Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sued the Adekunle Ajasin University and the Government of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu SAN over “unfair and arbitrary tuition hike, abuse of power, lack of free, prior, and informed consultation as well as a fundamental breach of legitimate expectations of students.”
In the Originating Summons with Suit No:AK/103/18 filed last Friday at the High Court of Ondo State, Akure, SERAP argues that: “The power of the Ajasin University and Ondo State government to change policy is constrained by the legal duty to be fair, among other constraints imposed by law. A change of policy which would otherwise be legally unexceptionable may be held unfair by reason of prior action, or inaction, by the authority. There is no overriding public interest in the tuition hike.”
According to SERAP, “A public authority possesses powers only to use them for public good. This imposes the duty to act fairly and to adopt a procedure which is fair-play in action. The tuition hike by the Ajasin University and Ondo State government amounts to a broken promise and breach of established practice of notice or consultation. The unfairness of the lack of consultation cannot be overridden by any countervailing consideration. Therefore, the absence of consultation amounts to an unlawful process of tuition hike by the Defendants.”
SERAP also argues that, “Not less than 80 per cent of the students will adversely be affected should the Honourable Court not stop this excessive and unjustified increase in school fees. The University and the Government of Ondo State arbitrarily, abruptly and outrageously increased and without any free, prior and informed consultation, the school fees of students from N35,000 to N180,000 (for fresher); and from N27,000 to N100,000 (for returning students); and N80,000 for final students.”
The suit filed on SERAP’s behalf by Timothy Adewale and Olaniji Olabinjo read in part: “The students have the right to free, prior and informed consultation before any change in fees is effected by the Defendants. The hike in school fees is a breach of the students’ right to equal protection of the law and access to affordable education.
“A combined reading of the provisions of sections 17(2) (a), 18 and 42 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended) on citizens right to equality of rights, obligations and opportunities before the law, education and freedom from discrimination, show that the act of Defendants in increasing the fees without recourse to any acceptable procedure has rendered the hike illegal.
“The law is clear that as per section 18(1) of the Constitution to the effect that the Government shall direct its policy towards ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels. It is therefore natural to expect that any action to increase school fees by any authority, such authority must take into cognizance the effect of its action on the students’ right to education.
“Similarly, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to which Nigeria is a state party provides that the Ajasin University and Ondo State authorities shall ensure access to education and make education equally accessible to all, based on capacity, by every appropriate means, and by the progressive introduction of free education.
“The hike in the school fees by the Defendants was never done based on the capacity of the students, nor was it carried out by appropriate means. This arbitrary act of the Defendant has robbed education off the hands of indigent students and majority of those coming from disadvantaged background.
“It is disheartening to realize that the very government and school authorities that should ensure equal and adequate educational opportunities to students are the very ones destroying it by denying the students of their rights by acts of hiking the fees. On the indispensability of education as a fundamental right, Article 17(1) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act stipulates that: ‘Every individual shall have the right to education.’
“Any perceived financial hardship faced by the Ajasin University and Ondo State government cannot justify the violations of the students’ constitutional guarantees of equal protection and Nigeria’s international obligations to ensure equal access to the right to education. The Defendants act of hiking the school fees has infringed on the students’ right to education.”
SERAP is seeking the following reliefs:
A DECLARATION that the action of the Defendants is arbitrary and unfair and a clear breach of their legal duty to be fair, the doctrine of legitimate expectation, and the affected students’ right to free, prior and informed consultation before any change in fees by the Defendants can be effected.
A DECLARATION that the hike in school fees by the Defendants amounts to violation of the right of the students to education as guaranteed by Article 17(1) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act and Article 13 (1) (2) (c) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
A DECLARATION that the action of the Defendants is illegal and a clear violation of the students’ right to equal protection of the law, as guaranteed by sections 17, 18 and 42 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), Articles 3(2) and 19 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.
AN ORDER directing the Defendants to forthwith reverse the hike in fees payable by the 1st Defendant’s students to its initial amount.
AN ORDER on the 2nd Defendant to sponsor a bill for a law in the Ondo State House of Assembly that would: end arbitrary imposition of fees in the 1st Defendant; grant exemptions to students from disadvantaged background; ensure that the 1st Defendant is adequately funded on an equitable basis to ensure the proper exercise of the rights to equal protection of law and education and redress inequalities in provision of education.
ANY ORDER(S) that the Honourable Court may deem fit to make in the circumstance of this suit.