by Feyi Fawehinmi
Perhaps I should be cheeky and start with a well known if not often quoted Bible verse. In rounding up his 1st letter to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul in the 21st verse of the 5th Chapter told his readers to ‘test and prove all things [until you can recognize] what is good; [to that] hold fast’ [Amplified].
In what has now become a regular occurrence, the privately owned Covenant University has once again expelled some of its students for breaking one rule or the other. This time around 200 students managed to get themselves expelled mostly for failing to attend a ‘departure service’ (I’m assuming this is some kind of service that is held at the end of every semester). Parsing the various media reports, what seems to have happened here is that the University’s Chancellor, Bishop David Oyedepo, a man not without a temper, came to the service on this occasion and got upset that many students chose not to attend. Ergo, it doesn’t take a giant leap of logic to guess that had the Bishop not attended, the unfortunate students might not have been expelled. Try as you may, it is hard to disentangle the University from the larger than life influence of the Bishop.
Much has been made of the fact that the students knew what they were signing up for when they registered with the school and the fact that these terms are clearly spelt out in the student handbook (they are not that clear cut in my opinion) means that the students should accept their fate. This is nonsense. The question ought to be asked – did anyone sign up to be expelled for missing a single service, regardless of mitigating circumstances such as tiredness as some of the students have claimed? Since many of the rules and regulations of the University are given in the name of Christianity, surely they too ought to be ‘tested’ as the Apostle Paul said?
The ancient Roman law giver, Draco (whom the phrase ‘Draconian law’ is named after and undoubtedly a principality by Nigerian Christian standards) came up with a set of laws in his time that made the punishment for almost everything the death penalty even minor offences. Slavery was also the punishment for getting into the debt of someone of a higher class than you as another example. But Draco was sure to write down those laws (previously they were oral) before they came into effect and they were posted on wooden tablets so everyone could read them and not claim ignorance.
Anyone can write down rules and lay down laws. Where it is the case that the burden of complying with those rules falls on other people apart from the lawgiver, then they will always be open to debate or ‘tested’ and ‘examined’. Draco’s laws were eventually overturned of course. As a society we can all agree that slapping another person in the name of a quarrel can be counted as assault. But we can also agree that establishing death by firing squad as the punishment for slapping someone is rather harsh. In other words, while we might all agree that something is a breach of the rules we have agreed to live by, the punishment we choose to mete out for such breaches is almost as important as the offence itself. When the punishment is deemed to be excessive then the whole thing becomes a problem.
This is the first test of the expulsion of the 200 students – is the punishment of expulsion commensurate with the offence of missing a church service?
Covenant University of course does not operate in a bubble and its license is only valid at the pleasure of the Nigerian Universities Commission. In other words, ultimately, its rules cannot survive a head to head challenge with the rules of the land i.e. the Nigerian constitution.
And we have the second test – does this ‘offence’ of not attending a church service pass the ‘Give unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar’ test? Or to put it another way, is it a normal thing for people to be sacked from their jobs for not attending a religious service even as drunk on religion as Nigeria is?
There is of course only one way to carry out these tests – in the law courts of the land. I do not believe that Covenant University can pass these two tests (there are probably more tests) but then I’m but a lowly accountant. The parents of these children owe it to them to test these rules in a court of law. That they signed up to them with their eyes seemingly open is beside the point. By paying the fees and sending their kids to the school, they surely have some stake in shaping the rules governing the place. The laws laid down by the Bishop are for other people to comply with not he himself.
Even if the rules and regulations say the punishment for missing a service is expulsion, testing them in a court of law will help to expose how ridiculous they are to the point where they are either removed from the rulebook or, with a nod and wink, ignored. A good example of this is the fact that since the return of democracy in Nigeria in 1999, only 2 Governors – Ibrahim Shekarau of Kano in 2006 and Adams Oshiomole of Edo in 2012 – have ratified death penalties handed down to convicts. So while the death penalty remains on our books, the courts continue to hand them down as punishment knowing fully well that the chance of the convict being executed is almost zero. The world has gotten to the stage where a lot of people now hold the view that death penalties don’t do much to deter others from the crime they serve as a punishment for.
Finally, there is a somewhat hilarious attempt by the University to wage war against the reality of the world it exists in. This is unsurprising as a Christian way of life.
The University was founded in October 2002.
The popular Gmail was launched in April 2004
Facebook as we now know it was launched in September 2006
The website where you are reading this post is hosted by WordPress which itself was launched in May 2003.
The ubiquitous Blackberry Messenger was launched sometime in 2006
Twitter was also created in March 2006
The first iPhone was released in June 2007.
I don’t know if the University’s rules are regularly updated but it is clear from the examples above that a lot has happened since the University was launched with whatever vision it was. The world has shrunk in size by several factors since 2002. Indeed, we might not even have heard about this matter if we were still in 2002.
The times they are a-changing and those who continue to act oblivious to the realities of the world in which we live will almost certainly end up looking like cranks and extremists (which Christianity does not have a monopoly on).
I hope the parents of these children will do right by them and challenge this expulsion in a proper court of law. The prospects are rather delicious but sadly, I have no horse in the race.
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