The expulsion of a final-year student of Department of Agricultural Engineering by the management of Akwa Ibom State University (AKSU), Ikot Akpaden, Mkpat Enin Local Government Area, over allegation of ‘insulting’ Governor Udom Emmanuel has put to test, the maturity and sincerity of the institution in handling sensitive but controversial issues.
To say the least, the expulsion of the student, Iniobong Ekpo Isang, for publishing alleged “derogatory and defamatory article” in 2019 on Facebook, against the Governor, who is a visitor to the institution, seems to portray the handling of the matter as a travesty to democratic norm of fair hearing.
Though the university admitted that the student appeared before Disciplinary Committee to defend his article which was a “breach” of the matriculation oath and a violation of the university’s extant rules and regulations as enshrined in the Student Information Handbook, Mr. Isang had denied that he did not appear before the purported committee.
However, the expulsion has generated widespread furore and criticisms from the public. Based on the public outcry, the state government was compelled to order a review of the case by setting up an investigation committee to look into the expulsion in a bid to calm the frayed nerves.
Undoubtedly, it behoves the institution to set up rules and enforce it within the precinct of the school environment in order to check unwholesome behavioural pattern of some non conformists.
Upon graduation, the university as centre for teaching, research and manpower development would award a certificate based on the fact that the student was found worthy in both character and in learning.
It was gathered that Mr Isang, who used a pseudonym, Afrosix Jaara, to write the article had accused Mr Emmanuel of reneging on a promise he allegedly made in 2017, to give financial reward to the then graduating students of the university.
“It’s two years and 166 days since he promised, yet none of the beneficiaries had received a dime, even the First Class graduates of the set were unattended to when they went to his office,” Mr. Isang had written in his Facebook post, adding that Mr Emmanuel may have “scammed” the students.
Even if the governor had since declared that he was not aware of the disparaging remarks against him by the affected student, it stands condemnable that such untoward display of acerbic narrative and delivered with uncouth language should be allowed into public space, especially when the issue in question has no direct bearing with him.
While we deplore such disrespectful disposition towards the governor, we make bold to say that the hasty reaction of the university management was within the realm of highhandedness given the fact that the alleged remarks against the person of governor Emmanuel, was not committed within the university campus, which is why relevant sections of the rules and regulations of the institution should not be invoked against Isang.
Much as the university has power to expel or suspend any erring student, it must not negate the Fundamental Human Rights of any student or lecturer, which is anchored on the freedom of expression as guaranteed by Section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic Of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
Moreover, it is improper for a tertiary institution to sacrifice its academic freedom on the altar of primordial interest and self-centredness, which gives every lecturer or student the right to express himself or herself on any thorny issue or criticize any personality within the academic community without incurring the wrath of the school management or the Visitor therein.
By this action, the institution has again shot itself in the foot. In 2019, the institution indefinitely suspended from studies one Joy Nkanang, then a second year student in the Department of Performing Arts of the university for calling the then Vice Chancellor “foolish” on Facebook over what she saw as his acquiescence and helplessness in handling the debilitating security situation on the campus.
Moreover, the management had sacked 14 lecturers on allegation of perpetrating sexual abuse and other acts of misdemeanour. Of course, the current Vice Chancellor, Prof. Nse Essien has listed this as one of his achievements on the saddle in the 11-year-old institution. These acts of misdemeanour must be corrected. Why is the university management serving as an accuser and a judge?
We see the composition of the committee set up by the government to look into the expulsion of the student which comprises mostly government functionaries as lopsided. It is our candid view that the committee should have included members of Civil Liberties Organisation and Nigeria Union of Journalists to guarantee the discernible public of fair, just, and equitable judgment untainted with bias and prejudice. The committee members must not see the said enfant-terrible as a sacrificial lamb to justify the saying ‘He who pays the piper dictates the tune.’
Akwa Ibom proverb which says ”Let us talk to the chicken, and talk to the kite’’ is key in this case. It would be appalling and condescending if the Visitor to the institution has not redeemed state government’s pledges made to some graduates and best graduating students four years ago. The Holy Book says it better not to vow than to vow but you do not redeem.
Let the government committee use the opportunity to convert the expulsion to suspension as well as to look into the issue of the ‘sacked’ lecturers since the out-gone Vice Chancellor was alleged to have been high-handed and egoistic in using the management as a ‘kangaroo court’ to send promising men and women into over-crowded market. He was also accused of not giving the affected an opportunity to defend the allegations that led to their supposed sack.
We want to call on the school management to mitigate the offence by tempering justice with mercy. Since no man is above reproach, the governor and the school management should see the student as a prodigal son, forgive and pardon him.