The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has asserted that it lacks the power to compel universities to declare holidays in order to enable students to vote during the forthcoming general elections.
The media aide to the chairman of the commission, Rotimi Oyekanmi, made this known in an interview with correspondents on Friday.
This is against the backdrop of calls from several quarters that universities should declare holidays for students to collect their Permanent Voter Cards and also vote in the coming polls.
For instance, a member of the House of Representatives, Kabir Tukura, had on Thursday moved a motion titled,‘Urgent Need to Give the Students of Tertiary Institutions of Learning in Nigeria an Opportunity to Vote in the General Elections.’
Tukura noted that the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, had said that 3.8 million of the newly registered voters are students, accounting for 40.8 percent of the total number of newly registered voters.
He expressed the worry that academic calendars of various tertiary institutions are structured ‘in a way that most students are disenfranchised, as school calendars do not take into consideration the timelines and date for elections.’
The lawmaker said, ‘The House is concerned that these students, who constitute 40.8 per cent of the newly registered voters, have their polling units sited in states outside their campuses, thereby necessitating travelling outside their respective institutions to vote in the 2023 elections.’
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‘The House is further concerned that tertiary institutions are not considering academic breaks for students during the general elections, despite having knowledge that most students registered outside their campuses during the continuous voter registration exercise, which took place during the prolonged Academic Staff Union of Universities strike.
‘The House is cognisant that the INEC has enormous statutory powers to make special arrangements for students to collect their PVCs to vote. The NUC, NBTE, NCCE, and the federal Ministry of Education, as the regulators of tertiary education in Nigeria, have the statutory powers to direct both the public and private tertiary education institutions in Nigeria to suspend academic activities pending the conclusion of the general elections.’
But when contacted by one of our correspondents, the INEC chairman’s media aide, Oyekanmi said it was beyond INEC to dictate to varsities on how to run their calender.
He said, ‘Each university has a governing council that decides how the university should be run. I doubt it, although I stand to be corrected, if the National Universities Commission can indeed issue a directive to universities on when to go on holidays or operate.
‘Don’t forget that we also have private and state universities that are not being funded by the Federal Government, although the NUC performs its oversight functions on their academic programmes, which are subjected to regular accreditation exercise.
‘In the same manner, the Independent National Electoral Commission cannot compel any university to announce a holiday for election purposes. We don’t have such powers. This decision is best left to the governing council of the individual universities.’
When contacted by reporters, the Chairman, the Committee of Vice Chancellors, Prof Samuel Edoumiekumo, said neither the National Assembly, the National Universities Commission nor the CVC was empowered to dictate the tertiary institutions to go on holidays.