Campus Journalism is neither a sin against God nor a crime against the state. It is simply a duty the law imposes on those charged with the sacred mandate of keeping leaders and administrators on their toes. The fundamental human right of expression is the tool required to achieve this sacred mission.
It is important to state that no society can grow or develop without objective criticism (which also includes the right to dissent) — the absence of which inevitably plunges society into a state of autocracy; with dictatorship as the actual outcome.
The recent case of Kunle Adebajo, a campus journalist and reportedly a graduating law student of the University of Ibadan, leaves much to be seen. His, is the latest known case of victimization and scapegoatism against campus journalists and student activists in Nigeria. And what is his sin? His daredevilry in exposing the shortcomings of his alma mater in public.
Two years ago precisely in 2016, Kunle Adebajo wrote an investigative story titled, “UI: The Irony of Fashionable Rooftops and Awful Interiors” published by the Guardian Newspaper. The piece in question, objectively criticized the school’s policy on infrastructural development and routine maintenance as supported by facts.
Having perused the piece, an objective reader would agree with the issues raised in the article. A sincere stakeholder in the university community will concur with the findings of the report in toto. This is because, the article is balanced, ethically approving, and morally sound.
Expectedly, as the norm in most tertiary institutions of learning in Nigeria, Mr Kunle Adebajo was slammed a two-semester rustication penalty as a reward for his action of speaking the truth without fear or favour.
While it remains incontestable that a tertiary institution has a right to determine the nature or form of its own internal affairs and proceedings (particularly on disciplinary cases), it is equally important to state that the school system is not a law unto itself — it is regulated by the supreme Constitution of the country.
Perhaps, asking some relevant questions might help in a bid to underscore the issues involved in Kunle’s ordeal, to wit: are the issues raised in the controversial article factual or fictitious? Is the article objective and balanced? Does it comply with ethical standards? Does the writer have a right to express himself, howbeit in a dissenting manner? Has the writer committed any known crime recognized by extant laws?
The answer to the first question is an emphatic yes. The content in the report is factual. Even relevant stakeholders in the University of Ibadan community are aware of the infrastructural deficiencies in most halls of residence. Kunle only helped in giving a widespread coverage of the unsavory situation via the instrumentality of the mass media.
On the second question, I believe the article is an offshoot of painstaking investigation which complies with basic journalism ethics. The views of the university authorities and other relevant parties are duly captured in the controversial report. As such, from an ethics point of view, the piece is in order.
Regardless of the bye-laws of the University of the Ibadan, it must bow to the supremacy of the Nigerian constitution in all ramifications. Thus, by section 39(1) of the 1999 Nigerian constitution (as altered), it provides that “every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference”.
With the above-cited section of the supreme law, it, therefore, nullifies any bye-laws which seek to gag students from freely expressing themselves particularly on matters bothering on their well-being. As such, the so-called oath form students are required to sign upon matriculation is not, in any way, superior to the Nigerian constitution.
Kunle’s situation aptly captures the plight of campus journalists and student activists in Nigeria. The school system has not been particularly unfair to them. The power vested on the mass media under section 22 CFRN to “uphold the fundamental objectives of the constitution and to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people” is almost nonexistent in virtually all the campuses in Nigeria.
As the saying goes, oppression has an expiry date. The ongoing aggressive online campaign by campus journalists under the aegis of Free Campus Press Movement (FCPM) as supported by the National Union of Campus Journalists (NUCJ) and several mainstream media outlets are full proof of the awakened consciousness of campus journalists in Nigeria. It signals in part, a strong message transmitted to the rank and file in the tertiary school system that, it isn’t “business as usual”.
It is important for the highest echelon in the tertiary school system to have a paradigm shift on the role of campus journalists and constructive criticism towards the growth and development of the citadel of learning.
As a way forward, I recommend the “no door administrative policy” adopted by the University of Ilorin in managing its internal affairs. At Unilorin, student leaders and campus journalists almost always have unfettered access to those on the corridors of power. The system, though imperfect as with other systems, listens and engages student leaders in the decision-making process, with open access to campus journalists alike. Without fear of contradiction, the University of Ilorin model is receptive to constructive criticism with little or no room for blackmail or victimisation.
For instance, in the 2016/2017 academic dispensation, a renowned student activist and campus journalist, Akeukanwo Sulaiman, was the foremost critic of the university system. He even took his own brand of criticism to the doorsteps of a former minister of education, mainstream media outlets, and even to the then Vice-Chancellor himself. Guess what? This firebrand of an activist ended up graduating with a Second Class (Upper Division) in Computer Science.
I believe the reason he wasn’t victimized was that of the school’s progressive policy on constructive criticism. We must learn to accommodate dissenting voices because it’s an integral part of the developmental process.
By so doing, no campus journalist will be tempted to externalise the shortcomings of his alma mater in the public space. In turn, developmental and peace journalism become the new narrative of change. It is hoped that the management of the University of Ibadan will yield to the plea of Nigerians in reversing its sanction against Kunle Adebajo. A word they say is enough for the wise.
Chima Osuji is a campus journalist and graduating law student of the University of Ilorin. You can shoot him an email on [email protected] or contact him on 08036543643