200 Broken Covenants

On the final weekend of the year 2012, we awoke to the news that Covenant University had expelled roughly 200 students for the gross malfeasance of missing the final church service of the semester (or “term”, some would say). One by one, people trooped into the village square that is Twitter to air their views. The more popular trend of thought was that if indeed there was a violation of school rules (again with the secondary school terminology), the punishment was egregiously excessive. This was more so because the news report suggested that the students were only expelled because the Chancellor of the school was especially angry at the poor attendance at church and the expulsions were summarily handed out.

At the other end of the opinion spectrum were people who believed, given that the expulsion letters reportedly cited violation of a section of the university’s student handbook, that people generally know what they’re signing up for when they enrol at Covenant University and students who knowingly break rules ought to face the punishment.

In the middle, a position taken by many of my learned friends (a cautious lawyer, what a cliché), were people who decided to reserve categorical comments until they had seen the wording of the rules allegedly broken and the punishment prescribed.

Eventually, some wording emerged but not from Covenant University. Some, of the excessive impunity camp, believed they had found support for their position on the website of the National Universities Commission (NUC). According to the excerpt, “(1) A proposed institution shall have an adequate environmental base and shall be open to all Nigerians irrespective  of ethnic derivation, social status, religious or political affiliation. (2) Accordingly, its laws and status shall not conflict with the conventional responsibilities in academia or interfere with avowed traditional institutional autonomy.” Much was made of the first of these two requirements but, for me, it does not go much further than the issue of a candidate’s admissibility into the institution.

Shortly after that, a screen shot of a very pertinent section of the student handbook, the contents of which students reportedly sign to adhere to, began to circulate, the text of which is reproduced in full below.

  • [Unclear but presumably a list of school assemblies]
  • These assemblies are mandatory for all students.
  • No student is allowed to remain in the rooms whenever there is a university General Assembly
  • Any student caught in the hall of residence during any General Assembly shall be issued a letter of warning and may be expelled if the act becomes habitual.
  • Any student caught in the hall of residence during any General Assembly, particularly Chapel Services, Sunday Services and variety Night shall be suspended for four (4) weeks at the first instance and may suspended for One (1) academic session or expelled from the University if the act becomes habitual by being caught twice for this same offence.

This last text puts paid to any controversy. Every organisation, even a religious one, must be governed by rules. These rules cannot be subject to the effervescence of the governing authority’s temper, no matter how divinely we may choose to believe it is being inspired. That is the recipe for chaos and anarchy. What is more, the typical university, private or not, has a proper governance structure. The Vice-Chancellor is the head of administration, with the professors and other senior academics forming the senate. The senate is usually the supreme disciplinary body on campus. It is extraordinarily strange for a student (let alone 200) to be summarily expelled (ie without a disciplinary hearing) merely because the Chancellor (the ceremonial head of the university) commands it. A university that charges top naira for tuition cannot be run like a fiefdom.

However, the reality is that 200 students have been expelled. Two hundred young adults have had their dreams, ambitions and lives truncated without due process being followed. In fact, expulsion isn’t available to the University, even for “habitual” offenders. It is also unclear if the University bothered to sift habitual offenders from first timers. What can these students do about their situation? The idea of a law suit has been bandied and the students would be well within their rights to pursue legal redress. However, they need to be mindful of the fact that law suits in Nigeria take time to reach a conclusion. If Covenant University chooses to appeal a most likely unfavourable judgment (and this isn’t too far-fetched if the Chancellor is as given to whims as the reported command to expel 200 students suggests), they could very well be in court until 2018. Litigation should be the last resort, when all else has failed.

The first step would be to write to the University’s Council, requesting a reversal of the expulsions, highlighting the fact that the punishment meted out was far in excess of what the University rules stipulate. This is not only inappropriate, it is also unconstitutional (s. 36 (6) (8), 1999 Constitution). A copy of the letter should be sent to the head of the NUC, also requesting its immediate intervention. The parents of these students also need to pool their resources together to wage a public relations campaign to get Covenant University to reverse these expulsions. Publish the expulsion letters side-by-side with the relevant sections of the student handbook. Nigerians are typically fearful of ‘victimisation’ but you/your child currently stands expelled – what’s the worst the could happen?

Everyone else who is concerned must also apply as much pressure as they can. Focused, articulate, logical pressure, showing that while we appreciate the need for discipline and conformity to laid down rules, we are also trying to build a society in which constituted authority respects the confines of its power within the same legal framework.

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Navy KabuKabu: The Three Other Fingers

I grew up in what possibly remains, the sanest, most morally upright university campus in Nigeria – the University of Ibadan. I graduated from UI 10 years ago and, especially at that time, the code of ethics enforced by the old guard, many of whom are sadly approaching their terminal 70th year now, was such that vices like handouts-for-profits, sex-for-grades and victimisation were fiercely resisted. This old guard comprised academics who themselves were undergraduates at UI in its glory days and, afterwards, all seemed to find funding for post-graduate studies at the very best universities in the US and Great Britain. Almost a Knights Templar sort of elite, if you like. If your hands were clean, as a student (or a junior member of staff), you could certainly approach equity and equity would rise up in the sturdiest defence of your rights possible.

However, even in the midst of this austere probity and uprightness, there was plenty of the sort of behaviour that many have condemned in the past few days as “abuse of office”. For instance, if someone needed to attend a wedding or funeral outside Ibadan and (as was frequently the case back in the day) they didn’t have a car capable of doing interstate journeys, it was not out of place for one to speak to a friend who was a dean or head of department to borrow an official car and a driver, provided one fuelled the car and ensured the driver received a gratuity for his ‘overtime’. It was not a big deal.

