On June 18, 2019, the Ghana Police Service arrested Professor Augustine Uzoma Nwagbara, a Nigerian visiting lecturer at the University of Education Winneba (UEW), for comments he made at a meeting of Nigerians in Accra that were captured (allegedly without his knowledge) in a YouTube video. The following day, university officials announced Nwagbara’s dismissal.
Nwagbara had been on sabbatical as an English language professor in UEW’s Department of Applied Linguistics since October, 2018. He had previously worked as an English professor at the University of Lagos in Nigeria and as a visiting scholar at the University of Ghana.
A widely circulated video from June 2019 shows Nwagbara alleging the harassment of Nigerians in Ghana, calling for Nigerians to use the media to shift a negative image of Nigerians, and criticizing Ghana’s higher education institutions, particularly the University of Ghana, for allegedly charging foreign students high fees. Nwagbara also suggested that the quality of education in Nigeria was greater than Ghana’s.
On June 18, 2019, the Ghana Police Service reportedly arrested Nwagbara and interrogated him for several hours at the police headquarters in Accra regarding the contents of the video. Later that day, the Criminal Investigation Department reportedly released Nwagbara on bail and issued a warning against “offensive conduct conducive to the breach of peace.”
On June 19, 2019, UEW released a press statement announcing Nwagbara’s dismissal, dissociating the university from Nwagbara’s comments, and condemning what the university deemed to be “unsavoury, unethical and damning comments about our country, its history as well as its educational system.” In response to the video, the university reportedly invoked its internal disciplinary process, finding him “culpable of gross misconduct”, and dismissed him.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the dismissal and arrest of a scholar in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of expression — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Nigeria is a party. University authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with expressive activity, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. Retaliation intended to punish such expressive activity undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.