By; PAMELA EBOH, Awka
The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) has called on the management of Madonna University, Okija, in Anambra State to withdraw the case it brought against seven of its students.
The students include Prince Ezeimo, Benedict Amaechi, Michael Owhomani, Jonathan Abuno, Black son Nwokeoma and Nnamdi Opara.
Announcing a seven-day ultimatum during a protest, the Vice President, National Affairs of NANS, Mr Chidi Ilozobe, said that investigation revealed that the school management took the action because the students wrote against them on the social media.
He said, “One of them wrote that ‘Good lecturers are scarce; Madonna University Administration should be nice to our lecturers or a good number of them will resign”.
“Is this an offence against the school? We are not in a tyrannical or dictatorship rule and we are not practicing totalitarian system where the masses have no voice.
“Students are intellectuals and should be allowed to voice out whenever they feel that things are not going well, most especially on our campuses.”
The protesters numbering over 50, with different placards with various inscriptions were however, prevented from gaining entrance into the Federal High Court, Awka, by the Police.
Addressing journalists, Ilozobe said they embarked on the protest to register their dissatisfaction on how the management of Madonna University are treating its members.
He recalled that sometime in February, ‘the Police, following a petition written by management of Madonna, arrested some graduates of the institution.
He added, “On the petition, they wrote that these students were criminals, cultists and fraudsters, but we know that our members are not kidnappers, fraudsters or cultists.”
He said an investigation into the matter revealed that the petition was only written to secure the arrest of the accused from the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and their parents.
While saying that NANS had over the years given the Nigerian nation a sense of direction right from the military era to the present democratic dispensation maintained that there was no reason why an institution that should be training students on how to be intellectuals and good ambassadors are now making them to be cowards.
Ilozobe further said, “We have a copy of the charge sheet that was written by the prosecuting counsel. We are here to tell the Inspector-General of Police that they were told lies.
“Our students are not criminals or kidnappers; they just wrote on Facebook and Whatsapp because they have Freedom of Expression.
“If a wrong judgment was passed at the Federal High Court, Awka against the accused persons, NANS will shot down Madonna University.
“We will make sure that Madonna license is revoked. We will make sure that the House Committee on Education and Senate Committee on Education, the National Human Rights Commission and the National Universities Commission revoke the license of Madonna University.
“What we are saying is that they should be given unconditional bail; we are issuing a seven-day ultimatum to the management of Madonna University that if this case is not withdrawn within seven days from the Federal High Court, we are assuring them that we will mobilise students from all over the country.
“We will relocate from our houses with mattresses, stove, gases and pots to the front of the school gate to shot down the university.”
Meanwhile, the hearing of the matter at the Federal High Court, Awka on Tuesday was stalled because of the absence of the presiding judge, Justice Babatunde Quadri.
According to an eleven-count charge brought against the defendants, the Prosecutor, Mr A.N. Obo, said the false publications on social media were injurious to the image of the proprietor and the institution.
The prosecutor said the alleged offences were punishable under sections 27 (1) (b) and 24 (1) (b) of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, etc) Act, 2015.
In an interview, one of the Defense Counsel, Mr Chinedu Igwe told journalists that hearing on the matter had been slated for July 2.
He noted that the complaint against the students was that they put some articles on Facebook against Madonna University.
His words, “To me as a lawyer, it still falls within the Constitutional context of Freedom of Expression. Be that as it may, with the provision of cyber crime Act, they said a crime had been committed and that Madonna lay complain via a petition to the Inspector-General of Police.”
He explained that the accused persons, who were arraigned in February, were yet to secure bail due to stringent bail conditions noting that some of the conditions of the court are quite stringent to his team hence, they filed an application for variation which is still pending for determination.
He however said that application would have been determined if the court had sat today.
A parent of one of the accused persons, Mr Christopher Onyejekwe appealed to Gov. Willie Obiano of Anambra and the Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese, Most Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor to come to his rescue.
He said that efforts to secure the sympathy of the proprietor of the institution to forgive the children had yielded no positive response.
Onyejekwe said, “I have approached Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Edeh to appeal to him since my son was arrested on Feb. 19; the condition he first told me was to go and pray the Hail Mary three times, which i did.
“The last time I went there, he said if I like I should bring the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to come and beg him.
“I asked how that was possible. That was how I stopped going to beg him.
“I am begging the governor of Anambra state, Mr Willie Obiano and the Bishop of Awka Diocese, Most Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor to please come to my rescue.
“I am also begging the Catholic Church to intervene; the bishops are talking of insecurity in the country, urging the government to stem the tide, but their own colleague, Fr. Edeh is castigating children and creating more insecurity.”
He claimed that two parents had died in the course of the matter.
Another parent, Mrs Charity Nnamani said her son was picked on Feb. 4 saying that her son had a month to pass out from the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in Asaba when the Police went to pick him on allegation that he is an armed robber, kidnapper and cultist.
“That was written in the petition they took to Delta which enabled the NYSC official to release him.
“The police brought him to Onitsha and then later took him to Okija.
“On Feb. 28, we fulfilled the bail condition of the Federal High Court, Awka.
“I worked as a civil servant in Enugu state before retirement, so when they said I should bring a surety, I brought a Grade Level 15 person, who worked under me as surety,” she stated.
Nnamani said that in spite of fulfilling the bail condition, her son was still in Prison custody.
“My son is here languishing in prison when I borrowed money to train him in Madonna University, now, I am borrowing money again to come to court to see my son and pay a lot of bills.
“I am not really happy about it. Please, if you know how to help me, please do.
“I made effort with my other son to go to Elele to see Fr. Edeh, but they refused me seeing him.
She regretted that the court keeps postponing sitting.