A civil society group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent an urgent appeal to two UN special rapporteurs urging them to use their “good offices and positions to urgently request the government of Ogun State of Nigeria to immediately and unconditionally reverse the unlawful sacking and retirement of education officials for allegedly setting examination questions considered too critical of the government of Governor Ibikunle Amosun.”
The rapporteurs petitioned are: Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and Mr. Kishore Singh, Special Rapporteur on the right to education.
In the petition dated 14 August 2015, and signed by SERAP executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni the organisation said that, “the sacking and retirement of these officials is unlawful, unfair, and a serious violation of their internationally recognised human right to hold opinion and academic freedom. SERAP believes that citizens including students writing examinations have the right to be informed of the activities of public officials and to have access to information that will enable them to participate in political affairs.”
According to the organisation, “the right to education can only be enjoyed if accompanied by the academic freedom of education officials and students. Thus, the education officials unlawfully sacked and retired are denied the freedom to pursue, develop, and transmit knowledge and ideas including through perceived critical examination questions.”
“Indeed, academic freedom includes the liberty of individuals to express freely opinions about the institution or system in which they work, to fulfil their functions without discrimination or fear of repression by the State or any other actor, and to enjoy all human rights applicable to other individuals in Ogun State,” the organisation said.
The organisation said that, “By dismissing those involved in setting the examination questions, SERAP believes that the government of Ogun State of Nigeria is invariably undermining the ability of the examiners and the students to take decisions; exercise their human rights; challenge or influence public policies; monitor the quality of public spending; and promote accountability. This in turn has seriously undermined established controls to prevent abuse of power.”
“The freedom to form an opinion and to develop this by way of reasoning has been violated by the action of the Ogun State government in this case. The ability to hold an opinion freely is indeed a fundamental element of human dignity. The enjoyment of this right is essential for the enjoyment of other human rights and freedoms and constitutes a fundamental pillar for building a democratic society and strengthening democracy,” the organisation also said.
According to the organisation, “The action of the government also poses insurmountable barriers to the right to access information and the right to quality education. It also removes an important tool for combating impunity and corruption.”
“The first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes that everyone is “endowed with reason and conscience”, a principle developed further in human rights law to include, among other things, the protection of opinion, expression, belief, and thought. Article 19 (1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Nigeria is a state party, also echoing the Universal Declaration, provides that everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference,” the organisation argued.
The organisation therefore urged the Special Rapporteurs to urgently ask the government of Ogun State to:
1. Immediately and unconditionally reverse the sacking and retirement of officials involved in putting together the perceived critical examination questions
2. Take the necessary steps to guarantee the effective exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression for all individuals and sectors, without exception or discrimination of any kind
3. Refrain from punishing any manifestation of freedom of opinion including through perceived critical examination questions
It would be recalled that the Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, recently ordered the sacking of six officials of the state Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, including a secondary school teacher, over alleged offensive examination question. Those sacked include two Grade Level 17 officers, Mrs. Folashade Oresegun, who was the Director, Education Support Services, and Mr. Rotimi Odunsi, who was the Director, Curriculum Development and Evaluation, and a Grade Level 16 officer, Mr. Majekodunmi Oluwole. Others are a Grade Level 10 officer, Mr. E.O. Asegbe, a Grade Level 8 officer, Taylor Damilola , and an English Language teacher in Mayflower Secondary School, Ikenne, Mr. Joel Adegbenro. The sacking of both Oresegun and Odunsi were converted to compulsory retirement while the four others were summarily dismissed.
These officials were simply sacked and retired on the basis of a comprehension passage in the English Language examination conducted by the ministry for the Unified Examination in Public Secondary Schools for the third term of the 2014/2015 academic session. The offensive section was Section C, where the pupils were asked to summarise a comprehension passage on a policy defect on education.
The section which the government considered too critical reads in part: “There is no arguing about the fact that the government is merely paying lip service to the development of education. It is true that a lot of money is being spent on the education sector but with little or no impact felt by the people, except where we want to deceive ourselves. Many schools run by the government, which were formerly known for academic excellence have suddenly lost their prestige and are living on past glories. No wonder, many parents and guardians are threateningly left with only one option, to withdraw their wards from these schools to other ones that are better managed. The evidences to show that the government is not doing enough to assist in the development of education are many. Even pupils in both primary and secondary schools can volunteer a good list on their finger tips. One of the numerous indications is the government’s inability to pay running cost to schools. The running cost is the token amount per pupil paid to school administrators to run the affairs of the school in a term. This has been neglected to pile up for several academic sessions…”