The High Court has ordered the University of Nairobi to pay a master’s degree student Sh500,000 for delaying him from completing his studies.
The institution will pay Mr Paul Peter Makokha the amount as compensation for the five-year delay caused by his lecturer, Dr Robinson Ocharo, who was his supervising his studies.
Justice Weldon Korir said Mr Makokha had legitimate expectation of completing his degree course within two years as indicated in his letter of admission but took five years due to delays caused by the lecturer.
“In my view, the mistreatment meted upon the petitioner by Dr Ocharo with the acquiesce of the university should attract monetary compensation. Universities should not admit students if they do not have the capacity to teach and supervise the students,” said Justice Korir.
In his petition, Mr Makokha testified that he was assigned Dr Ocharo in 2012 as the supervisor of his project. Due to the unavailability and lack of cooperation by Dr Ocharo, he ended up graduating in December 2016.
He placed before court SMS messages showing that he sought appointments with the supervisor without success. At times, he would travel from Kakamega to Nairobi only for the supervisor to be unavailable. He said he had incurred travel expenses totalling Sh40, 000.
The judge noted that the supervisor never responded to the petitioner’s messages or answered his calls.
Before moving to court in 2019, the petitioner had in 2015 lodged a complaint at the Commission on Administrative Justice (Office of the Ombudsman) about unfair treatment by the university.
The Ombudsman, in a decision dated August 15, 2015, ruled in favour of Mr Makokha and found that Dr Ocharo’s conduct of was unfair and unprofessional.
It also recommended that the university should put measures in place to ensure accountability of supervisors and regular monitoring of supervision standards. The university complied with the decision of the Ombudsman and changed Mr Makokha’s supervisor.
Justice Korir noted that although the Ombudsman is empowered to “recommend compensation or other appropriate remedies against persons or bodies”, no such recommendation was made in respect to Mr Makokha’s complaint.
Dr Ocharo admitted that there was delay on his part but explained that his unavailability was adequately addressed and the petitioner was allocated another supervisor.
He also indicated that the petitioner was not guaranteed that he would take exactly two years to complete his studies. He added that writing a thesis proposal is an academic process and not an event, thus it entails the fulfilment of academic standards before one can be cleared to proceed to the next level of writing.
The supervisor said that at some point, the petitioner sought deferment of his masters studies.
But Justice Korir said Dr Ocharo’s explanation had no basis as the admission letter dated August 10, 2009 clearly indicated that the masters programme was two years for students undertaking the course on full time basis such as the petitioner.
“It is also noted that the respondents (university and Dr Ocharo) have not placed any evidence before the court to show that the writing of the thesis was delayed by the petitioner. Indeed, it is evident from the material placed before the court that once the supervisor was changed the petitioner was able to quickly finalise his thesis and graduate,” said Justice Korir.
On the claim that the delay was caused by the petitioner’s request to defer his studies, the judge found the defence untruthful.
“The deferment has nothing to do with the petitioner’s complaint which relates to the period starting in 2012 after Dr Ocharo was assigned to him as a supervisor up to the time he graduated in 2016,” said Justice Korir.
The judge found that apart from the violations to the rights of fair administrative action and education, the petitioner failed to discharge the burden of proof in regard to other rights he alleged were violated by the school and the supervisor.
In his court papers, Mr Makokha had said that his right to freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment was violated by the school and the lecturer.
He further claimed that the respondents caused him to make several unsuccessful trips to Nairobi in a bid to meet his supervisor and ignored all communication made by him to the supervisor.
He added that the respondents frustrated his every attempt to change his supervisor until directed by the Ombudsman.
The petitioner also accused the respondents of frustrating his chances of securing employment due to the incomplete masters studies and tainted his resume since it now indicates that he took seven years to complete a two-year programme.