PROTESTS yesterday trailed a bill designed to regulate the activities of students’ unions in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions. The bill is undergoing public hearing in the House of Representatives.
When passed into law, the bill, jointly sponsored by 27 lawmakers, will empower Governing Councils to regulate the activities of students’ unions in their schools.
When the public hearing on the bill and six others initiated by the Education Committee of the Lower House started yesterday in Abuja, students and academic personnel kicked against the proposed law. They described it as antithetical to the democratic ethos.
At the forefront of the protest against the law are the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and former students’ union leaders.
The House of Representatives has in the last few days also been considering another bill to muscle the Press.
Sponsored by Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, a former journalist with the Nigerian Television Authority, the bill, if passed into law, would shackle the Press in Nigeria.
The Nigerian Guild of Editors, veteran journalists, publishers and mass communication teachers were in the House on Monday to take a stand against passage of the bill.
Also yesterday, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua decried the spate of industrial crises in Nigeria’s universities and appealed to all stakeholders to embrace dialogue to resolve contentious issues and disputes.
In a keynote address at the 2009 convocation and 61st foundation day of the University of Ibadan (UI), the President said Nigerians should not be put through the psychological effect of strikes anymore.
Tagged: “Students’ Union Activities (Control and Regulation) (Amendment) Bill 2008,” the sponsors seek to empower the Governing Councils of the schools to sanction students and bodies.
The bill is said to contain clauses that infringe on the fundamental human rights of students.
But ASUU through its immediate past president, Dr. Oladipo Fasina, described the law as out of tune with the current democratic dispensation. He said ASUU had studied the document and concluded that it deserved a re-visit, adding that some of the clauses had the tendency to infringe on the students’ constitutional rights, especially when viewed against the provisions of the Acts setting up the schools.
Fasina said: “A lot of provisions in the law may land universities and other institutions in perpetual court cases as had been seen in the past,” noting that it was not part of the functions of the councils to regulate the activities of students, including the disciplining of students. He stressed that it was such arbitrary usurpation of powers in the past that led to situations where students, who were either rusticated or expelled from universities, were reinstated by the courts.
The President of the Senate of NANS, Mr. Olalekan Smart, said passing the bill into law would mean government infiltrating the student unions’ rank. He said the bill that makes the participation of students in union activities voluntary was not in the interest of the students, insisting that on registration upon arrival on campus, the students become automatic members of the unions.
Dr. Chima Amadi, the executive director of the Independent Service Delivery Monitoring Group (ISDMG), also faulted the bill. He warned that if passed into law, government would effectively take over the control of student unionism on the campuses.
Amadi, who confessed spending 10 years at the University of Ibadan for a four-year degree programme, said he suffered various deprivations and humiliations from the institution’s authorities because of his activism, including his struggle for the re-validation of the June 12, 1993 presidential elections.
Mr. Alexander Machika Attah, a former president of the Students Union Government (SUG) of the Ahmadu Bello University, (ABU), Zaria, decried the dangerous trend of deterioration of student union activism.
The former students’ leader advocated that prospective candidates seeking elective offices into NANS be thoroughly screened to ensure that they were registered students. In addition, the Police and State Security Service (SSS) must be involved in screening such candidates.
The sponsors of the bill are Iorwase Hembe, Chuma Nzeribe, Dino Melaye, Halims Agoda, Ndudi Elumelu, Terngu Tsegba and Eziuche Ubani.
It allows a Governing Council “whenever it is of the opinion that public interest or public safety so demands, suspend for any specified period of time, remove, withdraw or expel any student (whether undergraduate, postgraduate or otherwise) from any university or institution of higher learning or similar institution.
“The powers conferred on the Governing Council, the highest decision-making body or any authority or a person in charge of every institution of higher learning in Sub-section 1 may be exercised by that body, provided that any student affected by Sub-section 1 may within 28 days on receiving notification to that effect make representation to the Visitor to the institution, whose decision on the matter shall be final and conclusive.”
On industrial harmony in the universities, President Yar’Adua appealed to workers, particularly the three industrial unions, to embrace constructive dialogue instead of resorting to strike.
Represented by Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala of Oyo State at the UI event, Yar’Adua lamented the quality of the nation’s tertiary education, saying it was regrettable that no Nigerian university was rated among the first 20 in Africa.
The President stressed the need for them to take cognisance of global best practices.
“The UI has what it takes to meet this global challenges. The institution’s management should come up with initiatives to complement government’s efforts in this regard.”
He used the occasion to restate his administration’s commitment to reposition the sector through the provision of infrastructure and teaching aids and appealed to the private sector to join in this crusade.
The Vice Chancellor, Prof. Olufemi Bamiro, also spoke on the negative effects of the prolonged industrial action by university workers on the students and the system and prayed that such would be the last to be witnessed in the sector.
Bamiro said the present system of collective bargaining between the Federal Government and the various university Labour unions must give way to collective reasoning that would centre on issues, such as autonomy, funding, governance structure as well as quality assurance.
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