Outside academia, even till the present time, it is not uncommon to find buses with government plate numbers ferrying large numbers of people to and from social events; events that have nothing to do with the official business of the government ministry or department – usually birthdays, weddings and funerals. Many would not give it a second thought or consider it unlawful use of government property.

The same thing probably happens in private establishments. Without thinking about it, many convert business resources to personal use. We’re on social media (or searching for other jobs online) on company time, we download music using the company’s bandwidth, we use the printers and photocopiers to copiously print private material, we use the company phones to make non-business calls, we run our on-the-side business with company resources and so on. Not a big deal either, right?

The fatal helicopter crash of the past weekend has caused many people to question the propriety of using  a naval helicopter to ferry guests between Port Harcourt and Oronto Douglas’s village. The question has been asked with such tenacity that it seems many consider it the issue on which everything around the crash turns. I don’t think the commandeering of the naval helicopter by personnel from the Presidency is any different from our penchant as a people to take advantages of privileges that are available to us. I also don’t think it matters as much as whether or not the aircraft was airworthy or verifying claims that it exploded mid-air rather than crash-landed.

Government must be kept on its toes and remain accountable, yes, but surely this is one of those “living in glass houses” and stone moments. We’re incensed and pointing angrily at the Presidency but, on this occasion, I believe the proverbial three fingers are pointing back at us. As we seek to reform government, we must be mindful that perhaps the greater fight is reforming ourselves, the pool from which government is drawn.

*Braces self for invectives*.

Good King Flashoslas

 

Flashoslas

 

Good (?) King Flashoslas looked out o’er the Lekki people

With the 4-eyed man he thought, let us fleece the people

Widen roads and build a bridge, then exact full measure

For a quarter century, jingling pockets, pleasure.

 

What if they revolt, F said, could we still withstand them?

Do not fret your little head, we will just disband them.

Bring out tanks and sub-machines, gas to end their gathering

When they beat a full retreat, there’ll be no more blathering.

 

And, the 4-eyed man went on, see their feeble leaning

Gutless, rudderless and poor, full of empty steaming

They are well-renowned, you see, for a deep resilience

After feeble mutiny, they’ll accept their sentence.

 

-Timmy Flowers, 1734 -1862

Endangered Specie: Save the Side-Mirror

The Lagos side-mirror is endangered and someone has to do something about it. Every car comes off the assembly line with two unique side-mirrors, the beginning of a life-time ménage a trois. The car and the side mirrors work hard together under the hot sun in the traffic, huddle together in the rain and enjoy those long, moonlit nights in each others’ company. In Lagos, this happily ever after almost never is.

Wing mirror VW Fox

Wing mirror VW Fox (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

From the days of area boys smashing the side-mirrors of “one-way” infringers, to one-side mirror being stolen at wedding receptions (why just the one?) to okadas scratching them in every single go-slow , the Lagos side-mirror has suffered violence and the violent keep triumphing by their force. Lagos has now been rated 300th out of 299 cities surveyed for the likelihood of cars to be scrapped with the same two mirrors (10+ years of use) with which it left the manufacturer’s warehouse.

Only today, I lost my second side-mirror in three years. I was at the front of the queue at the traffic lights. Once the lights turned green, the cars in my lane (on the right) would go forward and the cars in the lane to our left would turn left. Easy, no? Well, the lights turned green and, out of nowhere, this construction truck raced up and tried to squeeze itself in between my car and the median in the road. It almost succeeded. The measure by which it didn’t make it resulted in the smashing of the side-mirror on the driver’s side of the car. I swear I virtually heard my car heave a moan of despair at its bereavement.

 

 

Side mirrors are easily damaged

Side mirrors are easily damaged (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

At that unfortunate moment, I snapped. It was the final straw, you know, the one that broke the camel’s back. How much longer will we stand by and let the dregs of society continue this inhumane action against side-mirrors and their owner cars? How many more vehicles will go through the traumatisation of losing their assembly-line mirrors? Apart from affecting their sense of perspective and hindsight, other studies show that 73% of Lagos-based cars find it harder to concentrate for the first 13 months after an assembly-line mirror is replaced. The statistic goes up to 93% when the replacement side-mirror is a “Made in China” tokunbo. A few cases of loss of horsepower have even been reported but studies are currently inconclusive.

The time has come to pool all our collective goodwill and money into the brand spanking new NGO I’m about to register (the MirrorMax Movement) and let’s save the assembly-line side-mirror. The MirrorMax Movement will take donations from sympathetic members of the public and plough it into the development of the MirrorMax MirrorCush™ (patent pending). This revolutionary device creates a protective force-field around side-mirrors, ensuring that even if the car is smashed by a speeding train, the side-mirrors will always remain attached to the car. Until the very end, when crushing does them part.

Given the data available to us at MirrorMax, the business of this NGO is extremely urgent and needs to be taken expeditiously across all the motoring locations in Nigeria and, eventually, to the ends of the earth. Going by the Doctrine of Notorious Facts, this clearly means that one of our most pressing needs is a private jet, as we have no time to lose. If you feel as strongly about saving the precious vehicle/side-mirror relationship as we do at MirrorMax, then you must give violently – the earlier it seems like we’re reaching our targets, the better. Side-mirrors are counting on us to stop the genocide. Will you stand up and becounted?