(By Delphia Ekerin)

The question that comes to mind now is: Who is to blame for the rising death toll of students in Nigeria? Do we blame the students? The security agencies? The university managements? The jungle justice dispensers? Or the government? For instance, whom do we blame for the killing of the Aluu four? While it is important to know where the problem is, so as to properly fix it, it is more important to fix the problem than to play the blame game.

“ONE life taken in cold blood is as gruesome as millions lost in a pogrom.” Dele Giwa, once one of our dear country’s leading journalists, penned down those living words five months before he was gruesomely murdered. It was part of a piece he wrote in his Newswatch column to mourn the 23 students killed by the police at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in May 1986. The students were protesting in commemoration of the killing of eight students by the police back in 1978.

  Giwa titled that piece Don’t’ Forget Them. Many Nigerians do not remember. But surely, I know the families of the dead students never forgot. Consider: One of those young chaps left home with the cheerful voices of his family ringing in his ears; with the glow of ambition lighting his path; with dreams of a better tomorrow for that father, that mother, who sacrificed for him to get where he was; with his well-laid plans for a great future constantly reviewing itself in his head and then…bang! His life was snuffed out of him midlife. Tell me which family will forget?

  In this world made crazy by man, safety remains his pursuit; that is the pursuit of man. His greatest fear is that his environment is no longer safe for him; that his life is no longer secure where he is.  But no matter how he tries, that is what his world has become: An unsafe place, because of man’s inhumanity to man. A student as part of humanity faces the same hazard that the rest of humanity faces. But when the fear that fiercely pumps the heart of the Nigerian student is that his compatriots, who are supposed to be in solidarity with his quest for safety, are his nemeses, then there is a problem in the nation— a big one at that!

  To start with, Nigerian students are under siege, either on the campus or out of it. They encounter security hazards ranging from theft of valuables to gruesome deaths on a daily basis.  For instance, two female hostels in the University of Lagos—Moremi and Madam Tinubu Halls—were burgled in January this year. The helpless girls did not only have their properties stolen, some were slapped and even threatened with bodily assault. Nobody was in sight to help them.  The same thing happened on June 21, when a student of the University of Benin was brutally shot on the campus by unknown gunmen. Last year’s gang-rape at Abia State University remains indelible in the memory.

  The apogee of this macabre dance is when the state security apparatus, who are supposed to be our “knights in shining armour” contribute to this decline. The police snuffed out the lives of those promising students back in 1978 and 1986, this is 2013 and the jamboree of death still continues. In fact, they seem bent on plunging the Nigerian students into extinction. Comrade Salau Adeyinka Fatimah, the public relations officer, National Association of Nigerian Students – JCC Lagos Axis, recently decried the spate of extra-judicial killings in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions.

  She listed recent incidents in which students were not only brutalised but also murdered in cold-blood. According to her, on February 25, 2013, four unarmed students of Nasarawa State University were brutally murdered by the Nigerian Army during a peaceful protest for lack of water and electricity on campus.

  On May 20, 2013, two students of Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ogun State, were killed and several others injured by the Nigeria police. According to reports, policemen arrived at the entrance of the campus in armoured tanks and shot sporadically at the students. Six days later, four students of the Federal College of Marine and Fisheries Technology were shot by armed naval officials on the school’s premises while about 30 were injured.

  On the 12th of June 2013, four students were shot during a peaceful protest within the premises of University of Uyo over the introduction of a new ‘Fare regime’. The Police arrived at the scene and opened fire on the students. On that same day, a police officer shot Ahmed Dayo, an Accounting student of the Kwara State Polytechnic, Ilorin. The policeman left Dayo with a broken bone on his left leg and a crushed tibia which has affected the flat surface of his right foot. One of the affected legs may be amputated.

