Some students of Nigerian higher institutions who staged a peaceful protest on Friday in Ibadan, Oyo State capital, over the 88-day-old strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and other trade unions, have accused some unnamed soldiers of attempting to run over them with their vehicle.
One of the protesters and 200 level student of the Department of Sociology at the University of Ibadan, Emiola Solomon, said the soldiers had driven a pick-up van with registration number; NA 1894 B05, and attempted to forcefully pass through the crowd of protesters.
Videos of the incident obtained by PREMIUM TIMES also show some protesters being forcefully pushed by a moving army van.
PREMIUM TIMES reached out to the Nigerian Army on the incident.
Though calls to the telephone line to the director of army public relations, Onyema Nwachukwu, a major general, were not answered, he replied to a short message sent to him.
“Good evening Nas. I have not received such information please. I will make effort to confirm from Ibadan.”
Meanwhile, ASUU has condemned the alleged harassment of the protesters, urging security operatives to respect the fundamental rights of Nigerians to assemble and protest against government policies, actions and inactions that are found to be bad.
How it happened
Mr Solomon said the students had peacefully assembled in front of the main gate of the university and occupied the roads linking the institution to Agbowo, Sango and Ojo when a Nigerian army van approached the scene and “attempted to forcefully drive through the crowd.”
He said; “We peacefully conducted ourselves while conveying our frustration to the public through a public address system when an army van occupied by some soldiers attempted to pass through the crowd.
“We had a team diverting vehicles and especially those on essential services and emergencies. But before that could be done for the army van, the driver attempted to run over some of the students.”
He said while the students tried to engage the driver, one of the soldiers “who wore a bulletproof vest over his uniform decided to cock his gun and pointed it at us.”
He said it was at that point that a senior military officer appeared with other soldiers to calm them.
“We were surprised that a father, whose child may also be home as a result of this unfortunate and avoidable strike, would attempt to kill protesting students. Is it to protect his job or what? What about his future and the future of this country? This will not stop us,” the student said.
Another student who took part in the protest but craved anonymity, said the alleged harassment had rather emboldened the protesters to move round major roads in the city, and reiterated the call for reopening of the universities across the country.
“We then moved en masse to Sango where movements were halted along Ibadan polytechnic road and the Mokola-UI road,” he said.
The source said the Muslim students observed their Friday prayer on the road at Mokola, while the non-Muslims provided “cover” for them.
“Our counterparts in private and some state universities are not waiting for us. We will eventually go into the same labour market where restrictions on age and experiences would be placed before us,” the student said.
In a statement issued on Friday, the Lagos zone of ASUU called for caution and civility among the security operatives, especially in their responses to “legitimate” protests by the students or other concerned individuals and groups.
The statement, which is titled; “Need for Extreme Caution, Democratic Civility and Sensitivity in Handling Students’ Protests,” and signed by the zonal chairman, Adelaja Odukoya, noted that the protests were forced on the students as a “consequence of government’s insensitivity to the three-month-old ASUU strike.”
The statement reads in part; “Army and Police have constitutional responsibilities to protect and not attack, maim or brutalise protesting students across the country. There is more than enough pains, anguish and bloodshed in the land on account of government failure that to allow security indiscretion to cause the death of a single student will be unconscionable and unacceptable.
“It is not surprising that a government has been accustomed and happy with students passivity and indifference to the criminal neglect and inadequate funding of our universities cannot but be shocked and angered by the new progressive and constructive awakening of Nigerian struggles to join force with our Union and compel government to live up to its responsibilities for the education of Nigerian youth. This patriotic action of the Nigerian students is highly commendable and gives us hope for our beloved country.”
ASUU said it is in solidarity with the protesters, and that it keeps monitoring the protests and observed that they have been peaceful and orderly so far.
“We, therefore, urge the Army and Police High Commands to issue stringent directives of caution to their operatives who have made two to three attempts at attacking students in order to avoid unnecessary accidents.
“The attempt to crush students with an Army van today at the gate of University of Ibadan (UI) is shameful, condemnable and disgraceful. It seems the security operatives are yet to learn anything useful from the #EndSARS revolts. It cannot be overemphasised that students, like all citizens, have fundamental rights to protest as enshrined in our Constitution,” the statement added.
Protest resumes Saturday
Meanwhile, the protesters have said they would return to the streets on Saturday to continue their agitation for the reopening of the universities and other campuses that are under lock and keys nationwide.
Mr Solomon said the protest would continue by 8 a.m. on Saturday, and pleaded with Nigerians to appeal to the government and the striking workers to resolve the challenges and ensure that the universities are reopened immediately.
Students across major states have in the past few weeks been mobilising public support and sympathy for their agitation for the reopening of the universities and other campuses.
Similar protests have been held across major cities in the country. On Thursday, students of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, barricaded both Ilesha-Ibadan and Ibadan-Ife roads causing a traffic logjam for motorists along the routes.
Also on Wednesday, in Ogun State, protesters blocked the popular Lagos-Abeokuta road causing difficulties for road users.
The president of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NAN), Sunday Asefon, has also led protests in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital territory (FCT) over the ongoing strike by ASUU and other university-based trade unions.
Mr Asefon has also threatened to lead his members to disrupt any political party primary in Abuja, as the parties plan ahead of the 2023 general elections in the country.
ASUU and other workers’ unions in universities, polytechnics and colleges of education have at one time or the other been at loggerheads with the government over various issues concerning welfare, revitalisation of the institutions, and the alleged imposition of the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) on the institutions for payment of their salaries and other emoluments.
President Buhari on Thursday appealed to the striking university workers to resume while negotiations continue.
But a “tripartite-plus” meeting chaired on Thursday by Mr Buhari’s chief of staff, Ibrahim Gambari, reportedly ended in a stalemate.
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