Ekpo Iniobong Takes Legal Action Against Akwa Ibom University

18th June, 2021

THE VICE CHANCELLOR
Akwa Ibom State University,
Main Campus, Ikot Akpaden,
Mkpat Enin Local Government Area,
Akwa Ibom State.

Dear Sir,

PRE-ACTION NOTICE

INDEFINITE SUSPENSION AND SUBSEQUENT EXPULSION OF EKPO, INIOBONG ISANG FOR ALLEGED PUBLICATION OF “DEROGATORY AND DEFAMATORY ARTICLE” ON SOCIAL MEDIA AGAINST THE GOVERNOR OF AKWA IBOM STATE:

DEMAND FOR REINSTATEMENT, RESTORATION OF FULL STUDENTSHIP RIGHTS AND COMPENSATION FOR BREACH OF FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS, LOSS OF ACADEMIC PERIOD, EMOTIONAL DISTRESS AND PSYCHOLOGICAL TORTURE.

The above subject refers, please.

We are a firm of Legal Practitioners representing MR. EKPO, INIOBONG ISANG, a 500 level student of the Department of Agricultural Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Akwa Ibom State University, with Registration Number: AK15/ENG/AEE/013 (subsequently referred to as “Our Client”) on whose behalf and instructions we write this letter.

It is the brief of Our Client that he received an indefinite suspension letter with Reference Number AKSU/REG/DAA/11/VOL.8/164 dated 7th September, 2020 signed by the Registrar and Secretary to Senate, Mr. John E. Udo.

The letter reads in part that the University Senate “deliberated on a report from Students Disciplinary Committee on publication of abusive post on social media against the Governor of Akwa Ibom State”. It was also stated erroneously that Our Client was suspended indefinitely following his “refusal to honour the invitation of the Committee to appear before it.”

Rather than retrace from the path of oppression, victimization and injustice, and follow the path of truth, justice and good conscience, the University decided to double down.

On 15th June, 2021, our Client was served with an Expulsion Letter with Reference No: AKSU/REG/DAA/11/VOL.8/010 from the University to the effect that the Senate of the University has expelled our Client over “a case of publication of derogatory and defamatory article on Facebook platform about the Executive Governor of Akwa Ibom State and Visitor to the University”; which the University claims “constitutes a breach of the Matriculation Oath and violation of the University rules and regulations enshrined in the Student Information Handbook”.

MATERIAL FACTS FOR YOUR ATTENTION

From the brief of Our Client, we wish to reiterate and emphasize the following material facts:

  1. At no time did Akwa Ibom State University invite or summon Our Client to appear before the University’s Students Disciplinary Committee prior to his 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 said 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?
  2. Our Client was not shown, confronted or availed with the purported “abusive post” or “derogatory and defamatory article” that he is accused of publishing on social media against the Governor of Akwa Ibom State.
  3. 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.
  4. To the best of our knowledge (we stand to be corrected), the incumbent Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Deacon Udom Gabriel Emmanuel, has not instituted any lawsuit against Our Client in any court of competent jurisdiction in Nigeria to seek redress for defamation over any post or article published by Our Client on social media.
  5. It is apparent that the University acted in contravention of Section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, Cap. A9 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 by denying Our Client fair hearing.
  6. Despite repeated entreaties by Our Client to be given a fair hearing, the University failed or refused to address his grievances and unfair treatment. Our Client was not given a reasonable and fair opportunity to defend himself before he was expelled.

THIS SHOULD NEVER HAPPEN IN A UNIVERSITY

It is particularly distressing that Akwa Ibom State University which is supposed to be a citadel of learning, an intellectual sanctuary for academic research and a fortress for human capital development as envisaged by Section 1 (3) of the Akwa Ibom State University Law, 2009, has relegated its statutory objects and arrogated to itself a politically actuated mandate of monitoring favourable or critical views expressed by citizens on social media about the Governor of Akwa Ibom State.

