By Sylvester Udemezue
Please, recall that the Nigerian Federal Government, through the National Universities Commission (NUC) had on February 9, 2023 ordered the closure of universities across the country citing security concerns, and also the need to enable students to participate in the February 25 and March 11 general elections in Nigeria. Also, shut were polytechnics across the country. [See: “NUC orders closure of universities for 2023 elections”; 9 February 2023; BusinessDay] and [*”FG directs closure of Polytechnics for general elections; 13 February 2023; The Guardian]
However, speaking during the Founders Day of the Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, (ABUAD), Chief Afe Babalola, SAN, the Founder and Chancellor of the university, described the directive as “illegal, needless, and inappropriate”, arguing that the the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, does not have the power to direct NUC Executive Secretary, Prof. Abubakar Adamu Rasheed to close down tertiary institutions. While noting that the closure of varsities by the minister and the NUC had done incalculable damage to students of Nigerian universities, Chief Babalola said, inter alia:
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“Under the NUC Act of 1974 and the Education (National Minimum Standards and Establishment of Institutions) Act of 1985, the Minister has no statutory power to issue a directive to NUC to close down universities. I refer in particular to section 4(2) of the 1974 (NUC) Act…. The illegal closure has adversely affected the curriculum, particularly in respect of private universities which are reputed for their predictable academic calendar and absence of strike actions”.
Please, recall also that both the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Congress of Nigerian University Academics(CONUA) had earlier also kicked against the federal government order closing the universities, arguing that such violates university autonomy.
[See: ‘Shutting varsities over elections illegal’ — Afe Babalola tackles FG; 21 February 2023; TheCable]
With the greatest respect, it appears to me that Chief Afe Babalola SAN, ASUU and CONUA, are missing it. In my opinion, the order by the Federal Government of Nigeria directing closure of all universities and other tertiary institutions in Nigeria, was/is constitutional, necessary, lawful, reasonable, and most auspicious. Besides, the reasons given by the Federal Government for the action taken, apart from from being legally and reasonably justified and justifiable, also far supercede the grounds for the arguments against the closure-directive. My reasons for holding this position are as follows:
(1). Section 14(2)(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 provides that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”. Section 17(3)(c) provides that “The State shall direct its policy towards ensuring that the health, safety and welfare of all persons in employment are safeguarded and not endangered or abused”. I respectfully submit that the need to secure/ensure the safety and security of the staff and students of the various universities and other tertiary institutions takes precedence over the need to ensure an uninterrupted academic calendar for the institutions and the arguments on autonomy. Thus, if the Government in its wisdom, believes that shutting down the schools is the best way to ensure their security and safety, considering the prevailing situation, I am unable to agree that it’s a wise option (as argued by Chief Babalola) to postpone the election and address the perceived security concerns. Postpone the elections until when? This is why I believe that the action by the Government has not breached any law.
(2). It is public knowledge that the majority of students or Nigerian universities and other tertiary institutions, have their polling boots for purposes of voting during elections, in the various places where their parents and guardians reside and that these locations, in most cases, are far away from the location of their current schools. It’s a basic right of every Nigerian of not below 18 years of age, to vote in general elections in Nigeria. Indeed, Nigerian Law views voting in an election as a civic responsibility. Besides, students of these education institutions have an interest in participating in the process of choosing who and who preside over the affairs of their country, States and so on. Shutting down the schools for just three weeks, in order to afford affected students an opportunity to exercise their right to vote and to perform their civic obligation to their fatherland while joining in deciding their next set of leaders, is a legally valid and reasonable decision by the government. Who knows, and considering the renewed interest of many Nigerian youths, including students of tertiary institutions, their active participation could be one factor necessary to assure the selection or election of the right crop of leaders for the country in 2023. Accordingly, if the opportunity cost of achieving these is the decision to shut down schools for three weeks, it’s a huge surprise that anyone would look for reasons to query such a wise and apt decision.
(3). One other major reason that makes the Government’s decision in this respect much more attractive is that both (a) the students who registered in or around their schools and (b) students who registered in their various homes far away from their schools, have now (by FG’s decision) been afforded equal opportunities to vote in the next set of elections. While students whose polling boots are within or around their schools have the option of staying back in their various schools (despite the break) to cast their votes, students who registered at home now have an opportunity to travel home (without missing anything in school) for the same exercise. In this way, no one among the students would be heard after the elections to complain that he or she was not afforded necessary rights to do the needful. It’s therefore my humble view that, had the schools not been shut down, only those students whose polling boots are within or around their schools would have had an opportunity to vote; those students who registered at home would have been disenfranchised. And that is both a breach of their rights and also bad for democracy.
▪️To be continued!
🅰️. NIGERIAN YOUTHS, YOU MUST ENSURE YOU CONDUCT YOURSELVES PEACEFULLY, HONORABLY AND RESPONSIBLY DURING THE ELECTIONS: As the closure of all tertiary institutions in Nigeria would most likely increase the participation of youths in the next elections, I respectdully urge Nigerian youth to fiercely resist any temptation to be hired and used as louts and thugs for the purpose of thwarting the wishes of the masses in the elections. You’re not lazy! You’re the leaders of Nigeria’s tomorrow. Prove to manipulative, exploitative, egoistic, corrupt politicians, that your lot/place is peace and responsibility, and not violence, destruction, malpractice, thuggery and brigandage. Prove to them that you are decent, noble, able and capable. Prove to the world that you can help to stop all forms of election rigging, vote-buying, election violence and all forms of malpractices. Accordingly, in the 2023 elections, you (the youth) have a duty to stand gallantly and fearlessly to ensure that (a) the elections are peaceful and violence-free; and that (b) the people’s votes count and are counted. The youth must be prepared to exhibit doggedness, uprightness and exceptional courage to stand for what is right. VOTE AND DEFEND YOUR VOTES THROUGH NON-VIOLENCE. No one should manipulate the youth. Let everyone vote for his choice without fear of manipulation, molestation of other forms of victimization, suppression or oppression. Your schools were not closed for you to go and get manipulated or otherwise support or get involved in violence, or election malpractices. Noooo.
🅱️. YOU MUST ENSURE YOU VOTE: Voting is essential because it pushes a country’s democracy to function in a fair and equal way. The whole point of a democracy is to ensure that everyone has their chance to elect a candidate and vote for policies that represent and benefit their communities. Accordingly, you just have to ensure that you vote. That is the only way we move forward. This, perhaps is why John Lewis said, “The vote is precious. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democratic society, and we must use it”. It’s not enough to just complain about bad governance. It’s not enough to just want good governance in your country, Nigeria. You have to go and install good governance by voting. Besides, when you vote, your values are put into action and your voices are heard. Your voice is a reminder that you matter because you really do, which is why you deserve to be heard. There’s no such thing as a vote that doesn’t matter. It all matters. The power to make a difference lies in voting. Casting a ballot isn’t just something you do for yourself — it’s for our collective future of your country and generations yet unborn. Further, please note that someone and some people advocated and struggled for your schools to be shut down to enable you to participate in electing your next set of leaders. Those of you who have their PVCs must therefore ensure that you vote in these electionss. Finally, as Billie Eilish once said, “We all [the young, the old, female and male, all Nigerians of voting age] have to vote like our lives and the whole world depend on it, because they do. The only way to be certain of the future is to make it ourselves.”
Sylvester Udemezue (Udems)
(20 February 2023)