The High court at Nakawa last week stopped the suspension of over 8,000 Nkumba University students, accused of masterminding a strike last year.
The university was shut down following a violent strike after students protested an increment in tuition by management. Using their umbrella body, Uganda National Students Association (UNSA), the students challenged both their expulsion and suspension, saying these were illegal, unjust and arbitrary.
Through their lawyer Isaac Kimaze Ssemakadde, they also challenged the conditions and penalties set by the university for all students to resume their studies. The university had ordered that all returning students pay Shs 150,000, irrespective of their role in the strike. The money was expected to pay for the repair and replacement of all vandalized property during the strike.
They were also required to pay a further Shs 50,000 for a commitment form, in which they would commit to abide with the university’s students’ code of conduct, rules and regulations. In his submissions, Ssemakadde challenged the university’s conditions, arguing that the university had introduced a new concept called “collective guilt” for punishment, which is illegal and unconstitutional.
In reply, Nkumba’s lawyer Joseph Luswata, asked court to dismiss the case, arguing that UNSA had no capacity to sue in this case. However, in her ruling, Justice Elizabeth Nahamya asked Nkumba to let that the students receive a fair hearing by ensuring that they are accorded an opportunity to defend themselves.
“This court cannot sit back and fold its arms whilst rights of applicants [students] are being violated by the respondent [Nkumba University]. It[court] is concerned with a violation of the applicants’ rights by the respondent. … Even though the suspension has been lifted, this court’s opinion is that the respondent should fully investigate the matter and take proper action, because apart from the suspension, there are other pending issues between the students and the respondent.”
The judge indicated that she had ruled in this way as the students stood to suffer greater damage if the temporary injunction was not granted.