A deadly student protest at the University of Uyo, UNIUYO, which left at least one student dead and key offices razed a fortnight ago, erupted after the Vice Chancellor and two deputies repeatedly ignored red flags, and indeed, fueled the crisis presumably to save their skin from a possible graft investigation, the school’s chief of security has told the National Universities Commission, NUC.
In a report he filed to the NUC, a copy of which is in the possession of PREMIUM TIMES, Okon Nyong, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel, provided shocking details of the events of June 12 to the commission, urging broad inquiry into serious allegations of negligence and fraud against Professors Comfort Ekpo, the school’s VC; Okon Ansa, the deputy vice chancellor,administration; and Paul Ekwere, the deputy vice chancellor, academic.
Mr. Nyong said he was confident the sloppy response from the school management was deliberate to stir a crisis that would raze documents and other materials that could be evidential in the event of graft investigation against it.
“The protest was management-induced to destroy vital documents to cover up their corrupt practices in the system,” the retired lieutenant colonel said.
The university remains shut after the demonstration, which began peacefully over inter-campus transportation that tasked students N200 per day, degenerated after police fired live ammunitions killing at least one student.
Minutes after the attack, the students rallied and burnt the VC’s office, the examination and bursary unit and the security post, witnesses said.
The school’s security chief provides the first insight into how the University management ignored warnings of possible trouble and insisted on withdrawing buses that shuttled students between campuses more than 10 kilometers apart.
The buses, almost free as students paid only N1, 000 per semester, were due to be replaced with those from a private provider, AA Rescue; requiring that students, mainly of engineering and science faculties, pay N200 daily.
Despite the significant difference-with the students having to spend N1, 000 weekly and N16, 000 a semester of four months- Mr. Nyong said the agreement with the operators excluded students’ representatives, and the school refused a sustained enlightenment and a gradual transition to the new order.
Authorities also rejected suggestions for adequate security, including the use of police to strategic offices, before the withdrawals.
“The advice was ignored,” he said.
Early signs of troubles came after students blocked an intra-campus road a week earlier over a delayed school bus, and also protested new levies including N2,000 late registration; N2,000 for a new general course and N1,000 for a planned Arts centre.
While the unrests were resolved, tension hung in the air. Yet, the school leadership insisted on changes within days, the security chief said in letters sent to the NUC. He confirmed same details to PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday.
“Why were they hasty in effecting the decision despite the enormous problems at hand?”Mr. Nyong asked.
With transit delays between Port Harcourt and Uyo, the contracted buses finally arrived on June 11; and despite warnings, the school management effected the changes a day later, surprising hundreds of students who had arrived at the main campus to board buses to the permanent campus for early morning lectures.
As hours mounted for the students, with no buses in sight, senior officials of the school, including the two deputy V.Cs repeatedly rebuffed suggestions they address the increasingly restive students, Mr. Nyong said.
After police fired and killed a student hours into the initially peaceful demonstration, students deposited the corpse at the VC’s office, and set the security office ablaze.
Mr. Nyong said he sought police assistance to help secure the most vital offices to no avail. While the police milled outside, they insisted on an official communication from the school management to step into the campus. For hours, neither the V.C, nor the D.V.Cs obliged, Mr. Nyong said.
“Expressly, the inferno at the University of Uyo, was caused by the management’s disdainful treatment and handling of security matters, abrupt mismanagement and outright negligence of security information,” he said.
Rescue efforts, including dousing the fire, were done later at night with the help of the State Security Service.
Vice Chancellor Ekpo refused to comment when reached on telephone on Wednesday. She responded to our calls, identified herself, but left the phone open repeatedly without any response once the concerns were put to her.
But beneath the cover of the June 12 trouble, staff and students of the school speak of a deep-seated friction in the school’s current leadership and a complex management that makes it hard to properly harness resources and derive efficiency.
Substantiation for that claim may, in some ways, lie in the fact that ahead of the recent uproar, the university remained amongst the most peaceful, enduring years of calm with barely student demonstrations, much more, violent ones.
Mr. Nyong, who has served under three Vice Chancellors in the school, accused Mrs. Ekpo of handling security matters with “emotion”; and he suspects that may have to do with a turbulent history they both share.
The Vice Chancellor particularly ignored the many suggestions by Mr. Nyong that may have helped avert the student crisis, after he turned down her request to recommend her candidate for a security job, and also criticized a shady N350 million loan guaranteed by the V.C. for the school’s irritable Non Academic staff union-in a suspected bid to cow the union, Mr. Nyong told the university regulatory body, NUC.
“She felt challenged,” he wrote, “especially when I made it known to her that the office in question is for senior officers, hence the need to follow due process to advertise the office, to attract competition so that a better candidate can emerge. Since then, she sought ways to frustrate me out of the system.
The loan deal is currently under police investigation and the affected members of staff have been questioned-but like a multitude of corruption cases, may never be concluded.
The school’s security unit says it is deprived of working devices, vehicles and benefits. For instance, only one Hilux patrol car is currently in use for five campuses.
Despite their apparently precarious functions, staff of the department are denied Hazard Allowance of only N15,000 whereas drivers are paid.
“Security staff work against armed robbers, cultists, rapists, kidnappers, mosquitoes, snakes, and other wild animals under sun and rain. Whose job then is more hazardous?” Mr. Nyong asked, comparing security workers with drivers who receive that allowance.
As the relationship became rockier, the V.C. signaled early June she will no longer be working with the CSO beyond June. Pressured by other staff, she offered an extension of only a month-to end July. But after the June 12 crisis, Mr. Nyong was served a sack letter three days later.
He said the move was preemptive; to debar him from testifying should the federal government initiate a probe into the riot. He assured the NUC that despite leaving; he will be available if ever needed for details of the events.
“This is ridiculous,” he said. “I promise to be available from anywhere to render my account of the ugly incident whenever I am invited.”