Students of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ) have accused the school management of lacking respect for free speech and freedom of expression.
According to a public opinion survey conducted by students, the institution’s civic atmosphere is incapable of producing ‘good’ journalists.
They accused the management of constantly clamping down on dissenting voices amongst the students and robbing them of their right to freedom of association in manner of an independent student union.
The report obtained by SaharaReporters was carried out by some NIJ students who were on a fact-finding mission to determine to what extent the institution recognizes and upholds constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and expression.
According to the report of the survey which had about 200 respondents in a student population of about one thousand, 46.6% of them believed that there is no existing civic space at NIJ while 45.5% of the respondents said even though there is an acclaimed free civic space, it is severely gagged.
Ninety percent of the respondents also disclosed that students of the school cannot express themselves without the fear of being victimised or unjustly sanctioned by the management.
Fifty-five percent of the respondents added that the right to freedom of speech and expression in the institution is not acknowledged, while 38.2% said it is rarely acknowledged.
Speaking to SaharaReporters under the condition of anonymity, a postgraduate student of the school disclosed that the environment in which studies are conducted is not civilised or capable of holding public discourse in the 21st century.
“What the school has done is to damage the psychological growth of its students. Even though I only came here for PGD, you can tell that the students are not psychologically positioned to practise journalism beyond press releases and government propaganda. Every iota of courage to hold the government accountable using the management as a microcosm has been psychologically defeated,” he said.
The poll also revealed amongst other things that the majority of the students believe that freedom of expression must include freedom to express personal statements of individuality through hair colour and hairstyle, an expression the management has severely clamped down on, citing professional appearance as reasons even though there is no proof that hair colour which is an expression of individuality, counters professionalism in any way.
According to the poll, 90.6% of the students stated that expression of individuality through hair colours does not prevent an individual from fulfilling professional roles or from performing their academic activities and that regulating hair colour amounts to stifling a person’s individuality.
Another female student in an interview with SaharaReporters said the clampdown on students having variety of hair colours is a misplacement of priorities.
“I’m surprised that the management is bothered about hair colour in 2021. Funnily enough, this is an institution that runs terribly archaic mode of administration with no digitalisation of any kind. In fact, the school website was down for more than nine months and when it came back, the portal was completely unreliable and seriously malfunctioning. So I’m surprised that an institution that cannot manage a website in 2021 is so concerned about the hair colour of it’s students,” she said.
Some other issues highlighted in the poll include the promotion of public debates and dialogue, clamour for an independent student unionism and check on the excesses of security officials.
Some of the students also complained about how students were rusticated on various offences without adequate representation and due process and particularly denying the Students Body a representation at disciplinary panels to ensure fairness.
Most recently, a student of the institution in the HND programme, James Abraham was unjustly rusticated for a session for defending himself and his vehicle against the unbridled excesses of security officials, SaharaReporters learnt.
According to the poll conducted, 83.3% of the students were displeased with the conduct of the security officials and 97% of the respondent said they knew at least one person who had been unduly harassed by the security officials.
Findings show that a significant number of students disagreed with the verdict of the panel on the rustication of James Abraham with eyewitness accounts stating that he had to defend his properties from being damaged by the security officers but James was tried at the disciplinary panel without due representation and partial denial of right to a fair hearing.
According to sources inside the management, the panel was hurriedly conducted and the verdict was passed in a manner that suggested foul play and an unnecessary show of force.
Speaking to SaharaReporters, a member of the management of the institute said the decision to rustic ate James Abraham for one session was not unanimous at the panel.
“The decision to suspend James for one session was contested, we didn’t agree because the facts of the matter and eyewitness account proved differently. I can tell you because I was on the panel.
“Although we agreed that he should not have pushed the security officer considering that it was in retaliation and to protect his car, he was partially justified so the decision to rusticate him for one semester was not made by the panel but of course, we can only make recommendations, we didn’t sign the rustication letter,” the source said.
Another student of the school also told SaharaReporters that the students demonstrated resistance to the verdict passed on James Abraham.
“We were all dissatisfied with the judgment, James is an easygoing guy who minds his business so the news was a shock. Though some of his classmates created a campaign for his reinstatement gathering about 200 signatures to appeal to the management, the management disregarded the letter and upheld their verdicts,” she said.
SaharaReporters learnt that close to 200 students of the school signed an appeal petition to set aside the verdict of the panel on James Abraham but it was grossly disregarded by the management alongside the appeals of the students representative council.
Efforts made to contact the authorities of the institution for comment proved abortive as at the time of filing this report.
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