The Students’ Council on Legal Aid, University of Ibadan (SCOLA UI) is fast becoming a household name in the varsity, popularly for her giant steps in representing students facing injustice in the University community. UCJ UI interviews the Immediate Past President of the Organisation, Mr Akinola Yusuff on the operations and activities of the Council the previous year, towards getting justice for the aggrieved students and as well get comments on certain issues.
Can you tell us about yourself?
I am Akinola Yusuff, a graduating student of Faculty of Law and a resident of Nnamdi Azikiwe Hall.
SCOLA UI is an organisation, whose fight for the students who are faced with injustice is recognised. Can you tell us about the development, goals and the achievements of the organisation?
SCOLA UI is the student arm of the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria which is a Federal Government agency under the Ministry of Justice, saddled with the responsibility of providing free legal assistance to indigent Nigerians who cannot afford the service of legal practitioners. SCOLA UI was established in 2009 to offer free legal assistance to bona fide students of the University of Ibadan.
In terms of development, for the past one year, SCOLA UI has extended its membership, the course of justice and legal aid to more than 9 faculties including the College of Medicine. Not only that, SCOLA has extended its branches to other Nigerian universities with a proposed national body.
Looking at the achievements of the Council so far, SCOLA UI has offered free legal assistance to about 250 bona fide students, taking up contentious cases of injustice and disputes across different faculties and halls of residence. Currently, SCOLA UI has upcoming branches in Obafemi Awolowo University (SCOLA O.A.U, Umar Musa Yaradua University, Katsina (SCOLA UMYUK), Bayero University Kano (SCOLA BUK) and a few others, with all these branches coming together under a national body known as SCOLA NIGERIA.
The vision of SCOLA is to foster the course of justice within the University community, consolidate the course of legal aid in Nigeria, and bring awareness that money is not a barrier in obtaining justice.
Last year, SCOLA UI led the fight against injustice on campus; can you tell us about some of them?
When I cast my mind back on the fight against injustice on campus, I laugh because it was rough and tough to hold the sword of justice within the university system.
As the SCOLA President, the first case that greeted me came into the Council a day after my inauguration on October 28th, 2017: it was the case of a student of Department of Geology who was allegedly abducted at Tedder Hall, tortured around Benue Road, taken to Agbowo Shopping Complex for further inhumane treatment, and later handed over to the Central Security Unit (Abefele) for alleged stealing of a laptop belonging to a Senior Lecturer of Department of Statistics. The second case came two days after my inauguration: it was a case of a student that was allegedly slapped by the Chairwoman of Intra-Campus Transport Committee. There was a case of a student that was allegedly slapped by a porter in Queen Idia Hall and a case of some female residents of Obafemi Awolowo Hall that was unjustly fined by a male porter and several cases of students facing Student Disciplinary Committee, disputes among students, and a few other cases.
What do you think made your administration stand out?
Plans. People. Prayer. In addition, passion for the course of justice and the love for humanity that runs in my veins kept me forging ahead despite the hurdles and struggles.
Can you brief us on strategies you used in settling cases brought to you rather than ending them or it becoming escalated?
The strategies mostly lie in the legal procedures within and outside the university system. I used diplomacy and the legal confrontation when and where necessary. I worked with press organisations and pressmen to ascertain facts and disseminate facts.
In the light of the recent suspension of some students’ leaders in the varsity, what has the Council done as an organisation of legal aiders?
On this, the role of SCOLA is nothing but ‘legal’ because what the Council stands for is basically legal activism. Before the suspension, we had a couple of these student leaders as clients where we helped towards their respective defences and these clients were eventually exonerated with only strong reprimands.
Currently, we have been unable to reach out to the suspended student leaders. Of course, we cannot have their hair cut behind them. Until we meet with them or they approach us to ascertain the facts of the proceedings and their cases, there is a little we can do to help them.
What is your opinion on the SDC’s judgement on the students’ leaders?
Like I stated earlier, I have not really had the details of the proceedings of each suspended persons. Hence, I can’t really make absolute submission. However, I believe that the judgment was not just considering the cause of the student leaders and coupled with the fact that some student leaders were served strong reprimand on a joint offence.
We are in a society where justice seems to be a redemptive policy for the rich and an oppressive tool for the poor. What is your definition of justice and do you think injustice can be totally conquered in a country like Nigeria?
To me, justice is the equal subjection of all classes of persons to the ordinary law of the land. However, we have found ourselves in a society where the rule of law is the rule of man, where the sword of law is the sword of man, and where law is an instrument of oppression by the rich to suppress the poor.
To call a spade a spade, justice cannot be totally conquered in a country like Nigeria where temple of justice is a marketplace to trade conscience. Until the tenets of the rule of law can be upheld by men and women of good conscience, the court is not yet the last hope for the common man on the street.
Many believe that it is only by going to Court that justice can be got, how true is this?
The common notion is that the court is the last hope of the common man. Thus, justice only lies therein. Yes, it is true. However, justice can also be obtained outside court system through Alternative Dispute Resolution techniques like arbitration, mediation, conciliation and the likes. In addition, justice can also be obtained through administrative procedures.
Does your career path have anything to do with what SCOLA stands for?
Absolutely, yes. I’m an advocate of justice and a human rights activist.
Parting words for the readers?
What makes up ideal students is not only ideas buried in books and brain but what you stand for and what you practice. Also, I urge everyone to live for others, to live through selfless service to humanity.