X-raying Oye-Ekiti varsity tragedy

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The circumstances that led to the death of two students of the Federal University, Oye-Ekiti are still creating a mournful atmosphere in Ekiti State. Different sides of the story have been heard but there are still more untold, reports RASAQ IBRAHIM

When Erelu Bisi Fayemi, Ekiti State governor’s wife, planned a tour to Oye-Ekiti, the headquarters of Oye Local Government and home of the Federal University, Oye-Ekiti (FUOYE), she had no inkling that she would be at the centre of a tragedy, which saw the shooting of live bullets at students. Two died.

The tour was day two of an empowerment programme tagged Obinrinkete tour. Mrs Fayemi’s visit was in continuation of her tour across the 16 local government areas of the state to campaign against gender-based violence, genital mutilation and rape among other women -related issues.

The tour commenced on Monday, September 9, with visits to two local governments- Ekiti East and Ikole.

Three local government areas, Moba, Ilejemeje and Oye, were billed for day two. The first two visits were peaceful.

When the empowerment train arrived in Oye-Ekiti, it met a protest staged by the students of the Federal University over poor power supply to the community and other adjoining communities. The protest turned violent when the students and the security detail around Mrs Fayemi engaged in ‘mortal combat’.

One of the protesting students, who craved anonymity, told The Nation: “We had gathered as early as 6:39 am in front of the gates of the twin campuses of the institution in both Oye and Ikole to press home our demands.

“We were frustrated with the protracted issue of poor electricity in the academic area knowing full well it is a necessity to us as students. It was on this basis we proceeded to the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC) with Aluta spirit to vent our anger. If not for the appeasement by the policemen we would have burnt the offices to ashes.

“The policemen appealed to us and we left for our various hostels. But when we heard that the wife of Ekiti State governor would be visiting the town for the empowerment and advocacy programme, we regrouped to interface with her and express our grievances.”

Mrs Fayemi was received by hundreds of excited commercial motorcyclists when she got to the town. At the venue of the event, the old women were anxious for their food bank (Ounje Arugbo), school girls were waiting for their sanitary pads and artisans were there to benefit.

An 80-year-old widow, Priscilla Adetilu, said the students bombarded the venue of the event.

“When there were no more spaces inside the hall, I decided to sit outside. Suddenly, I saw a large number of FUOYE students with cudgel and stones. They approached the security operatives at the entrance to allow them into the hall. But they declined.

“The students insisted that they wanted to see Erelu but one of the policemen said the First Lady could not break protocol and that they should allow her to finish her speech so that they could have an audience with her. It was then the students started shouting it is now! It is now! It is now,” she added.

“And the next thing I saw was that they started throwing stones and broken bottles into the event centre. They destroyed vehicles in the arena with stones and big sticks. And that tinker the peaceful atmosphere. While trying to scamper for safety, I fell and lost my phone.”

The protesting students barricaded the Oye-Ikole-Omuo-Lokoja highway and made bonfires to prevent the convoy of the wife of the governor from leaving the town. In an attempt to disperse the students, the security operatives used teargas canisters but the protesting students were unrelenting.

In the end, two students, a 100- level student of Crop Science and Horticulture, Oluwaseyi Kehinde, and Joseph Okonofua, a 300-level student of biology education department, died. Several students sustained injuries of varying degrees. Also, over a dozen vehicles were vandalised, while that of the security operatives were burnt and two AK47 rifles seized by the rampaging students.

Mrs Fayemi said her convoy was attacked by the protesting students with stones and sticks.

She said: “While we were at Ilejemeje, we received a call from our advance security team that FUOYE students were protesting lack of electricity in Oye town.

“We were told that more information would be provided on the situation. Shortly after, we received words that the students had dispersed and the coast was clear for my visit.

“When my convoy got to the Oye-Isan junction, we were met by a convoy of excited Okada riders who led us into Oye town. We made a stop at the primary health care centre along the road for me to present delivery kits to expectant mothers.

“There was no sign of any trouble. We proceeded to the venue of my town hall meeting at the civic centre with women in Oye Local Government. The atmosphere was very peaceful, the women were singing and dancing and there was nothing to indicate that anything was amiss.”

Fayemi added: “Half-way through our event, there was a disturbance outside. The FUOYE students (and possibly infiltrated by local thugs) had re-grouped and were trying to get into the venue. The security officers prevented this from happening.

