By Chidi Nkwopara, Owerri
When the present Rector of the Federal Polytechnic, Nekede, Owerri, Dr. Celestina Njoku, took over in September 2010, as the substantive Rector, the school community jubilated. It was a seeming endless jubilation.
Njoku’s ascendancy to the office was heralded with pomp and pageantry. The students she diligently served as their Dean danced and celebrated. The Polytechnic women were not left out in the euphoria.
Indeed, nobody was left out in the joyous mood as she was perceived to have really paid her dues in the institution, especially having served in several capacities.
It was obviously for this reason that the Governing Council did not hesitate in giving her the job and making her the first female rector of the institution. Her administration took off smoothly even as she juggled a few positions.
But indications soon emerged that some people were not very comfortable that she has mounted the saddle of leadership!
So, the peaceful situation subsisted until the early hours of Thursday, July 28, 2011. This is a day Mrs. Njoku will not forget in a hurry; a day she got a rude shock as a school administrator. She obviously never saw it coming and it took her by storm. Why not? It is feared that over N1 billion may be required to replace all the burnt, damaged or stolen properties.
The school had been very peaceful over the years and there was nothing on ground to show that it was about to explode when the Rector left the previous day for home. The same was applicable to the Registrar, Mr. Matthew I. Aligbe, who left for Abuja on official duty.
Increase in school fees
The institution’s students rose angrily against her nearly one- year administration over an alleged increase in school fees from N30,000 to N50,000 per student per session.
The students also complained about the alleged introduction of acceptance fees for fresh students. There was equally the 15 percent surcharge on late payments, which was allegedly approved by the Academic Board.s
The foregoing were the reasons advanced by the students for their action, which Vanguard Metro, VM, gathered was originally meant to be very peaceful. A good number of the students trooped to Owerri from their Nekede campus.
They peacefully proceeded to the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA; the Imo Broadcasting Corporation, IBC; Government House and the State House of Assembly. Traffic was held up in the municipality for hours as they proceeded peacefully to their different destinations.
While the apparently sincere ones were in Owerri lodging their complaints, other deadly groups took over the ever busy Owerri-Aba federal highway and effectively blocked it. Traffic not only came to a halt but some unfortunate wayfarers had the windscreens and headlamps of their vehicles smashed.
The other recalcitrant and intransigent students, possibly powered by external forces, unleashed unimaginable mayhem in the school. At the end of the madness, no fewer than 31 vehicles and five motorcycles were completely vandalized.
Three of the vehicles were burnt beyond redemption. Spare tyres, batteries, brain boxes, car stereos and other accessories of the vehicles were carefully removed and stolen.
The dashboard of a 2010 model of Toyota Camry, FG68-A51, attached to the institution’s Governing Council Chairman was stolen. A Mercedes Benz Marcopolo luxury bus with registration number FG63-A51 and a KIA Rio saloon car, FG78-A51, among other vehicles, were seriously vandalized.
The Students Union Government Secretariat, the Polytechnic gate and Security Department were burnt. No fewer than 200 computers, television sets, ceiling fans, refrigerators and cash were stolen from private offices.
The Administration Block housing the Registry, Bursary and Rector’s offices were not broken into but all the louver blades were mindlessly broken. The school’s Medical Clinic was not spared. It suffered a high level of vandalization. The scene is better witnessed than imagined.
One of the students told VM that they “did not want to tamper with the academic record domiciled in the Administrative Block and that was why those who attacked it did not go the extra mile of burning it”.
The allegations levelled against the school administration, seem very genuine but fly in the face of proper reasoning.
The argument in some quarters is that school fees are never increased midway into any academic year in Nigeria. Fees are paid per session. So, what is the business of old students with acceptance fees meant to be paid by the fresh students? Was any new student admitted by the Polytechnic management in the second semester? If the foregoing are not correct, who then engineered the crisis?
Other nagging questions include: Who has ever seen a Students’ Union Government secretariat destroyed during any students’ uprising? What will any student be doing with automatic weapons (AK47) in the school? Who was responsible for the shoot-out in the school, when it has been confirmed that the police came into the fracas very late?
What is more intriguing is that a petition has already been filed against the Rector by a supposedly aggrieved person. The piece gave an account of what supposedly transpired before and during the rampage. VM gathered that it was filed about 24 hours after the students’ insurrection.
Already, the National Association of Imo State Students, NAISS, Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, ASUP, and other well-meaning individuals have since condemned the damnable act.
Determined to get to the root of the crisis, the institution’s Governing Council has set up an investigative committee to probe the ugly incident. According to a release, FPN/R/26/XXI/324 dated August 4, 2011 and signed by Mr. Orje Ishegh-Nor and Ngozi Maureen Idih, the panel has three points of reference.They include:
* To determine the immediate and remote causes of the crisis.
* Determine the extent of damage to the Polytechnic property and identify individual(s), group(s) and/or interest(s) involved and
* Determine ways of preventing future occurrences of such disturbances.
For now, the school remains shut. It is not clear when it will be reopened for normal academic work. Whether this committee will get the perpetrator(s) of the sordid crime remains any person’s guess.