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UNICAL: Conflicting claims over students’ rampage

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By Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Calabar

Recently, students of the University of Calabar took to the streets in a violent manner that led to the destruction of property said to be worth more than N10 billion. Since the ugly incident, there have been contradicting reports over what led to the wanton destruction of property in the 34-year-old citadel of learning.

The students alleged that authorities of the university led by the Vice Chancellor, Prof. James Ekpoke, were insensitive to their plight. According to them, the security on campus was very porous, hence they were left at the mercy of armed robbers.

STUDENTS allegations:
THE rampaging students alleged that on that fateful August 26, 2011, people suspected to be armed robbers invaded Hall Four at Malabo, robbed students of their valuables, including cell phones and laptops without security agents coming to their rescue. A 400 level student of Public and Policy Administration and president, Ohafia Students Union, in the university was gruesomely  murdered in the incident.

The students also claimed that staff of the university’s medical centre refused to attend to the deceased who was bleeding profusely at the time he was rushed to the clinic. This care-free attitude allegedly  led to the death of the student.  Aside that, the students claimed that authorities of the institution imposed on them, a mandatory development levy of  N10, 000 and did not allow them enough time to rally round to pay the fees. They were given a deadline of  August 26, the day the protest took place, to pay the levy.

one of the vehicles vandalised during the rampage

Another account of what transpired, claimed that two weeks before the riot, some persons suspected to be cult members, stormed one of the hostels and killed a final year Law student.

According to the source, what happened on August 26, was a reprisal attack. But when the assailants did not see the rival group they were looking for, they decided to embark on a looting spree and the refusal of one of the students to surrender his cell phone attracted the wrath of the merchants of death who shot him dead.

Fresh facts emerging from the institution claimed that the students went wild, destroying the university’s property, including vehicles belonging to academic and non-academic staff as well as visitors who had gone to the school for their personal engagements.

Vanguard Features, VF, learnt that successive administrations in the university had operated on a loose environment where agents and syndicates issued fake admissions to unsuspecting students. Those syndicates were also said to have issued their victims fake school fees receipts. The money, VF learnt,  went into personal coffers and not the institution’s treasury.

A report claimed that some of the syndicates operated in collaboration with staff of the school who would assist them (students) during the screening exercise after collecting huge sums of money. The racketeers, VF sources claimed, would photocopy the tellers of those who genuinely paid school fees and present them as evidence of payment during examinations when fee receipts are demanded.

Other vehicles...

Such fraudsters would claim that they were unable to go to the bursary to collect their receipts after making payment through a bank. VF investigations showed that there are some persons whose stock in trade is to give students fake admission and receipts for school fees payment while the money went to such agents’ pockets.

One of the racketeering kingpins is said to be living in opulence and driving one of the latest brands of Toyota in Calabar.  In an attempt to block all financial leakages, the Prof. Ekpoke- led administration embarked on series of reforms, including the online payment of fees. The institution opened a portal where students were told to pay all the necessary fees.

According to the institution’s management, students were told to pay all the necessary fees between January 14, 2011 and August 26, 2011 to enable the school use the money to prepare for their exams. VF understands that many students who graduated from the university several years ago, have neither collected the statements of their results nor the original certificates.

The school made it compulsory for lecturers to prepare and publish results of students at the end of every semester examination. The results were also to be posted on the web so that the students will have access of their results.
Little did the authorities expect that these efforts  to reposition the university would attract the wrath of those who were to benefit from the reforms.

The management was oblivious of the fact that the reforms especially the financial discipline would affect those who had been in the dubious act of dishing out fake admission letters and fake receipts. VF gathered that when the racketeers knew that their dubious trade was over, they mobilised beneficiaries of their illicit business to destroy the institution’s property and their first port of call was the portal.

The protesting students had thought that destroying the portal will obliterate all records of  school fees payment, but they did not know that the university had back ups.

Imoke, VC speakon the destruction
Commenting on the level  of destruction after an on-the-spot assessment of the rampage, the Cross River State Governor, Senator Liyel Imoke described it as unprecedented and monumental. His words: “The destruction is quite extensive and most unfortunate, whatever the reasons may be. It is unprecedented; the institution has been shut down for the time being.”

In an interview, the Vice Chancellor said he could not fathom what led to the wanton destruction of property by the students as there was no serious disagreement between the management and students. Noting that he had no inkling that such an action was in the offing, he said: “It is strange because we cannot say that there was anything inimical that the administration did that would warrant this kind of reaction.

