When I woke up this morning (November 28th, 2015), I was greeeted by one of the most heartbreaking mails I have received in recent times. It was a newsletter from The Premium Times. The headline read: “SHOCKING: Rivers University expels student for having “speech and hearing challenges”. I was thus compelled to open the mail and read further.
One Jane Attah, who was reported to have challenges in her speaking and hearing abilities, had been expelled from Rivers State University of Science and Technology. She received the letter of her de-registration signed by C.M Ewhorlu, Principal Assistant Registrar (Senate) of the university on January 30th, 2015.
It was reported that although, the 28-year old student of the department of Educational Foundation had these challenges, she could communicate well when she uses her hearing aid.
All attempt made by her and her parents to ensure that her de-registration is revoked has proved abortive. This, infact, is provokingly confirmed in the statement of the new Vice Chancellor, Mr. Didia, as reported by the Premium Times: “They don’t admit deaf and dumb here. And if what you said really happened, the vice chancellor then must have seen reasons why she could not be taught here”.
The constitution of Nigeria clearly and in strong terms frowns at discrimination against any person within the realm. It is with this foresight that I decry the decision of the University against Ms. Jane. The consequence of her de-registration is a slap on the grundnorm of Nigeria especially as section 18 of the constitution underscores the importance of the education of every Nigerian citizen.
In the words of Gasiokwu, Discrimination is “the differentiation in the treatment of individuals based on group categorisation having no relational relation to the genuine potential of the individual for contribution to the common interest commonly described in both legal and popular parlance”. Also, section 15(2) of the 1999 constitution as amended provides that ” Accordingly, national integration shall be actively encouraged, whilst discrimination on the grounds of place of origin, sex, religion, status, ethnic or linguistic association shall be prohibited”
Furthermore, section 42(1) of the constitution provides that “A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person:- (a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject; or (b) be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions”. This provision enshrines the fundamental right of citizens against discrimination.
Thus, in the locus classicus case of Adewole v. Jakande, where the government of lagos released a circular abolishing all private schools in the state. The court held that the circular was unconstitutional because it attempts to restrict resident in the state from enjoying privileges available to members of other states.
It is quite unfortunate that the constitution does not include “health” as a yardstick against discrimination. However, it cannot be the intention of the drafters of the constitution that a citizen such as Ms. Jane can be discriminated on the ground of her health issues.
Luckily, article 2 of the African Charter on human and peoples’s right which as a result of domestication is already a part of our laws provides that: “Every individual shall be entitled to the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms recognised and guaranteed in the present Charter without distinction of any kind such as race, ethnic group, colour, sex, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national and social origin, fortune, birth or any status”. The words “fortune” and “status (a feature of section 15(3) of the 1999 constitution)” suffice to cover the situation of Ms. Jane.
Having carefully examined the above authorities, i hereby beckon on the authorities of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology to revoke their decision on the matter as their action is a breach on the constitionally guaranteed fundamental right to freedom against discrimination of Ms. Jane. Also, I invite the leadership of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) to take up this situation and champion her course.
This is also a call on the National Assembly under the able watch of Senator Bukola Saraki and Honorable Ibrahim Dogara that the constitution requires full revision to fit into the ever-dynamic situation of the nation.
LAWAL SODIQ ABIOLA
FACULTY OF LAW
HONOURABLE-ELECT OF UNIVERSITY OF LAGOS’ STUDENT LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL (ULSLC)
UNIVERSITY OF LAGOS.