Council crisis: Court dismisses 6 senior lecturers’ suit against UniAbuja VC

Ogunsakin Mustapha
7 Min Read

A Federal High Court, Abuja on Tuesday, dismissed a suit filed by six University of Abuja (UniAbuja) senior lecturers against the vice chancellor of the institution.

Justice Inyang Ekwo, in a judgment, dismissed the suit for being statue barred.

Justice Ekwo said he found that the right of action of the plaintiffs, by not bringing the suit within the time prescribed, “has been extinguished by virtue of the statute bar in Section 2 (a) of the Public Officers Protection Act (POPA), 2004.”

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the plaintiffs; Prof. Saint Gbilekaa, Prof. Edmund Nwanna, Prof. Sunday Ejaro, Prof. Kasim Umar, Prof. Wesley Nafarnda and Dr Uju Patrick, had filed the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/683/2024.

The six aggrieved senior lecturers sued the VC; President, Federal Republic of Nigeria; Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and National Universities Commission (NUC) as 1st to 4th defendants respectively.

In the originating summons, they prayed the court to determine whether having regard to Section 2A, 2 (3) of the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) Act 2003 (otherwise called the Universities Autonomy Act No. 1, 2007), it was lawful and valid for the VC to arbitrarily call for the conduct of fresh Senate and Congregation council members elections while the last elected members’ four years tenure is still valid and subsisting.

They, therefore, sought an order of injunction restraining the VC from taking any steps towards conducting any fresh election for Senate and Congregation Council members until the elapse of the last elected members’ four years tenure which would elapse on July 15, 2025.

However, the plaintiffs alleged that while the matter was still pending before the court, the immediate-past VC, Prof. Rasheed Na’Allah, on May 28 conducted another election for the Governing Council members of the institution.

Against this backdrop, the aggrieved lecturers, through their lawyer, Maxwell Opara, filed an ex-parte motion to stop the inauguration of the newly elected council members.

In the motion ex-parte dated and filed June 5, they sought seven reliefs, which include an order of interim injunction directing all parties to maintain status quo ante bellum pending the determination of the motion on notice.

They also sought an order of interim injunction restraining the 1st defendant (VC) and others from conducting any inauguration of the newly elected internal council members of the university pending the determination of the motion on notice, among other reliefs.

Delivering the judgment, Justice Ekwo said it was pertinent to state that, the foundation of the case of the plaintiffs was the fact that the Governing Council of the university to which they were members, was dissolved.

The judge observed that the dissolution was done on June 22, 2023, by the NUC (4th defendant) on the directives of President Bola Tinubu (2nd defendant) upon a notice of dissolution of all boards of Federal Government’s parastatals, agencies and institutions.

He further observed that the development led to the suspension of all Governing Councils’ meetings of universities in Nigeria.

“The plaintiffs are bound by the said averment and it is not the place of the 1st defendant (VC) to exhibit the said notice in the preliminary objection.

“Therefore, the learned counsel for the plaintiffs has erred in this postulation.

“It is the case of the plaintiffs that the Governing Council was dissolved on 22nd June, 2023 and by the originating process before me, this case was commenced on 22nd May, 2024,” he said.

The judge said in arriving at the conclusion whether an action is statute barred, it must meet the following yardsticks:

“The date when the cause of action accrued, the date of commencement of the suit as indicated in the writ of summons, the period of time prescribed to bringing an action to be ascertained from the statute in question.”

According to him, I find that the cause of action in this case accrued on 22nd June, 2023 when the Governing Council of the University of Abuja was dissolved.

“This means that this action was not commenced within three months stipulated by law.

“It is my opinion that this action was taken after the period allowed by the POPA 2004 had lapsed,” he said.

Citing a Supreme Court decision, Justice Ekwo held that “the effect of a limitation law on a cause of action is that it removes the right of action, the right of enforcement and the right to judicial relief.

“In other words, an action filed outside the limitation period renders the action unenforceable.”

He said, in effect, where an action is statute barred, the court would lack jurisdiction to entertain it.

“It is now settled that where a preliminary objection succeeds, there would be no need to go further to consider arguments in support of other issue or issues for determination.

“The proper order to make where a matter has been found to be statute barred has been settled in a plethora of judicial authorities;

“Having found that upon the Governing Council being dissolved on 22nd June, 2023 which is the date the cause of action accrued for the plaintiffs and this case was commenced on 22 May, 2024 outside the period prescribed by the POPA 2004, this matter is statute barred, and must end at this point, and it ought to be dismissed.

“I hereby make an order dismissing this suit for being statute barred.

“This is the order of this court,” he declared.

NAN reports that a 41-year-old Professor of Law, Aisha Maikudi, was, on June 28, appointed as the institution’s acting VC following the expiration of the five-year single-term tenure of the incumbent VC, Na’Allah, on June 30.

(NAN)

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