From Laide Raheem, Abeokuta

A legal practitioner, based in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Deji Enisenyin, has called for ministerial intervention in the suspension of three students by the management of the Federal College (FGC), Ijanikin, Lagos State, over an alleged action carried out by their parents.

Enisenyin, in a statement, described the action of  management of the college as unfair and a breach of the students’ rights as enshrined in the Child’s Right Act, 2003 and relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as Amended).

FGC was reported to have suspended three students of the school indefinitely because their parents dared to petition the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over the manner funds were managed by the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) of the school.

But the lawyer, in the statement, frowned at the decision of the college, stating the suspension of the affected students was not only unconstitutional, but unacceptable and unfair.

He faulted the justification of the suspension by the chairman of the school’s PTA who said he was aware of a memo from the Federal Ministry of Education that any parent who goes to court over any issue relating to their children’s schools would have their children suspended until the matter is withdrawn or settled in court.

According to Enisenyin, reporting a matter on such allegations to the EFCC cannot be equated to filing an action before a court.

“A petition written to the EFCC for necessary investigation is not on the same pedestal as filing an action before a court. It is illegal, immoral and a lack of logic that a school suspends its students basically for what the school considers as trespass against an association believed to be an affiliation of the school.

“In this instance, a petition has been written to a government agency to investigate an alleged crime said to have been committed by the PTA of the school. The management of the school, in turn, suspended some students based on the role the parents of the concerned students are believed to have played in writing the petition. In justifying the action of the school against the students, the chairman of the school’s PTA said a memo to the effect that any parent who goes to court on any issue concerning their children’s schools would have their children suspended.

“Chairman of the PTA, however, failed to justify how the EFCC is now a court of law. In any case, the right to seek redress is a constitutional right. Any attempt to take such rights away from any Nigerian under whatever guise should be frowned at by men of good conscience,” he said.

The legal practitioner said it is worrisome that such a far-reaching decision to suspend the students is one taken without putting into consideration the rules of natural justice.

“That is, the affected students were not afforded the opportunity to be heard before being sanctioned with the suspension. As minors, the students would have still been represented by their parents as guardians, if the opportunity to defend themselves had been made available to them.

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“In as much as it may be difficult to separate the PTA of the school from the school itself, the PTA and the school management are different entities, therefore the rationale behind the indefinite suspension of these students by the school needs to be justified on other cogent grounds, aside the reason given by the PTA chairman.

“In the absence of more cogent justification(s) for this suspension, the school management has adversely violated the rights of these students under the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and under the Child’s Right Act, 2003.

“Thus, it will be apposite for the Minister of Education, Mamman Tahir, to intervene before it is too late for the Federal Government, the Federal Government College, Ijanikin and the concerned students. The management of the school has failed to take the interest of the concerned students into consideration in this particular instance.

Their best interest is the paramount consideration in a situation as this.

“FGC management ought to realise no memo can override the provisions of the constitution of Nigeria and an Act, that is, the Child’s Right Act, 2003.

“At this juncture, it is essential to bring to the school’s attention certain relevant provisions of the law. Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution bordering on the right to be heard fairly before a decision is made against an individual and Section1 of the Child’s Right Act, 2003 which stipulates that in every action concerning a child, whether undertaken by an individual, public of private body, institution or service, court of law, or administrative or legislative authority, the best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration.

“The action of the school against these students greatly infringes on some other provisions of the Child’s Right Act, 2003. Section 4 of the Child’s Right Act provides that every child has a right to survival and development. The school, as a centre of learning, cannot feign ignorance of the fact that it has a role to play in these respects concerning the rights and best interest of those students.

The suspension of these students constitutes a hindrance to their development,” he said in the statement.

Enisenyin said contrary to Section 2 of Child’s Right Act 2003 which provides that a child must be given protection and care necessary for his well being, emphasising that “the action taken by the parents against the PTA body was only to protect their (parents) interest in the association.”

He noted further that the suspension of the children from school, rooted in a petition submitted by their parents to a government agency to investigate a financial impropriety within the association, can be construed as a measure of diligence in safeguarding the entitlement of the students.

“Infringing upon the rights of children to education in Nigeria is not only ethically wrong but also illegal according to statutory provisions. Efforts must be intensified to eliminate these kinds of barriers that prevent children from accessing education and ensure every child is given the opportunity to reach their full potential. Only through a collective commitment to uphold all these rights can Nigeria build a brighter future for its children and the nation as a whole.

“The suspension of these children by FGC management is unfair when the relevant provisions of the law highlighted above are given all due consideration. The students have done nothing wrong to warrant such sudden and unprecedented suspension. The students should be reinstated without further delay. The office of the Federal Minister of Education should look into the matter closely and urgently. The wrong done outweighs the right. Compensation for the children/students for the negative impact this must have had on their academic development and psyche ought to be considered,” he said.