In recent months, some Nigerian universities have meted punishment on undergraduates who criticise them on social media platforms.
Even though it is not an alien reaction from authorities, a spate of victimisation of students has followed the clamour for good learning environment, upgrade of facilities and good leadership on Nigerian campuses.
A round-up by this newspaper revealed that not less than nine students in four tertiary institutions have either been arrested by security agencies or rusticated from their schools over these critical posts.
While Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, recognises the right to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media; Section 39 of the Nigerian constitution, as amended in 1999, embraces the freedom of speech.
PREMIUM TIMES’ analysis showed that although there are limitations to this freedom- such as libel or slander, none of the victims had reportedly breached the limitations.
In most cases, the school authorities, instead of debunking the students’ claims, resort to the allegation that the students were painting them in a bad light.
These authorities hold them to ransom vis-à-vis their matriculation oaths, the pledge that they will be law-abiding students.
This newspaper, however, recalls cases of incarceration and victimisation for articles posted on social media from different universities
Akwa Ibom State University
In May, a student of Akwa Ibom State University (AKSU), Ikot Akpaden, was suspended indefinitely from the school for allegedly calling the university vice-chancellor ‘foolish’ on Facebook.
The student, Joy Nkanang, who was in her second year in the department of performing arts before her suspension on May 9, wrote about the increase in cult activities and insecurity around the university campus on Facebook.
In February, six students of the Madonna University, Okija, Anambra state, were arrested and detained for posting ‘offensive’ messages on Facebook. They have been released on bail.
The university, in a petition to the Inspector-General of Police, accused the students of tarnishing the reputation of the institution on the Internet.
One of the Facebook posts read: “Good lecturers are scarce. Madonna University administration should be nice to our lecturers, or a good number of them will resign.”
The young men, Opara Harmelson, Owhonda Badaziri, Abuno Jonathan, Chijioke Nnamani, Amaechi Benedict, Blackson Nwokeoma and Tony Ezeimo spent five months in prison custody before a court sitting in Akwa granted them bail.
Nonetheless, after their release from prison, the school, through a mediator from the Catholic Bishop Conference, demanded an apology from the six students before they could drop the charges.
Taraba State University
In October, PREMIUM TIMES reported how the Taraba State University expelled a first-year student, Joseph Israel, after he repeatedly criticised the state governor, Darius Ishaku, on Facebook.
The school said it took the decision because the student had failed to “complete the registration processes” including signing the matriculation oath form. A letter by the deputy registrar for academic affairs, Yakubu Fwa, stated the aforementioned against Mr Israel.
Meanwhile, Mr Israel told PREMIUM TIMES the reason given by the institution was false and was merely used as an excuse to deal with the student who has been a known online critic of the governor.
This newspaper gathered that the student has used his Facebook page to deliver sweltering criticisms of Mr Ishaku’s leadership.
“Governor Darius is tested and trusted failure, the 100 days of any government shows the direction of that government, the Darius administration has no direction, his government is the worst in the 28 years of existence of Taraba State,” one of his posts read.
Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta
A few days ago, the management of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, (FUNAAB) in Ogun State, expelled one Ifemosu Adewale over a Facebook post drawing the attention of the public to the alleged indiscriminate arrest of his colleagues by the police and incessant robbery attacks on campus.
According to a PREMIUM TIMES report, Mr Adewale, who is in his second year at the Department of Forestry and Wild-life Management was subsequently issued an expulsion letter.
Before the Facebook post that led to his expulsion, Mr Adewale was known on campus for a series of posts condemning alleged maladministration of the university including poor welfare on campus.
This alarming trend has been condemned by Nigerians on different fora. Last week, a former Nigerian senator, Shehu Sani, registered his grievances.
“Expelling students and sacking workers for Facebook or Twitter postings is likely to intensify in view of the growing culture of intolerance to criticisms and the establishment of discomfort with the social media,” he wrote on Twitter.
Human rights campaigners, Deji Adeyanju and Segun Awosanya, also condemned the incessant clampdown on students.
The National Coordinator of Education Rights Campaign (ERC), Hassan Soweto, said the act is a violation of the students’ rights to freedom of expression.
“But far beyond this is that this act which attempts to stifle all attempts by students to speak up against the unspeakable condition of education at all levels is despotic and undemocratic.”
Reacting during a telephone interview on Tuesday, he said the ERC strongly condemns “this act of victimising students for writing articles on Facebook and other social media sites that are critical of school administration’s anti-student and anti-worker policies.”
“It is an attempt to return the country back to the dark days of Jackboot military absolutism and this must be rejected by the students’ movement, workers movement and civil society. But it is only students that are being routinely victimised.”
Citing the examples of Lagos State University (LASU) and Lagos State Polytechnic (LASPOTECH), Mr Hassan added that workers activists are also falling victims of the rising wave of victimisation and intolerance of opposing views on campuses.
“For instance, at the Lagos State University (LASU), LASPOTECH and AOCOED, we have cases of victimisation of leaders and members of staff unions for exposing corruption, opposing anti-worker policies and standing for the interest of their members.
“In LASU today, the University management has devised a means of using the DSS to conduct sting operations to ensnare students’ activists who are opposed to their anti-poor policies. The ongoing case of Comrade Omomewa, the Lagos Coordinator of the ERC who is being framed up on a phantom case of admission racketeering is an example of this.”
Students should not be abusive while protesting- FUOYE lecturer
in his reaction, Akinyemi Omonijo, a senior lecturer in the Federal University of Oye-Ekiti (FUOYE), cautioned that as much as students are protesting poor welfare, they should not be abusive in their approach.
Mr Omonijo, who spoke with our correspondent on Wednesday, said he has participated in union activities and was always civil in making demands. “You can argue and state facts but you cannot use abusive words,” he noted.
Nevertheless, he advised that when students err, ”the matter should be directed to the appropriate committee for proper sanctioning instead of some authorities taking laws into their hands”.
“In some schools, there is the students’ disciplinary committee saddled with such responsibility,” Mr Omonijo said.