‘Prosecution will stem vandalism, thuggery among students’
Across the country, the violent destruction of government and private property during protests by undergraduates has been on the upswing. And what would cause this set of students to throw sanity overboard and resort to the mindless destruction of facilities provided to ease their learning, still remains a puzzle. That, perhaps explains why stakeholders, including legal practitioners are canvassing jail terms as comeuppance for culpable undergraduates, if an end to the malaise must come, writes ENO-ABASI SUNDAY.
The sight of parents of some students of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD), Ekiti State kneeling, some on all fours on Friday, February 19, to appeal to proprietor of the institution, Afe Babalola (SAN), to drop criminal charges against their errant children and wards, presents a stark image of parents wallowing in collective distress.
The parents were led to Babalola by Governor Ayodele Fayose, who joined them to plead with the legal luminary to temper justice with mercy as he battles to establish a nexus between his desire to avail youngsters top-quality tertiary education, and the incalculable damage done to the reputation and physical structure of the school.
According to authorities of the school, property worth N120.5million were destroyed in the maiden violent protest, which rocked the six-year-old private university late Sunday, February 7th.
While the protest lasted, the institution’s two cafeterias, the hall of residence (Owolabi Hall), the Talents Discovery Building, the College of Engineering were destroyed.
The police also alleged that the students on the aforementioned date unlawfully committed arson by burning houses belonging to ABUAD security staff as well as burgling a boutique belonging to the wife of the founder of the school. They were also alleged to have vented their spleen on other things in sight including cars and motorcycles, as well as helped themselves to over N10 million being proceeds of sales kept in the accountant’s office in one of the cafeterias.
Before anti-riot policemen were deployed to the scene by the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Etop James, the harm had already been done.
The university’s Public Relations Officer, Mr. Tunde Olofintila, in the wake of the protest accused the “academically deficient students,” of being behind the fracas, claiming that they were afraid of being expelled after the first semester examinations (which was then ongoing).
Days after that unfortunate incident, 17 students identified by police as the arrowheads of the protest were arraigned before an Ado-Ekiti Chief Magistrate’s Court over their roles in the protest.
They were slammed with a six-count charge of rioting, being in possession of firearms and malicious damage, which according to the police prosecutor, Sergeant Leranmo Caleb, contravenes Sections 516, 451 and 109 of the Criminal Code, Cap C 16, and Laws of Ekiti State, 2012.
After the detective’s submission during the maiden appearance, Chief Magistrate, Ropo Adegboye, consequently ordered that all the accused be remanded in police custody, and adjourned ruling even as parents of over 190 other students, who were rounded off by the police in the wake of the protest kicked and demanded for an unreserved apology from the school’s management.
The ABUAD protest was dovetailed by another heart-rending scenario, which played out at the Southern Nigeria Institute of Innovative Technology (SNIIT), Ifewara, Osun State, where multi-million naira investment by the proprietor, were deliberately razed by irate students, who were protesting alleged non-accreditation of some programmes by the National Board for Technical Education.
The Guardian reliably gathered that the students’ action was primarily motivated by ignorance. However, by the time they were through with their action, they had not only stolen lap top computer sets and personal effects from their female counterparts, they also razed down large parts of the campus.
Some of the facilities burnt included laboratories, a mini television studio; a radio studio; hostels; staff quarters; an administrative block and vehicles. Chairman, Governing council of SNIIT, Dr. Kola Christwealth, estimated the damage to be in the region of N500m.
Shortly after the incident, a member of the House of Representatives Committee on Education, Mr. Ajibola Famurewa, and former Minister of External Affairs, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, simply described as “shocking,” the level of destruction carried out by the irate students.
According to Famurewa, “I think we need to quickly enact a law to address this kind of situation. Recently, students of the Afe Babalola University in Ekiti State went on the rampage and destroyed property. We also heard of the violent protest of students of the Yaba College of Technology. A few weeks ago, some secondary school students also destroyed a radio station in Ife over a minor issue.”
An evidently peeved Akinyemi in his reaction said, “This is a sickness of the souls involved and the government must put some measures in place to check these developments. It is not enough for parents to come and start begging. Does begging restore the damaged property?
