The untold story of UNIUYO riot
From Joe Effiong, Uyo
For the rest of Nigerians, while June 12 (1993), will continue to be marked and remembered as the day Nigeria held its freest and fairest democratic election in history, an election which produced Chief M.K.O. Abiola as the President-elect, but whose victory was annulled, in inexplicable circumstances, by the then ruling military junta, headed by General Ibrahim Babangida, for the staff and students of the University of Uyo, June 12, 2013, will henceforth be remembered as the day calamity and mayhem, walking on all fours, visited the campus and left in its trail, destruction and death as innocent people became trapped in a cat-and-mouse war between the students and the police.
On that fateful day, every member of the university community had woken up, as usual, with one thing on their minds: to go about their normal businesses and, at the end of the day, retire to their places of abode to have a peaceful rest. But, alas, it was not to be.
Peace has a very fragile frame and it soon became broken into smithereens. Riot broke out and cost the school precious lives and properties worth millions of naira.
The problem which led to the protest, the second within a week, according to sources, started when the university authorities took the decision to have the Faculty of Sciences relocated to join the Faculty of Engineering at the university’s permanent site along Nwaniba Road, Uyo. Its students were expected to join their counterparts from engineering to receive lectures at the permanent site.
That is to say, the students concerned had to shuttle between the university town campus along Ikpa Road, Uyo and the permanent site. To this end, the Students Union Government (SUG) brought in vehicles to convey the students to the main campus of the university at a cost of N200 while their Faculty of Engineering counterparts per trip to pay to N1,000 per semester.
This, the students protested, after bemoaning the amount which they see as too high. But having gotten the university management’s approval on the need, not only to bring in private bus operators but also to peg the transport fare, the SUG went ahead with the arrangement.
Education Review learnt that the students tried to bring down the fare to N100 but the management stuck to its gun.
Prior to this development, the authority had introduced a new fee of N2,000 for the registration of General Studies (GST) courses offered in the institution.
Efforts to make the authorities reconsider their decision and revert to N500 that was usually paid for it, fell on deaf ears. It was learnt that the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Comfort Ekpo, had declared a ‘no pay, no exams’ policy on GST. Also, the students were aggrieved that the vice chancellor, on assumption of office, had banned the summer programme which was introduced by the immediate past VC of the institution, Prof. Akaneren Essien.
The programme, Education Review learnt, was meant to help the final year students who had problem in their courses to resit those courses and write exams again during the long vacation to reduce the number of students who will do extra year after the stipulated years for the student’s course of study. All these grievances coalesced into pent-up feelings waiting for an outlet.
On Wednesday, June 12, the students had gone to board the buses to the permanent site for their lectures only to discover that they had been withdrawn for their refusal to accede to the mandatory payment of N200 fare over which, as at the moment, there appeared to be a stalemate in the discussion between the students and the management.
Having missed the first and second lectures at the permanent site, the aggrieved students decided to stop other lecturers who were teaching in the lecture rooms from teaching since many of their mates were still stranded at the bus park. To put their case more strontly, they also decided to march to the VC’s office to appeal to her to rescind the decision on N200-per-student bus fare.
But according to report which was corroborated by many sources, when she came out of her office and saw the students, she allegedly ignored them and drove way. Feeling slighted at the VC’s behaviour, the students decided to march to the main gate. But there they were met by truckloads of heavily armed anti-riot policemen who didn’t waste time in firing teargas canisters at them.
It turned tragic when one asthmatic student who had been receiving treatment at the university medical centre, allegedly slumped and died from the effect of the teargas. With the protest recording the death of one of the students, it suddenly turned violent. Anger spilled over as the protesting students poured into the adjourning Ikpa Road and prevented pedestrians and motorists from using the road. They equally threw stones at the police who, expectedly, responded by firing live bullets into the air slightly above their heads, as a warning shot and, also to frighten them. But things went awry when one of the bullets killed one Ubong Udoette, a second year student of the Department of Zoology.
Expectedly, this poured fuel into an already kindled flame, as students turned more violent and fanned out like disturbed, angry bees. While some carried the corpse of the slain student around and tried to smuggle it into Akwa Ibom State Government House, others went about vandalizing the structures on campus and setting them ablaze.
It was at this point that the Registrar of the university, Mrs. Edak Umondak, who was unhappy with the turn of events, went on air to announce the closure of the university. In her statement, she also showed the university’s displeasure at the extent the men of the Nigeria Police Force had taken the matter.
