From Joe Effiong, Uyo
Akwa Ibom State University (AKSU), Ikot Akpaden, in Mkpat Enin Local Government Area of the state, may soon be enlisted in the Guinness Book of Records as one with the highest number of students who have been sanctioned by the school authorities for using social media app, Facebook.
Well, not just for using Facebook per se but allegedly using it wrongly and against the school’s rules and regulations.
About two years ago, on May 9, 2019, a 200-level student of Performing Arts of the university, Joy Nkanang, came face-to-face with the consequences of using Facebook when she was booked by the school authorities for using the social media platform to insult the then vice-chancellor, Prof. Eno Ibanga, now Akwa Ibom State commissioner for works. In fact, the university authorities said Nkanga called the VC a fool.
She was said to have complained on her Facebook page about the growing insecurity and cultism in the school, and one of the students commented that students should stage a protest to bring the issues to the proper attention of the university authorities. But she was alleged to have rejoined with: “No…we don’t want to spoil the school’s image…foolish VC.”
AKSU authorities would have none of that. Thereafter, her suspension was stamped, sealed and delivered.
It took an outcry from the public as well as a reported formal apology by the student for her to be recalled.
But if Nkanaga later found joy because hers was just a yellow card, Iniobong Isang Ekpo of the Department of Agricultural Engineering had two yellow cards, so to speak, which amount to a red card or expulsion. He was initially suspended allegedly for using his Facebook page to insult the governor of the state.
According to his suspension letter signed by the registrar of the university and secretary to the senate, Mr. John Udo, on April 9, 2021, titled “Expulsion for Gross Misconduct,” the school said the senate, in its meeting on March 31, 2021, deliberated on the disciplinary report on Ekpo’s misconduct.
“You will recall that you had appeared before the said committee on a case of publication of derogatory and defamatory article on the Facebook platform about the executive governor of Akwa Ibom State and visitor to the university.
“This act constitutes a breach of the matriculation oath and a violation of the university rules and regulations enshrined in the student information handbook. You are hereby expelled from the university for this act of gross misconduct, which constitutes a breach of the matriculation oath.”
The letter advised the student to hand over the school identity card to the dean of student affairs, even as his head of department and dean of his faculty were, respectively, advised to strictly implement the decision. The chief security officer was also advised to make sure Ekpo did not get into the university premises.
Unlike Nkanga who became remorse over the matter and came back to apologise to be recalled, Ekpo would take none of that. Instead, he enlisted the services of Inibehe Effiong, a fiery human rights lawyer, who fired a letter to the university asking for “reinstatement, restoration of full studentship, rights and compensation for beach of fundamental right, loss of academic period, emotional distress and psychological torture.”
The lawyers, in the pre-litigation notice, argued that at no time was the student invited or summoned to appear before the university’s students’ disciplinary committee prior to the indefinite suspension.
“Therefore, our client could not have failed or refused to attend a meeting that never took place to his knowledge as claimed in the indefinite suspension letter. We wonder how the committee could have met during the COVID-19 lockdown when the university was not in session and when students and staff were ordered to stay at home.
“Our client was not shown, confronted or availed with purported ‘abusive post’ or ‘derogatory and defamatory article’ that he is accused of publishing on social media against the governor of Akwa Ibom State. Our client was not shown, confronted or availed with any petition or complaint written against him to the university by the governor of Akwa Ibom State over any post published by him on social media,” the lawyers wrote.
Apart from asking for a reinstatement of the their client with all the rights and privileges he ought to have as a student, the lawyers asked the university authorities to pay the sum of N20 million, “representing general damages for the gross breach of our client’s fundamental rights and the resultant trauma and the depression he has suffered.”
They gave the university seven days to meet these demands else they would commence litigation on the matter.
But the university authorities say they are ready for litigation, insisting that the student had breached the school’s matriculation rules, was given opportunities to defend himself but he rubbished them.
The VC, Professor Nse Essien, told Daily Sun on telephone: “In our university, if you must earn a degree, you must be of good character. In the university handbook, we have spelt out what constitutes bad character and good character. So, if you are using Facebook, you must use it in a very responsible way; not use it to abuse people.
“Apart from that, this same student had already been expelled from the University of Uyo. There were a lot of other things we were supposed to find out from him. We invited him the first time, he refused to show up and that is why he was placed on an indefinite suspension. And immediately he was suspended, he appeared.
“We set up a committee called students’ disciplinary committee. I am sure it is there in all the universities; and he appeared the first time. He was very unruly; the second time, we gave him another opportunity and he appeared. At the end of the day, our regulations are very clear. We have them in our handbook, which I can make available to you; and the penalty is clearly spelt out. We didn’t end there. We sent the report to the senate for final consideration.
“The senate is a very impartial organ of the university. We have people of diverse backgrounds, political, religious and all that. His case was discussed there and the senate found out that the offence that he committed merited expulsion. So, the senate recommended that he should be expelled. So, his expulsion is a recommendation of the senate. It is not a one-person decision.”
Asked whether the governor, whose name has been dragged into the controversy, was aware of the suspension, the VC said: “It is unfortunate. It is not supposed to be like that. It is solely a university affair. It is very unfortunate, and he is trying to use that to see whether he can whip up sentiments. It is unfortunate. The governor has no hand (in it) at all.”
Similarly, the Akwa Ibom State commissioner for information, Mr. Ini Ememobong, told Daily Sun that neither the state government nor the governor had any official knowledge of the suspension, since the university was an entity with rules and regulations governing its conducts and operations.
However, the governor later appeared to have been sucked into the controversy as a press release with the caption “Governor Udom Emmanuel sets up five-man panel to review Iniobong Ekpo’s case,” signed by Ekerete Udo, his chief press secretary on Wednesday, said government had read various reports concerning the expulsion of the student by AKSU management.
“We have equally followed the media feeding frenzy by the usual motely crowd of political jobbers and inveterate rabble-rousers who have maliciously tried to link the action taken by the university authorities to the visitor of the university, His Excellency, Governor Udom Emmanuel.
“We wish to state here emphatically that Governor Emmanuel, a known apostle of freedom of expression, was and is still not aware of this purely administrative action reportedly undertaken by the university.
“He has, accordingly, directed the constitution of a panel comprising five members to review the case and submit its report immediately. The panel is to be headed by the Honourable Commissioner for Education, Mrs. Idongesit Etiebet.”
Similarly, possibly to take charge of the situation, Mrs. Etiebet also issued a press release this: “Following reports of the dismissal of a final-year student of the Faculty of Engineering, Akwa Ibom State University (AKSU), Ekpo Iniobong Isang, by the senate of the institution for gross misconduct, His Excellency, the Governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, has approved the constitution of a five-man panel to review the remote and immediate cause of the action.
“For the avoidance of doubt, we wish to state emphatically that the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, was not aware of Iniobong’s expulsion, as such a matter had not previously been brought to his attention.
“In the meantime, students of the state-owned institution are advised to be law-abiding and go about their normal academic activities without any fear of intimidation.”
This may be the beginning of the story.