• Our lives in danger, student leaders cry out
From Chris Anucha and Tony John
The death toll arising from protests of students of the University of Port Harcourt on Monday rose to three yesterday afternoon.
The students have, however, vowed to continue the struggle until the management of the institution rescinds its decision, to stop those who have not paid their school fees from taking part in the examination.
Reacting to the incident, the Vice Chancellor of the University, Professor Ndowa Sunday Lale, alleged that the protest, carried out on Monday, by the students of the institution, that led to the death of the student was meant to sack him from office.
Lale made the allegation yesterday, when the Acting Commissioner of Police in Rivers State, and Deputy Commissioner of Police in Charge of Administration, Mobolaji Odesanya, visited him to ascertain the level of damage in the school during the protest.
The vice chancellor, who said he was surprise at the protest, also alleged that the protesting students were sponsored by those he could not disclose their identities. He disclosed the school management regretted the death of the student, Mr. Peter Ofurum, but denied knowledge of the circumstances that led to his death.
According to the vice chancellor, the protest had nothing to do with hike in school fees, pointing out that the demonstration was masterminded by students, who wanted to be certified without sitting for any examinations.
Meanwhile, the students union leaders have expressed concern about their safety.
Giving further insight into the protest, Comrade Anaemeje claimed that they are currently facing threats on two fronts, one from the students, who accused them of selling out. Another is said to be from the management, which has ordered security men to arrest them.
He said it was in the process of trying to prove to their colleagues that they were not supporting the management, that they approved the protest.
Anaemeje also recalled the efforts made by SUG to prevail on the management of the institution to rescind its decision but to no avail.
“Our lives are now in danger. We have been in hiding since Monday, the management of the school has ordered the police to arrest us . We are appealing to the Federal Government and other relevant bodies to intervene,” he said.
“As a university, we sincerely regret and mourn with the family of the deceased. I hear a student died in some circumstances that are not very clear to me. I regret it so much that such happened.
“All you hear is that the VC increased fees. Firstly, in federal university, we don’t pay tuition fees, government only allows us to take some charges in which we use to provide certain services for the students.
“The charges that are being paid today in this institution were negotiated last two years ,under the administration of Professor Joseph Ajienka, the former VC of the institution.
“I have just stayed nine months, during this period, I have not contemplated or dreamt of increasing any payment by kobo.
“The students know it, but because they want to score cheap points, they are misleading the public. UNIPORT students want to acquire degrees without writing exams. If such schools existed, I would have attended because I wrote exams in all the schools I attended.
“Last semester, we also went through tough times , in order to ensure that the students write exams and they wanted to go on rampage. This time, it is standard practice that students must register to be bonafide members of a school. That is all we asked them to do.”
Lale continued: “This process is supposed to have closed six weeks , after students resumed studies. They resumed first week of January and sixth weeks expired February 12. But, because the president of the Parents’ Forum had appealed to me that we should give them more time, we gave four more weeks. Yet, they failed to register.
“By March 10, because some have not turned up, we decided to declare March 11, which was the last date for the extension, lecture free to give the students the opportunity to register.
“We extended the registration to March 30. By the law of the university the registration is supposed to end four weeks before the exams commence so we shut down our portal.
“We, again opened it on April 7, which is just four days to the exam and it is totally unacceptable by our standard. But, we did that to ensure that there is peace on the campus; but, by this date, more than 90 percent of the students have complied and were ready for exam. So, we shut down the portal.
“Because it is traditional among students not to write exams, those who paid among the 90 percent joined the less than 10 percent to make sure that the exams don’t hold.”
He added, “I have been a lecture for 34 years without a brake I have not seen a thing like this in any university. It was well orchestrated. I don’t know what they intended to achieve.
“The policy,’ No Fees No Exam’, is not strange, because nobody goes to school without payment.”
On his part, DCP Mobolaji Odesanya said: “We heard of a corpse that was recovered . The corpse has been sent to the mortuary , ready for autopsy. Apart from that, no other report of death.
“The police did not move into the campus until late 9pm, when the VC wrote officially to the police to move in because, we have no right to move in when we have not been given the permission to do so.
“Prior to that time, we were outside, preventing the students from blocking the road, and preventing the breach of public peace. The police did not use firearm on the students and they did not shoot at any student.”
The VC took the Acting CP round some of the school facilities that were allegedly damaged by the students during the protest.
The team also visited the school’s Information and Technology Centre (ICT), where over 100 laptop, computers were carted away during the protest.