Nigerian student Nuhu Ayuba
São Luís, Maranhão, Brazil – The Federal Public Ministry (MPF) on Thursday denounced a university professor José Cloves Verde Saraiva for the crime of racism, xenophobia and racial insults, practiced during a class in the course of Chemical Engineering, of the Federal University of Maranhão (UFMA) in July of last year. The case was investigated by the Federal Police and denounced by the students of Cloves Saraiva via a petition.
“We, students of Chemical Engineering at UFMA, attending the course Vector Calculus, report that Professor Cloves Saraiva systematically assaulted our classmate Nuhu Ayuba, humiliating him in front of everyone in the class,” wrote the students .
In the petition, the students described the humiliation. “In the first delivery of grades the teacher did not announce the grade of any other student, only Nuhu, shouting aloud that ‘he got a bad grade’; more than once the professor challenged our colleague saying that he should “go back to Africa” and that he should “lighten his (skin) color,”; in another class assignment the professor had not corrected limiting himself to crossing out things with the inscription ‘it’s all wrong’ and even making fun of the pronunciation of our colleague’s name,” said the document .
Nuhu Ayuba, Nigerian, is part of a group of African students who came to São Luís through the Student Program – Undergraduate Agreement (PEC-G) – administered by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Education, a program that offers opportunities for higher education for citizens of developing countries and had been in São Luís for three months when the incident occurred.
According to the testimonies of the professor’s students during the investigation of the case, Saraiva told the Nigerian student to “lighten his skin” and “go back to Africa in a slave ship.” When talking to police officers who investigated the case, students of the university professor said that the way that Saraiva was referring to the Nigerian hurt his performance.
The prosecutor, Israel Gonçalves Santos Silva, who gave the complaint to the Federal Court affirmed in the denouncement that “is unacceptable any racist or prejudiced practice, mainly released within an academic environment, that should welcome and show respect for the widest range of sociocultural and ethnic-racial diversity, given the plurality of citizens who make up the Brazilian people.”
Cloves Saraiva has even issued a text apologizing for the case. For the District Attorney Israel Gonçalves, Professor Saraiva also errored in the act of administrative misconduct since he breached the duty not to discriminate, offending basic principles of public administration, the legality, impersonality and morality, and even at odds with the principles governing the federal public education and the practice of teaching.
Ayuba says that he “hopes that the courts do something. My attorney opened a criminal case against the teacher. Even with all this, I am not going back to Nigeria now, I have to finish the course. I will only go back there afterward, to help my country,” said Ayuba.
Ayuba is from the Nigerian state of Bauchi, northeast of the capital city of Abuja and has the intent of completing the five year program at the university in Brazil’s northeast.
“I’ve never experienced such a humiliation in my life, I felt really bad. This person does not know what he did, and it’s only him that did this. The other people here like me, they wish me very well,” adds Ayuba.
The student says that he suffered for some time from the prejudice and racism on the part of Professor Saraiva, “humiliating him in front of other students.”
The student claims to have heard phrases like “how many pumas have you hunted in your country?” And “You came here on anslave ship?”. According to his girlfriend Ayuba, Marinilde de Oliveira, the Nigerian went on to suffer from depression with the taunts and never retaliated.
In a statement released to local media on Monday, the teacher apologized and said that the student may have misunderstood what he said.
Heart in Africa
Ayuba says that if Professor Saraiva continues teaching, he may think of requesting a transfer to another university in Brazil. What he hasn’t even considered is giving up.
“I love Brazil and I have an opportunity. But my heart is in Nigeria, it is my people, my country, but I’ll stay here until I finish the course,” he says.
According to his girlfriend, Ayuba didn’t tell his family about the problem in Brazil. “He is from a well-off family in Nigeria. His mother attends a college of journalism and is a psychologist. He has three other brothers who live with their mother in Bauchi and they still don’t know what happened here,” says Marinilde.
The professor’s side
Professor José Cloves Verde Saraiva
In his own defense, Professor Saraiva, 57, said it was all a “big misunderstanding”. He denied having made racist comments in the classroom and that the references he made were not directed at the student. “I told him that maybe he did not know it, that the race of slaves heroically came on slave ships. He understood that was him. It was not him. This is a historical fact. But great Brazilians were black and showed their value”, he said about the episode.
“Really, you can have others I don’t know if they are enemies who may be taking the story further. I am willing to understand and portray myself in regards to a misunderstanding. It was a misunderstanding, entirely”, defended the teacher. “The staff of mathematics, chemistry, always joke. These disciplines are heavy disciplines and you have to relax a little in the classroom, but without any connotation of prejudice. Now, I can tell you something and you understand it otherwise”, he added.
Friends of Professor Savaiva also began yesterday to collect signatures in support of the teacher. And one of the leaders of this movement is black. The teacher has also hired a lawyer for his defense. Saraiva will have as his lawyer José Maria Cabral Marques, former president of UFMA. If convicted of all crimes that were reported, the maximum penalty could be 15 years imprisonment and an additional fine for damages. In addition, if convicted of misconduct, the university professor will lose his public position and political rights for five years.