Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: Covenant University Expels 200 Students for Not Attending Church Service

About 200 students may have been expelled by the authorities of Covenant University, Cannanland, Ota, Ogun State, recently for what was described as "disregard of paramount core values."

Frustrated and angered by the development, some of the affected students who gave account of what happened battled emotions while narrating their situations to Saturday Vanguard recently. They however pleaded with the school authorities to tamper justice with mercy in order to save their future.

Saturday Vanguard investigation revealed that out of the figure, about 126 were expelled for not attending the 'departure service', meant to sign off from the school after the end of the Semester and Matriculation of students on November 30. Five other students were thrown out for smoking while unconfirmed source said additional 60 got the same fate for violating other rules bordering on the University's core values. A few others were given four weeks suspension for failure to sign the head count that was conducted a couple of weeks earlier.

A letter of expulsion signed by the Registrar, Ntia Ubong, a copy which was made available to Saturday Vanguard stated that the affected students contravened Chapter 1, section 30, page 40 of the 2010-2014 Student Handbook.

We gathered that the massive expulsion was predicated on the anger of the Chancellor, Bishop David Oyedepo who was said to have been infuriated after seeing students loitering around when they were supposed to be at the Chapel for the Departure Service.

He was said to have personally chased students to the Chapel and ordered for a search into all the halls and colleges to fish out those who did not attend the service.

Several attempts to get the school authorities comment on the issue proved abortive. The Instituion's Corporate Affairs Head, Mr Igban Emmaunel also refused to comment as calls pulled through to him were unanswered and text messages not replied.

How it happened

A few of the affected students gave account of what happened to Saturday Vanguard at different points. The similar accounts go thus: "On November 30, the last day of the semester, preceding our December break, there was also a Matriculation for the 100 level students; in fact some students had their last semester exams on that day, some of them finished around 3:00pm while the matriculation started around 8am. Some students retired to their rooms to relax while some engaged in some other activities jubilating the end of the semester.

"Some also got drinks from the matriculating students. Even as these were going on, some students who finished around 3pm retired to their halls. By 5pm, they announced that we should get prepared for the 'Departure service' which was to start by 8pm. Some students were already seeing their parents off while some of us were just trying to relax to get off the stress of the exams.

"Most of us hadn't gotten through the tiredness of the sleepless nights of the exams; so, some us stayed back in our rooms. The departure service is usually a day before we go home and it is usually presided over by the Chancellor. Before the commencement of the service, they used to lock up the main doors of the halls so as to prevent cases of theft. I was not bothered since there were a lot of us in the hall. Some minutes past 8pm, they switched off the light and all of us in the hall went into our rooms. Because of the darkness and the cold, I slept off immediately."

He continued: "The persistent knocks on the door woke me up and I realised that they had come to search for people who had not come to service. Before I realised what was going on, I found myself with other students numbering about 30. They took down our names and counted us to make sure that no one was omitted. They said the Chancellor was at the service and we refused to come. I heard them talking about other halls and they asked us to wait. I didn't take it seriously because I never believed in my widest imagination that we would be expelled. We were later asked to go to our various halls.

"Some of those who went into hiding were lucky as they were not found. Shortly, those who went for the service returned and told us there was poor attendance at the Chapel and how students were diving in through the windows, scampering for seats. In fact, one narrated to us how the Chancellor jumped through the window to vent his anger on some students who had jumped in," he stated.

Another expelled student also gave similar account of the incident. "I couldn't go to the service because, I was not feeling well which was as a result of the stress of the exams we had just finished. After a while, I managed to go but I heard that they started driving people back around 7:30pm while the service was to start around 8pm. I was surprised because the rule was that you've got to be seated 15minutes to the service. Again, it was never made compulsory, but they tried to get students out of the halls to prevent cases of theft. So, because I was not feeling well, I went back to my room because I needed to rest for a while.

"I thought it was a joke when they said we are in for expulsion because we failed to come for departure service. I have never done anything contrary to the school laws. I have never faced any panel before and neither did I have any unpleasant case in my file. I never thought it was real until letters were handed to me the following morning."

Giving account of how letters were handed out to them, the visibly troubled student said: "By 6am, they announced the names of those who were caught in halls and colleges. Usually after the departure service, one can sign out from there and go but because it ended late and no one could travel, students had to wait till the following morning. But the hall officer told those of us whose names were written down that if we leave, we should be considered gone from the university forever. That gave us an insight into what was likely to come as punishment. By 7:45am, we were called once again to go downstairs for our letters. Those who collected theirs before mine were crying and I wondered what the punishment could be until I read the letter stating I was expelled from the university."

At the Chapel

Another student who found his way to the Chapel also told Saturday Vanguard that while the Chancellor was being driven past, he noticed that students were loitering at about the time they were supposed to be seated at the chapel. He said that this apparently infuriated him and he alighted from his car and chased students to the chapel with knocks. "I saw him, alighted from his car and chased students to the chapel; I quickly found my way to the hall. Not quite long after, I saw students jumping in through the windows. It was a big commotion. Even the chancellor was going after those who jumped into the chapel. Later, he addressed the students saying he was very disappointed by the behaviour that the students were not seated 15 minutes before the service."

