On November 11, 2015, two students at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), were expelled in apparent retaliation for their role in advocating the formation of an official student union on campus.
The students, Elias Ozikpu and Abdulrazaq Oyebanji Hamzat, were members of the school’s unofficial student association, known as Congress of NOUN students, and had made statements to media in support of their position. Following their expulsion, the students brought a lawsuit against the university, claiming that their fundamental right to association had been violated. Before the court, attorneys for the university argued that the basis for the students’ expulsion had not been the exercise of their right to free association, but instead their decision to discuss raise these issues in the press.
As of this report, the case is pending before the Federal High Court, and a judgment is scheduled for April 19, 2018.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about expulsion of students in retaliation for the attempted exercise of the right to association (by the creation of a student union), and/or the right to freedom of expression (in the form of public advocacy supporting the creation of such a union) – conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Nigeria is a party. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally. Universities have a responsibility to refrain from wrongful disciplinary action in retaliation for nonviolent association and expression.