At least two persons were on Tuesday feared killed while others were injured following a clash between the police and protesters at the Niger Delta University (NDU), Amasoma, in Bayelsa State.
NDU, which was shut in March following incessant protests over hike in students fees, was scheduled to be reopened Tuesday by the university management.
However, members of Amasoma community, aggrieved by job losses following ongoing reforms in Bayelsa public service, had blocked all major roads leading to the NDU.for the past one week.
It was gathered that the security agencies deployed to reopen the gates of the institution clashed with the angry crowd that insisted that the institution remains shut.
Residents near the university community said that the clash turned violent as the police officers resorted to firing gunshots to disperse the protesters. This resulted in the death of at least two persons while others were injured.
The protesters comprised the host community, the staff of the Niger Delta University, including non-academic staff, who were part of the 1,700 staff that recently lost their jobs in what Bayelsa government describes as ‘retirement’.
The protesters maintained that the ongoing reforms have led to massive job losses from members of the university’s host community ”who gave up their ancestral land to accommodate the university in exchange for job opportunities for the people.”
“We feel that the school is part of our community and we gave up our lands to support the establishment of the school with the understanding that the school will provide some jobs to our people and now those jobs are gone.
“The reforms are targeted at members of the host community, the loss of 1,700 jobs is not a joke and we urge the government to respect the understanding we had with the university management in the early days,” one of the protesters said.
Two bodies dripping with blood were seen being carried away while several others sustained varying degrees of injuries.
However, a community source claimed two policemen and a civilian lost their lives in the confrontation while the arms and ammunition of some of the policemen were carted away by the mob.
The Commissioner of Police, Don Anwunah, confirmed by telephone on Tuesday that the protesters attacked police officers deployed to reopen the gates of the university.
He, however, denied that there was any death recorded in the clash. He said police officers deployed to the scene were ”rather attacked and injured by the protesters.”
“There is no death as we speak. Their modus is to put some old women who are naked in front while the youth behind them shoot at the police and they (mob) torched eight police vans unprovoked.
“The Vice-Chancellor wrote to us to forestall the vandalism and carting away of the university property by the community people even when the gates are locked and we sent our men there.
“Our men have been attacked and there is no death so far. We are battling to ‘dominate’ the place with our men to restore normalcy,” Mr Anwunah said.
It was gathered that the military have been drafted to the area to reinforce police presence.
Meanwhile, the Bayelsa State Government has condemned the violence that erupted between the community and the police, saying it was hijacked by hoodlums.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Media Relations, Fidelis Soriwei ,also blamed opposition political leaders for ”the mobilisation of the hoodlums who barricaded the gate and disrupted academic activities in the institution since last week.”
Mr Soriwei said that the ”unscrupulous politicians were taking advantage of the ignorance of young people and hoodlums to sustain a protest against the decision of the Governing Council and management of the NDU”.
The governor’s aide accused the unnamed opposition politicians of not only mobilising but arming the hoodlums to disrupt academic activities.
He said that it was rather unfortunate that ”unpatriotic elements would launch sustained attacks on the university even when negotiations on the retired over-aged and redundant personnel had been concluded and agreement reached with the host communities on the matter”.
Mr Soriwei said that the government had been patient considering the activities of the hoodlums so far.
He confirmed the hoodlums attacked a detachment of police officers who were deployed to the NDU and injured some of them.
”The hoodlums also attacked and ransacked the Amassoma Police Station. The Bayelsa State Government condems in strong terms the violence unleashed on the Niger Delta University and its environs by some hoodlums who are funded, mobilised and armed by unscrupulous opposition political leaders.
“These mischief makers have mobilised, funded and armed hoodlums to disrupt academic activities in the school, and forcibly closed it down even when negotiations on the recent retirement of overaged personnel of the institution have been concluded and agreements reached.
“These hoodlums have for the past one week stopped free movement of vehicles and persons on public roads. They disrupted conduct of businesses in and around Amassoma by putting canopies on major roads to pander to political interests who are desperate to tarnish the good image of the governmen,” the statement said.
Mr Soriwei called on parents to prevail on their wards against being used by politicians to tarnish the good image of the government.
He also urged the people to refrain from violence adding that the government had laid down a mechanism to address genuine complaints.
He said it was unfortunate that the hoodlums disrupted construction work in the university as they prevented workers and contractors from working on ongoing multi billion projects such as the Senate Building and a network of roads within the campus.
He also said that politicians had over the years exploited the NDU as a hotbed for crisis adding that government ”would not allow anybody to create an atmosphere of insecurity in the university”.
The statement also noted that the process of recruitment into the public service would soon commence.