Another account had it that while the Education Secretary, Prof. Aize Obayan was addressing the students, the students were murmuring, then the Chancellor immediately took to the microphone and said: "if I hear the voice of any student, the curse of the Lord shall fall upon that one." The chapel immediately went dead silent.

Our source who was also late to the service stated that the Chancellor later directed that those students who did not come to the service would be purged out saying they did not belong to the school. Our source stated that at the end of the service, he prayed for the students in the hall.

Another source in the school hinted that at that point, the Vice-chancellor pleaded on behalf of those who were absent but the Chancellor insisted they must be purged from the school.

Our source told Saturday Vanguard that the Vice-Chancellor while addressing the students announced that a search would be carried out in all the halls and colleges to find out those who failed to attend the departure service, advising them to wait behind.

Saturday Vanguard investigation revealed that out of the figure, about 126 were expelled for not attending the 'departure service', five were thrown out for smoking marijuana, twenty-five final year students and undisclosed number of lower level students were caught violating rules bothering on the University's core values. We also gathered that a few others were given four weeks suspension for failure to sign the head count that was conducted a couple of weeks earlier. Some of the students opined that failure to sign the head count was even a greater offence which implied that the student was not in the school at the time of the exercise but yet got a four-week suspension.

The private university is known for its strict rules and discipline such as not allowing the students to use mobile phones within the school's premises, while it is mandatory for students to always bring their bible to the chapel.

Parents react

A few parents who volunteered information spoke to us on condition of anonymity fearing that their children might be victimised in case the issue was resolved amicably. One of them said with bitterness that it is unacceptable, adding that the expulsion was not commensurate with the offence deemed to have been committed. He urged the school authorities to rescind its decision adding that the future of the students is at stake.

"For me, it is not acceptable. These students were not given fair hearing. Expulsion should not be a punishment for failure to attend service. We all agree, it is a Christian school but failure to attend church service could be due to a lot of reasons. I gathered that some of the students even finished their exams about 5pm that day. So, those people that finished at that time had barely three hours to prepare for the service. But stampeding them to congregate for service and then expelling those who did not come is a decision taken too far. For me, if there was poor attendance, I think the authorities have a responsibility. They have not been fair in putting the service so close to the examination. Even God will not do that."

He however commended the Chancellor, Dr. Oyedepo on his vision towards the education of Nigeria children especially when the government institutions are failing, but urging him to tamper justice with mercy.

Another parent who was afraid of the press noted that he was still studying the situation and would not want to comment but noted that he was reliably informed that some group of parents made frantic efforts to meet with the Chancellor on the issue but without success. It was not clear the level of the efforts made. He further hinted that some students have not told their parents about their expulsion, still hoping that the issue would be resolved.

He lamented that his child had been having sleepless nights, going through mental torture unjustifiably. "I agree that discipline must be instilled in the students but it should not be aimed at destroying the life of the students. Expulsion is too great a punishment for non attendance of a departure service, without even a warning especially when the students hitherto, had not been found wanting," he stated.

What the Student Handbook says

The Covenant University Core values border on Spirituality, Possibility Mentality, Capacity Building, Integrity, Responsibility, Diligence and Sacrifice. On the spirituality aspect, it states: "The Christian ethos underguard our activities and conducts at all time and every student of Covenant University is expected to exhibit character traits and dispositions of a Jesus-centered heritage. The Jesus - factor centered approach to all issues is non-negotiable and central in the pursuit of our mandate in raising a new generation of leaders and in the realization of the objectives of our purpose.

To this extent therefore, students will be committed to maintaining a high level of spirituality and shall act in such manner as to facilitate their spiritual growth as well as work out ways to evolve and implement a spiritual development plan. Attendance at Chapel Services is a compulsory part of students' spiritual development where a bible and notebook are essential kits for the service. Students are expected to demonstrate a deep reverence for God at all times."

The school declines comment

Several attempts were made to get the school authorities comment on the issue. The institution's Corporate/Public Affairs Officer, Mr Igban Emmanuel Kalu declined comment. At first, several calls were pulled through to him but he refused to pick his calls. When the reporter persisted, he later picked but said he was driving and could not answer any question. But few hours later, other calls pulled to him were unanswered. A text message was sent to his phone and up to the time of writing this report, he did not reply.

I'm not aware --Prof Julius Okojie, NUC Executive Secretary

The Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, NUC, Prof Julius Okojie said he has not been briefed on the matter.

Prof Okojie stated this during a telephone conversation Saturday Vanguard had with him a few days ago. "I am not aware of any expulsion by Covenant University; I will ask the school authorities. Right now, I am not in Abuja, I left Abuja few days ago and until I return to Abuja and find out details about the matter, I cannot comment on it," he said.

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