by Stanley Azuakola
Keffi is not Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt or any of the other towns and cities constantly in the media spotlight.
If it was, the tragedy which befell that town on Monday February 25, 2013, would have gained more attention. There would have been more details concerning the story in the pages of the papers, TV and radio stations would have carried the news consistently, and by now, there might have been a hashtag – #Keffi2 perhaps – on social media dedicated to the crisis, the regrettable social condition that led to it and the memory of the slain.
But Keffi is just a small local government area in Nasarawa state, North Central Nigeria, and so the deaths on Monday, of two students of the Nasarawa State University, Keffi, who were shot by soldiers, have not sparked the kind of interest or outrage one expects from such tragedies.
‘Water e no get enemy’
Several areas in Nasarawa, including Keffi, suffer severe water shortages. The supply from the state’s water basin authority is erratic and unreliable, but at least it used to be existent.
However, according to reports, for two weeks prior to Monday, there had been no water supply. The one borehole within the school premises, sited close to the male hostel had not seen water for that long. Outside the campus, in the ‘student village’, where a large population of the students resided, the story was the same.
The villagers who had wells in their compounds, charged between N100 and N200 for a bucket of water.
All of this was coupled with the inconsistent power being supplied to the student community.
As the situation became unbearable, the students decided to stage a protest demanding for the university authorities to do something.
Contrary to some earlier reports, the protest was not peaceful. Angry students vandalised shops and properties. They burnt tyres and disrupted traffic on the highway.
Fire for fire
Some policemen arrived the scene of the melee and asked the students to disperse. The students refused, insisting on their right to protest. They hurled stones at the police officers.
Then the policemen fired live rounds into the air. Eyewitnesses said a particular protesting student who owned a gun also brought out his and fired into the air.
That was the last act of the policemen. Soldiers were called in, reportedly by the school authorities (although some reports also claim that it was the Gov. Tanko Al-makura led state government which ordered in the soldiers from the Shiitu Alao Barrack, Nasarawa).
When they arrived, the soldiers began to beat and brutalise the protesters. They also fired gun shots into the air to dispel the students but once again students in possession of guns responded in kind. A source told The Scoop that he saw one of the students with a gun, but heard shots from a couple more.
This reportedly provoked the soldiers who began to fire indiscriminately. Students scampered for safety. In the process, two of the students were felled by the bullet; one died on the spot while the other who was bound by the soldiers and driven in their vehicle to the Federal Medical Centre, reportedly gave up on the way. Several other protesting students were injured.
The two students who died are Aminu Usman Osuko, a 400 Level Geography student from Nasarawa state, and Emmanuel Nyam, a 300 Level Physics student from Plateau.
Your time starts now
As the confusion worsened and amidst fears that the deaths of their fellow students may force the students to regroup and take laws into their hands, the school authorities ordered the indefinite closure of the school. They also – through the soldiers – communicated to all students both within the campus and in the off-campus student village to pack up and vacate the school environment. Those within the school were given two hours, while those off-campus were given four hours.
At the expiration of the deadline, soldiers moved in and students who had not left were “mercilessly beaten.” Another source who spoke anonymously to The Scoop said that a female sibling of his who was still in her off-campus room when the soldiers came in was beaten to stupor. “As I speak to you now, she is at the medical centre receiving treatment,” he said.
Reports reaching The Scoop say that the president of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and some members of his executive are currently en route Keffi.
The senior special assistant to President Jonathan on youths and students affairs, Jude Imagwe, who was away in Calabar when the incident occurred, condemned the killing of the students. He said that “no soldier has the right to kill a harmless protesting student.”
Nigerians are waiting to see what happens next. Coming in the same month when Justice Lambo Akambi of the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, in a ruling condemned the high-handedness of the military in Odi during the administration of Olusegun Obasanjo, and commended the current president, Goodluck Jonathan, for the “enthronement of the rule of law as opposed to the enthronement of guns”, the reaction of the administration and their subsequent action or inaction will certainly be scrutinised.