  June 17, 2013 also witnessed the killing of three students at Michael Otedola College of Primary Education by officers of the Nigerian Police. Several others were brutally injured. Comrade Salau maintained that these extrajudicial killings occur on a daily basis in our tertiary institutions. We don’t hear about most of them, but I do believe her.

  If state security men seem so powerful and uncontrollable, trained campus security men seem too tame and powerless. For instance, the University of Lagos security men, known as Baba Blue by students, have been reduced to mere security guards and protocols at school events. During the name-change crisis that rocked the school in May 2012, the security men scampered to their fort at the school’s gate when the crisis got intense. Also, when some female hostels were being robbed, the Nigerian Legion security men who served as hostel guards were nowhere to be found.

  Little wonder that the Nigerian student snorts whenever Webometric, an online international higher institutions’ rating website, names any Nigerian tertiary institution among the top 20 in Africa. He snorts, not in disbelief, but because his own parameters for rating higher institutions in the country are based on what is on ground, in terms of educational standards and infrastructure.

  One of those infrastructural obligations of tertiary institutions is the provision of safe and habitable accommodation for students. But unfortunately, Nigerian tertiary institutions seem to have failed in that regard. Their inability to provide enough hostel facilities has forced many students to seek accommodation off-campus, thus making them vulnerable to criminal groups and terrorist sects.

  Late last year, a number of students met their gruesome deaths outside their campuses. The first involved three students of the University of Maiduguri on September 29, 2012. According to reports, the three students were mauled down in their homes right in front of the university. On October 1, 2012, 46 students of the Federal Polytechnic, Mubi, Adamawa State University and the School of Health Technology were killed by unknown gunmen in a private hostel away from the Mubi campuses of the three institutions. It was also reported that the killers came with a hit list. They went about unchallenged, lining up the students, shooting and hacking them down with machetes.

  The unpopular Aluu killings also took place outside the campus. Though with varying reports, a constant feature in some of the accounts was that the murdered students went to collect a debt owed them by a colleague living off campus, others posited they spent the night there. The latest Aluu-styled killing occurred in Badagry on July 21, 2013. Ifechukwudi Nwainopkor, an undergraduate of Delta State University, and his friend were beaten to death in the presence of policemen. Nwainopkor would have been in school if not for the ASUU strike, but that is a matter for another day.

  The question that comes to mind now is: Who is to blame for the rising death toll of students in Nigeria? Do we blame the students? The security agencies? The university managements? The jungle justice dispensers? Or the government? For instance, whom do we blame for the killing of the Aluu four? While it is important to know where the problem is, so as to properly fix it, it is more important to fix the problem than to play the blame game. Everyone has a role to play as regards the safety of students on Nigerian shores.

  First, the government and managements of tertiary institutions in the country should increase the number of hostels on the campus. Students also need to be safety conscious. As The Vanguard in its January 10, 2013 edition advises, “The student who is much aware of incessant cultist activities which take place from the hours of 8 p.m. on his campus, and decides to go and watch a football match at 9 p.m. has just put his safety at risk.”

  More so, our leaders have to realise that those that need real protection in this country are not individuals but institutions. The government at both federal and state levels should establish a security agency for all its tertiary institutions. The security personnel of the agency should be an elite force that is specially trained and properly equipped; a force that can combat cultism to a standstill, a force that will be able to differentiate terrorists from students; a force that can detect Kalashnikovs under flowing jalabias. We do not need Baba Blue; we need a security system that can foil suicide attacks!

  I leave those that glory in jungle justice to their conscience. Pardon my thoughtlessness—a man’s conscience needs to be seared or dead inwardly to brazenly commit such heinous crime; I leave them to the law. Giwa said the killing of one is “as gruesome as millions lost in a pogrom.” With hundreds of students’ lives already lost, this killing is slowly becoming a pogrom and will only plunge the country into a developmental recess.  If it continues, all that will be left of our good old nation will be tired old men and women struggling with a lost country.

Ekerin is a 200-level student of Mass Communication, University of Lagos. 

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”