Yes, students may disagree on one thing or the other, but if the disagreement was brought in the way of normal demonstration, the administration would have looked at it.”

On the alleged increase in fees that was said to have sparked off the protest, the Vice Chancellor said: “Every university all over the world, gives deadlines for certain things. There is a date for resumption, date for registration, date for examination.

All those things are there. There are deadlines. Since this school resumed on January 14 this year, students have been registering and we say that for us to be able to compile the list of really registered students and prepare for sessional exams for them, there should be a deadline and the deadline was given eight and a half months later, which is August 26.

“There is no school you go and stay for eight and a half months without registering. How do we know that you are a student? How do we prepare for exams for you? I mean that cannot warrant this kind of destruction. It cannot. The only thing that happened is that the SUG president came and said that we should shift that deadline of August 26.

I went back and discussed with my DVC and we were making plans to give a little room for those that find it difficult to meet that deadline. They did not allow that 26th to pass and they came to destroy the whole university.”

On the issue of security, he said the management will look into the security situation to see if there were lapses and that a committee would be set up to critically review the security situation. Prof. Ekpoke debunked the report of armed robbery in the hostel and declared: “even in the secondary school, it is difficult for a thief or robber to enter boys dormitory and steal, how much more a university with all the 5, 000 students in the hall. It is not likely”.

ASUU condemns protest
Also commenting on the protest, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, UNICAL branch described the violent protest which led to the wanton destruction of 63 vehicles and other property belonging to their members, as criminal and unbecoming of future leaders.

The union after its extra ordinary congress on Tuesday, August 30, condemned in totality the students action, stressing that it could not fathom the connection between the students grievances with the administration and the destruction of property of the lecturers.

In the statement signed by the branch chairman of ASUU, Dr. James Okpiliya and the Secretary Dr. Emmanuel Akpan, the union described the action as barbaric at this time and age when there are modern ways of resolving issues. The union said: “With this high level of inglorious execution and the magnitude of destruction by the students, we see the action as pre-meditated, 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 civilized avenues of resolving their grievances in line with the rich culture of the University of Calabar.”

Dr. Okpiliya who read the statement disclosed that the union resolved to set up a panel to look into the immediate and remote causes of the crises, assess the extent of damage and make appropriate recommendations in order to help her take decision. He said the students unleashed a high level of terror on staff and made attempts to forcefully enter their (staff) quarters.

He said:  “On Saturday morning when it was thought that tension had been calmed, the worst happened as the students regrouped and now focused on the VC’s office, GSS Centre, NUC Data base office.”

*Prof. James Ekpoke with Gov Liyel Imoke ona tour of the campus after the crisis

ASUU regretted what it described as the reluctance of the police to intervene despite repeated appeals by the university authority to salvage the situation, noting: “The union notes with regret the repeat incident of Saturday, August 27, would have been averted if the police had responded to the university appeal.”

Cross Riverindigenes too
Also condemning the destruction of property in the institution, the Cross River State Community in the University advised authorities of the school to ensure that perpetrators of the mayhem were fished out to face the full weight of the law.

In a communiqué signed by its chairman, Dr. Patrick Egaga and the secretary Dr. Dien A. Dien, the community made up of academic and non academic staff in the university, expressed its support to the Prof. Ekpoke’s led administration. The group called on the university to investigate allegations of ethnic involvement in the crisis as well as the re-organisation of the security outfit of the institution to ensure that crises of that magnitude do not reoccur the university.

The State chairman of Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, Dr. Ofem Enang described the extent of destruction as monumental.  Dr. Enang said: “The university is a symbol of learning and good breeding. It is expected, therefore, that those who are admitted as students have had a rite of passage to stake a claim to good character and learning.

The recent riot by students of the University of Calabar that led to wanton destruction of property worth millions of Naira is ignoble and uncalled for.

“The NMA Cross River State condemns the riot by students on flimsy and unsubstantiated allegations directed at principal officers. We believe there is a channel of communication that should be followed to address issues. We sympathize with the university council, the Vice-Chancellor and staff of the University of Calabar and re-affirm our solidarity with the Vice-Chancellor, Professor James Epoke in restoring sanity to the citadel of learning.”

The violent protest of students left serious devastation in the school and although the management had while ordering the students to vacate the hostels said that in two weeks the institution will re-open, there are indications that the closure of the university will take longer than announced and before students would be allowed to return, they will be expected to pay huge sums of money which will be additional burden to the parents.

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