts of our lives, which can never be regained. Time is the most precious thing in this world my lord. It is more valuable than money. We can make more money, but we can’t make more time. And when the court is wasting our time, it is
wasting our lives. (May God forgive the court and its judges), but I doubt if he will ever do so. So, as the court continue to waste our time and resources on a suit, whose judgment should have been delivered almost a year ago, let it be known that the court is wasting away our lives and no remedy can ever compensate for our wasted lives. Nigerian courts, as it operates today do not uphold any law, neither do they do justice.
My Lord, we are not unaware that the court is not a place for justice, but more surprisingly is the fact that, it is also not a place for law, as obviously, judges are not guided by any known law. If a judge can rule in favor of an unknown application, in which the Supreme Court has consistently ruled against, that tells us that no law is binding.
With this ruling in favor of arrest of judgment, all we have done since 2015 has amounted to nothing. The unjust party is benefiting from their injustice through the help of the court, while we, the victims are still suffering from their act of impunity.
My Lord, students are being violated all across Nigerian institutions and student leaders are being rusticated for standing for their rights. In University of Lagos, Tai Solarin University, University of Port Harcourt etc, those violating students suffer no consequence for their abuses.
My Lord, can the court ever do justice? Even if we start the process over again and the judgment is eventually delivered, probably after another year, can we call that justice?
My Lord, what is the essence of justice, if it doesn’t remedy injustice? What is the essence of judgment, if the powerful can arrest it? What is the essence of court, if it only benefits the rich?
May I also inform my lord that, the lawsuit between NOUN Law graduates and Council of Legal Education, NOUN, NUC and Office of Attorney General of the federation whose final judgment had been reserved for 27th January 2017 was also not delivered. The presiding judge, Hon. B.O Quadri was suddenly transferred from Port Harcourt to Abuja few days to the judgment without notifying the students.
My Lord, the transferred judge is at liberty to personally deliver judgment on concluded matters or transfer case files to his successor to read the judgment, but none of this happened. As the judgment was not delivered as scheduled, it implies that the students who submitted to the legal system may perpetually be kept in the court with different technicalities.
My Lord, the dangerous implication is that having waited patiently since 2015 in the court and finally got the judgment but was technically quashed for whatever reasons, the new judge may restart the case afresh which may linger again as evident in our judicial system.
What message is the court sending out to Open University students, who have maintained the culture of not taking laws into their hands? Two lawsuits file since 2015 by students of NOUN lasted till date. Two judgments reserved for 26th and 27th January 2017 were both refused to be delivered.
My Lord, should NOUN students, like others in conventional Universities begin to explore other means of seeking justice, like protest and violence, don’t you see the possibility of chaos
considering our large population and wide spread across the country?
My Lord, patriots often defend the law, as contained in the Constitution despite knowing the authorities have power to hurt them, but they persevere for the good of the society and are aware that, though the authorities might be against them, the law is always behind them.
If the constitution no longer have meaning like it is proving to be in Nigerian courts, if courts can no longer defend the law, if judges are now in court to help the unjust benefit from their injustice, let the court come out and say so publicly, so that patriots can no longer risk their lives under the guise of defending their rights in accordance with law.
My Lord, if the court can no longer make pronouncement in defense of law, if they have resolved to aid injustice perpetrated by those in authority against helpless students, let it be known that whatever the students do in their moments of frustration is solely to be blamed on the court.
My Lord, to demonstrate the importance of Fundamental Human Rights, it takes just 7 working days for a United States Federal judge, James Robert to stop the travel ban executive order made by the new U.S President. While the U.S authorities wanted to delay the judgment, the court knew it would amount to injustice to delay a Fundamental Human Rights suit filed by citizens.
My Lord, the essence of the judiciary is to check the excesses of other arms of government, not to aid or join them in those excesses.
In conclusion my Lord, I will end this letter by telling you a story.
A Nigerian family relocated from Germany back to Nigeria few years ago. They enrolled their 6 year old daughter in a private school in Kwara State, Nigeria. In her first day in school, the primary 2 pupil saw the class teacher violate a pupil. She couldn’t watch without taking a step to correct it. She walked into the proprietor’s office to register her complain and demanded that the teacher be sacked with immediate effect. The proprietor summoned the teacher and after confirming her guilt, she was cautioned and transferred to another
class. When the 6 year old girl’s mother came to pick her at closing hour, she was informed about what her daughter had done that day. The mother asked the girl, why did you report your class teacher to the proprietor? The little girl responded with enthusiasm that the teacher abused a classmate and that she reported to the proprietor for the teacher to be sacked.
My Lord, to protect human rights violation, perpetrators must not be allowed to benefit from their abuses. Even children in civilized nations fight for their rights, but here in our country, the court’s protection of the powerful has made Nigerians docile in terms of standing for their rights.
My Lord, why not close the courts, if they cannot uphold Nigeria’s constitution in the interest of all Nigerians?
Abdulrazaq O Hamzat