Open Letter to the ULSU: The Expedience of Constitutionalism

“But collective thinking is usually short lived. We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great grit for self-destruction.” Suzanne Collins

Human beings are not flawless. So is leadership. The human society is an embodiment of strengths and frailties. Leadership is just an allegorical representation of the human makeup. The truths, deceits, adeptness, ineptitudes…are all not to be unexpected in leadership. Leaders are not machines.

A little academic investiture before continuation…

It has been communally agreed that democracy is the best system of government extant in contemporary times. This is because democracy has as its inseparable corollary, rule of law. It stridently campaigns against the autocratic encroachment of a person’s rights, and against the existence of an all powerful, do as I say, being. The rule of law, believes that everyone is equal, with certain rights and privileges which are for every reason, generally inalienable. And, rule of law and democracy are best of friends. Little wonder Lincoln defined Democracy, to be “the government of the people by the people and for the people”. That is, a government where the leaders understand that they are also bound to obey the rule as the people whom they serve.

Hence, traits of autarchy, no matter how infinitesimal, are a symbol of utter deviation from the sanctimonious path of democracy and the rule of law. Fortunately, the modern conception of democracy has been advanced to transcend the constrictive cocoon of politics alone. In fact, politics itself has been identified as being identifiable in all, or most, human association. Thus, the rule of law has been described as one of the greatest propositions ever made. Thanks to Albert Venn Dicey. Consequently, whether in national, municipal or school politics, the spirits and letters of the law should be the guiding principles.

Back to our mission…

The constitution of the University of Lagos Students’ Union provides for two arms of government, with unnecessary reasons for leaving out the third arm. However, perhaps for lack of sophisticated leadership leaning or sufficient altruistic motive, there have been indications that high-handedness and gross irreverence of the principle of separation of power, is about to be enthroned. While the original purport of this piece is not to apportion blame or exonerate any particular arm, analogy will be drawn from recent events of the union.

For the sake of clarity, the constitution of the ULSU provides in Article 1, Section 1 subsections 1 and 2 that the ULSU constitution shall be the grundnorm, after which provisions all activities of the officials and organs of the ULSU shall be conducted; and any derogation, will render such activity “inconsistent…and null and void to the extent of the inconsistency”.

Against this background, irrespective of the intrinsic conviction of any member of the ULSU executive or parliamentarian, in as much as the act is in contravention with the provision of the ULSU constitution, such act would be null and void. However, where proof of allegation is not established that a particular act is not in furtherance of the aims and objectives of the ULSU as set out in Article 2, section 3 of the constitution, such action will remain constitutional. Thus, what would be a reasonable man’s conception of the provision that students can pay their ULSU dues at the SUB? With the long queues extant in the banks, and the listlessness of students with regard to paying the 300 or 500naira dues, is it not a timely intervention to make payment possible at the Union Building? Wouldn’t this ingenious provision be considered as a bid to ease the stress students go through while paying (especially for those who didn’t pay the dues together with their school fees), and thus considered as being in pursuance of Article 2, section 3(a) of the ULSU Constitution? Of course, a disinterested examination would reveal that the positive leaning of the act overrides its negative.

On another note, it’s noteworthy that there is no debate as to who the number one student in University of Lagos is at the moment. This is expressly provided in Article 3, Section 3 subsection 1(b), thus, the President “shall be the number one member of ULSU”. It is of course, a tautologous, but expedient, reiteration that by the implication of this provision, the President of the ULSU serves as the number one representative of the students in all ULSU matters, except otherwise stated. Thus, the rumour that some members of the Student Legislative Arm are positing that situations decide who represents the students between the speaker and the President, if true, will amount to a vainglorious quest for besmirched relevance. It has no basis in the law of the ULSU.

Furthermore, it should be noted that in the spirit of separation of powers, as expounded by Montesquieu, the various arms of government should serve as checks on the activities of one another. Hence, it is a grotesque display of neonate political and leadership adeptness, to misconstrue the position of one arm as working against the other. This is why the constitution in Article 3, Section 1, subsection 4 and Article 4, section 4(n) provides that the executive and legislative councils, respectively, act in furtherance of the aims and objectives, and not as a tool of confusion or commotion to each other.

It would then be right to conclude that the recent invitation of certain stakeholders in the university to the hallowed chamber, by the Speaker, Rt. Hon. Adeonipekun Adeyanju, without properly informing other council members is in contravention of the joint provisions of Article 4, section 4(n) and Article 2 Section 3. While the invitation was said to be in pursuance of Section 4(n) of Article 4, it then becomes a question of whether or not a single provision of the constitution can be read in isolation of other corollary provisions. For, when the aforementioned provision is read alongside Article 2, section 3, of the same constitution, it would be revealed that the speaker, and at large, the Student Legislative Council, has acted ultra vires. Therefore, any resolution passed therein shall be considered as null and void. This also goes for the move by the house to impound the ULSU bus. The question is: which provision of the constitution makes the SLC the custodian of ULSU materials, or when does the bus turn to the constitution of which the SLC should take custody? And, are all these functions offshoots of the constitutional duties of the house, or we about witnessing an antagonistic house, headed by a power drunk speaker?

On a final note, it should be understood that lawlessness is not usually the absence of law, but the lack of abidance by it. Obvious and blatant derogations from the provisions of the constitution are like time bombs, just that they explode in unplanned corners. Like Suzanne has said “collective thinking is usually short lived. We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great grit for self-destruction.” The sooner we realized this propensity and dealt with it, the better it is for our institution, and society at large.

Oyindolapo Olusesi,

Faculty of Law.

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