From Chris Anucha and Tony John
What started yesterday as a peaceful protest by the students of University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) suddenly turned tragic when a final year student of the Faculty of Management Sciences, Mr. Peter Ofurum, was allegedly killed by the police.
In a swift reaction, Rivers State Police Command has denied its officers killed Ofurum. According to the Command’s spokesman, Mr. Ahmad Muhammad, the policemen used ‘minimum force’ during the protest.
Ofurum was recently elected as the President of the Faculty of Management Sciences of the Institution.
Also, two other students were allegedly shot by the police, but their identities could not be ascertained at the time of filing the report.
They were said to be lying critically ill at the hospital, where doctor made frantic efforts to save their lives.
The students, who gathered as early as 5.30am, later marched to the main campus called ‘Abuja Campus’ of the university, as they protested increase in tuition which came into effect in November 2015.
The fee was increased to N47, 000 and the students were given up to April 4 to pay up or be de-registered.
However, besides complaining that the deadline given by the university was short, students lamented that the fee was high. Some of them lamented that their parents had been relieved of their jobs, while those of them working were being owed salaries for months.
They added that even when some of them managed to raise tuition, the portal was shut down by the school authorities after the expiration of the deadline given to pay up.
Angry students blocked the university’s entry and exit points and shut down academic activities, including examinations that were scheduled to start yesterday.
The protest also caused traffic gridlock on the popular East-West Road, as motorists and pedestrians found it extremely difficult to move from Choba to Rumuokoro, vice versa.
Trouble, however, started when the UniPort management insisted on stopping students who did not pay their schools fees from taking part in examination.
The students, it was gathered, appealed to the management to rescind its decision and extend the deadline to no avail. They promised to sustain the protest until the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Sunday Lale and the Senate listened to them.
A student, Andrew Osose, said the management did put into consideration, the hardship in the country before taking the decision to de-register students for failing to meet the deadline.
“The university said if students do pay the school fees , they will not write exam. We pleaded with them to allow some of us pay during the second semester exams. We pleaded that they should keep the registration open till one week, or extend it to the second semesters exams because, all fingers are not equal.”
“We did not destroy any property and we were not violent. We were only trying to make the public hear our plight.
Another student, Mr. Adah Andrew, described the action of the institution as extortion.
“We will not end this protest until the school management comes out to attend to us. We will make sure that there will be no exams in the school.
“They must reduce the school fees and they must not close our portal because, no federal university closes portal. This policy is not fair to the students.”
When Daily Sun contacted the university’s spokesman, Dr Williams Wodi, a Deputy Registrar (Information) he claimed he was being held hostage by the students. Wodi calimed he was in hiding and that there was no way for him to move away from the trouble spot.
He debunked allegations of increase in tuition and de-registering students who failed to pay up.
According to him, such students would only carry over the semester.
“We told them that all returning students are to pay N45,000.
“That was communicated through the school website, circular and the school bulletins and others.
“When we wanted to enforce the payment at the beginning of the session we saw that the compliance was very low.
The first deadline was February 21, 2016.
“We extended it to March 11,2016. We made it lecture-free for all students to pay.
“We recorded some mileage. Then, we extended it to March 30, 2016.We still had some students who had not paid. So, we opened our portal on April 5 for them to pay, yet, we still had problems with a couple of them and reopened it on April 6 and closed it on midnight of April 7.
“We sensitised our students as far back as November 2015 that we are going to change the perception of University where students come school free and carry over all school fees from year one to the final year and they should pay what we gave as outstanding charges because we do charge school fees.
“You can see that from November last year to February 12,March 11,March 30,April 5 and finally April 7 , 98 percent of students complied.”
He also confirmed closure of the institution for one month by the Senate.
“Senate has shut down the university with immediate effect.
“All students are directed to vacate their hostel accommodation before 6.00pm today (yesterday). Students’ Union and all their affiliate bodies suspended with immediate effect.
“The closure will last for one month.”