NIGERIAN LAW SCHOOL MUST REINSTATE AND COMPENSATE ME –BELLO, EXPELLED STUDENT

Kayode Bello, a student of the Nigerian Law School, Abuja Campus, was expelled few days ago for acts described as misconduct. Sequel to the expulsion, Bello and the school management had been trading words over what led to his expulsion. In this interview, Bello tells TUNDE AJAJA his next line of action on the issue

On the issue you have had with the Council of Legal Education and the Nigerian Law School in the past few days, what has been the reaction of your parents to your expulsion?

I don’t want to talk about my parents. I’m an adult and I can handle such issues on my own.

You said in your last response that the Council of Legal Education had been biased against you. Not everybody would believe you that such an institution could be against an individual. How do you justify that?

The Nigerian Law School is an arm of the Council of Legal Education, under the directorship of Mr. Lanre Onadeko (SAN) has been so biased, even before gaining admission into the Law School. They never had the intention of admitting me. According to what they said in the papers, they said it was because of my disruptive behaviour before, during and after the seat reservation issue. That means they have been reacting prejudicially on issues that occurred in my university days which they were not even privy to. This is because the then Dean of the Faculty of Law, Prof. Oluyemisi Bamgboshe, wrote a negative report against me in the reference section because of what happened between both of us and she said I must be punished in the university. But, to God be the glory, I was not expelled, as she was expecting. I wouldn’t have even known she did that if not that I went to the Public Complaints Commission. So, before gaining admission into the Nigerian Law School, they already had issues against me and that was why when I had an encounter with one of them, the person said that was why I had issue in my university and that yet I didn’t show any regret and I said I didn’t regret because I didn’t do anything wrong.

Given the way the issue has played out, do you regret any of your actions so far?

No, why should I regret? I did what was right ab initio, because I paid for that seat, I sat on that seat and somebody said I should stand up from the seat that I paid for.

But it was reported that someone had occupied the seat before you got there and that you promised to leave anytime the person returned?

That was not what happened. That was the version the Nigerian Law School wanted people to believe. What happened basically was that a student reserved a seat in the name of Chidima. She had her own seat she was occupying. But it is the culture of some students to leave books on empty chairs for their friends that might still be in the hostel, so that when they come, they would just occupy. We were 1,800 and I got to know that we were about 2,000 students at a time. We were not in that place before, we were in main class where we should be, but they lied to us that they were renovating that place and we moved there. So, it is the school and the council that caused all these brouhaha. If they had provided adequate facilities, we wouldn’t be fighting each other. So, that seat was mine, but Mr. Akinyemi chased me away. He flared up when he got to know that I spoke with the Chief Security Officer, Mr. Ogunboyan. If you ask Mr. Ogunboyan, he would tell you that I called him and I sent messages to him. If I wanted to fight as they have been saying, I wouldn’t have called him. I went to his office, but he was not there. I even went to the Student Affairs by 9am, but they were not there. Nobody was there. So, I did all I could do within my capacity. And so there is nothing regrettable about it. Mr. Akinyemi flared up, got my details and issued me a query the following day. He announced it before the whole class and the class wanted to know what happened and I needed to tell them. I was not wrong. I was right ab initio.

In the letter that was handed over to you, what was the offence stated in the letter?

That particular letter was given to me under duress. They wanted to force that letter into my hands. When they came, I couldn’t see the letter. All I saw was the title. And the way they even came was funny; as they came in, they said ‘take letter, take letter, you are being expelled, sign it.’ And I said sign what; after chasing me from my room and broke my door. They came with armed policemen and there was another one outside with a rifle. Was I a member of Boko Haram? And that was why I reported them to the Bwari Divisional Police Station. Please, where else should I have gone to? I went to report them and they were saying I asked that all of them should be arrested. Why would they be endangering my life? They broke my door, saying I was rude. I paid N60,000 for hostel accommodation, plus N20,000 caution fee. I paid into the TSA.

The school said you had the antecedent of being violent and that you were rusticated from the University of Ibadan. Were you ever rusticated from UI?

I was rusticated but not for the disruption of peace and tranquillity as they painted it. If you go to the archive, particularly October 14, 2008, my name is there. I was arrested and detained.

How many of you were arrested?

I was the only one arrested because I was the editor-in-chief of Union of Campus Journalists then. That particular year, I was able to win an award as the best student journalist on campus, by the Junior Chamber International. I had HND in Mass Communication before I went to study Law.

A number of people already see you as stubborn and arrogant. Are you proud of the way you have handled this issue all along?

For me, the fact is that there is nothing to say I’m proud of or jubilant about. What I want simply is justice. Let there be justice. It is even in the law, in Latin maxim – Fiat justitia ruat cælum meaning ‘Let there be justice even if heavens fall’. Has there been justice? No. Am I happy about this? No. Am I laughing about this? No. They have disrupted my academic flow because I have my own plan as well, but the injustice is too much, from the university days till this moment. But what I’m after is justice.

In this case, what is the definition of the justice that you want?

