BY KINGSLEY OMONOBI, VICTOR AHIUMA-YOUNG
ABUJA — The Nigerian Army has denied reports that its troops killed four students of the Nasarawa State University who were protesting poor state of infrastructure in the institution, adding that its soldiers did not shoot any of the students during the protest.
Director of Army Public Relations, Brigadier-General Ibrahim Attahiru made this known after the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Azubuike Ihejirika, received the Indian Vice Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Krishna Singh, in his office.
His words: “On February 25, 2013, students of Nasarawa State University came out en mass and barricaded the Keffi-Akwanga expressway, which is part of the 177 Guards Battalion patrol routes. This road was blocked with logs of wood and burning tyres which hampered vehicular movement, leaving travellers stranded for hours and numerous vehicles damaged by the violent crowd.
“It was also reported that the irate crowd were looting travellers’ belongings and throwing stones, bottles and metal objects at the security operatives. However, it is believed that the protest was hijacked by some hoodlums and cult members who are students of the university.
“As a result, the violent crowd burnt down two vehicles at the Police station located across the campus and seized a tanker loaded with fuel with the intention of burning down the Police station.
Attempt to burn police stattion
“The combined efforts of 177 Guards Battalion with others security operatives prevented the hoodlums from this act. The violent action of the crowd led to three soldiers of 177 Guards Battalion sustaining various degrees of injuries from the stones, bottles and metals thrown at them.
“It is important to note that the combined efforts of the troops in conjunction with other security agencies assisted in dispersing the crowd and removing the blockades from the road to ease movement of vehicles. Presently, law and order have been restored in the area and troops are closely monitoring the situation.”
Asked why soldiers were called in to quell a students’ riot, Attahiru said: “You are aware of the problem of communal clashes in Nasarawa State. Troops are on patrol to checkmate the killings and violence, so the Vice Chancellor did not need to invite soldiers on patrol who ran into the blockade on a major highway and were engaging in violence.
“In any case, let me repeat, our troops did not shoot any student during the protest. We are very well trained professionals. Since we did not use live ammunitions, I do not know how we would have shot anybody. Our troops were not in any way involved in the shooting.”
Killing unacceptable, reprehensive—NLC
NIGERIA Labour Congress, NLC, yesterday, said the murder of four students of the Nasarawa State University, Keffi by soldiers drafted to the school to quell protest by students over non-availability of water was shocking, unacceptable and reprehensible.
NLC in a statement by its President, Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar, said these avoidable killings of young and defenseless people left a sour taste in the mouth, arguing that this brutal tactics by soldiers was a throw-back to the past the nation would be better off without.
Comrade Omar said: “The right to dissent or protest is a constitutional right and not a privilege to be given by any god-head. What the students were doing therefore was in the exercise of that right from which not only them would benefit.
“If however, it was the considered opinion of the law enforcement agents that the students had crossed the red line in the exercise of that right, the professional and proper thing was to have been guided by the rules of engagement and not to have engaged in a senseless slaughter.
“It is bad enough that our utilities on which huge sums of money are spent do not work. To kill those who insist that they work, which in our view, is ensuring accountability, is double jeopardy.
“We want to be emphatic. No amount of cruelty or mindless violence visited on the weak and the defenseless will stop protests in our land. Our students were part of the struggle that restored democracy in our land, and should not be treated as irritants who do not know the difference between right and wrong”.
“Those who invited the soldiers, those who carried out these killings and those under whose watch the killings were carried out should be held accountable. The government should fish them out immediately and prosecute them in line with the laws of the land.
“Except this is done, government would have succeeded in sending out one clear message, that when it comes to terror there is no difference between the state and terrorists. This crude impunity and descent into the abyss, we must warn, should be arrested for the sake of all of us.”
“It is trite knowledge that violence breeds violence, particularly in societies where the state no longer has monopoly of weapons of destruction. We should move from this quick-fix strategy to something much more durable and reasonable. We should re-discover our values and inspire our younger generation instead of this orgy of violence that will ultimately consume us.
School authorities should exercise utmost restraint in dealing with student protests, for they lose control as soon as they externalize them. Quite often, nipping in the bud such protests is a safer option as we know that students when taken into confidence could be reasonable. In the event of an inevitable situation necessitating externalization, only law enforcement agents with the needed temperament, education and training relevant to students’ psychology should be deployed to campuses. Above all this, they should be thoroughly versed in the art of internal security maintenance and rules of engagement. This, in our view, makes necessary here and now the retraining of our security forces to deal with students and other civil protests.”