“There is the need for parental authority at home, in school and the government must put some measures in place that when this kind of thing happens, students who are held responsible must face punishment. Such persons must face sanctions.
He added, “Yes, they are young, nobody wants to destroy their future, but at this level of destruction, we are no longer talking about innocent children and they must be made to face the full sanction of the law.”
These two incidents represents only an infinitesimal part of what is going on round the country. And this rising cases of mindless destruction of school property by undergraduates, represents a new low in the annals of learning in a country, which is already severely plagued by infrastructural deficit.
Put differently, vandalisation of public and private property by undergraduates in the country has certainly become a national malaise, which needs to be urgently curbed, and students proven to be culpable severely dealt with in view of the huge cost the tax payer pays to replace the damaged property.
For instance, when students decide to vent their spleen on school authorities over an issue they are dissatisfied with, a range of government agencies, including the police; fire and emergency services are affected by increased workloads and the attendant monetary cost.
Until recently, institutions only levied students, including those who did not partake in the protests. And more often than not, even the levies are not used to replace facilities damaged during the protests.
However, support for prosecution of masterminds of violent protests made by Akinyemi, and the steps taken by the founder of ABUAD, Babalola, is also coming from Senior Lecturer Department of Public Law, University of Lagos, Dr. Olugbenga Akingbehin.
“There is nothing wrong in the step taken by the legal luminary, Chief Afe Babalola. The alleged acts constitute criminal offences under the Criminal Code. Consequently, if anyone is suspected to have committed any offence, the appropriate action is to report to the police for investigation and possible prosecution. Hence, what Chief Afe Babalola did was that he reported the incident to the police. It was the police that investigated and arraigned the students not Afe Babalola,” Akingbehin stated.
On whether students found culpable of damaging public or private educational facilities should be made to face criminal prosecution using extant laws, Akingbehin, who bagged LL.B degree in Law from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife in 1989 and called to the Nigerian Bar in 1990 responded in the affirmative.
“Yes, malicious damage is a crime contained in the Criminal Code and is punishable with jail term. Hence, anybody who is found guilty of damaging any property whether public or private is to contend with the full weight of the extant law whether student or otherwise. There is no need for a separate law to try and impose punishment on students who committed malicious damage to property… However, any of them that is below 18 year old will be tried by the Juvenile Court and committed to any of the juvenile custodial institutions.
“Students that are found culpable in criminality may also be rusticated from the institution or even face outright expulsion. There are internal disciplinary mechanisms to address such untoward acts. This is without prejudice to whatever the outcome of court’s prosecution may be. Consequently, vandals are not supposed to be worthy of certificate award,” Akingbehin, who currently serves as Masters’ Degree Coordinator added.
The immediate past Sub-Dean of the Faculty of Law, UNILAG, who bagged LL.M and Ph.D degrees in law in the same school, advised students to vent their grievances to the authorities through students’ unions as they remain the recognised medium through which such should be done.
For legal practitioner, Adetokunbo Animasaun, since every human is liable for the consequences of his/her actions, there is no excuse for wanton destruction of lives and property by adults under whatever guise or circumstance.
While stressing that no one was above the law, Animasaun said for undergraduates that are involved in criminal activities, there is nothing strange in bringing them to face justice as initiated by the police in the case of ABUAD.
“It should be realised that criminal offences involve the state and the accused or defendant as the case may be. However, if they show remorse and willingness to make restitution (if the totality of evidence shows that they were the real actors or perpetrators and there is admission of guilt), the university authorities may decide to be magnanimous by informing the police to withdraw the charges. But they must undertake to be of good behaviour and parents/guardian should guarantee their behaviour.
He maintained that it was inimical to the interest of the society to have in its midst, students whose fees are paid for with hard-earned money, only for them to engage in social vices inimical to the interest of the society, adding that it was also a loss to the education community, if future leaders and professors are sent to jail where they may become rotten except God intervenes to make a change in their lives.
Animasaun said prosecuting students who are criminally minded, apart from acting as a deterrent to others, also puts the reputation/image and future of such students at stake.
