Reactions Trail UNIPORT Violent Students Protest
Mixed reactions have continue to follow the violent protest by the students of the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) Rivers State on Monday, over the no-tuition fee, no examination policy of the university; as several stakeholders in the education sector have expressed concern over the saddening event which reported claimed the life of a student.
The protest, which became bloody, lead to the closure of the institution following the destruction of property worth millions of naira and one student reported dead.
Malam Ibrahim Yakasai, the Director of Information, National Universities Commission (NUC), said media reports that the protest was against tuition fees were wrong. Adding that the commission was waiting for the formal report of the UNIPORT’s Vice-Chancellor so as to ascertain what happened.
“We heard about the crisis and we are waiting for the Vice-Chancellor to give us a report upon which we act or comment. I am sure that the Vice-Chancellor is working on the report to explain to us what happened; after that, we will act as appropriate.” He said.
Yakasai further said that all arms of Nigerian universities were allowed to come to the commission and complain, adding that no student or student leader from UNIPORT wrote to NUC to complain about anything. And that universities always operate within the allowable limit in terms of charging fees as NUC monitored them closely in that regard.
“When we get any report that any university has exceeded what is allowed, we call such school to order and make them reverse their decision. For now, we have not been formally briefed on what led to that demonstration. I am sure the V-C will be detailed enough and we will confirm from students and invite all parties and settle the matter,’’ he said.
In his reaction, Mr. Ezekiel Nwankwo, the Public Relations Officer of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), blamed the violence on communication gap between the students and UNIPORT authorities.
He said that frequent postponement of examination date and the eventual fixing of April 7 deadline for payment caused a rush that was misinterpreted by some students.
“We console the family of the slain student and call on the Inspector General of Police and the Rivers State Commissioner of Police to set up a committee to investigate what led to the death of the student. Where has rubber bullet gone in handling protests? Why use life bullets on protesting students,” he added.
Nwankwo said that NANS would make its final stance known after consultations.
Parents on the other hand have also made their stance known on the matter, as several of them also condemned the actions of the security agents and appealed to the students to always resort to dialogue.
Mr. Olisanyem Ifeajika, a journalist whose ward is in the university said that students must learn to adopt dialogue with relevant authorities as a means of resolving issues that affect them. Adding that the protest could be the handiwork of students who had not properly prepared for the examination used the disruption to buy more time.
According to him, the increase in the school fees to N45, 000 had taken effect since last year, so the students had ample time to protest before their examinations.
He, however, expressed sadness that a live was reportedly lost and called on the security agents to exercise caution in discharging their duties.
“I feel bad as a parent that a life was lost; that death was avoidable. Our law enforcement agencies sometimes take extreme measures when dealing with unarmed crowd; it is condemnable. In civilised societies things like rubber bullets or water would have been used to disperse such a crowd,’’ he said.
Also commenting on the crisis, Mr. Adefemi Oladapo, another parent, said that the students would have engaged the authorities in a dialogue before protesting. He also wondered why they did not protest at the beginning of the session.
Oladapo said that the school authorities should have also consulted the students union before increasing the fees in order to arrive at an agreement that would have been beneficial to both parties.
“The students would have dialogued with relevant stakeholders; the Ministry of Education, the National Assembly Committee on Education to intervene in reviewing their school fees downwards before their exams.
“Sometimes, when some students are not prepared for examination, they look for one thing or the other to try to avoid writing their exams.’’
Oladapo condemned the actions of the security agents who were meant to have dispersed the student crowd peacefully but allegedly ended up shooting a student.
Meanwhile, the Rivers Police Command has denied that there were casualties during the students’ protest, as the command’s Public Relations Officer, DSP Ahmad Muhammad, told News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that there was no casualty on the part of the police or students during the violent protest.