Tuesday, January 19, 2010

UNN shuts down over students fee hike protest

The authorities of the University of Nigeria (UNN), Nsukka in Enugu State yesterday shut down the institution, following the vandalisation and disruption of property, including the temporary residential quarters of the Vice Chancellor, Prof Barth Okolo and some senior staff quarters of the institution by protesting students. The violent protest embarked upon by the university students was to express their displeasure over a new fees regime introduced by the university authorities.

The closure of the institution, which was contained in a statement issued yesterday evening by the Registrar, Mr. I. Okonta, directed all the students to vacate the hostels and wait until further notice.

However, when THISDAY contacted Okolo on phone, he denied any increment in school fees. He said the students who were involved in the rampage were used by some elements in the university community to cause disorder.

He maintained that he did not know where the students got the information about increment in school fees, but explained that there could not have been any increment since the university council saddled with such powers has not taken any such decision.
But THISDAY gathered that the details of the new fees’ regime, showed that school fees was increased from N25,000 to N70,000, acceptance fees from N6,000 to N25,000 and convocation fees from N6,000 to N35,000.
The protest, which was initially peaceful but turned violent in the later part however, left several persons including staff and students of the institution with injuries,

Several students were allegedly shot by anti-riot policemen drafted from the Nsukka Police Division to quell the riot.
A first year female student, Onyinye Ngwu of the Department of Nursing Sciences, who participated in the protest march was shot on her leg by the police and was rushed to the university’s medical centre, while others who reportedly sustained injuries in the incident were taken to Bishop Shanahan Hospital for treatment.

Informed sources said a delegation of the Students’ Union Government (SUG) from Enugu Campus of the university had arrived Nsukka campus on Friday to dialogue with the Vice Chancellor and the management on the development but were avoided by the Vice Chancellor, who reportedly told them that the school’s decision was irreversible.

Okolo who was in the office when the student leaders arrived reportedly told the students that he had no time for the parley after they had waited for several hours. The VC’s action was said to have provoked the students into staging a minor procession from the SUG office to the Freedom Square to express their anger over the alleged “high-handedness of the Vice Chancellor”.

The students later dispersed with a threat to take their destiny in their own hands and to make good their threat to resist the new fees at all costs. As 6 am yesterday, the Students Union leaders started mobilising their colleagues from the Zik’s Flats which serves as the female hostels. From there, the procession marched to the Vice Chancellor’s quarters.

THISDAY gathered that security men at the VC’s quarters tried to prevent the protesters from entering the premises but they were overpowered by the rampaging students who ransacked all the rooms, carted away some of the personal effects of Professor Okolo and damaged all the vehicles parked on the premises before policemen could intervene.

Sources said the students while raining abuses on the Vice Chancellor who was not present at the time, vowed to “make things difficult for him in the university since he was not ready to embrace peace and dialogue in addressing the myriads of problems confronting the students” on the two campuses of the university.

After hours of shooting by the anti-riot policemen to disperse the students within the campus yesterday, they (students) took to the streets of Nsukka burning tyres and in the process damaged some vehicles.
Thousands of residents trooped out to hail the students as they marched through major roads in the town shouting “Okolo must go”.

Having successfully barricaded the Adani road and Obollo-Affor road, the students who were joined by hoodlums from motor-parks in the town, marched from Nsukka town up to Opi Junction of the 9th Mile-Oturkpo Highway, where they blocked the road disrupting vehicular movement for some minutes before they were confronted by mobile policemen and soldiers at the checkpoint.

Reports said several students were arrested but the police spokesman for Enugu Police Command, Mr. Ebere Amaraizu, who confirmed the incident yesterday said he was yet to ascertain the exact number of people arrested.
He, however, said necessary measures had been taken to ensure that normalcy returned to the town.

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