Less than 24 hours after the expiration of the official deadline given to students of the University of Calabar to pay up their fees, authorities have shut down the institution following wild protests by students, writes MUDIAGA AFFE.
What may have started as part of reforms aimed at blocking financial leakages in the University of Calabar, as introduced by the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. James Ekpoke, last Saturday, went awry as students went on the rampage, destroying property, including buildings, vehicles and office equipment worth billions of naira within the campus.
Precisely, from about 10pm on August 26 to about 12 noon the following day, the security situation in the once-peaceful campus had degenerated to the level that ‘angry’ students had little or no resistance destroying the institutions’ property, including over 61 vehicles belonging to the lecturers who are resident on the campus.

One of the reasons proffered by some students, shortly after the wild protests, which claimed the life of a student, was that the August 26 deadline given to students by the school authority to pay up their school fees for the 2010/2011 session or face stringent disciplinary actions, was not to the best of their interest. Another reason given by the students was that there were gross security lapses within the campus - the reason they said led to the death of one of their schoolmate.
The students, all of whom craved anonymity, also accused the school authority of high-handedness, saying, for instance, that an increase of N10,000 development levy across board did not go down well with them.
An estimation of the wanton destruction after the protests which led to the closure of the institution on August 27 showed that within 10 hours, most major buildings, including the one that houses the database of students’ records, were destroyed. The lecturers’ quarters within the campus were not spared and most of their vehicles were destroyed. Most of the vehicles parked within the school premises, both official and private, were either torched or vandalised. Indeed, most vehicles had their wind screens smashed, while the ones in the office of the vice-chancellor, UNICAL Micro-Finance Bank, UNICAL Press, Samuel Imoke Medical Centre, proposed senate building, UNICAL Pharmacy and Transport Office had their glass windows and doors broken.

It was gathered that in order to streamline the fina
ncial records of the school and boost revenue generation, Ekpoke, who assumed office less than one year ago, introduced online portals through which students could pay their fees. With that, all financial dealings no longer had human interaction. Another reform introduced by the vice-chancellor was that which made it mandatory for lecturers to ensure that the students’ results were ready on or before resumption of a new semester.

Before now, investigations revealed, students had mastered the act of evading school fees in collaboration with some staff of the institution due to the porous financial system operated in the past. Another student who also craved anonymity confirmed that over the years, st
udents had got used to not paying their fees, but would rather obtain fake receipts in lieu.

However, Cross River State Governor, Senator Liyel Imoke and the institution’s vice-chancellor could not hold back their disbelief when they went round to ascertain the level of destruction on Sunday, August 28.

Imoke described the incident as “most unfortunate;” adding tha
t no matter the cause of the demonstration, the students should have opted for dialogue with the school authority rather than resorting to hooliganism.

The governor, who was received and conducted round the main campus of the University by Ekpoke, said the level of destruction was unquantifiable because the rampaging students did not spare anything.

In his comment, Ekpoke said nothing could have warra
nted the students action, as there is an appropriate channel for them to establish their disagreement.

According to him, the institution had given students the deadline on registration and payment of school fees since the academic session commenced on January 14, 2011 and the closing date was August 26, 2011, adding that representatives of the Student Union Govern
ment met with the school authority on the matter.

He said it was impossible to ascertain the level of destruction, as every part of the university community was torched by the irate students, disclosing that the authority intend to check if there were security lapses, because there was a limit to which the security outfit on campus could go because armed policemen are not expected to enter campus as a matter of policy.

Ekpoke disclosed that some arrests had been made but debunked the rumour that there was an armed robbery attack in one of the male hostels which prompted the demonstration. He added that there was an alleged incident of a student being shot dead at the sc
hool gate and admitted that the action could have been masterminded by outsiders.

Meanwhile, another source noted that the breakdown in law and order might have been as a result of communication gap between the SUG and the students. For instance, the source said, the SUG had written an official letter to the vice-chancellor pleading for an ex
tension in the August 26 deadline and the vice-chancellor had subtly acceded to their plea by giving an instruction that the online portal through which the fees are paid be left operational for another three weeks. Unfortunately, that message was not related by the SUG to the students before the protests sparked off.

Efforts to speak with the SUG President, Mr. Anthony Amawu, a fifth year medical student, proved abortive as all his known telephone lines were switched off.

In their latest meeting on Wednesday, chairman of the local branch of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Dr. James Okpiliya, said lecturers were tak
en aback, as there was no sign that such calamity would befall the school before the August 26 incident.

Okpiliya berated the Police for taking time to respond to numerous calls while the riot lasted.

In an interactive session with journalists in Calabar on
Wednesday, Okpiliya said, “About 9pm on Friday, August 26, some of our colleagues got phone calls intimating them about the tense atmosphere on campus. By 10pm, the students had unleashed a high level of terror on staff and wanton destruction of property and made attempts to forcefully enter homes of staff in the quarters.

“On Saturday morning when we thought the worst was
over, the students regrouped and their focus was now on the VC’s office, GSS Centre, NUC Data Base Office, among others. The mob further made another attempt to get back to the staff quarters, determined to complete what they had actually started, brandishing lethal weapons while chanting war-songs. It was when the carnage was getting out of hand that the Police, reluctantly, eventually intervened.
“With this high level of inglorious execution and magnitude of destruction by students, we see the action as premeditated, criminal and unbecoming of future leaders. We further state that it is not our intention to breed irresponsible and criminally minded students. We therefore implore our students to explore peaceful and civilised avenues of resolving their grievances in line with the rich culture of the University of Calabar.”

Confirming the level of destruction, the Director General of the Cross River State Emergency Management Agency, Mr. Vincent Aquah, described it as “colossal.”

Aquah expressed surprise that youths with the zeal to acquire knowledge could carry out such dastardly act. He said that he was particularly worried that the medical centre, which is a humanitarian outfit of the institution, was attacked and ambulances vandalised. The agency put the vehicles destroyed during the rampage at 200.

At the moment, pockets of students who made attempts to return to the school apparently to evacuate their belongings were barred by the security forces. All the exi
ts of the school were heavily manned by security officers, while a patrol van loaded with armed policemen traversed the entire school premises, enforcing the law.

Some lecturers are, however, of the view that the two-week closure pronounced by the school authority might be ignored, as most of their colleagues are still traumatised by the effects of the riot. They are also of the view that the university might remain shut until a panel of inquiry submits its findings to the school authority, believing that the recommendations of the panel would be strictly adhered to in order to avert future occurrence.


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