Administrative Law

The Contrast Between Domestic And Public Dispute Under Nigerian Administrative Law: Can A Person Challenge A University’s Failure To Release Result Or Award Degree In Court?

Introduction
There is a dissimilarity between a domestic dispute and a public dispute. Domestic disputes are usually resolved through various administrative programs and agencies. This medium is permissible because it is more flexible, less cumbersome and time savings when compared to court hearing.

In Nigerian Universities, domestic disputes are those disputes which are solely of interest to members of the University. Issues or problems that stem from administrative process are usually generally within the jurisdiction of the university to seek redress out of court. Such matters are usually within the exclusive province of the Senate of the University or the Visitor of the University in accordance with the constitution of the University.


On the other hand, public disputes often involve disagreement on services, regulations, or other actions that invokes a breach of civil rights and obligation which affect the relationships between the university and a member with an interest, political activists, business owners, non-profit organizations or government officials. In this instance, any court of competent jurisdiction can entertain the matter.


This Article shall answer the question as to whether or not failure of a University to release result or award degree is a domestic dispute or public dispute.


Do Universities Have Exclusive Power To Lay Down Requirements For The Award Of Its Degrees?
The answer is in the affirmative.  A University has the sole power and responsibility to lay down requirements which must be satisfied before any student can be awarded a degree. Generally, it is within the unquestionable opinion of the Senate of the university to determine whether or not a student is worthy in learning and character. The court held this position firmly in the case of University of Ilorin v Rasheedat Adeshina¹ where such power was held to be vested in the appellant under Section 3(1)(e) of the University of Ilorin Act.²


Do Courts Have Jurisdiction Over Dispute Arising From A University’s Refusal To Release Its Student’s Examination Results?
Interestingly, there is a vast difference between the release of results of a student and the award of degree to a student. The release of a student’s results is a matter of some interest to the public and is not strictly a domestic dispute. Without doubt, the University has exclusive right to decide who it confers its degrees on as mentioned earlier but a student who takes part in an examination is entitled to see his result.

The answer to the above question is in the affirmative as refusal to release result with no reason for the refusal raises an issue of breach of civil rights and obligations, denial of fair hearing which are all justiciable. Such a refusal is no longer within the confines of domestic affairs of the university.  Hence, the courts have jurisdiction to examine such matters.  On the other hand, the refusal to award degree cannot be questioned by the courts because generally that is within the exclusive province of the University. 


The Court in the case of University of Ilorin v Rasheedat Adesina³ (Locus classicus) held that the Federal High Court has jurisdiction to challenge the Applicant’s failure to release the Respondent’s results, and that the Respondent’s action is not only justiciable, but the Federal High court has jurisdiction to hear and determine the case. It is the practice all over the world that where a student sits for an examination or completes a course; he or she is entitled to know the outcome of that examination. In the instant case, the respondent was entitled to know the outcome of her examinations and it was wrong for the appellant to refuse to release the respondent’s result on the flimsy excuse that she failed a core course and so the appellant had no obligation to release a non-existent result.⁴


Do Courts Have Jurisdiction Over Domestic Matters Of A University?
Generally, the courts cannot and will not usurp the functions of the Senate, the Council and the Visitor of a University in the selection of their fit and proper candidates for passing and for the award of certificates, degrees and diplomas. However, there are exceptions to the general rule that the consideration for an award of degrees and certificates are in the domestic domain or jurisdiction of universities.

For justice’s sake, where the student has exhausted all avenues and entreaties and the University is adamant, as in neither releasing the result nor refusing to issue or award a certificate with no substantial and verifiable reasons whatsoever even after intervention by the Visitor of the University, the student is entitled to approach the court for redress. In such circumstance, the court shall not shy away from ensuring that the University authority abides by the law setting up the institution.⁵


Conclusion
Having established the thin line between domestic and public disputes in universities in accordance with Nigeria’s Administrative Law and Judicial precedent. It is safe to say that award of degrees and certificates should be done in accordance with the law setting up the University and international best practices. It should not be at the whims and caprices of the personnel saddled with this responsibility. 
Furthermore, as much as disputes are practically inevitable, universities should endeavor to master the art of dispute resolution employing the appropriate method in order to maintain a peaceful co-existence with their students.

Footnotes
1. (2014) 58 (Pt. 2) NSCQR 995 at pp. 1018-1019
2. (P. 175, paras. E – F )
3. (2014) 58 (Pt. 2) NSCQR 995 at pp. 1018-1019
4. (Pp. 175-176, paras. H-A)

4. Per Bode Rhodes-Viviour, JSC (2014) 10 NWLR (Pt. 1414) 159 SC. (Nigerian Cases Referred to in the Judgment: (Akintemi v. Onwumechili (1985) 1 NWLR (Pt. 1) 68 ; Madukolu v. Nkemdilim 5. 5. (1962) 2 SCNLR 341)

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About Samson Dada

Samson Dada Esq. is a goal driven, vibrant and team oriented Legal Practitioner. He is an alumni of University of Calabar and completed his Law school in the Abuja Campus of the Nigerian Law School. He has keen interest in the practice of Corporate Law, Taxation Law, Technology Law and Policy making in Nigeria especially concerning persons with disability. He is also a professional photographer and owns a startup NGO for the advantage of persons with disability.