By Vincent Ujumadu – Awka
After 17 months of standing trial at the Federal High Court, Awka, six students of Madonna University, Okija, Anambra State and a deputy director of students affairs in the institution, Mr Tony Ezimo were finally set free.
Their charges were dropped following the intervention of the Attorney General of Federation and the presiding judge, Justice Babatunde Quadri did not hesitate in striking out the matter.
The prosecuting counsel, Mr Arthur Obi -Okafor, SAN, announced to the delight of those in court that he had the approval of the AGF to withdraw the charges against the students and the director and that they should go home and sin no more.
Okafor said with the withdrawal of the case, a formal application would also be made for the release of all items belonging to the students which were seized during police investigation. The belongings include laptops, mobile telephones, among other items.
The ordeal of the students began sometime in 2018 when they were picked up in various parts of the country and brought to the Onitsha Correctional Center.
In fact, it was in Onitsha that they were informed that their arrest and detention had to do with their chat in a WhatsApp group they belonged to.
South East Voice gathered that in the course of contributing in the forum, they discussed the issue of frequent resignation of lecturers in Madonna University and advised the management to try as much as possible to do everything humanly possible to retain lecturers in the university because quality teachers were difficult to come by.
The management of the university did not take kindly to the comment and so, began to trace the location of the students at the time.
While three of the students had finished their clearance and waiting for their deployment for the mandatory one year National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, the other three had completed their examinations and were waiting for clearance before they were incarcerated.
It even took several months for their relations to trace them to Onitsha and Awka prisons, with some of them already declared missing by their relations. For six months, they were detained in prison custody before the case was brought to the Federal High Court in February 2019,
There was uproar in court when the charges were read as they were accused of treasonable felony and armed robbery. The case was between the Inspector General of Police, IGP, and the seven defendants whose offences were said to be capable of portraying Madonna University in a bad light. Even after they were granted bail, it took several months for them to meet the bail conditions.
After regaining their freedom last week, their leader, Mr Ezimo, speaking on behalf of others, in an emotion-laden speech said they had terrible experiences in the course of their trial, but expressed joy that they were free at last.
Ezimo, who studied Philosophy in the university and was retained to work in the institution where he was also pursuing his masters degree programmes said the whole saga had changed their impression about a lot of things in life.
He said: “It was not a nice experience being arrested and detained for something one knows nothing about and being framed by those who one trusted and worked hard to promote. But things happen for various reasons and we are glad that it has widened our knowledge on issues about life.
“With the striking out of the matter, I believe that justice had been done. We spent six months in detention for no justifiable reason and just striking out the case and asking us to go home may not be the real justice.
“However, having found ourselves in a situation like this, we have to accept it and we are grateful to the judge for granting the request of the Attorney General of the Federation to withdraw the matter from court to free us.
“All of us are young people and we can still find things to do with our lives.”
On whether he would return to the university to work, Ezimo said: “Definitely, I will not return to Madonna University even if they pay me N2m a month. Indeed, I worked with my whole heart and hoping that working for the institution I graduated from would enhance my career, but what I got in return was not favourable.
“So, I will never go there for whatever reason and I wish Madonna University well. It will, however, not stop me from promoting Madonna University anywhere I find myself, but not from within the school.”
He added: “We really appreciate every person that toiled and worked hard to identify with us during our incarceration, particularly our parents who had been on the road during this past 17 months of our ordeal.
“We also appreciate the National Association of Nigeria Students, NANS, which came to our rescue at a time by organizing students who demonstrated on our behalf.”
“Also, if not for the media, things would not have turned out the way they did.”
One of the parents, Mr Christopher Onyejekwe, who shed tears of joy, regretted that despite his contributions to the growth of the university, the founder, Rev Fr. Emmanuel Ede treated him badly.
He said: “I have been promoting Madonna University and I have trained 21 people in the university, but what I got in return from the proprietor of the university was to detain my son and six of his friends for six months for no justifiable reason.
“He did that to us because he believed that he had so much powers to do whatever he likes. Most of there students he suffered for almost one year and six months are children of widows.
“Of the seven, five of them are children of widows. For the period the case lasted, only myself and one other man were coming to court regularly.
“I went to Fr. Ede 27 times to plead with him to leave these children because they are children of widows, but he detained them for four months at Onitsha Prison and two months at Awka Prison.”