Refugees take over UNIABUJA as varsity remains shut

University of Abuja
University of Abuja used to illustrate the story

The University of Abuja, UNIABUJA, shut down in November 2012, remain closed and is now home to Fulani herdsmen

As academic life returns and picks up in tertiary institutions across the country, students of the University of Abuja, UNIABUJA,  are still unsure of when the institution would resume as the gates remain shut.

The main campus of the university remains largely bereft of the normal hustle and bustle of academic life with most offices locked and classroom and labs taken over by cobwebs.

The strange sight that greets a visitor is that of Fulani herdsmen and their families living in makeshift tents close to the administrative area, the International Centre for Investigative Reporting is reporting today.

UNIABUJA has been shut since November last year following protests by students. Trouble started when students staged a two-day protest beginning November 19 demanding accreditation of some courses.

The students, mainly from the faculties of Medicine, Agriculture and Engineering, had been in the institution for years without hope for award of certificates by the school because their courses had not been accredited.

Some of the protesters comprised ex-students who had graduated but had neither been given results nor enlisted for the mandatory National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, scheme.

The protest was sparked by an announcement by the Minister of Education, Ruqayyatu Rufa’i, the previous week, suspended the programmes that had failed to meet with the National Universities Commission, NUC’s accreditation criteria.

The Vice Chancellor of the university, James Adelabu, addressed the students, appealing to them to tread the path of peace. He said although the accreditation challenge was inherited by his administration, the school’s management was doing its best to ensure the issue was resolved.

But persistent protests by the students led the authorities of the university to shut its gates and send students home. Two months after, the gates remain shut and students are not allowed into the campus.

In fact, security checks have been heightened around  the entrances to the institution to ward off the students.

Refugees in UNIABUJA
Refugees in UNIABUJA

The refugees take over

When our reporter visited the school and eventually gained entry this week, the sights that greeted her were not those of young men and women gaily dressed for lectures but men and women squatting in temporary tents.

These are the victims of clashes between Fulani herdsmen and the indigenous Gwari population last December over farmland and grazing of cattle which led to the death of two persons, the burning of houses and displacement of about 1500.

The minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, BalaMohammed, thereafter gave the university premises as a temporary habitation for the displaced persons and constituted a committee to look into the causes of the communal clash, with a view to proffering solutions.

One month has gone since the incidence and the refugees are still camped at the school in tents situated in the heart of the campus, right beside the senate building. Rather than students clutching books, what you see are Fulani herdsmen lounging in from of the tents and their women engaged in household chore – fetching water and cooking.

A source at the Federal Capital Territory Administration, FCTA, said the fact-finding and implementation committees set up to investigate the issue had submitted its findings. What remains is for the technical team to act on the findings and provide an alternative permanent settlement for the refugees.

Our source however could not say if funds had been released to the team even though the minister announced a N30million compensation for the victims. He could also not say for how long the refugees would continued to be camped on the campus.

Students stole goats, yams

Meanwhile, students and lecturers of the institution alike do not know for certain when the school would be reopened but there are speculations that it may not be until the end of next month.

The authorities had promised the students that their unaccredited programmes would be accredited before the end of February; a condition which the protesting students have said must be met before academic activities can commence.

A professor, who is also a member of the investigative panel set up by the school, confirmed that the school’s management was working hard to resolve the pending challenge.

He said the panel had concluded it report and would submit same to the institution’s senate in a meeting tentatively scheduled for next week, but gave no likely date for resumption. The professor did not agree to be named saying he was not authorised to speak on the matter.

The university’s public relations officer, PRO, Garba Waziri, confirmed this, saying that the committee instituted by the school to look into the causes of the crisis only just concluded its findings and is yet to submit its report.

He said, however, that the school’s Senate would be presented with the report next Wednesday and hopefully a date for resumption would be decided then.

As for the refugees in the compound, Mr. Waziri said that the deadline given by the FCT minister elapsed today (Friday) and as at the time he got to the school that morning, the Fulani had been relocated to another space further inside the permanent site, although he said that the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, was yet to remove its tent.

It was gathered from some of the students that before this time, some Fulani lived within the school premises, although in far-off settlements in undeveloped parts of the university land.

They also alleged that it was these Fulani that the school authority mobilised to attack the students during the protest. The students therefore expressed the fear that their lives and properties were not safe as long as these strangers continue to dwell within the school premises.

But Waziri has refuted these claims as not true.

“It is not true that the school employed the services of theFulani to stem the crisis. We have our internal security, the mobile police and our own private security men who are always on ground. So it is not true,” he said.

He added that: “You see, these students have something to hide which they don’t want the public to know. During the protest, they went to our agriculture farms and took some goats which they slaughtered and ate, they also went to the farms of the Fulani and harvested their yams; as well as broke into our bursary and carted away some money,” the school’s spokesman alleged.

However, he did not disclose exactly how much money the students stole but confirmed that indeed some Fulani were permanently residing within the school compound even before the crisis.

Refugees in UNIABUJA
Refugees in UNIABUJA

Courses still not accredited

When our reporter visited the NUC office in Abuja to ascertain the level of progress made by the university towards the accreditation exercise, the deputy director of information, Ibrahim UsmanYakasai, said: “this is an internal crisis that should be managed by the school.”

He declined speaking about how far the university had gone with the accreditation of outstanding courses, saying the school has a management body, Senate and governing council and well able to manage its crisis, and that “everywhere NUC needs to assist, we have assisted.”

Mr. Yakasai said, however, that the real issue is not that of accreditation but of resource verification, adding that ‘if the school has said that it would resume very soon, why should we doubt them? I’m sure that the school’s management is on top of the situation.”

While the resumption remains uncertain, some affected students are taking their destinies in their hands. They were seen processing their transcripts to other schools for a continuation of their programmes.

A 500-level student of Engineering at the University who would not like to be named said he could no longer wait for the institution to decide his fate and was making attempts to move to another university.

“Even if this issue is resolved, the stigma will still remain. It would take years of rebranding to remove. Right now employers do not value the certificate of the school,” he said.

Even if the issue of accreditation is resolved, there are still other pending issues. Apart from accreditation, some other demands the students have put forward include demands for more hostel facilities, accurate computation of results, extension of examination duration (exams are usually conducted in one week) and the lifting of the ban placed on the school’s Student Union Government, SUG, since 2005.

International Centre for Investigative Reporting

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