On April 29, 2020, police reportedly arrested a professor and an administrative staffer from Akwa Ibom State University (AKSU) for public comments regarding the administration of the university.
National and regional media outlets reported that Eyo Eminue, a political science lecturer, and Iquo Okon, a university administrator, were accused of creating a Facebook page titled “SOS – Akwa Ibom State University/Government Pay Our Salaries.” The apparent purpose of the Facebook group is to advance demands that AKSU pay sixteen months of unpaid salaries to some 279 personnel; the unpaid salaries apparently date from April 2014 to July 2015.
A representative of a local lecturers’ union reported that some lecturers had not been paid for that duration and that university officials have not resolved the issue. Sources indicate that Eminue and Okon were among more than two hundred personnel who the university allegedly quickly hired in 2014 in order to meet the accreditation requirements of Nigeria’s National Universities Commission. Eminue had reportedly been previously subjected to disciplinary proceedings for writing an open letter regarding the unpaid salaries.
Police claim that Eminue and Okon wrote in one post on the Facebook page, “Farewell to a nasty, vindictive, wicked, heartless, shameless, most corrupt and the worst VC AKSU has ever produced.” According to an unnamed lecturer, as reported by Premium Times, AKSU’s vice-chancellor regularly receives reports from some university staff and students who monitor social media on his behalf.
After their arraignment, both Eminue and Okon were released on bail of N3 million (roughly $7,692 USD). The two are scheduled to appear in court on June 8, 2020.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by the arrest of a scholar and an administrator for the alleged exercise of the right to freedom of expression and academic freedom — 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. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from retaliating against or restricting nonviolent expressive activity. Beyond the harm to the immediate victims, the use of arrests in response to nonviolent expression critical of university leadership undermines academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.