24 June 2002

Nigeria: Red Card for 800 Students

Self-cleansing exercise results in petrol bomb war from crooks and cultists

Akpan Ekpo, vice-chancellor of University of Uyo , appears poised to sanitise the institution. But his efforts are being resisted by some people who believe the system needs hoodlums, crooks and cultists to be great.

Since he took over from Fola Lasisi, the institution's vice-chancellor three years ago, Ekpo has taken various measures to ensure that students, academic and none academic staff who are not fit to remain in the system are sent away.

So far, more than 800 students of the institution have been expelled by Ekpo, in the series of expulsions he has carried out in 2000, 2001 and 2002, although an unofficial source put the figure at 4,500. Those mainly affected include secret cult members and students who entered the University with fake certificates. Also affected are some alumni of the university, some of them holding responsible positions in society. The three lists of expelled students released by the student affairs unit were published on notice boards while letters were said to have been written to some of them. Lecturers and staff who participated in the corrupt and irregular practices, are also being quizzed by the police.

As part of the sanitisation exercise, Ekpo discontinued the affiliation of the neighbouring School of Accountancy and Business Studies, Uyo, with the university. The affiliation, started when the institution was a state university, ( University of Cross River State) was said to have secured admission for many unqualified students who entered the university with the aid of an admission racket.

Newswatch learnt that the discontinuation of the programme, said to have been taken painfully by the university senate, was widely criticised by the people of the state. Ekpo did not budge. The sacking of such unprecedented large number of students and bid to withdraw certificates from those already awarded them was also criticised by many who saw the action as political, aimed at witch-hunting certain persons.

The university defended its action. A statement signed by Peter Effiong, registrar of the institution, stated in part: "Management of the university has no premeditated intention or desire to target particular individuals in this monumental exercise, aimed at removing corruption and irregularities from the university." It specified targets of the exercise as students or staff who engage in, aid or abet the issue of fraudulent terminal credentials such as statements of result or national youth service corps call-up letters, those who submi tted or help in submission of fake admission credentials or those in secret cults and other anti-social clandestine activities. "The university has no intention to discredit any alumnus of the institution out of office and has, therefore, not recovered any degrees awarded any alumnus of the institution except where it may become necessary to investigate such an award," it said .

The authority noted that regular screening exercises, especially at periods of entry and departure from the university, said to be the hallmark of universities globally, would continue to be used to show fraudulent students and workers, the way out of the system.

It pleaded with Akwa Ibom people and other Nigerians to have "greater understanding of the purpose of the exercise."

But those opposed to the university's action still had to strike. They first took a number of petrol bombs to the examinations and records unit of the institution, and attempted to burn down the unit. But the bombs which were positioned during the night failed to explode. Newswatch learnt the police are still questioning a number of persons suspected to have had a hand in the incident.

On April 7, the hoodlums struck again and killed Asuquo Edighienyong, described as one of the most reliable security officers of the institution. Edighienyong, 37, was murdered at his duty post. The death of the security official increased fear and tension in the institution." It is widely rumoured that the death of Edighienyong might not be unconnected with the activities of the victims of the recent sanitisation exercise of the present administration," declared Edet P. Akpan, chairman of the university's branch of Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU. His group is in support of the expulsions.

Elijah O. John, a lecturer in the department of philosophy and an ASUU activist described the sanitisation exercise as a popular act that needed to have come much earlier.

Ekpo is also seeking divine intervention in the affairs of the university. On April 11, four days after the murder of Edighienyong, he organised an assembly of members of the university community and the public where prayers were offered to God for safety of lives and general progress of the university.

Ekpo refused to talk to Newswatch on the sanitisation exercise.

Newswatch Volume 35 No 25, June 24, 2002

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