University ‘demands’ apology to free students docked over Facebook post

Madonna University
Madonna University

The management of Madonna University has demanded an apology letter to withdraw its case against students who were arrested and arraigned over a Facebook post.

PREMIUM TIMES reported how six students and a lecturer of the Madonna University, Okija, Anambra State, were granted bail by the Federal High Court in Awka after spending five months in Awka prisons.

Madonna, the first Catholic University in Nigeria, in February initiated the arrest of the students and a lecturer over a Facebook post revealing the ”inhumane treatment of students in the university”.

The students are Opara Harmelson, Owhonda Badaziri, Abuno Jonathan, Chijioke Nnamani, Amaechi Benedict, Blackson Nwokeoma, and Tony Ezeimo.

While five of them are former students, Mr Ezeimo is a former lecturer at the University. Mr Harmelson is a friend of Mr Ezeimo who was the only one charged with advance fee fraud.

This newspaper gathered that they were all arrested after a petition was issued alleging they were cultists involved in the kidnapping of the university’s Vice-Chancellor, Chuks Ezedum. But they were charged with crimes relating to cybercrime and malicious writing when arraigned.

However, in a report published in This Day newspaper, the university distanced itself from the suit and its spokesperson, Martin Anagboso, stated that those being prosecuted should prove their innocence in court.

Church’s intervention

PREMIUM TIMES gathered that the Secretary to the Catholic Bishop Conference and a Reverend Father, Ralph Madu, was mandated by the group of clergymen to mediate.

Mr Madu convened a meeting of the Registrar of Madonna University, who represented the management, and the accused persons on September 24 at Assumpta Cathedral Owerri, Imo State capital.

According to one of the students, Mr Nnamani, both parties were given the platform to express their grievances but the meeting was postponed because the management’s representatives refused to comment.

“We were told to narrate our ordeal. Father Ralph gave them the floor to talk but they could not say anything. They (representatives of the school) said they were delegates sent to observe.”

Meanwhile, at the second meeting, the students and lecturer were reportedly told to write a letter of apology so the university can withdraw the case.

“On Thursday, Father Ralph told us he met with the Vice-Chancellor of Madonna University and he said that we should write a letter for the case to be withdrawn,” Mr Nnamani told PREMIUM TIMES.

Request for apology

On Sunday, the students submitted a letter requesting that the court case be withdrawn and their results be released for them to be mobilised for the mandatory one-year NYSC scheme.

“… we also take into good view the concerns of many Catholic Bishops especially Most Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor of Awka Diocese and Most Rev. Hilary Okeke of Nnewi Diocese, we have realised that giving peace a chance will be in the best interest of the image of the Church, the image of Madonna University (our Alma mater) and the progress of our young souls,” the copy of the letter obtained by this newspaper partly read.

“We thereby agree with the management of Madonna University to consider withdrawing this matter from the court for us to settle on a roundtable of dialogue which must, first of all, include the provision of the seized results and the mobilization of our brothers to NYSC.”

However, the letter was allegedly rejected by the university management representatives, who demanded a ‘direct’ apology letter.

“We decided not to write the letter but after we sought legal advice, we decided to write a letter. We gave them a letter but they were disappointed because they were expecting an apology letter. When we gave them the letter, they rejected it,” Mr Nnamani said.

PREMIUM TIMES learnt that Mr Madu said anyone ”who is interested in writing the (apology) letter should go ahead”.

Some of the students said they will not write an apology letter.

When this correspondent contacted Mr Madu before he left for Germany, he declined comments and referred PREMIUM TIMES to the university authorities “who demanded the apology letter”.

“What do you want me to say? That they should not apologise or what?” he said.

All efforts to get the university management’s reaction were unsuccessful as all enquiries sent via the Registrar’s email address and his known phone numbers were not responded to.

Meanwhile, the next hearing of the case is on October 7.

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