I should be reinstated and adequate damages paid. I should be returned to where I was. The status quo should be maintained. They have distracted me and it is possible that I miss the examination on Saturday because they have not allowed me to go back into the school. So, they should return me to where I was. I paid N300,000. Students complained of food poisoning, water was an issue because we were fetching water from outside and where we were fetching from was even dangerous. The sockets in my room have spoilt, the pipes were leaking and we complained but nothing was done. If you want me to send you the pictures I can.

You said in your response to the statement issued by the school that maybe when you get to court, the Nigerian Law School would prove whether you were forced to comply with your rustication or not. Are you going to court over this issue?

I’m discussing with my lawyers, so time will tell. I believe it is the court that would be able to listen to all sides and ensure fair hearing. The statement that the Nigerian Law School has made in the public about me, they would come forth to say it. The word the NLS has put in the public is that there is an aggregate of all that has been happening that made them to expel me, so, they would cite the issues one after the other. But, I cannot say when, but appropriate steps would be taken at the appropriate time.

If you are suing for damages, how much will you be asking for?

(Laughs). I don’t want to say that yet, but they would know, whether now or later.

As it is, how do you feel about the way the Law School has handled this issue?

I feel disappointed and I know there are other students that feel disappointed. I feel disappointed that a law school that should be the beacon of hope for justice could handle the issue the way it did. They did not listen to me, they were treating me unjustly. Police and security men were coming to class to defame me and say all sorts of negative things against me in class. Why? They don’t carry out investigations. They only listen to hearsays or somebody accusing somebody and they take action. I’m really disappointed.

You said you were running a Master’s programme in The Philippines before you came back to Law School. Do you regret coming back at this time?

Actually, I wanted to complete my programme there, but one of my mentors advised that I should come and do it once and for all. But for me, I don’t have any regret coming to my country where I was born because there is no place like home. For those of us that have travelled abroad, we know what goes on. So, when we come back, it’s an opportunity for us to contribute our quota, so I don’t have any regret coming home, though I felt somehow. It’s sad that we are still very far from being a nation that ensures justice and freedom for ourselves.

The school alleged that in the course of this issue, you printed inciting statements on T-shirts. Why did you do that?

This is what I would ask them; if they know that I printed something, why didn’t they bring it out as evidence. If they said I printed something, what did I print? At what time? Like I keep telling them, if they accuse, they should prove it. I can reserve my right of silence and that is what I have been doing all along. If they say this is what I did, come forth and prove it, because that was what they wanted to do at the panel after they sent me out of the hostel. They wanted me to come to the panel so they could twist me, because they are lawyers. They think I’m a novice.

They also said you refused to vacate the hostel when you were told to and that you brought out iron rod to injure anyone who came close?

I didn’t bring out any iron rod, but I refused to leave the hostel becasue I paid for the accommodation. Where did they want me to go? I came from Ibadan; were they expecting me to be coming from Ibadan every day, or I should go to the bush or the forest? They had already subjected me to trauma, pressure and tension and they now set up the panel, so they could finish the case. Like I said, if they have proof that I brought out iron rod, they should show it, otherwise they should stop lying against me.

They also said you petitioned the United Nations Secretary General and Amnesty International over this issue, is it true, because some people thought you went overboard by doing that?

What I do is that when I write a petition, I copy people. There is no law that says I cannot copy people. I can copy you. The addressee is the one to act on it. I only copied UN and Amnesty International. And with the way this matter is going, it is the AI that would say whether justice has been done or not, so that when they are writing their report, as to how well Nigeria is doing in justice delivery, they would be informed. I have first of all laid the foundation so it would be in the knowledge of certain authorities. So, I didn’t write them, I copied them.

Some people view your actions so far as that of a rebel. Has any practising lawyer or senior member of the bar shown solidarity with you on this issue?

Friends and lawyers are showing me solidarity, but I would not want to mention their names. It is really encouraging that people are showing solidarity. More than one SAN has shown solidarity with me.

When you entered Law School, were you handed any code of conduct to guide your activities and conduct?

The code of conduct, which I have observed, only states that there cannot be demonstration, there cannot be altercation and other rules. But in my own view, there are some misconducts that have been defined subjectively by them. So, yes, we were given code of conduct which we all signed. I also read their statement. If they cannot spell out the things I did, why expelling me for no just cause? They are lawyers as well, do they go to court without evidence?

Some people already perceive you as stubborn who was looking for trouble and overstretched issues.

(Cuts in…) It doesn’t bother me. I heard worse things when I was in the university. Today, what gives me joy is that after we have left the university, issues that we complained about are still issues that we face now. It’s unfair the way they treat us in Law School. If only I paid half of my fees, then I deserve to be given half treatment, but if I paid in full, I should enjoy basic services. So, if people feel I’m stubborn, that is their view.

If you are reinstated, what do you think is your fate in that school?

One thing is that if I’m reinstated, I would still be my normal self and things would go on the way they should. I don’t see any trouble. I have complained for them to know what is wrong. In all, we are being treated as zombies. What is happening there shows the dilapidation that has been on for years and they all want us to go through it and pass out like that. It is wrong. It cannot continue like that.

Would you still like to practise in Nigeria?

I see myself as an international lawyer or an international rights activist.

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