IF you are one of the thousands of students at the Adeyemi College Of Education, ACE, Ondo state, practising journalism on campus can earn you severe sanctions.
Olaniran Jamiu, a former student of the college, came to that shocking realisation when he was offered admission to study Chemistry Education at the renowned citadel of learning in 2015.
Jamiu had wanted to practice journalism in the college but couldn’t get the campus press club to publish his stories.
Out of frustration, he turned to social media and created a Facebook Page he called ACE PEEPS in 2017, reporting news stories about his school.
The effort was a success because the Facebook Page amassed over 4,000 followers, and became a hub for students to get the latest news about the school.
His joy was however short-lived. In September 2020, the management of Adeyemi College of Education issued a circular directing all social media accounts opened by students or student groups that bear the name of the school to be closed.
The management also outlawed all forms of write-ups about the school or its staff by any student on social media with a promise to “deal with the student who flouts the directive in accordance with the law”.
In a bid to escape being penalised by the school, he changed the name of his Facebook page to PEEPS MEDIA.
“The problem is that the school management wants student journalists to report only news that puts the college in good light but that should be the responsibility of the school’s Public Relations Unit, not campus journalists,” he told The ICIR.
Olaniran’s plight is not an isolated one as students in other Nigerian tertiary institutions face similar challenges.
Like the Adeyemi College of Education, school authorities in Nigerian tertiary institutions are increasingly becoming intolerant to free speech, and expression guaranteed by the constitution.
Speaking to The ICIR, a student of Arts and Social Sciences at the school (who withheld his name) for fear of being penalised said the online censorship has created a climate of fear on campus.
“Students are very careful when it comes to posting about the school on social media because you don’t want to be on the watchlist of the school management.
“Some of our seniors were subtly victimised as lecturers failed to pass them. These guys were brilliant but I believe it had to do with what they had written about the school in the past,” he said.
A Student Union, SU, an official of the school, Eniola Oluwadamilare, said the move by the school was not an outright ban on social media but a measure to control unregistered media on campus.
Seven months after the ban on social media was enforced, the school’s management extended the banning to the use of cars and power bikes on campus, exempting lecturers.
It is eleven months since the ban of social media was announced, the management of the college is yet to reinstate the students’ freedom of expression.
A Disturbing Trend
Nigeria’s internet freedom status is ranked 60 on a scale of 0 – 100, which is described as “partly free”, according to 2020 data obtained from Freedom House, a US-based think tank. But it is uncertain if the survey accounts for the censorship in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions.
A Humangle journalist, Adejumo Kabir, who recently visited the Federal College of Education, Abeokuta, to train campus journalists told The ICIR that the students held the training around 7 pm to avoid being victimised by the school management.
“I was shocked to hear that the management of the institution frowns at campus journalism, if you are a journalist at the school you are branded as an enemy of the institution.
“The students are scared and can’t practice freely. At the event, the place was locked and they had eyes on the lookout to ensure that their identities were not revealed as campus journalists,” he said.
The ICIR reached out to the acting Provost of the college, Rafiu Soyele (PhD), for comment.
He replied in a WhatsApp message, saying the claim is untrue.
“That submission is unfounded please, and has not been brought before me. Do you know I am an alumnus of the college? And that during my studentship I was the President of the writers club? Please tell your informant to visit me with such evidence.”
The embarrassed Dr Soleye was angling for the identity of the students who divulged such information
In a related development, Ikot Akpaden, a student of Akwa Ibom State University (AKSU), was suspended indefinitely from the school in May 2019 for allegedly describing the university vice-chancellor as ‘foolish’ on Facebook.
In February 2019, six students of the Madonna University, Okija, Anambra State, were arrested and detained for posting ‘offensive’ messages on Facebook. They were later released on bail.
In October 2020, the Taraba State University expelled a first-year student, Joseph Israel, after he was alleged to have repeatedly criticised the state governor, Darius Ishaku, on Facebook.
Last year, Ayoola Babalola, a student of Gateway Polytechnic was arrested and charged to court by the Department of Security Services (DSS), for allegedly publishing articles in a campus newspaper, GAPOSA Trumpet where he served as editor.
Ayoola was remanded in Ibara Maximum Prison in Abeokuta before he was granted bail.
A 200 level student of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Michael Ifemosu, was expelled by the university in November 2020, for allegedly posting an open letter on his Facebook page to the Vice-Chancellor, Prof Kolawole Salako.
Ifemosu’s post on Facebook had called the attention of the public to the alleged indiscriminate arrest of his colleagues by the police and incessant robbery attacks on campus.
In a phone interview with The ICIR, Acting Director, Directorate of Information and Public Relations to the Registrar of the college, Olatuyi Olaseto, said the ban was placed on social media and not an attack on campus journalism in the college.
“Most of these students are not trained journalists, and you know the impact of social media.”
She insisted that the restriction was not on campus journalism.
“If they (student) have issues, there are channels of communications within the college for both students and staff. Even, if there are grievances that students have, will posting it on social media solve the problem,” she queried.
She confirmed that the college has inaugurated a disciplinary committee to punish students’ wrongdoings, including those who post comments about the school on social media.
And when asked to comment on sanctions assigned to the ‘offence’ of writing on social media; she feigned ignorance.
“We have a disciplinary committee that investigates the offences of students and they decide what should be done if a student is culpable. I am not on the disciplinary committee so I can’t tell you what goes on there.”
Amos Abba is a journalist with the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, who believes that courageous investigative reporting is the key to social justice and accountability in the society.