Despite that the freedom of the press is ennobled in the Constitution of Nigeria, threats, and repression from repulsive school management in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions against student journalists are still a common problem hindering the practice of free journalism on campuses.
Yusuf*, in his early years at Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, got into campus journalism with the hope of becoming the voice of the voiceless. After battling several threats from the school authorities, the young pen-pusher voice is now trembling due to fear factors from the school management.
He sighed. “I hope sharing my experience will not lead me to another trouble,” he told this reporter.
Yusuf narrated the experience of several threats he encountered from key officials on campus based on some of his reports. “l started with first holding students accountable before swerving to the Students’ Union leaders and the School Management.”
He recalled some scary encounters in 2020 when he decided to start writing for the mainstream media. “I wrote some reports, one was about how my school management failed to refund the laboratory fees collected from the Law students and the DSA confirmed that students were not supposed to pay the fees. The other story exposed the problems faced by graduates in my school in terms of delay in the release of results and mobilization.
“Months after the publication of the first story, the school’s CSO called me into his office and we had a serious argument where he almost slapped me. For the latter story, I received a call on the phone from the Dean of my Faculty who threatened me on phone, why I could have published such a story”
He was called the following week to stand before the School Disciplinary Committee to answer ‘hot’ questions about his reports. Yusuf feared that the school management might rusticate him from school, but fortunately, with the help of some Alumni, the cross passed over him as the case died down, but the drama didn’t end there. “Again, the Students’ Union leaders reported our media outfit to the school management for publishing an article that questioned their administration.”
“I didn’t write the article but I published it as the Editor. ‘Do you want to graduate from this school?’ Yes, I want to graduate, I answered. ‘If you want to graduate, be careful of what you write,’ the DSA warned me,” he said.
Campus journalists like Yusuf for the fear of forfeiting their admissions, now find it difficult to freely report a story that seems to hold the school authorities or people accountable. He echoed that even if he wants to work in the mainstream media, a certificate is needed.
“I will not like to forfeit my admission due to the professional course I am studying. That is why I am now doing ‘jejely’ (a slang that denotes carefulness).”
Practicing Journalism In Nigeria
Section 22 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,1999 as amended stated that the press at all times is free to uphold the accountability of the government to the people, while Section 39 also provides for freedom of expression, safeguarded by the press.
According to the 2022 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Nigeria is one of West Africa’s most dangerous and difficult countries for journalists. The index showed that Nigeria now ranks 129/180 on the world list.
However, in Nigeria, just like the practicing mainstream professionals, campus journalists are battling with many hazards of the profession as they perform the roles of the press in their respective schools. Mainstream journalists are not left out of these ordeals. A recent case is that of Agba Jalingo a journalist who was arrested last month Aug 19, 2022, at his house in Lagos. His house was surrounded by policemen and his wife and daughter were reportedly “held hostage”.
Amidst Threats, Campus Journalists Are Thriving…
In a bid to raise new breeds of young media professionals, several mainstream media organizations in Nigeria, the likes of AFYMP, Africa Check, I-79 MediaConsults, CJID, CNJF, and others, have been committed to training campus journalists across Nigeria’s Tertiary Institutions and the young journalists are living up to the task by getting involved in media activities, and reporting issues in their campus environment and beyond.
The Fear of Being Rusticated And Criticism from Other Students
Deborah Omoare, a student journalist at Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State along with two other student reporters could not overlook the ill-treatment of students at the school’s Health Centre in 2020.
They needed to write to make a change about what was happening at the health center and to have a balanced story, they interviewed students across different Faculties who have been to the health center for treatment and also interviewed the school’s Director of the Health Center and the Head of the counseling unit. Thereafter, the story was published in January 2020 in The Nation newspaper, The Guardian, and some other media outlets.
Deborah, who took her phone to catch up with what was happening online could not believe what her eyes saw. “I saw the link to the story posted on our Departmental WhatsApp platform. I saw different comments from more than 300 messages.
‘Who sent these people to write about the school health center? The school will surely suspend or rusticate you… When you are not the Saviour of the world, why would you write this type of story to save the students.’ Our coursemates lashed at us with demoralized words,” she tried holding her emotions to some extent.
“Later, the VC and the school’s PRO had a meeting with us who reported the story. They encouraged us to always write stories that portray the school in a good light and also use our skills wisely. We were told to write a letter of apology addressing it to the VC, which we did,”
She explained that while going through the whole situation, she could not inform her parents or siblings. Her prayer was that the school should not suspend or rusticate them.
“At one point, my mind was not settled, I was down psychologically and emotionally, but I kept encouraging myself. The one thing I’m grateful for is that the story had a positive impact. The service rendered at the health center now is much better than before,” Deborah added.
Adekunle Adebajo was once a victim of these hazards during his undergraduate final years as a Law student at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. He was suspended in 2018, by the school Disciplinary Committee over an alleged critical newspaper article he published on a mainstream media platform in 2016 that drew public attention to some of the deplorable facilities in the school.
The incumbent President of the Union of Campus Journalists (UCJ) at the University of PortHarcourt, Kponi Confidence said even though the Union of campus journalists in his school doesn’t face such a heavy threat, the young watchdogs are being watched by the school authorities.