Umondak who expressed her sadness at the news of the student’s death, added that the university authorities never authorized any policeman to shoot at any student, not to mention the use of live bullets by them. She said that, but for the timely intervention of a member of staff who helped her out of her car, she also would have been killed by the police who shot into her car.
“I thought the police bullet had hit me. I did not know when my colleague whisked me away barefooted. It was a surprise because we identified ourselves, yet the police were adamant and still hit our car,” she said.
But the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Umar Gwadabe, has risen in defence of his men, stressing that but for their timely intervention, the riot would have engulfed the whole town as students from the University of Calabar, and from Bida, who had infiltrated the ranks of University of Uyo students, were bent on unleashing mayhem on the city.
“I didn’t see anything the police have done wrong in trying to stop the situation from escalating,” the commissioner who said about 45 students were arrested in connection with the mayhem, told newsmen. The riot was said to have involved some student union leaders from other institutions who, allegedly, rushed to Uyo to “mediate” in the crisis.
REACTIONS AND RESPONSES
Reflecting on the issue, the Chairman of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), University of Uyo branch, Mr. Anyim Nwachukwu, told Education Review the crisis was beyond his comprehension. He said that the union members were to have a meeting that day the protest started, noting that from the information they received, the police used live bullets on the students.
“What we know for now is that there was crisis on the campus. But from the information we received, some lives were lost. The students in turn razed school property. We are going round now to assess the extent of damage.
As we were going round, we discovered that some offices of my colleagues had been broken into and valuables stolen. We can’t be definite about the kind of damage which had occurred.
“We were supposed to have a meeting, but for some of us who were around, we saw tear-gas canisters being thrown into the school premises. Right now we can’t really tell what happened because some of us were inside, though we managed to escape from the campus,” he said.
The Deputy Vice Chancellor, Administration, Prof. Okon Ansa, said that the protest was uncalled for as the school management had consulted the relevant bodies including the Students Union Government, adding that students were involved in the decision making process through the SUG.
Governor Godswill Akpabio later made an on-the-spot assessment of the facilities that were destroyed which included the vice chancellor and deputy vice chancellors’ offices; Administration and Academics, office of the director of academic planning, exams and records, council affairs portal and a female hostel. He was conducted round the school by the vice chancellor, deputy vice chancellor academic, Prof. Paul Ekwere and deputy vice chancellor administration.
During his visit, Akpabio described the riot as criminal and pre-meditated, observing that some miscreants took undue advantage of the disagreement between the university authorities and the students, and targeted the destruction of the academic records and policies. He, therefore, called for a setting up of an investigation panel to probe the riot and bring the culprits to book.
“This act is a disaster. My observation here is that the destruction of the buildings was targeted at the over 20-year-old school records and examination results. It was a pre-planned arrangement by miscreants, who are ‘professional students’ using the opportunity of the peaceful protest to raze down buildings where the school’s academic records were kept,” Akpabio said.
In a related development, the Akwa Ibom State branch of the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), criticized the management of the University of Uyo for its inability to manage the crisis before it blossomed into uncontrollable situation.
A press statement by the branch Chairman, Mr. Clifford Thomas, said there was no amount of provocation that can warrant taking the life of any individual in Nigeria as enshrined in section 33 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended.
He argued that other sections of the constitution as well as statutes and international instruments were violated when the police was invited, ostensibly by the management of the institution, to quell what seemed to be a peaceful protest. “It is on record that the issues that precipitated the protest of June 12, 2013 in the University of Uyo started long before the violence of that fateful day.
Our investigation has shown that there have been issues like: science students, who had been relocated to the permanent site of the university being directed to pay N200 daily while engineering students pay N1,000 per semester as transport fare; increase of GST fees from N500 to N2,000; proscription of summer programmes, and lack of freedom of association or democratization of the unions from departments through faculties and the students’ union government levels”, he said.
The CLO expressed the view that it was an internal dispute which should have been handled by the management of the university and a democratic students union would have stepped in to assuage the anger and get the demands of the students to the management.
According to Thomas, “there is no justification whatsoever in bringing the police into the matter at the stage when the police came. We hold the management accountable for this carnage. We are very sure that the police did not step into the matter on their own.