We will like to know whether the Matriculation Oath of the Akwa Ibom State University require students to surrender their fundamental right to freedom of expression as guaranteed them by Section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) upon admission into the University? Are students not citizens with a constitutional right to express opinion on the policies, leadership or performance of the Governor of Akwa Ibom State?

What is the essence of the ACADEMIC FREEDOM that University lecturers, including those of Akwa Ibom State University fought and went on frequent strikes for if a student can be suspended indefinitely and subsequently expelled for allegedly publishing abusive words about a Governor?

As a public office holder paid with public funds, the Governor is a servant of the Citizens and not their Emperor. In a democracy, public officers are susceptible to praises and abuses. It is our considered view that it is not the business of an academic institution to act as an Ombudsman of opinions expressed by citizens against public office holders.

It is our belief that when His Excellency, Obong Victor Attah, established Akwa Ibom State University of Technology in 2003, which was remodeled and restructured to a conventional university in 2009 by Senator Godswill Akpabio into what is now Akwa Ibom State University, during their respective tenures, it was not their intention that the University should serve as a partisan mouthpiece for the Governor of the State.

It is our respectful view that a university with professors and scholars should not condescend to the level of acting as the image launderer or an extension of the office of the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor of Akwa Ibom State. We are completely at sea on the nexus between the objects of the University and opinions of citizens about their Governor on social media.

A University should be insulated from partisan politics. A University should not be a sycophant to any politician. A University should promote free speech, rule of law and intellectual engagements and should not be deployed as a partisan tool for suppressing political dissent.

We will like to know whether studentship of Akwa Ibom State University and the obligations thereof is superior to citizenship of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the correlative Fundamental Rights as enshrined in Chapter Four of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended)?

OUR SPECIFIC DEMANDS:

Consequently, we hereby demand as follows:

  1. Immediate and Unconditional Reinstatement of Our Client – EKPO, INIOBONG ISANG, with Registration Number: AK15/ENG/AEE/013 for him to continue with his studies and academic programme as a student of Akwa Ibom State University without encumbrances.
  2. Restoration of all studentship rights accruable to students of Akwa Ibom State University to Our Client, including access into the campus, attendance of lectures and participation in all academic and University activities that every registered student is entitled to.
  3. A special opportunity and waiver for Our Client to write all the tests and examinations which he registered and paid fees for but was prevented from taking part on account of his wrongful indefinite suspension and unconstitutional expulsion.
  4. Payment of the sum of N20,000,000.00 (Twenty Million Naira) to Our Client representing General Damages for the gross breach of Our Client’s fundamental rights and the resultant trauma and depression he has suffered.

CONCLUSION

We are aware that certain officials of the University have threatened Our Client that should he decide to commence legal action to seek redress, the University will ensure that the case linger for years and that our Client will suffer greatly.

We concede that the Nigerian Judiciary is not a perfect institution. However, it remains the hope of the common man, solace of the oppressed and nemesis of oppressors. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) will vindicate Our Client.

PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that we have the firm instruction of Our Client to commence legal proceedings against the University if the above demands are not met within 7 days of your receipt of this letter.

Sir, kindly accept the assurances of our utmost regards.

Yours faithfully,
FOR: INIBEHE EFFIONG CHAMBERS

INIBEHE EFFIONG, ESQ.
(Principal Counsel).

Cc:

  1. The Registrar & Secretary to Senate, Akwa Ibom State University.
  2. The Dean of Student Affairs,
    Akwa Ibom State University.
  3. The Chief Security Officer,
    Akwa Ibom State University.
  4. The Chairman,
    Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Akwa Ibom State University.
  5. The State Coordinator,
    National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Akwa Ibom State.
  6. The Chairman,
    House Committee on Judiciary, Justice, Human Rights and Public Petitions, Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly.
  7. United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education.
  8. Amnesty International Nigeria.
  9. Civil Society Consortium on Civic Space.

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