- Magawi is asking acting Vice Chancellor Isaac Mbeche to pardon all students who were expelled or suspended and for them to be compensated.
- Justice Odunga ruled that universities should discipline errant students within the rules and regulations of the university and in line with the Constitution.
When Maxwell Odhiambo Magawi, a student at the University of Nairobi, was expelled in 2016 following the disputed students union elections, he had no idea what it would take for him to return to the institution to complete his studies.
Magawi, now a final year law student, says he was kept in the dark by the university management regarding his future and had to move to the High Court to secure readmission after several months.
His story mirrors the plight of scores of students across the country who have been expelled or suspended from universities, with the institutions taking ages to conclude disciplinary hearings.
Some of the students have been out for three years and are not sure when they will be back to complete their studies.
For those who can afford it, High Court intervention has been their only recourse, but those with no money have left their fates in the hands of their respective institutions.
Most of the expelled or suspended students find it hard to return home to face their parents, hence they end up whiling away their time in the institutions’ neighbourhoods, doing odd jobs to make ends meet.
Some have turned to drug use while others have become goons who are hired by the political class.
Such students are also kicked out of university hostels and banned from accessing university premises, including students’ centres.
Magawi admits that it was tough dealing with a university administration that was so determined to destroy his education and future career.
He says he was expelled in 2016 while in second year, but managed to get back to the institution in 2017.
After his return, he was once again suspended only five months later, while in third year.
However, he managed to get back to the university once again after seeking another court intervention, he is currently in fourth year and hopes to complete his law studies.
Magawi admits that being suspended from the university and staying out for years is a humbling experience.
“When you go back to university, there is a lot of resistance, especially from the management and lecturers. They always frustrate you in order to see how you react,” he says, adding that getting transcripts for past units is always difficult as one is taken around in circles.
Ronny Otieno, also a University of Nairobi student, says once suspended, a student is always kept in the dark, not knowing when he or she will be recalled.
“Whenever you appear before the disciplinary committee, you are always found guilty. No one gives you a fair hearing,” says Otieno.
He says it can take a year before the university rules on one’s suspension. And if one is readmitted, he is required to report back with a certificate of good conduct from the police.
“Being kept in darkness for a year, not knowing what will happen, is very discouraging because you are disturbed mentally,” he says.
He says many of his colleagues serving suspension or those who have been expelled usually decide to hang around Nairobi due to stigmatisation back home, because they are considered failures by the community.
Byrone Mirodho, a Bachelor of Education student at Kikuyu campus, University of Nairobi, was suspended in 2017 only for the suspension to be lifted a few months later but with tough conditions.
Mirodho was ordered to pay Sh86,000 for the damage he had caused. To date, he is yet to raise the fine, therefore remaining locked out of the university.
Magawi is asking acting Vice Chancellor Isaac Mbeche to pardon all students who were expelled or suspended and for them to be compensated.
“The new university management needs to bring harmony with the student community. To be suspended for three years while paying rent in Nairobi without a job is not easy,” says Magawi, adding that those who are out should be given a second chance.
A law student at the University of Nairobi who asked not to be identified, complained that suspensions and expulsions were routinely used by university administrations to silence dissent.
“We have cases where basic university facilities like toilets and clinics are in pathetic state but no one can dare raise the issue. The moment you do so, you become a marked man and your days in the institution become numbered,” says the student.
For instance in 2016, the University of Nairobi expelled 33 students following violent protests over disputed union elections.
Among those expelled was Mike Jacobs, who had contested against incumbent Babu Owino for the post of chairman of the Student Organisation of Nairobi University (Sonu).
At the time, 33 students were expelled, 25 suspended and 17 pardoned. In addition, 143 students were reprimanded.
Before his exit as vice chancellor, Peter Mbithi had indicated that students who were expelled or suspended and are remorseful will be pardoned.
Onjira John Anyul was suspended on May 18, 2016 but he decided to move to the High Court to challenge the decision.
By the time of his expulsion, Anyul was a medical student. He was an aspirant for the position of Campus Representative, College of Health Sciences, in the Sonu elections held on April 2016.
In his judgment, Justice George Odunga ruled that the University of Nairobi did not accord the student a fair trial during the disciplinary proceedings leading to his expulsion.
He ruled that whereas universities have a responsibility to discipline errant students, this should be done within the rules and regulations of the university and in line with the Constitution.
This year, the management of Kenyatta University was forced to enter into an out-of-court settlement with several students after they were charged in a Kiambu court for destroying the institution’s property during a strike last year.
The university pardoned seven of the students who had been linked to the riots at its main campus in November last year, which left property worth Sh95 million destroyed.