The police, we believe, had a duty to perform, even when they were invited, but nothing within their schedule of duty authorized them to shoot and kill any student. The number of the dead still remains unconfirmed, but there is confirmation that a certain Ubong Udoette, a second year student of zoology was shot and died of gunshot injuries.
Three other students are said to have died, two of asthma-related suffocation due to the inhalation of teargas fired by the police in all direction to possibly disperse the students.”
CONDEMNATIONS AND COMMENDATIONS
The University of Uyo Alumni Association also joined in condemning the incident that led to the unwarranted destruction of lives and properties at the university.
The condemnation was a fall-out of the association’s extra-ordinary meeting held at the Alumni Headquarters, on the university main campus, Nsukara Ufot, Uyo, after the crisis. In its public statement, the body called for a probe into the incident, noting that it was unfortunate that the situation was allowed to escalate to a stage where lives and invaluable properties were lost.
A statement issued by the President of the Association, Mr. Emmanuel Hogan, and said to be a follow-up of his on-the-spot assessment of the destruction on the main campus after conducting newsmen round the damaged buildings at the university campuses, noted: “The University of Uyo Alumni condemned the destruction of life and properties in the university and sympathised with the families of persons that lost their loved ones and properties during the crisis.”
The communiqué said that the alumni called for the setting up of a panel of inquiry into the crisis in order to examine the immediate and remote causes of the crisis and to fish out persons directly or indirectly responsible for the “unwholesome” acts.
While fielding questions from journalists, the immediate past president of the association, and Senior Special Assistant to Governor Godswill Akpabio on Project Monitoring, Akparawa Nse Ubeh, lamented that the incident saying, that the crisis might have been hijacked by outsiders and criminals as the extent of damage to the properties could not have been done solely by students. He lamented the loss of lives in the incident and added his voice to the call for a probe panel to unravel the culprits.
Also, the National Universities Commission’s acting chairman, inter-ministerial committee on campus safety and security, Prof. Adebisi Balogun while inspecting the destroyed facilities in the institution condemned vehemently, the death of the students, adding that whatever had happened was not a good reason to take the life of a student.
He said that both the Executive Secretary of NUC, Prof. Julius Okojie and the Minister of Education, Prof. Ruquayyatu Rufai were concerned about the death of the student.
“The minister is concerned about the loss of life of a student; they are the future human resources of this country. Nobody should be happy with the loss of life at all.
This one is going to be investigated. We have come to look into the circumstances that led to the killing of the student and at the same time the university will provide more information, more investigation to ascertain the reasons, know who is culpable for the killing of the student. Definitely, this is beyond just N100 transportation fare,” Balogun said.
The VC, who led the team around the institution said that the protest was led by a small group of students and when it became apparent that they were not getting support, they went into the classrooms to force other students to join them in disrupting lectures. “They wrecked a lot of havoc within and outside the campuses, disrupting public movement and throwing stones at the police who had been stationed outside the campus to maintain peace.
All entreaties made by the Dean of Students’ Affairs, The Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Chief Security Officer to let peace prevail failed”, Ekpo said.
But, one member of staff of the university who claimed anonymity said it was not expected that the damage could reach such magnitude, adding that the VC, Prof Comfort Ekpo, was hardened and that except she is touched in a very big way, she might not know the consequences of her actions. “Apart from the students, we, the staff, are not happy with this woman.
She doesn’t see things the way others do. What is difficult in the woman calling the students and address the issue? The students were not paying for General Studies (GST) courses before and she introduced payment. She was supposed to address the students, but all efforts to make her rescind her decision by the students failed”, she said An academic staff of the institution, a professor who spoke on the ground of anonymity also accused the vice chancellor of being rigid in her approach to issues, adding that she prefers to favour her caucus members while leaving other members of the university community to their fate. Some parents also expressed displeasure at the management’s incompetence in crisis management.
As at 1.00 am on Thursday, some students were still seen carrying their luggage around Uyo metropolis as they were stranded and had nowhere to lay their heads. Some students who spoke to Education Review expressed their frustrations both with the VC and the situation as they did not know when the school will re-open.
“They said that the VC was not in school when the riot took place, so where did she get the story she has been going about telling visitors and the governor? She is aware of what happened, she is just hiding the truth.” But in an emergency meeting of the university Senate held after the crisis, a vote of confidence was passed on the vice chancellor by members.
They urged her to be strong in her decisions and not allow the crisis in the institution to destabilize her.