Nigerians have been reacting to the decision by the Univeristy of Ibadan to suspend a student journalist over an article published in a national daily.
Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) and groups of Nigerian student journalists asked the university to rescind the suspension of Adekunle Adebajo.
The groups which joined the PTCIJ in making the request through separate statements are the National Association of Nigerian Campus Editors (NANCE), National Union of Campus Journalists (NUCJ) and the Free Campus Press Movement (FCPM).
University of Ibadan suspended Mr. Adebajo for two semesters over an article he wrote two years ago about poor facilities at the university.
In the article published by The Guardian newspaper in April 2016 under the title “UI: The irony of fashionable rooftops and awful interiors”, the student drew attention to the deplorable state of facilities at the Nigerian premier university.
But PTCIJ appealed to the management of the university to reconsider its decision.
In a statement signed by its Programme Director, Joshua Olufemi, the centre said the narrative around the matter suggested Mr Adebajo was being punished on account of his journalism.
“We want to appeal to the authorities of the University of Ibadan to take a second and kinder look at the matter by interpreting it within a freedom of expression framework.
“In doing so, we also urge the vice chancellor and the university administration to consider restoring Mr Adebajo to normal status that will allow him to proceed to the Nigerian Law School without losing out on his study progress.”
The centre urged the management to be mindful of the reputation of the University of Ibadan “as Africa’s coveted centre of excellence in knowledge creation as well as in the promotion of academic freedom and the broad context of liberty as a condition for progress.”
PTCIJ appealed to the authorities to view the request to review Mr Adebajo’s case along the tradition of the university “for tolerance, for investment in constructive dissent and contention, knowing full well that such an example carries the full promise of multiplier impact in a political season of tension and rigid positioning.”
It said reviewing the case and giving the suspended student a second chance would represent strength and character.
Thanking the Vice Chancellor in anticipation of heeding its appeal, PTCIJ pointed out: “We are strategic partners of the university in many programmes and again on this, we look up in pride and honour for your prudent assessment of this important decision.”
NANCE, in its statement signed by its president, Omole Isaac, noted that Mr. Adebajo was only exercising his right under section 22 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria.
The section states: “The Press, Radio, Television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government of the people.”
It lamented erosion of rights of students in tertiary institutions in Nigeria such that they “now suspend students for minor offences such as refusal to go to religious ground, protest against poor welfare and articles revealing the ills and odds of authorities.”
The group urged the university management to review the report of its panel that investigated Mr. Adebajo’s matter.
It further demanded that he be reinstated and all the damages he has suffered be remedied by the management of the university.
NUCJ, on its part said sustaining the sanction on Mr Adebajo would amount to “placing a seal on the voices of the people.
“The high-handed measure taken is not only an injury to Kunle Adebajo, but an injury to every campus journalist in Nigeria. We are, therefore, not going to keep calm until this unfair judgement is revoked — until Kunle Adebajo is called back.”
The group said it was an irony that the University of Ibadan recently made the global list of outstanding tertiary institutions.
The group called on journalists in Nigeria to join in ensuring that UI calls Mr Adebajo back.
“Do not let Kunle become another Dele Giwa that was sacrificed because of his action for the common good. His career is as important as his life. His blood must not be spilled on the altar of injustice.”
The FCPM, in an open letter to the Vice Chancellor of UI pointed out that the article over which Mr Adebajo was suspended won him many accolades.
“We wish to inform you that this same piece won Kunle Adebajo many awards. Are you then opining that those who awarded him locally and internationally did not want the best of the university?
“No sane judge will award a piece that is capable of jeopardising or defaming the reputation of an institution. If you demand to know some of the judges, we will gladly provide them,” the student journalists group stated.
The group said the university by its harsh sanction against Mr Adebajo was “unknowingly killing campus journalism, which is dangerous for journalism as a whole.”