Several lawyers and human rights activists have criticized the Rivers State University of Science and Technology for expelling a student over claims of having disabilities.
The University, on January 30, 2015, handed a letter of expulsion to Jane Ottah, 28, after it claimed it had observed that she was “medically challenged and have hearing and speech difficulties.”
“Since the University does not have special communication facilities, the Vice-Chancellor has directed that you be de-registered on health grounds,” the school registrar’s letter to Ms. Ottah read.
“I am in the circumstance, directed to inform you that you have been de-registered on health grounds with immediate effect. You are therefore advised to hand over all University property(ies) in your possession to your Head of Department and thereafter leave the campus.”
Ms. Ottah, who was in her first year in the Department of Educational Foundation, has continued to insist there is nothing wrong with her.
“Crude treatment” for the physically challenged
In separate interviews with PREMIUM TIMES, lawyers and human rights activists condemned the action of the university.
“Cold shivers were running through my spine as I was hearing this,” said Oluyinka Oyeniji, a Trustee at the Human Rights Foundation, a Lagos-based nongovernmental organization that guarantees equal access to justice.
“It is inconceivable, it is rude, it is uncouth, it is debasing to deprive anybody of the right to education because of physical challenges or disabilities.
“This calls again to question the pending bill before the National Assembly on protection of the rights of the physically challenged.”
For the past 12 years, Nigerian human rights activists have continued – though unsuccessfully – to push for the passage of the National Disability Act in the National Assembly.
Only Lagos State has passed the bill into law.
“Even lawyers in law school have been complaining. That the law school itself is not adapted to the use of physically-challenged,” Mr. Oyeniji said.
“For those who are blind, I’m aware, I’ve spoken with some of them before, there’s only one computer at the Abuja Law School for their use. Whereas every study materials for law school students now are in soft copy, with the aid of information technology.
“So it is high time that we have this legislation domesticated in all states of the federation to guarantee and protect the rights of the physically challenged.”
Another activist, Betty Abah, said the “crude treatment” of Ms. Ottah by the management of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology “borders on the absurd”.
“Here are people who are paid and who naturally should be empathetic and help her academic dreams come to fruition in spite of her challenges. These are the same persons thwarting those dreams,” said Ms. Abah, Executive Director, Centre for Children’s Health Education, Orientation and Protection (CEE-HOPE).
“I understand that when she visited the clinic, when her so-called disability was discovered, she was not with her hearing aids, and so far, against all odds, she has managed to pass her exams. Why would they be so callous, so inhuman?
“And, the way her heartbroken father was also sent out by the insensitive HOD, you would realize the set of people running that school. The university should review its decision and reinstate her, so that she can acquire tertiary education like her contemporaries.
“Not to talk of the VC that called her ‘deaf and dumb.’ Pray, is there a university for people with disabilities in Nigeria? Haven’t they seen blind lawyers, deaf teachers? Or was it a crime for her refusing to sit at home and bemoan her fate? A big shame on them.”
Ms. Ottah was admitted into the Department of Educational Foundations in September 2014, although she initially applied to study Business Administration.
Before securing admission, Ms. Ottah had passed her West African Examination Council (WAEC) examination with three distinctions and five credits; scored 205 in the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) exam; and passed the university’s post-UME test.
At the time she got her letter of expulsion, Ms. Ottah was writing her first semester examination.
After phone calls, text messages, and e-mails to the University’s Registrar failed to get a response, PREMIUM TIMES contacted Blessing Didia, the Vice-Chancellor.
“The matter happened in January as you said. I came from the University of Port Harcourt to become VC here in August,” said Mr. Didia, a professor of Medicine.
“This is the first time I have heard about the case.”
When asked whether he would review the case now that he is aware, Mr. Didia said: “They don’t admit deaf and dumb here. And if what you said really happened, the vice chancellor then must have seen reasons why she could not be taught here.”
‘Seek legal action’
Mr. Oyeniji advised the expelled student to institute legal action for discrimination against her person, against the University, the Vice-Chancellor, the Pro-Chancellor, and the visitor to the institution.
“If that institution is a state-owned institution, then the governor of that state is answerable to the lady. If it’s a federal institution, the president of the federal republic through the Attorney General of the Federation is answerable to that lady,” he said.
“And I’m willing by all means to be able to undertake to force a sacred fundamental human rights which the lady enjoys as of this time pending the passing of the National Assembly Act for the protection of rights of the physically-challenged.”
Mr. Oyeniji added that provision of special facilities is not the responsibility of physically-challenged people.