The authorities of the Federal Polytechnic, Nekede, near Owerri, are still counting their losses as a result of the students’ rampage which took place in the institution on Wednesday, July 27. The violent protest led to the loss of lives of two students and destruction of properties worth millions of Naira.
The students’ rampage led to the abrupt closure of the institution by the authorities while preparations are in top gear to set up an investigation panel to look into its immediate and remote causes.
The students were reacting to alleged increase in school fees by authorities of the institution. The students’ union government, SUG, of the institution had accused the authorities of increasing their fees from N18,000, to N31,000. An acceptance fee of N15,000 was also introduced, and this brought the total to N45, 000.
The students who were apparently angry over the alleged increase in school fees were said to have met somewhere outside the campus in the wee hours of July 26, and resolved to embark on violent protest to force the school authorities to rescind such a decision. Therefore, in the early hours of July 27, they came out in their thousands and were chanting war songs, deriding the authorities of the institution. They then marched towards the main gate of the polytechnic but were refused entry into the campus by the security men to stem possible violence. However, when the students tried to force their way in, the police who were brought in to assist in preventing the riot shot and killed two students and hell was let loose.
Brandishing dangerous weapons, including guns and axes, the students pulled down the main gate of the polytechnic, set the security post building ablaze and moved into the campus. In the ensuing rampage the students destroyed properties worth millions of Naira. Scores of student were also wounded. They forced offices open and looted properties, including computers, refrigerators, television sets, air conditioners, and what the authorities described as highly priced medical facilities. More than 22 vehicles of various brands were also destroyed beyond repairs.
The action of the students came two days to the SUG election and few days to the second semester examination of the school. Newswatch gathered that the students suspected that the school authorities wanted to influence the election by imposing candidates on them. They also accused Celestina Njoku, the rector of the institution of high-handedness. They accused the rector of running the institution like her personal estate.
Kachi Emmanuel, president of the SUG, said they were demonstrating peacefully at the gate of the polytechnic when the police brought to the institution opened fire on the students, thereby killing some of them, and wounding many in the process. The SUG president accused the rector of increasing school fees.
But the authorities of the institution denied all the allegations by the students, insisting that fees had not been increased. Obinna John Okafor, deputy registrar and head, public relations and information unit of the institution, said there was no way the school would introduce new fees to students who had few days to leave at the end of the current session. According to him, the school fees of every session is determined before the commencement of every first semester. “For us, at the point of this demonstration, it was just two weeks to the examination, and two days to the students’ union election. For the students, the session had ended because we have had the students’ union week, which is the last ceremony students would have in any higher institution to mark the end of the session. After this, they would enter into the critical period of writing the exams and getting out of the campus. So, if we talk of school fees, we only need to explain that it cannot be increased now,” Okafor said.
He explained that the school does not even have the intention of increasing fees in the next session.
Okafor also denied allegation of management interference in the SUG election. He said the rector was neither influencing the election nor had plans to impose any candidate on the students.
He regretted the killing of the students by the police during the riot and condemned the police for shooting directly at the students. “How can anyone justify loss of lives in this kind of thing,” he said.