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Higher institutions are not just grounds to learn, but places to build character, writes Peter Imaobong

Nigeria is interesting. And every day across its length and breadth and even on social media, the country is never dull. There is always something to cause agitation.

Last week, Omoyele Sowore, a former presidential candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC) party took to Facebook to abuse the Akwa Ibom State government over the suspension of a student, Ekpo Iniobong Isang, by the Akwa Ibom State University.

Sowore stated on Facebook: “Dear Comrade Iniobong Ekpo: I’ve not met or communicated with you personally before now, however, just read a disturbing piece on Inibehe Effiong’s timeline regarding your unjust suspension from the Akwa Ibom State University (AKSU) …

“Here is my take, please do not take your life because of these loafers and political junkies masquerading as academics, your future, brotherly, is greater than theirs and I could share a bit of my life experience with you to buttress my point. I was expelled twice while I studied at the University of Lagos. First in 1992 and later in 1994.

“When I was done with my studies at UNILAG they withheld my results such that I missed the NYSC for almost one year. When I completed my NYSC in 1996 they came for me at the passing out parade ground in Yola, Adamawa State they claimed I was plotting against the Abacha military regime, I was arrested and detained for a week at the Nigerian Airforce facility and then they seized my NYSC certificate.

“But I dusted myself up and acted as if I lost nothing, worked hard with other compatriots and allies around the globe to push the military out of power and then headed to the US from where I obtained a Masters degree from an Ivy League University. This write up shouldn’t be about me. But I travelled this length with you just to let you know that SUICIDE should not be contemplated when dealing with cowards whose office tenures are transient and at best ephemeral. Stay strong, you will come out on the other side a diamond!”

But let us examine the matter.

According to the gist, Isang, a student of the department of Agricultural Engineering of the Akwa Ibom State University was suspended by the institution. His offence? He had posted what the university termed ‘abusive post’ against the state governor on social media. But the sealer was that Isang who was invited to appear before the students disciplinary committee failed to do so, hence, the letter suspending him till he appears before the committee. And with this letter, Isang ran to social media where, often, wolves attack without much thought.

What exactly are the facts on ground that qualifies the use of the phrase “mini-tyrant and a former bank thief” in the eyes of Sowore? While it’s good to offer advice, it should be done without insulting or denigrating another person. Else, we become guilty of what we accuse others of. The online publisher did not show example in journalism in telling his story. No facts, just fanciful fiction.

Now, higher institutions are not just grounds to learn academics. Rather, it is where students are rewarded with certificates evidencing not only ‘learning’ but also ‘character.’ While I appreciate the need for young people to find their voices and be vocal, it is like quite a handful of youths nowadays misuse their voice. They confuse noise with substance and brashness for confidence. Maybe it comes from observing how leaders like America’s Donald Trump get away with abusing virtually anyone that holds contrary views from him.

But Trump’s ways should not be held as ideal. And young people must recognise that their conduct on social media is important and it is not okay to abuse or accuse people unfairly. It is worrisome that social media is seen as no-man’s-land where some people behave badly and hide under ‘free speech.’ It is essentially because of such abuse that some persons support the regulation of social media.

Sowore showed a contempt not only for authority, but due process. He calls himself a revolutionary but does not understand processes, evident in when he ran for president on a party platform. How can a man who did not understand how to be a student begin advising another student who did not know how to be a student? Why did he not follow due process? If he were sure of his acts why did he not show up at the disciplinary panel? Only a moralist will support discipline.

Rather than ask his Ekpo prodigy to do well, learn and be a man of exemplary student, he is following the path of a rabble-rouser. The Ekpo fellow did not need to put himself to commit suicide. He only had to obey the law.

It is also amusing to note that Sowore in his tirade, focused more on himself, writing about how he was expelled twice from the University of Lagos and hounded by security officials after graduation before he fled to the US. Sadly, no one knew him as a student union front runner.

For a public figure aspiring to the highest office in the land, Sowore would do well to check his utterances. In this modern age, the internet never forgets. Anything that is published online leaves a trail and it is difficult to completely eradicate. Hence, even if an embarrassing article, image or video is pulled down, that may not be the end of the matter. He will do well to mend his ways with Nigerian youths.

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