"Universities have inherent and statutory powers to admit infant/ geniuses"
Perhaps the greatest controversy surrounding tertiary education in Nigeria borders on the age of University applicants and their denial of admission. More often than not, there had been cases of applicants who, having scaled all academic hurdles for admission, are eventually denied admission by virtue of the only element they cannot control; their age. The recent of them is Master Ekene Franklin Ezeunala who despite his score of 347 is it to be denied admission on account of his young age of 15. This has understandably thrown up a debate as the propriety of Universities adopting minimum ages for admission for prospective undergraduates.

While some have argued in favour of admitting underaged or young applicants, some have maintained that admission of underaged applicants into Universities does more harm than good. While it has been argued that a child-prodigy should not be denied University admission simply because of his age, conversely, one cannot deny the all-important psychological and emotional demand of acquiring tertiary education in Nigeria and in some parts of the world, especially in certain disciplines. In the United States, law is not taken at an undergraduate level. Equally in Nigeria, time it was when students must acquire GCE Advanced Level or Higher School Certificate as a condition precedent to admission to a University.

In Nigeria, no age restraint is provided by the Constitution, the National Universities Commission Act or the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board Act for university applicants. However, the hurdles in the admission of underage applicants are those placed by the Universities applied to. For instance, the University of Lagos Act, as well as legislations establishing other tertiary institutions in Nigeria, empowers the University Senate to make academic rules regarding admissions into the University, including determining cut-off marks, age requirements, fees, among others.
Section 8(1) and 2(e) of the University of Lagos Act, Cap U9, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 provides as follows:
8(1) Subject to section 7 of this Act and subsections (3) and (4) of this section, and to the provisions of this Act relating to the Visitor, it shall be the general function of the Senate to organize and control the teaching of the University and the admission and discipline of students, and to promote research at the University.
(2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section as therein mentioned, it shall in particular be the function of the senate to make provision for –
(e) the selection of persons for admission as students of the University.
The provision of Section 8(1) and 2(e) of the University of Lagos Act is similar to the provisions of Section 6(1) and 2(f) of the University of Ibadan Act, Cap U6, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
From the foregoing provision, it is clear that the age-requirement of university applicants is determined by the Senate of the University applied to.
The recent case of the 15-year old candidate who scored the highest mark in the 2019 UTME but was denied admission by the University of Lagos puts this matter into proper perspective. Commenting on this denial, Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, the Executive Secretary of JAMB was on firm ground when he quoted the UNILAG policy that the candidate who scored the highest mark in the just released result of UTME might not be admitted into a university because he is less than sixteen (16) years.

As a former Pro-Chancellor of University of Lagos, I am aware that the Senate of the University of Lagos had made laws that a candidate must be 16 years of age as at October 31 of the year of admission. The rationale behind the principle is that a University student not be an infant when entering a University. This principle is founded on the fact that universities are for matured students. On the other hand, it is a notorious fact that there are extra-ordinarily brilliant people or geniuses whose Intelligence Quotient is higher than that of the average individual. I remember when I was in elementary school, I had a classmate who was so brilliant that in any examination meant for one hour, he would finish within 30 minutes and he always scored 100 per cent.
Based on the outstanding brilliance of some individuals, regardless of their age, highly respected and older universities all over the world do admit such students. Indeed, in spite of the bottle-neck university regulations affecting the entrance of underage applicants in tertiary institutions in Nigeria and in some countries of the world, geniuses had been and are still being admitted to the university even at the age of 10.

Illustratively, Indian-Australian Akshay Venkatesh attended the University of Western Australia at the age of 13 and graduated with a First Class Honours in Mathematics in 1997. Erik Demaine was admitted to Dalhousie University in Halifas, Novas Cotia, Canada, at 12 and received his Bachelor Degree when he was 14. Indeed, he became a Professor at MIT at 20, the youngest ever.
Likewise, Juliet Beni obtained his Ph.D at 19 from the University of California. Sho Yano gained admission to Chicago’s Loyola University at 9 and graduated at 12 with a First Class and received his Ph. D on Molecular Genetics at 18. Norbert Wiener earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics at 14 at Tufts University in the US and was awarded a Ph. D at 17. Ruth Lawrence graduated from Oxford University at the age of 13 and got his Ph. D at 17 while Balamurali Ambati completed his First Degree at age of 13 and graduated from the School of Medicine at 17.
From the example of the academic geniuses recorded above, is it still reasonable to conclude that an underage university applicant should be denied admission by virtue of his age? To my mind, age maturity should not constitute a snag in acquiring tertiary education. Rather, the important considerations should be whether the applicant possesses the requisite intellectual capacity to secure and sustain a university admission.

There are specially gifted people, possibly like the young boy who scored the highest mark in UTME 2019. There is nothing you can do about it. He is a genius and should not be punished for being one. I do not agree that he should be denied the opportunity of going to the university because of his age. The Senate of Universities in Nigeria has inherent powers in addition to statutory powers to make any regulation or amend its regulation to admit geniuses and prevent them from staying at home until they attain 17 years of age. It will not be surprising if the boy in question can secure admission into some of the Ivy League schools abroad. Indeed a few day ago, it was reported that a private university in Ghana had offered him a scholarship valued at over $40,000 (Forty thousand United States Dollars).

In conclusion, there ought to be no restraint whatsoever in the admission of anyone into Nigerian universities, so long as such individual has the capacity to understand the knowledge being imparted at the institution. I therefore recommend a review or total overhaul of all University policies denying gifted individuals in Nigeria the opportunity of acquiring tertiary knowledge due to their age. If the Constitution does not restrain an underaged from applying to a University, it will therefore be unconstitutional to deny such person from being admitted into the University of his choice, having fulfilled all academic requirements for admission. Instructively, admitting a young and gifted Nigerian will accord more with the provisions of Section 11 of the Education (National Minimum Standards and Establishment of Institutions) Act, CAP. E3 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 which in sub-paragraph g states one of the purpose of higher education in Nigeria to be: “the promotion and encouragement of scholarship and research”

Surely admitting Master Franklin cannot be said to be inimical to the promotion and encouragement of scholarship.