The crisis that engulfed the University of Uyo in Akwa Ibom State, which led to the killing of a student and the closure of the institution, yesterday claimed the lives of the Senate President of the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, and four others in a ghastly motor accident.
Seven other students also sustained serious injuries. The accident, which occurred at Ariam in Ikwuano Local Government Area of Abia State on the Umuahia- Ikot Ekpene road, involved a Hiace bus in which the students were travelling in and a trailer that was coming from Akwa Ibom State.
The trailer lost control and rammed into the bus conveying the students. The students were said to be on their way to Uyo to mediate in the crisis that erupted in the university two days ago.
The dead students are Mr. Donald Onukaogu (Senate president); Mr. Abdulaziz Oladimeji, a candidate for the National President of the union from the University of Ibadan; Mr. Japhafa Duru, Zone B Assistant General Secretary, and Mr. Jerry Sorkar.
However, the names of those who sustained injuries could not be ascertained at press time as students were preventing newsmen from gathering information about the victims.
The corpses of the deceased were reported to have been deposited at the Federal Medical Centre, FMC, Umuahia mortuary, while the injured are also receiving treatment at the same facility.
Sources at the FMC confirmed to our correspondent that 12 persons were brought to the hospital after the accident with five confirmed dead; six were in critical condition while one escaped without any injury.
There was tension and apprehension when our correspondent visited the hospital as students of tertiary institutions within Owerri and its environs and other sympathisers were seen weeping.
The Abia State Sector Commander of the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, Mr. John Meheux; NANS Director, Action and Mobilisation, Mr. Sunday Asefon, confirmed the incident.
Meheux said the accident, which involved a truck and a mini-bus belonging to NANS, occurred at Ariam-Ndioru Junction in Ikwuano Local Government Area of Abia State.
Meheux said that four of the victims died on the spot, while one died on the way to the hospital. Abia State Governor, Chief Theodore Orji, who visited the hospital immediately, sympathised with the students over the incident.
The governor, who described the incident as a calamity, cautioned drivers to be careful and to maintain a manageable speed. The governor said the incident was disheartening as future leaders of the country had lost their lives through the accident.
He advised student leaders to embark on negotiation with the authorities before they resort to violence, saying that such actions usually end in catastrophe.
The doctor on duty at the casualty ward of the hospital, Dr. Kalu, said that the victims were brought in the morning and were said to have had a head on collision with a lorry at Ikwuano.
The Zone B Coordinator of NANS, Chinonso Obasi, thanked the governor for sympathising with them and pledged on behalf of the students to be good ambassadors.
Another account, however, said that policemen manning a road block caused the accident.
But the Abia State Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Geoffery Ogbonna, dismissed the allegation as baseless and untrue. He told our correspondent that what brought the police to the scene of the accident was to keep the peace because the youths of the area where the accident occurred initially prevented the evacuation of the corpses to the hospital mortuary.
Ogbonna stressed that government officials should visit the scene of the accident to see how impassable the road has been for a long time. The youths believe that it was the bad road that caused the accident.
But government’s officials said the road is a federal road and that the state has been undertaking palliative measures in maintaining the road over the years.
Meanwhile, the Akwa Ibom State Police Command confirmed that a student was killed in Wednesday’s violent protest. The Commissioner of Police in the state, Mr. Umar Gwadabe, confirmed the death of the student in Uyo. Gwadabe said that contrary to speculations that three students died, the police confirmed the death of one student.
He said that 45 students had been arrested in connection with the protest, stressing that but for the timely intervention of the police; the protest would have engulfed the whole town.
“The police are duty bound to stop the protest from escalating from campus into town as the students tried to advance into the city. In this circumstance, the police did not do anything wrong,” he said.
National Mirror learnt that the dead student, Kingsley Udoette, is to be buried tomorrow in Ika. Within the university, property worth millions of naira and the entire academic records stored in the Registrar’s Department were lost to the protest.
Though no management staff was ready to volunteer comments on the extent of damage, the Chairman of the university branch of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Dr. Anyim Nwachukwu, said: “When there is a problem, there is always room for what caused it and that is in the realm of subjectivism.
“The main issue on ground for now is that there was a crisis on campus and from the information I have received, some lives were lost and there is massive destruction to the university property.
“For now, it is difficult to say what are the immediate and remote causes of the crisis since we are yet to receive security report on the matter but, if it was the issue of fees, how is it that offices of my colleagues were broken into and things been stolen.
We can’t be definite about the kind of damage that occurred.” When our correspondent visited the campus, it was observed that most of the offices were either completely vandalised or burnt down.
Among the offices razed by the irate students include those of the Vice- Chancellor, Prof. Comfort Ekpo; the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academics) and his counterpart in Administration and a female hostel. Others were the office of the Registrar, Mrs. Eduak Umondak; the block housing Academic Records and the Governing Council Affairs.
The block housing the Cash Office, Finance and Accounts, Office of the Director, Computer Services and the portal where online registrations are carried out for students were completely vandalised and computers stolen.
Also, over 15 cars belonging to members of staff were smashed and some destroyed beyond repairs. Umondak, who was seen inspecting the destruction of the university property refused to speak to newsmen, but she told some members of staff that she escaped by a whisker.
As at the time of filing this report, policemen have taken over the entire university and blocked all major roads leading to the institution while vehicles are diverted to other routes. An eyewitness told National Mirror that one of the three students who died during the riot inhaled teargas.
The victim, a lady, was said to be an asthmatic patient. Meanwhile, some leaders of NANS, including its president, Yinka Gbadebo, were intercepted in Ibadan, Oyo State, yesterday by a team of mobile policemen during a protest staged over the alleged killing of their colleagues at the University of Uyo and the death of five others in an auto crash.
NANS had mobilised the students of higher institutions in Ibadan yesterday to publicly demand for the removal of the Inspector-General of Police, Muhammed Abubakar, over what it called police brutality against Nigerian students, especially the latest alleged killing of two students of UNIUYO, which they said also led to the death of the members of the association’s leadership.
In a telephone interview with National Mirror, NANS President had claimed that they were intercepted by mobile joint task force team of the police in Ibadan where many of the students were beaten and tear gassed.
The Chief of Staff to the NANS president, Tunde Wolimoh, said the brutalised students were later taken to General Hospital, Adeoyo, in Ibadan, where they were receiving treatment as at the time of filing this report.
Wolimoh, therefore, demanded the immediate sack of the IGP and the closure of higher institutions in the country in solidarity with the late students.
He said it would not be the first time the police would open fire on innocent citizens of the country, adding that “such excesses can no longer be tolerated in a country that claims to be running democracy.” He said the students would not be intimidated by what it termed police brutality in their resolve to sanitise the nation’s leadership.
Wolimoh added that while the association sympathised with the families of the late students, it would make sure that they did not die in vain as “their killers would be made to pay for their sins committed against humanity.”
He added the association would liaise with the family to give their colleagues befitting burial while efforts would be made to prosecute the alleged killers.