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Universities can’t be forced to close for elections – INEC

The Independent National Electoral Commission says it doesn’t have the power to compel universities to declare holidays in order to enable students to vote during the forthcoming general elections.


The media aide to the chairman of the commission, Rotimi Oyekanmi, stated this in an interview with Saturday PUNCH on Friday.


This is against the backdrop of calls from several quarters that universities should declares holidays for students to collect their Permanent Voter Cards and also vote in the coming polls.



For instance, amember of the House of Representatives, Kabir Tukura, had on Thursday moved a motion titled,‘Urgent Need to Give the Students of Tertiary Institutions of Learning in Nigeria an Opportunity to Vote in the General Elections.’



Tukura noted that the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, had said that 3.8 million of the newly registered voters are students, accounting for 40.8 per cent of the total number of newly registered voters.




He expressed the worry that academic calendars of various tertiary institutions are structured “in a way that most students are disenfranchised, as school calendars do not take into consideration the timelines and date for elections.”


The lawmaker said, “The House is concerned that these students, who constitute 40.8 per cent of the newly registered voters, have their polling units sited in states outside their campuses, thereby necessitating travelling outside their respective institutions to vote in the 2023 elections.



“The House is further concerned that tertiary institutions are not considering academic breaks for students during the general elections, despite having knowledge that most students registered outside their campuses during the continuous voter registration exercise, which took place during the prolonged Academic Staff Union of Universities strike.



“The House is cognisant that the INEC has enormous statutory powers to make special arrangements for students to collect their PVCs to vote. The NUC, NBTE, NCCE and the federal Ministry of Education, as the regulators of tertiary education in Nigeria, have the statutory powers to direct both the public and private tertiary education institutions in Nigeria to suspend academic activities pending the conclusion of the general elections.”


But when contacted by one of our correspondents, INEC chairman’s media aide, Oyekanmi said it was beyond INEC to dictate to varsities on how to run their calender.



He said, “Each university has a governing council that decides how the university should be run. I doubt it, although I stand to be corrected, if the National Universities Commission can indeed issue a directive to universities on when to go on holidays or operate.


“Don’t forget that we also have private and state universities that are not being funded by the Federal Government, although the NUC performs its oversight functions on their academic programmes, which are subjected to regular accreditation exercise.


“In the same manner, the Independent National Electoral Commission cannot compel any university to announce a holiday for election purposes. We don’t have such powers. This decision is best left to the governing council of the individual universities.”


When contacted by Saturday PUNCH, the Chairman, Committee of Vice Chancellors, Prof Samuel Edoumiekumo, said neither the National Assembly, the National Universities Commission nor the CVC was empowered to dictate the tertiary institutions to go on holidays.


Edoumiekumo said the decision resides with Senate and Governing Council of individual higher institution.


He said, “This is not the first time election is taking place, they are not the ones to inform universities, universities have their respective governing councils and their senates; so individual universities will look at the scenarios within their universities and take appropriate decisions.”


Student sues FG

Meanwhile,a final year student of the university of Benin, Moses Omoyele, on Friday approached the Federal High Court in Abuja, praying that the Federal Government should be compelled to declare a short vacation across all tertiary institutions in the country to enable students to travel to their wards in order to participate in the forthcoming general elections.


The respondents is the suit, marked FHC/ABJ/CS/117/2023, are INEC, the Attorney General of the Federation, and the Minister of Education.


Also joined as respondents were NUC, National Board for Technical Education, NBTE and NCCE.


The plaintiff through his lawyer, Mr Jideobi Johnmary, told the court that suit was to enforce his fundamental human rights.


According to Moses, over four million Nigerian students are at risk of being disenfranchised.


In an affidavit that was attached in support of the suit, the plaintiff said, “I know as a fact that the academic calendars of various tertiary institutions were structured in a way that most students are disenfranchised as school calendars do not take into consideration the timelines and date for elections.


“Attached herewith and marked as ‘Exhibit C’, for example, is a copy of the academic calendar of the Federal University of Technology, Minna, showing that examinations are to be conducted on the 24th day of February, 2023, which is a day to the date of the commencement of the general elections.”


The plaintiff, is among other things, praying the court for a mandatory order, “directing the 3rd to 6th respondents to declare a reasonably short vacation across all tertiary institutions in Nigeria, to enable the applicant, and indeed all Nigerian students in tertiary institutions in Nigeria, who are eligible to vote, to travel to their various wards to be able to participate in the electoral process by voting for candidates of their choice in the forthcoming general elections, thereby expressing themselves and their political opinion through the ballot box.”


He also wants an injunction “restraining all tertiary institutions in Nigeria, from fixing any academic work, such as lectures, tutorials, assignments and or exams in any tertiary institution in Nigeria starting from a period not later than seven days before the commencement of the 2023 general elections ending at any time not earlier than three days after the conduct of the 2023 general elections in Nigeria.”


He also wants “an order mandating the INEC to give additional special one week for the collection of Permanent Voter Cards so as to enable the returning students, who have been in school during the period of INEC slated for the collection of Permanent Voter Cards, to collect their PVCs and be able to participate in the electoral process.”


NANS wades in

On its part, the National Association of Nigeria Students said students should be given the opportunity to votes during the polls.


Speaking in an interview with Saturday PUNCH, NANS’ National Public Relations Officer, Giwa Temitope, said He said, “We have resolved that this time around we want all the students to be fully involved and we have long started to encourage all our colleagues.


“We are in talks with all Student Union Presidents and all Joint Campus Committee Chairmen to ensure adequate dissemination of information for massive participation of the students at the poll.”


CSOs appeal to INEC

Similarly, some civil society organisations on Friday called on INEC to liaise with the NUC to release students to participate in the elections.


Also called on INEC to extend the collection of PVCs, for the benefit of students.


The CSOs made the demands during a press conference in Abuja.


Their press statement was titled, ‘Concerns of disenfranchisement with unprinted PVCs and University students’


The CSOs include the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development; ConnectHub; Enough is Enough Nigeria; #FixPolitics; Kimpact Development Initiative; Reclaim Naija (aka Community Life Project); the Electoral College Nigeria; Women Advocates and Research Development Centre; and Yiaga Africa.


Although INEC has said that the collection of PVCs would end this Sunday, January 29 at 5pm, the CSOs said reports from voters in different collection centres across the country revealed that some validly registered voters were informed by the commission’s officials that their PVCs were not available.


The CSOs said, “This is a breach of the Electoral Act 2022, which mandates INEC in Section 16(1) to design, print and issue voter cards to voters whose names appear in the register of voters.


“The emphasis on a deadline for collection is an indirect disenfranchisement of validly registered voters whose PVCs are not available due to INEC’s administrative lapses.


“Denying these voters their right to vote due to a failure on the part of INEC is unacceptable. To be clear, this is not only a problem in Lagos.


“Given the reported challenges, we ask that INEC do the following: inform Nigerians if it is still printing cards and when all the cards for registered voters will be available for collection.


“Extend PVC collection to ensure that everyone whose cards were not found are reprinted, and there is a clear process for them to pick up the cards.


“Work with the Nigerian Universities Commission to ensure that there are no classes or exams the week before elections so students can go home to vote.


“Communicate with newly registered voter’s especially students when the PVCs are ready.


“Create a dedicated desk for civil society organisations, media and citizens to escalate the issues being observed for quick resolution.


“The engine to drive this process is clear and proactive information sharing from INEC. There are high expectations for this election and INEC can not be seen to be deliberately or inadvertently disenfranchising certain groups of people.”

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