He, however, advised school authorities to be much more open and receptive to issues that affect the students and proffer adequate suggestions to them before they spiral out of control.
“University authorities should open different lines of communication including suggestion or complaint boxes. Interactive sessions with students at least once in a semester should be considered. Counsellors should be employed by each university to counsel, guide, advice and expose students to acceptable and standard moral values that would make their learning worthy.
“Lastly, the provision of necessary amenities like water, electricity, recreational facilities, well-stocked libraries in conducive learning environments, is likely to be a panacea to all the troubles besetting our universities,” he concluded.
Ebebe Aniebiet Sunday, another legal practitioner said that Section 39 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which allows for the Right to Freedom of Expression, including protests, however, pointed out that the very moment the protest crosses the border and becomes violent, the limitations come in, as one’s right must not interfere with other peoples’ right.
While noting that violent protests were gradually becoming students’ means of communicating their grievances in recent times, he regretted that some students see it as an opportunity to showcase their popularity on campus, even though this uncivilised and barbaric attitude portends great danger to our educational sector, which is already in jeopardy.
“If this ugly development is not quickly checked and nipped in the bud, it will grow to an uncontrollable monster that will keep scaring investors from the sector. An average businessman wants to make profit on his investment with little or no risk, so they will prefer investing in countries where security is guaranteed. Functional education can only strive when there is security of lives and property on our campuses in particular, and the nation in general.”
He stressed that since legally everybody is equal before the law, “Being a student in my view is not a crown of insulation from prosecution if the student’s action or inaction is at variance with the provisions of extant law. For any act or omission to be an offence, there must be punishment attached to it in accordance with the weight of the offence.
The legal practitioner, who is not in support of a separate law to check students’ excesses on campuses, because “our Criminal Code Act CAP.77 (Laws of the Federation) 1990 and all other state criminal laws are rich and encompassing” said, “For instance, Section 451, of the Criminal Code Act CAP.77 (Laws of the Federation) 1990, deals with malicious, willful and unlawful destruction of properties. This provision states that, “Any person who willfully and unlawfully destroys or damages any property is guilty of an offence…” Every state has sections in her criminal laws, which is impari-material with the provisions of this section. So in my opinion, I do not think we need separate laws or legislation to address this menace. The laws are there, all we need is the wiliness of institutions concerned to implement the laws without fear or favour, in any given situation.”
Despite incurring losses to the tune of N500m after the raid on his school by irate students, Chairman, Governing Council of SNIIT, Dr. Christwealth, thinks a separate legislation would be more appropriate for trying students that destroy public property in the course of violent protests.
According to him, “Criminalising the action of a youth who is yet to start his life will not help the society. Forced community service, the monetary value of assets destroyed being converted into a loan to be paid during their working life, spending extra years in school, and so on, will be enough deterrent. I will not support jailing such students.”
With the condition that academic certificates are awarded to students that have been found worthy in character and learning, should students that vandalise school facilities be considered worthy of these certificates with their seemingly flawed character? He responded in the affirmative. “Yes. They should be awarded certificates after showing remorse and serving some form of punishment.”
The governing council chairman, is of the opinion that student unionism should be encouraged, added that there should be regular meetings with student union leaders and the schools’ authorities to nip any violence in the bud.”
On how beneficial it would be to education in particular and Nigeria in general for irate students who destroy facilities in government and private institutions to be sent to jail, he said, the root causes of their grievances should be tackled first, after which punitive actions could then be meted on such irate students.
“Another problem is the policies on education in place at the state and federal levels. Most students that cause riot would have been negatively influenced during the years of their waiting to gain admission to higher institutions. The private sector is willing and able to provide education even for those who do not have the entry requirements being currently demanded for admission to tertiary institutions in Nigeria.
“If this ugly development is not quickly checked and nipped at the bud, it will grow to an uncontrollable monster that will keep scaring investors from the sector. An average businessman wants to make profit on his investment with little or no risk, so they will prefer investing in countries where security is guaranteed. Functional education can only strive when there is security of lives and property on our campuses in particular, and the nation in general
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