Keffi Killings: A Vicious Circle of Death and Impunity
By Tahir Sherriff
For the lifeless bodies of former students of Nassarawa state university, and their respective parents currently in mourning, the question no doubt remains, “Where are our rights?” Especially since an attempt to recently secure such rights has led to a further denial of the ultimate right -which is the right to life.
What started as a peaceful intention to request that their light and water which had not been functioning for over two weeks get replaced, ended in violence, conflict, and an unbelievable death toll of around 4 students.
Of course deaths or violence in universities arent new. Nigerian universities have continually faced un-rest at one point or the other, for some demonstration against the school managements failure to implement long-promised changes. In some instances these unrests are caused by school political party disagreements, conflicts caused by student cultism, and for others more politically inclined overcrowding and the prospect of unemployment after graduation.
None of these however caused the problems in Nassaraw State University. Families will see their children carted back home lifeless, with gaping holes from bullet wounds and no explanation whatsoever on why it has happened. No one questions the army, the Nigerian Army isnt answerable to the civilian population.
After denying the students of their rights to social amenities, their rights to a fair hearing, peaceful protest and subsequently their right to life, the management of the school have also closed down the university, forcing students to leave the school premises in a time when academic activites are meant to be at their prime.
The challenge was merely how to handle a band of angry students, who had gotten tired of straightening their clothes with charcoal-irons, and taking turns to bath with satchet waters. Students who simply decided that their best option was to take the matter up in a protest. Now the school has been closed, some families are mourning, and the question remains “Where are our rights?”
The students of Nassarawa state university are not the first to ask such questions, as far back as May 1991, dissatisfaction with educational conditions and restrictions on political activity sparked student protests at several college campuses. In Lagos police killed two students during a campus riot, and three other universities were closed. Less than four months ago students of the University of Abuja were also ordered out of the school premises for protesting that their engineering departments be acredited. The order was followed by the brutal ejection of students by merciless flogging also carried out by officers of the Nigerian Army.
With each event, it becomes more apparent that there exists a gap between school authorities and their students, and a bigger gap between the security forces and the civilians. No report has brought to light which officers pulled the trigger, or whether they are to be punished. None has indicated the position of the law on a Vice Chancellor that invites soldiers to quench a student un-rest. Perhaps it seems it is a matter that can be swept aside, but for those who bury their children, after paying for their education to college level, the question lingers, “Where are our rights?”.
Such actions have led to dire circumstances in the past. On April 14 1979, police guarding the Executive Mansion in Monrovia fired on a crowd of demonstrators protesting suggested increases in the price of rice, killing at least 40. It was the first such occurrence in living memory, and resultant damage from subsequent rioting and looting caused by these killing was estimated to be in the millions of dollars.
Student demonstration in Turkey on April 28 19 1960 spearheaded by the Rector of the University of Istanbul, was brutally quelled by the police, who manhandled and arrested the rector after killing two students. Less than 30days after, the Prime minister of Turkey was toppled a military junta, originally inspired by student protests.
Parents will continue to remain skeptical about sending their children to Nigerian schools which are being characterized by unrest, thus it is prudent to insist that a clear and distinct legal framework for the resolution of conflicts, the use of fire-arms by security personnels, alongside the punishment for such violations which are then to be put in effect. More importantly there has to exist a way to bridge the gap between students and the managing body of academic institutions in Nigeria as a majority of the conflicts that eventually occur could otherwise have been solved with dialogue.
The plight of students in Nigerian universities has to be heard, a lack of social amenities required to allow these students perform sufficiently or even acquire the education theyseek has to be rectified. This does not g for only the students of Nassarawa state university however, it goes for all Nigerian students within and outside our shores.
However, the immediate questions are, whether the Vice Chancellor of Nassarawa state university can justify his actions, whether the Nigerian Army can produce their trigger happy soldiers and whether the families of those who lost their lives will have their questions answered. Their simple questions which reads: “Where are our rights, our loved ones”
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