During the Covid-19 lockdown, Confidence and his media team decided to report about how UNIPORT female hostels were no longer following the Covid-19 protocols. Unfortunately, their report was suppressed by the school’s PRO who charged them not going against the university’s conduct, to avoid painting the image of the university in a bad light. “‘Take down that post’ are some of the words I hear from the Dean of Students’ Affairs,” Confidence disclosed.
Caleb Ijioma‘s passion for journalism motivated him to establish the Union of Campus Journalists (UCJ) in 2018 at Abraham Adesanya Polytechnic, Ijebu-Igbo, Ogun State, Nigeria because there was no working press outlet in the school.
Caleb, in his days on campus despite difficulties, fought his way through for the Union to get the school’s permission to operate only by joining the Students’ Union Cabinet as the SU PRO.
“During that time there was this issue of diversion of funds by the then Students’ Union President and I had to expose all of it. I made everything public. For that reason, I was restricted from writing my final year exams during my ND2 Second Semester, but the intervention of other journalists outside made the school finally allow me to sit for my exams. Again, in 2018, my results were stepped down until it was later approved in 2019,” Caleb remarked.
He recounted that his campus journalism activities were the reason why the school authorities had to step down his results in 2018 and he also had difficulties in further pursuing his HND program at the school.
‘Campus Journalism Has Changed, Not Like In the ’90s’
Lekan Otufodunrin (Second from the left) with other campus journalists at the University of Lagos 1982… PC: Otufodunrin.
“Today, campus journalism has changed in terms of technology and platforms. Student journalists are now receiving support from NGOs and national platforms where they can write. It wasn’t so then.” Lekan Otufodunrin reacted to the issue of threats faced by campus reporters. He reaffirmed that some schools cooperate with campus journalists while some don’t.
“The truth is that journalism is a profession and whether you practice it as a student or not, there are hazards. For campus journalists, the hazards have to do with the risks they face from authorities who may not find their publication friendly and so, do not allow freedom of the press.
Otufodunrin’s concern is that some institutions do not understand that journalism is holding people accountable and if they (Tertiary Institutions) don’t want to be accountable, that is when they take it out on campus journalists, and this scares students away from getting into campus journalism.
Speaking on the solution, Otufodunrin advised campus journalists to always follow the ethics of the profession, and campus authorities also should be more tolerant and understand that student journalists are doing their jobs.
Addressing campus journalists, he noted that “the fact that you have information does not mean you can publish everything. There are some things they need to verify, find the other sides, and investigate.”
“There are some issues you need to hold onto if it is too sensitive and could lead to some unpleasant circumstances, that doesn’t mean you are scared out, but what is important at the end of the day is that you follow the ethics of the profession– truth, fairness, justices, off-record, and so many others things you need to do and not just adopt unprofessional ways to obtain information.”
Administrators Should Look Into The Exposed, Not Threatening Students
Ejiro Umukoro – who is the Chief Visionary Officer of Lightray Media stated that the obligation and loyalty of the campus journalists within the school environment and ecosystem is first to the students, just as the loyalty of practicing professionals is to the citizens.
“Aspiring student journalists publish information that plays a vital role in reporting activities and events that uncover vital information their campuses need to be informed about. The Nigeria Constitution is very clear about the freedom of the free press which also applies to the foundational stones of every budding journalist who begins to develop their senses for news, ethics, morals, values, and principles.”
Ejiro suggested that there may not be a need for school administrators to abuse their powers, as student journalists can invoke their rights to the constitution, having the support of mainstream media to amplify their voices, especially when campus journalists’ stories are not in contravention of the law, nor with malicious intent.
“When campus journalists expose issues within the school system, the onus is on the administrators to look into the exposè and not threaten the students. The Nigerian Constitution states unequivocally that higher authorities cannot become a threat to the citizens. If found guilty, there are legal instruments that students can tap into to hold them to account, which can accrue fines or jail terms.”
She also charged campus journalists to learn to be aware of the FOI Act, Secrets Law Act, Press Act, NBC Codes, and other laws, so that they as well do not violate the laws but should always take very important, opportunities to be mentioned by veterans.
The Asst. Investigations Editor, Humangle Media Kabir Adejumo affirmed that student journalists are the voice of the common students.
“Whether we like it or not, the press is the hope of the common man. It pains when institutions that have a Mass Communication department training students on how to hold power accountable are now suspending students for doing so. The story of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ) suspending students for reports, is more painful,” he remarked.
“We cannot continue to say students journalists are painting the Institutions in a bad light when institutions in the real sense are not doing the needful,” he asked, “should we bother ourselves about painting the Universities in bad light or attending to the issues raised by the press?”
Kabir noted that he sees no reason why campus authorities should suppress or guard against the media as much as the student journalists did not tell lies. He urged Nigeria’s Higher Institutions’ authorities not to misrepresent or misinterpret the act of campus journalists as to be stepping on their toes but trying to put them on their toes.
“Student Journalists step on their toes when they don’t have justification for what they are doing, but put them on their toes when they have justification for what they are doing and I think this needs to be encouraged,” he added.