By Ikechukwu Amaechi
FOR residents of the university town of Oye Ekiti in Ekiti State, Tuesday, September 10, was a black day. And it shouldn’t have been. But in Nigeria, black days have become the new normal as people now live one day at a time. When citizens begin to see every new day as bonus from outlaws, something has gone tragically wrong. Nigerians are right now at that incongruous crossroads of national anomie.
On that fateful day, students of the Federal University, Oye Ekiti, FUOYE, chose to protest epileptic power supply in their campus, which they claimed had made their lives miserable and hellish. It was peaceful. For students, such protests are not out of place. It is in the tradition of aluta and, therefore, should not be punished with death. But as it is usually the case, the hitherto peaceful protest turned violent immediately policemen threw themselves into the fray. Two young students, Dada Kehinde, a 100-level student of Crop Science and Horticulture and Okonufua Joseph, a 300-level Biology Education student, were shot dead by trigger-happy policemen. Many others were injured.
Since then, the police have gone on overdrive as they are wont to do. First they were in denial, their notorious trademark. The state Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Caleb Ikechukwu, a Deputy of Superintendent of Police, claimed that nobody died because the police did not fire at the students. The Police Commissioner, Asuquo Amba, doubled down on the PPRO’s patently false claim. The victims of their unprovoked attacks suddenly became the villains that must be hunted down and severely punished, his alibi being that two policemen were allegedly wounded while two patrol vans were burnt during the crisis.
At no point did he acknowledge that two young lives were brutally cut short by his men. Kehinde died of gunshot wounds to the eyes. For the almighty cop, the fallen students were nobodies whose lives could be wantonly wasted without consequences for all he cared. That is the tragedy of the Nigerian state. Amba has arrested at least two students and others have gone into hiding. They are the children of the hoi-polloi with little or no rights, not to talk of privileges, as Nigerian citizens.
And all this happened just because the students wanted to complain to the wife of Ekiti State governor, Mrs. Bisi Fayemi. That audacity is considered rude and an afront. There are as many narratives of the Oye Ekiti tragedy as there are actors. But what is incontrovertible is the fact that the protest was peaceful until the police happened on the scene. The students claim they had flagged down the vehicle of Mrs. Fayemi who just happened to be at the scene of the protest at the material time to explain reasons for their protest. That is normal. She couldn’t have been a target in any way because none of the issues they were complaining about had anything to do with her, not even her husband’s government.
Besides, Mrs. Fayemi is only the wife of the Ekiti State governor. The fact that she took it upon herself to tour the local governments, one of the many aberrations of this so-called democracy, does not make her the alternate governor of Ekiti. Nigeria’s democracy inebriates insufferably. The university in question is a federal institution, and the students know. Electricity is in the exclusive legislative list, and therefore, an exclusive preserve of the Federal Government. So, why would the students attack the First Lady? Governor Fayemi is a friend of the students. Both governor and wife belong to the “human rights” community. So, they are kindred spirits with the students.
Yet, when they flagged down the convoy to explain their plight to a supposed friend who they thought would give them a listening ear, one of her security details slapped the Students Union President, Comrade Awodola Oluwaseun, who had stepped forward to do the explanation. It was at that point that the hitherto peaceful protest turned violent as the students affronted by the irresponsible action of the police officer reacted angrily. Even at that, at no time was the governor’s life in danger, at least not up to this point.
But in response, the police started shooting the fleeing students directly and with live bullets. The students pointedly accuse Mrs. Fayemi of ordering her security details to open fire on them. But Mrs. Fayemi disputes this narrative claiming that the report that the crisis occurred because she refused to address the protesting students was totally false. In a letter she personally signed, she claimed that the protesting students had dispersed as at the time she got to Oye town. “I did not encounter any group of students when I got to Oye town. They had dispersed before my arrival,” she claimed.
She said trouble started when she was already inside the hall at the venue of the event that brought her to Oye. “Half-way through our event, there was a disturbance outside. The FUOYE students (and possibly infiltrated by local thugs) had re-grouped and were trying to get into the venue. The security officers prevented this from happening. We finished our programme, and by the time we got outside, we found that vehicles from my convoy and those of my guests that were parked outside the venue had been vandalised.
“As we were driving out of Oye town, we encountered at least two roadblocks that the students had mounted to prevent the movement of vehicles. I could see students/thugs throwing stones and large sticks at us as we drove by. However, the casualties that were recorded did not take place while I was there. There are eye-witnesses, photographs and video footage to confirm this.”
Mrs. Fayemi, a self-acclaimed social justice activist, said she is scandalised and shocked beyond words to hear that she instructed security officers to shoot at students. Maybe she really is. Who knows? But her story does not add up. Moreover, videos which revealed the moment policemen chased some of the students and shot at them do not bear her narrative out. One of the videos, a 15-second footage showed four policemen aiming shots at some of the protesters, as frightened female students filming the incident cried out. Another clip, about seven seconds long, also showed two policemen chasing some of the students and firing directly at them.
If Mrs. Fayemi did not personally come in contact with the students as she claimed, who was the police protecting? At what point were the students killed? Nigerian students may be exuberant, but they don’t behave the way Mrs. Fayemi described. From where did they regroup to come to the venue of the event and why would they do that if there was no previous encounter?
Mrs. Fayemi claims she did not order the police to shoot at the students. That may well be true. But that is only a single story. The other story is that she did nothing to rein in her dogs of war when they went berserk. Both students and other eyewitnesses insist that policemen in her convoy shot and killed the students for daring to take their protest to her. All of them couldn’t have conspired to lie against the First Lady.
But I am shocked at the intervention of Ekiti Council of Elders. In a press statement signed by the chairman, Prof Joseph Oluwasanmi, the council said it was “grateful to God for sparing the life of the First Lady, Erelu Bisi Fayemi, officials and journalists on her entourage during the crisis,” while calling “on the students and youths generally to eschew violence in all ramifications in expressing their grievances.” “In view of the open politicisation of the crisis, the council strongly warned politicians against exploiting situations that are mournful and detrimental to the wellbeing of the populace as a political tool,” the statement concluded.
I couldn’t believe what I read. It is sickening to say the least. If the students killed were children of high and mighty, would that have been their reaction? Governor Fayemi condemned the shooting, promised to support the family of the slain students and pay the medical bills of the injured students. But that is beside the issue. Nigerians need to know what role his wife played. She was the reason why this tragedy happened. She cannot therefore distance herself from it and walk away free just because she is a governor’s wife. What crime did the students commit that earned them death sentence?