Students in arms, universities in trouble:

UNILAG shut *Union leader dies, VC's lodge burnt

Bisi Deji-Folutile, Segun Olugbile, Agaptus Anaele, Emmanuel Obe and Olaolu Oladipo

Authorities of the University of Lagos shut the institution indefinitely on Wednesday, following a 16-hour protest by students. All the students vacated the campus.

Similarly, students of the University of Ibadan took to the streets of Ibadan on Wednesday, to protest the plan by the Federal Government to privatise hostel accommodation in federal institutions.

UNILAG students had also engaged the authorities in a battle of wits over the proposed moves to contract the management of hostel accommodation to private managers.

But, while riot policemen succeeded in forcing the UI students to make a retreat, irate students torched the official residences of UNILAG's Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Oyewusi Ibidapo-Obe, and the Dean of Students' Affairs, Prof. Dele Olowokudejo.

The UI protest caused traffic congestion for many hours along the Ibadan-Oyo Road. It was the second time within 30 days that the students of the institution would shut down operations in the university to express their grievances.

Four weeks ago, the students protested the death of a 400-Level Law student who collapsed and died in the Zik Hall.

Health officers of the university had allegedly failed to respond to calls to save the student's life.

Trouble reportedly started in UNILAG on Tuesday when some students barricaded the entrance to the school to protest the attempt by the school authorities to contract the maintenance and running of hostel facilities in the school to private investors.

Our correspondents gathered that the students decided to postpone the protest till the early hours of Wednesday, when they agreed to stage what was tagged the mother of all protests to force the authorities to rescind its decision.

But the speaker of the students' Union Government, Mr. Olaolu Akosile, who had addressed the students late Tuesday night, died early on Wednesday morning. The cause of his death is yet to be determined.

His death aggravated the already charged situation as students went on the rampage to vent their anger on highly placed members of staff who reside on campus.

Akosile was said to have convulsed and died in around 3 am on Wednesday morning.

Sympathisers rescued Olowokudejo's wife, who was inside the building at the time of the incident.

According to a domestic staff attached to the residence of the Vice-Chancellor, Ibidapo-Obe narrowly missed death by the whiskers as he was said to have left his lodge few moments before the arrival of the irate students.

"I got the information that the students were going to attack this place around 3 am, they did not attack till about 5 am but the vice-chancellor left few minutes before they came," the staff told our correspondent.

Official and private cars were burnt during the siege. Six vehicles including the official vehicle of the V-C were burnt and five vandalised. The cars included Nissan Sunny with Registration Number CK942GGE and Peugeot 505 marked FGN398E45 and a Mercedes Benz V-boot whose number could not be given.

While itemizing the grievances of the students to our correspondents, the Secretary-General of the Students' Union, Mr. Kingsley Nwanze, blamed the inability of the school authorities to carry students' leaders along for the crisis.

"We were not consulted before they came to the conclusion to contract the management of hostel facilities to private individuals," he said.

He also claimed that the communication gap between his union and the school authorities made it almost impossible for the union to curb the crisis that resulted from the policy.

Speaking to the press later, the Chairman UNILAG Radio; Professor Segun Awonusi, criticised the students for their "uncivilised and barbaric action."

He wondered why the students should vent their anger on the VC and the dean of students' affairs when the decision to privatise their hostels was made by the Federal Government.

The decision to close down the school indefinitely, he said was taken due to the enormity of the destruction.

He denied that the school authorities had not been carrying the students along on the issue.

Awonusi insisted that the VC had always told the students that they would only be exposed to "minimal pain" when the policy comes into effect.

He also denied insinuations that the speaker died after receiving a mysterious phone call from a ranking official of the school.

The Commanding Officer MOPOL II, Lagos CSP Chuks Enwonwu, who led the mobile policemen to school said no arrests had been made as "the arsonists had left the scene before we came in."

Government's decision to hands off the running of the hostels came after a plan to charge N10,000 for a bed space in the halls of residence met a brick wall.

Those who insist on higher hostel fees allege that there is a common practice among students of paying about N2,500 per session for bed space and re-selling same for between N12,000 and N40,000.

Most federal universities are dilapidated and deeply in red as a result of huge overheads and bogus courses.
The Punch, Thursday, January 20, 2005