“We cannot continue to waste our young, vibrant ones needlessly like this. After all, what the students asked for is water and electricity, not bullets and deaths!”
Here we go again. By the last count, at least four students of the Nassarawa State University, Keffi, were callously mowed down last Monday. The students had turned out in large numbers on the fateful day to protest lack of water and electricity in their campus when the students met their death. Many more who sustained varying degrees of injuries were rushed to the school clinic and other nearby hospitals for treatment.
Unfortunately, just like many of such horrendous incidents in the past, the blame game is on. The students have alleged that their colleagues were killed by soldiers from the Army’s 177 Guards Battalion based in Keffi who were drafted to the scene. But Ibrahim Attahiru, a Brigadier-General and Director, Army Public Relations, has denied this. While commenting on the incident last week, Attahiru said, “Three soldiers sustained injuries following the stones, bottles and metals thrown at them” by the rampaging students.
Thank God that the police have not been fingered in this latest killing. Eyewitness accounts said policemen who were drafted to the scene were very persuasive in their approach but, as soon as soldiers came in, they started shooting sporadically. This, the Army has denied. But the question is: while the students were hauling stones and other available missiles at the battle-ready soldiers, with what did they respond? And how were they able to dislodge the warring students and got them back to campus?
We have been told by the Army that hoodlums and cultists had hijacked the protest and caused mayhem before the soldiers and other security agents were called in to quell the protest. As more revelations are made in the coming days, I am quite sure the story line will change again and again. Then we’ll be told that some of the students actually carried arms during the protest. And to support this allegation, a cache of arms seized from armed robbers since God knows when, will be displayed for people to see. Such is the nature of cover-ups often employed by security agents to nail people at all costs.
Yes, the students could have destroyed some of the institution’s property or even public property during the course of the protest. This, in itself, is bad enough. Students cannot be protesting against lack of water and electricity and at the same time, destroying or vandalising many other infrastructures on campus or turn the heat on unsuspecting members of the public. Ordinarily, it doesn’t add up at all.
Government property or any other public property is the people’s property and, as such, should be protected at all times. Huge sums of money are involved in putting these structures in place. With inflation and the downward trend in world economy vis-à-vis the nation’s economy, it costs a fortune nowadays to replace these infrastructures or property. That is why there must be care and caution even in the face of extreme provocation, denial or lack of facilities in view of the dwindling government revenue earnings which have affected the nation’s expenditure or spending power in recent times.
I am aware that there are a few students who hide under this ‘Aluta’ of a thing to ventilate their anger unnecessarily on the society by going to the extreme. They hide under such protests to cause destruction. This will not do us any good. Now, some students who were sent to school with hard-earned money by their parents will be sent home in coffins. But then, when are we going to get over these incessant and perennial senseless killings of our youths in their prime?
The appalling security situation in the country has not helped matters. Mind you, Nassarawa State is a contiguous state to the killing fields of Plateau State where deadly clashes have led to the death of hundreds of people, including scores of security agents, in the last few years. Even though there are occasional lull in the orgy of violence and wanton destruction of lives and property in that part of the country, the ugly situation has often had its collateral effects on many of the adjoining states of Nassarawa, Benue, Niger, and even the Federal Capital Territory, to name a few.
The foot soldiers of these troublemakers are the hoi polloi in the society who have not been adequately catered for in terms of feeding, housing and other basic necessities of life. They live in abject poverty, deprivation, wants and disease. Life, to them, is meaningless, nasty, ‘short and brutish’. That is why they would take up arms in the name of hoodlums and hijack an otherwise peaceful protest by students.
But it would appear that the soldiers who were hastily drafted to quell the protest must have used maximum force on the protesters. In the first place, it was wrong to have called in the Army to quell an ordinary protest by defenceless students. The students themselves attested to the fact that the policemen who first accosted them were persuasive in their approach but the whole configuration changed when soldiers appeared on the scene. And soldiers, by their training, speak only one language: force.
So, in essence, those who should take responsibility for this mindless massacre are not the soldiers who pulled the trigger that sent the students to their early graves, but the University authorities who brought them into the fray. It is also possible that the troops’ commanders may not have followed the rule of engagement to the letter.
What is evident in the latest sad story of Nassarawa University is that those in positions of authorities in this country may have totally lost confidence in the Police and their ability to deal with all these protests especially by students. That was probably why the school’s authorities quickly called in the Army to do what a well-trained police force could have done. Internal security is the business of the police and other agencies. The Army or military, as the case may be, should only be called in as a last resort if the police cannot cope.
I will agree with those who might want to say that protests in Nigeria may not be the same thing as protests in other countries like Britain, the United States of America, Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal or even Egypt and other places. We have seen a lot of protests in these countries in the last two years often instigated by harsh economic realities as it happened in Britain, Greece, Spain, Italy, Bulgaria or bad governance in Egypt. At least, far less people have been killed especially in Egypt where the protests have often turned bloody and almost uncontrollable.
It is true that in Nigeria, many of these protests are often infiltrated by armed hoodlums who convert the protests to personal gains. Many of the security agents too, treat their fellowmen with disdain, contempt and extreme brutality even in matters that require tact, wisdom and experience to handle. With such ruthlessness often exhibited by our security agents, sometimes on innocent Nigerians who are made to suffer unjustly, and or even extorted in the process, it then becomes a natural phenomenon that the average Nigerian, rightly or wrongly, harbours some certain degree of hatred for our security agents. All this must change in order for us to achieve some modicum of decency in our daily lives.
I sincerely believe that what happened to the four unfortunate students of Nassarawa University is avoidable. The onus now is on our security agents to go back to the drawing board and map out new strategies to deal with the public, especially protesting students, so as to put a permanent end to this recurring human carnage in the name of quelling riots. The students too and indeed, all Nigerians, must strive at all times to be law-abiding citizens, while the security agents should also operate within the ambit of the law. We cannot continue to waste our young, vibrant ones needlessly like this. After all, what the students asked for is water and electricity, not bullets and deaths!