By Ikeugonna Eleke
The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) has issued a seven-day ultimatum urging the Management of Madonna University, Anambra, to withdraw its case against seven of its graduates standing trial in Awka.
Mr Chidi Ilozobe, the Vice President, National Affairs of NANS, made the demand during a protest over the continued detention of the accused persons in Awka Prison last Tuesday.
The protesters numbering over 50, who carried placards with various inscriptions, were however, prevented from gaining entrance into the Federal High Court, Awka, by the Police.
Addressing newsmen, Ilozobe said: ‘We have come to register our dissatisfaction on how the management of Madonna University are treating our members.
‘Sometime in February, we got information that the Police, following a petition written by management of Madonna, arrested some graduates of the institution.
‘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,’ the vice president said.
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.
According to him, a further investigation revealed that the school management was acting because the students wrote against them on the social media.
‘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 dictatorial rule and we are not practicing a totalitarian system where the masses have no voice.
‘Students are intellectuals and should be allowed to speak whenever they feel that things are not going well, especially on our campuses,’ he added.
Ilozobe said NANS had over the years given the Nigerian nation a sense of direction right from the military era to the present democratic dispensation and therefore saw no reason why an institution that should be training students on how to be intellectuals and good ambassadors was now making them to be cowards.
‘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,’ he stated, noting that if a wrong judgment was passed at the Federal High Court, Awka against the accused persons, NANS would shut down Madonna University.
Meanwhile, the matter which was due for hearing at the Federal High Court, Awka on Tuesday, could not hold due to the absence of the presiding judge, Justice Babatunde Quadri.
According to an eleven-count charge preferred 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.
Obo gave the names of the defendants as Prince Ezeimo, Benedict Amaechi, Michael Owhomani, Jonathan Abuno, Blackson Nwokeoma and Nnamdi Opara.
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.
One of the Defense Counsels, Mr Chinedu Igwe, told newsmen in an interview that hearing on the matter had been slated for July 2.
‘The complaint is that the students put some articles on Facebook against Madonna University. To me as 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 laid a complaint via a petition to the Inspector-General of Police,’ Igwe explained.
The lawyer further explained that the accused persons, who were arraigned in February, were yet to secure bail due to stringent bail conditions.
‘Although, some of the conditions of the court are quite stringent to us, we filed an application for variation which is pending for determination.
‘If the court had sat today, it would have been determined,’ Igwe added.
Also speaking, 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.
Onyejekwe said his efforts to secure the sympathy of the proprietor of the institution to forgive the children had yielded no positive response.
‘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 liked, 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 and the Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese 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,’ Onyejekwe said, claiming that two parents had died in course of the matter.