Another Student Activist Arraigned Over Stories Critical of President Buhari

Another Student Activist Arraigned Over Stories Critical of President Buhari

…Faces Six Count Charge Bothering on Alleged Incitement, Conduct Likely to Cause Breach of the Peace A popular student activist and young journalist, Mr Ayoola Babalola has been arrested and charged to court for allegedly publishing certain articles in a campus newspaper called GAPOSA Trumpet in which he served as the editor. Babalola recently graduated

…Faces Six Count Charge Bothering on Alleged Incitement, Conduct Likely to Cause Breach of the Peace

A popular student activist and young journalist, Mr Ayoola Babalola has been arrested and charged to court for allegedly publishing certain articles in a campus newspaper called GAPOSA Trumpet in which he served as the editor.

Babalola recently graduated from the Gateway Polytechnic located in Sapaade, Ogun State, where he read Mass Communication.

The said articles which were deemed critical of President Muhammadu Buhari, All Progressive Congress (APC) Leader, Mr Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), also led to the dismissal of a lecturer of the institution who served as the producer of the campus newspaper.

Babalola was arrested on Thursday in Abeokua by operatives of the Department of State Security Service (DSS) and taken before a Magistrate Court on Friday.

His appeal to the DSS to be allowed to contact his counsel, Mr Inibehe Effiong was rebuffed. Mr. Babalola was only able to contact his lawyer through a third party from the Ibara Maximum Prison in Abeokua where he was remanded by the court.

He was arraigned on a six count charge bothering on alleged incitement, conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace and so on for allegedly publishing critical articles against President Buhari.

The said articles also related to the travails of the leader of the RevolutionNow Movement, Mr Omoyele Sowore, and student activist, Mr Femi Adeyeye.

Narrating his client’s ordeal, his lawyer, Mr Effiong says, “Before his secret arrest and arraignment, Mr. Babalola had briefed me over repressive actions which he believed Gateway Polytechnic may likely take against him over the articles that he had published. He also intimated me that the DSS were possibly trailing him because of the said articles.

“I condemn this despotic and needless action by the DSS. It is a shame that at a time the country is battling serious security challenges, the DSS rather than protects Nigeria, is paranoid about any form of criticism against the Buhari regime.

“The DSS has continued to expose the country to public and international ridicule over its flagrant violation of the rights of Nigerians and shameless disregard for the rule of law and democratic ethos.

The DSS will not be allowed to turn Nigeria into a police state. We will face them squarely in court. All legal options will be explored to secure the release of Babalola and safeguard his legal and constitutional rights. Tyranny will not win,” the lawyer says..

In recent months, some institutions have meted punishment to students who criticise the school authorities or government officials on social media platforms.

According to a report by leading online newspaper, Premium Times, a spate of victimisation of students has followed the clamour for good learning environment, upgrade of facilities and good leadership on Nigerian campuses.

The report reveal that not less than nine students in four tertiary institutions have either been arrested by security agencies or rusticated from their schools over these critical posts.

While Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, recognises the right to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media; Section 39 of the Nigerian constitution, as amended in 1999, embraces the freedom of speech. But it appears that the shrinking of public spaces which has become rife under the administration of President Buhari,  is being done via different guises.

Premium Times’ analysis showed that although there are limitations to this freedom- such as libel or slander, none of the victims had reportedly breached the limitations.

In most cases, the school authorities, instead of debunking the students’ claims, resort to the allegation that the students were painting them in a bad light.

These authorities hold them to ransom vis-à-vis their matriculation oaths, the pledge that they will be law-abiding students.

Cases of incarceration and victimisation for articles posted on social media from different universities include:

Akwa Ibom State University

In May, a student of Akwa Ibom State University (AKSU), Ikot Akpaden, was suspended indefinitely from the school for allegedly calling the university vice-chancellor ‘foolish’ on Facebook.

