Justice Mary Peter-odili of the Supreme Court has upheld the judgement of the Ilorin Division of the Appeal Court, awarding a sum of N12m in favour of an ex-student activist, Stephen Akinola, against the authorities of the University of Ilorin.
In the judgement delivered on July 11, 2014, Peter-Odili also awarded N200,000 in Akinola’s favour as exemplary damages for having his results and certificate witheld by the authority of the University of Ilorin for 15 years after the completion of his studies.
While berating the university for throwing into the winds the intervention of the Federal Government to pardon all wrongdoings that Akinola and others like him might have commited, the judge held, “To put it bluntly and once again, whether the university gave a pardon to the respondent or not, once the visitor (President), acting by himself or through appointees, had held that the respondent be placed back in good standing, that was all.
“I cannot conclude without admonishing those in authority to desist from the insubordination that would carry it into disobeying the orders of the Head of State and worst still an educational institution of the highest level, the university.
“It is anomalies such as has taken place therein that have given room for the breakdown of law and order, for which the society has become the victim.”
Akinola was admitted into the University of Ilorin in 1995 with the Matriculation Number: 95/043061, to study Statistics.
In the course of his studenship, he partook in student unionism.
His problem began in 1998, after leading a students’ protest against what he described as “poor welfare conditions on campus”.
In response to that event of June 5, 1998, the university authority set up a committee of enquiry with the intent that any student found culpable would face disciplinary action, possibly through rustication or expulsion.
However in a bid to preempt the action of the university, Akinola and others, approached a Federal High Court in Ilorin seeking declaration that the report of such enquiry, which did not give them fair hearing, was unconstitutional.
While delivering the judgement in a suit numbered FHC/IL/M.17/98, which was in Akinola’s favour, Justice John Tsoho had held that “his studentship should not be tampered with in any negative way”.
Following the judgement, the university had not taken any disciplinary against the student unionists. But upon the completion of Akinola’s studies in 1999, the university refused to release neither the results of his final examinations nor his certificate.
In response, Akinola instituted a contempt proceeding against the university. The university went ahead to file an appeal against the earlier judgement that restrained it from punishing Akinola.
These two suits were still pending determination when in 2001 President Olusegun Obasanjo set up the “Resolution Committee on Politically Victimised and Rusticated Students”.
The committee headed by the Special Adviser to the President on Education, Chief S.K. Babalola, was to mediate between the university authorities and victimised student activists.
In Akinola’s case, the committe was able to facilitate a fruitful resolution of the impasse with the university agreeing to pardon him if only he would fulfil certain obligations part of which was to withdraw the contempt charge he filed against the university and pay a sum of N1,000 to the university.
The both parties agreed and correspondences were exchanged to the same effect. Akinola withdrew the contempt charge and the university abandoned its appeal.
But all efforts to get the university to release his results proved futile. In response to his letter requesting same, he had been told that the results were being witheld for “administrative and not disciplinary” reasons.
Akinola persisted in asking for his results but the university would not bulge till he was forced to return to court in 2004.
In a suit numbered, FHC/IL/53/2004, in addition to an order that the university should release his result, Akinola was also claiming damages in the sum of N30m.
While giving judgement in the suit in 2006, the judge, Justice Chukwura Nnamani, granted all the reliefs that Akinola sought against the university except that instead of N30m, she awarded N7m in his favour.
But the university which was not pleased with the judgement went on to the Appeal Court to challenge the judgement.
At the end of another two years of legal battle, the Appeal Court, Ilorin Division declared that the lower court was right in its ruling and aside from fully agreeing with the High Court’s judgment, the appellate court awarded N12m as damages in Akinola’s favour.
The university was not pleased and had then approached the Supreme Court seeking to upturn the judgement of the Appeal Court, but on July 11, 2014, Justice Peter-Odili, giving a judgement supported by four other justices of the Supreme Court, said that the Appeal Court was right in its decision.
Apart from asking the University of Ilorin to go ahead and pay Akinola the N12m that the Appeal Court had awarded in his favour, the Supreme Court also awarded an additional N200, 000 in his favour against the university.
Peter-Odidli’s judgement had therefore brought to an end a legal battle that had run for 15 years.
Responding to the judgement Akinola said, “The judgement of the Supreme Court, though delivered after 10 years of legal battle and 15 years after I have completed my study, is a welcome development. Though justice was delayed, it was not denied. It is victory for student activism.”