“We finished our programme, and by the time we got outside, we found that vehicles from my convoy and those of my guests that were parked outside the venue had been vandalised.

“As we were driving out of Oye town, we encountered at least two roadblocks that the students had mounted to prevent the movement of vehicles. I could see students/thugs throwing stones and large sticks at us as we drove by.

“However, the casualties that were recorded did not take place while I was there. There are eyewitnesses, photographs and video footage to confirm this.”

But, the National Association of Nigeria Students (NANS) Publicity Secretary, Adeyemi Azeez, claimed that the crisis occurred because Fayemi’s wife refused to address the protesting students. He alleged that she ordered her security aides to be ruthless with the students – an allegation Mrs Fayemi denied.

She described the allegations as a concocted falsehood and monumental misrepresentation of facts in all its measures.

She said she didn’t come across protesting students, noting she couldn’t have objected to civil protest being a human rights crusader.

She said: “I did not encounter any group of students when I got to Oye town. They had dispersed before my arrival, and when they regrouped I was at the venue.

“It is possible, as I stated earlier, that the group that came to the venue trying to gain access with sticks and stones in hand might have included local hoodlums, but there was no way of telling the difference.

“I am scandalised and shocked beyond words to hear that I instructed security officers to shoot at students.

“If I had met a group of protesting students, as a social justice activist myself, I would have listened to their complaints and addressed them. I firmly believe in citizens’ rights to protest on issues of concern.

“I am deeply saddened that at least one fatality has been recorded. As a mother, my heart bleeds. All these students are my children, and no mother prays to weep over her offspring.”

The National Association of Nigerian Students/Joint Campus Committee (JCC), Ekiti chapter, condemned Azeez for his attempts to blackmail Mrs Fayemi to score cheap political points.

A statement by Ogunleye Abiola Johnson, Ojo Pius Oluwaseun and Owaraye Damilola, chairman, General Secretary and PRO of the group said: “It is imperative to state that the version of the story been promoted by the self- acclaimed PRO of NANS is nothing but a mere conjunction of poorly package lies and blackmail by some rent-seekers who derive pleasure in cashing out from Nigerian students woes.

“For the avoidance of doubt, we will resist any attempt by some fifth columnist to turn this ugly and very regrettable recklessness of the Nigerian Police to a political instrument of blackmail or a paycheque for rent-seekers.”

FUOYE’s Students Union Government (SUG) President Oluwaseun Awodola insisted that the students were unjustly killed by the governor’s wife’s security details.

Awodola claimed the peaceful protest turned violent after he was slapped by a security detail attached to Mrs Fayemi.

“The CSO to the Governor apologised and went to the extent of saying he was ready to take me to the Governor’s office and ensure the CTU officer apologised.

“He also said we should meet with the governor’s wife but we were unable to meet with anyone as the students didn’t allow their leader to be taken away to meet anyone but kept requesting for the CTU officer.

“I wasn’t sure what was happening any longer as I saw stones flying from different corners and stray bullets and CTU Officers advancing towards the road and entered the streets.

“I had to run for safety as I couldn’t move well and fast. Although, where I was heading wasn’t so far, in a few minutes I was indoors as I narrowly escaped different stray bullets by armed police and CTU officers.”

Ekiti Police Command spokesman DSP Caleb Ikechukwu said the students attacked the convoy of the governor’s wife. He also claimed the police fired no shots.

The university management shut down the school indefinitely and suspended the students’ union. It also set up a panel to investigate the protest and the circumstances of the death of the students.

The Ekiti State government sent a delegation to pay condolences to the families of the deceased students.

The delegation visited Usi Ekiti and Ido Ekiti where the families of Dada Kehinde and Okonufua Joseph stay.

A source close to the Government House said since the FUOYE incident, Mrs Fayemi has been in “emotional stress”.

“Her heart is bleeding for those that died and sustained an injury in the occurrence. She is in her saddest moment.

“It is unfortunate that the ugly occurrence could come at a time when the present administration in Ekiti State is trying to put things aright as a foot gap from the past administration.

“Many people know that Erelu Fayemi cannot instruct her security detail to shoot the protesting students. It is just a cock and bull story to blight her good name.

“She’s a mother after all. She understands the value of life. She knows what it means to bring forth and she is like most mothers would never pray for other mothers to lose their children,” she said.

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