The student, Miss Joy Nkanang, who was in her second year in the department of Performing Arts before her suspension on May 9, wrote about the increase in cult activities and insecurity around the university campus on Facebook.

Madonna University

In February, seven students of the Madonna University, Okija, Anambra state, were arrested and detained for posting ‘offensive’ messages on Facebook. They have been released on bail.

The university, in a petition to the Inspector-General of Police, accused the students of tarnishing the reputation of the institution on the Internet.

One of the Facebook posts read: “Good lecturers are scarce. Madonna University administration should be nice to our lecturers, or a good number of them will resign.”

The young men, Mr Opara Harmelson, Mr Owhonda Badaziri, Mr Abuno Jonathan, Mr Chijioke Nnamani, Mr Amaechi Benedict, Mr Blackson Nwokeoma and Mr Tony Ezeimo spent five months in prison custody before a court sitting in Awka granted them bail.

Nonetheless, after their release from prison, the school, through a mediator from the Catholic Bishop Conference, demanded an apology from the six students before they could drop the charges.

Taraba State University

In October, Premium Times also reported how the Taraba State University expelled a first-year student, Mr Joseph Israel, after he repeatedly criticised the state Governor, Mr Darius Ishaku, on Facebook.

The school said it took the decision because the student had failed to “complete the registration processes” including signing the matriculation oath form. A letter by the Deputy Registrar for Academic Affairs, Mr Yakubu Fwa, stated the aforementioned against Mr Israel.

Mr Israel however told Premium Times that the reason given by the institution was false and was merely used as an excuse to deal with the student who has been a known online critic of the Governor. It was gathered by the newspaper that the student has used his Facebook page to deliver sweltering criticisms of Mr Ishaku’s leadership.

“Governor Darius is tested and trusted failure, the 100 days of any government shows the direction of that government, the Darius administration has no direction, his government is the worst in the 28 years of existence of Taraba State,” one of his posts read.

Federal University of Agriculture (FUNAAB), Abeokuta

The management of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, (FUNAAB) in Ogun State, also expelled one of its students, Mr Ifemosu Adewale over a Facebook post drawing the attention of the public to the alleged indiscriminate arrest of his colleagues by the police and incessant robbery attacks on campus.

According to a Premium Times report, Mr Adewale, who is in his second year at the Department of Forestry and Wild-life Management was subsequently issued an expulsion letter.

Before the Facebook post that led to his expulsion, Mr Adewale was known on campus for a series of posts condemning alleged maladministration of the university including poor welfare on campus.

This alarming trend has been condemned by Nigerians on different fora.

National Coordinator of Education Rights Campaign (ERC), Mr Hassan Soweto, in response to Premium Times, says this act is a violation of the students’ rights to freedom of expression.

“But far beyond this is that this act which attempts to stifle all attempts by students to speak up against the unspeakable condition of education at all levels is despotic and undemocratic.”

“This act of victimising students for writing articles on Facebook and other social media sites that are critical of school administration’s anti-student and anti-worker policies.”

“It is an attempt to return the country back to the dark days of Jackboot military absolutism and this must be rejected by the students’ movement, workers movement and civil society. But it is only students that are being routinely victimised.”

Citing the examples of Lagos State University (LASU) and Lagos State Polytechnic (LASPOTECH), Mr Hassan added that workers activists are also falling victims of the rising wave of victimisation and intolerance of opposing views on campuses.

“For instance, at the Lagos State University (LASU), LASPOTECH and Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education (AOCOED), we have cases of victimisation of leaders and members of staff unions for exposing corruption, opposing anti-worker policies and standing for the interest of their members.

“In LASU, the university management has devised a means of using the DSS to conduct sting operations to ensnare students’ activists who are opposed to their anti-poor policies. The ongoing case of Comrade Omomewa, the Lagos Coordinator of the ERC who is being framed up on a phantom case of admission racketeering is an example of this,” he says.

Photo: Mr Ayoola Babalola in handcuffs during the court session


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