The Independent National Electoral Commission has said that it is not within its power to require colleges to announce breaks so that students may cast ballots in the next general elections.
This was said in a Friday interview with The Punch by the chairman of the commission’s media aide, Rotimi Oyekanmi.
In the meantime, there have been appeals from various sectors for institutions to announce holidays so that students can register to vote and pick up their permanent voter cards.
As an illustration, a member of the House of Representatives, Kabir Tukura, on thursday presented a resolution with the title “Urgent Need to Give the Students of Tertiary Institutions of Learning in Nigeria an Opportunity to Vote in the General Elections.”
Tukura pointed out that 3.8 million of the newly registered voters—or 40.8% of all newly registered voters—are students, according to INEC Chairman Prof. Mahmood Yakubu.
He voiced concern that different higher institutions’ academic calendars are designed “in a way that most students are disenfranchised, as school calendars do not take into consideration the timelines and date for elections.”
The House is concerned that these students, who make up 40.8% of newly registered voters, have their polling places located in states away from their campuses, mandating travel outside of their respective institutions to cast a ballot in the 2023 elections, the congressman said.
The House is additionally concerned that tertiary institutions are not taking into account academic breaks for students during the general elections, despite knowing that the majority of students registered outside of their campuses during the ongoing voter registration drive that took place during the protracted Academic Staff Union of Universities strike.
“The House is aware that the INEC has broad legal authority to make special arrangements for students to obtain their PVCs in order to cast ballots. As the tertiary education regulators in Nigeria, the NUC, NBTE, NCCE, and federal Ministry of Education have the legal authority to order both public and private tertiary education institutions there to halt academic operations until the general elections are over.
But when approached by one of our reporters, the media assistant to the INEC chairman, Oyekanmi, claimed it was inappropriate for INEC to instruct universities on how to manage their calendars.
Each university has a governing board that makes decisions about how the institution should be operated, he said. I doubt that, but I stand to be corrected, whether the National Universities Commission can truly issue a direction to universities on when to go on holidays or operate.
“Remember that there are also state and private colleges that are not supported by the federal government, yet the NUC nonetheless oversees their academic programs and regularly audits them for accreditation.
“In a similar vein, no university may be required to declare a holiday for election-related activities by the Independent National Electoral Commission. We lack these abilities. It is advisable to let each university’s governing council make this decision.
The Chairman of the Committee of Vice Chancellors, Prof. Samuel Edoumiekumo, stated that neither the National Assembly, the National Universities Commission, nor the CVC had the authority to order the tertiary institutions to take vacations.
The Governing Council and Senate of each higher education institution, according to Edoumiekumo, make the final decision.
“This is not the first time elections are being held,” he added. “Institutions have their own distinct governing councils and senates; as a result, each campuses will look at the scenarios within their universities and take suitable judgments.”