Garba v.University of Maiduguri with Disciplinary issues in Tertiary Institutions Introduction A watershed moment in the landscape of the nation’s judicial decisions took place in the last century in the case of Garba v.University of Maiduguri. Where the Supreme Court laid down a marker in respect of disciplinary issues in our tertiary institutions, and the limits and otherwise of the powers of institutions to punish erring students. The decision has been the subject of criticism, and it has been subjected to several scrutinies through several cases which has besieged the courts over the years. This article will attempt to reconcile disciplinary issues in the tertiary institution and the ropes that bind the various bodies that can prescribe the required punishment. Salient points were raised by the Supreme Court in this case on rules of natural justice and the fact that an offence which amounts to a crime punishable by a court was not within the remit of a university disciplinary board to pass punishment, until a court has first done so.
The question is would the decision of the Supreme Court be different had the rules of natural justice being observed, and if the proper channel of judicial punishment had be carried out in the first instance. Indeed some commentators had stated that the Supreme Court decision raises concern as to the proper limit of all University disciplinary functions, the rights of an aggrieved student and the proper nature of judicial intervention in the domestic sphere. Is there a limit to the scope of disciplinary issues a tertiary institution can handle vis-Ã -vis the enormity of the offence? This article will attempt to proffer answers to these questions.
The Facts and principles laid down in Garba v.University of Maiduguri The extant law or enabling statute of most Universities have similar provisions that for the discipline of student. Section 18 of the University of Maiduguri Act 1979 is here reproduced. It provides: (1) Subject to the provisions of this section, where it appears to the Vice-Chancellor that any student of the University has been guilty of misconduct, the Vice-Chancellor may, without prejudice to any other disciplinary powers conferred on him by statute or regulations, direct- (a) that the student shall not, during such period as may be specified in the direction, participate in such activities of the University, or make use of such facilities of the University, as may be so specified; or (b) that the activities of the student shall, during such period as may be specified in the direction, be restricted in such manner as may be so specified; or (c) that the student be rusticated for such period as may be specified in the direction; or (d) that the student be expelled from the University. (2) Where a direction is given under subsection (1) (c) or (d) of this section in respect of any student, the student may, within the prescribed period and in the prescribed manner, appeal from the direction to the Council; and where such an appeal is brought, the Council shall, after causing such inquiry to be made in the matter as the Council considers just, either confirm or set aside the direction or modify it in such manner as the Council thinks fit. (3) The fact that an appeal from a direction is brought in pursuance of the last fore- going subsection shall not affect the question of the direction while the appeal is pending. (4) The Vice-Chancellor may delegate his powers under this section to a disciplinary board consisting of such members of the University otherwise than on the ground of misconduct. The facts of the case were that following a violent student demonstration, the appellants, among other student were expelled by the respondent University for their alleged involvement. The students left on their trail criminal acts such as assault, theft, robbery, house trespass and arson which are serious offences under the penal code. The Deputy Vice Chancellor who was the chairman of the disciplinary investigative board instituted by the Vice Chancellor set up to investigate the matter was a victim of the student rampage. As a result of this irregularity and the issues of lack of jurisdiction on the part of the university and the panel, the appellants sought to quash their expulsion. They were successful in the High Court, but this was reversed on appeal by the respondent university to the Court of Appeal which held that there had been no denial of fair hearing and that the High Court had no jurisdiction â€œto state who should not be expelled from or admitted to the Universityâ€ and the High Court ought to have referred the matter back to the University for necessary action, following the rules of natural justice. On further appeal to the Supreme Court, the main issue was whether the University had jurisdiction to inquire into and impose disciplinary measure for misconduct, which amounted to a crime under the penal code Act. This was answered in the negative. According to Obaseki JSC as he then was, who read the lead judgement, Students in all Universities and institutions of Higher learning are not above the law of the land and where obvious cases of breaches of our criminal and penal laws occur, the authorities of the University are not empowered to treat the matter as an internal affair. The learned jurist relied on section 33(1) and (4) of the 1979 constitution now sections 36(1) and (4) of the 1999 constitution. Which states thus:
- In the determination of his civil rights and obligations including and question or determination by or against any government or authority or a person shall be entitled to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by a court or other tribunal established by law and constituted in such a manner as to secure its independence and impartiality.
- Whenever a person is charged with a criminal offence he shall, unless the charge
is withdrawn, be entitled to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by a court or tribunal. In the opinion of it Lordship, since these provisions above were not followed. He concluded that the fundamental right of the appellants has been violated by their being punished for criminal offence without a preceding trial and a conviction by a court. Disciplinary Issues and present state of affairs The opinion of the Supreme Court is that offences against the laws of the land fall outside the jurisdiction of the visitor and Vice Chancellor. Juxtaposing this position with several disciplinary issues within the tertiary institution, is that majority of the disciplinary issues which could includes cultism, examination malpractice, personation, and so on are crimes against the law of the land and punishable by a court. It therefore means that tertiary institutions would embark on unending court cases before they could punish an erring student should the internal mechanism of punishment outlined in their enabling statute not adhered to. On this Ukhuegbe states that the: The exclusion of criminal matters from the disciplinary jurisdiction is very injurious to the administrative process. Ultimately, it will render the system completely ineffective since many varieties of misconduct fall within the spectrum of the criminal law The decision of the Supreme Court have given room for student to proceed to the courts at the sight of any issues with their parent school which in some instances has resulted in needless judicial exercise. In University of Ilorin v. Oluwadarethe respondent was involved in examination malpractice, and he was subsequently expelled in pursuance to the enabling laws that established the University to set up a Student Disciplinary Committee (SDC) to try such offences.