RELEASE ITA ASUQUO ESSIEN AND DAVID UKO FROM PRISON CUSTODY
The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) calls for the dropping of charges against 44 students of the University of Uyo who were arrested during a mass students' protest against management transportation policy on June 12, 2013.
While 42 have been granted bail since last year due to the effort of their lawyers, the two remaining are still languishing in prison because the state is opposing their bail. On Wednesday 15 January 2014, they returned to prison in tears as their bail applications suffered yet another set-back. They will be back in court again on Thursday 23rd January 2014. They are now spending their 8th month behind bars while their academic suffer. They are Ita Asuquo Essien and David Uko of the departments of Petroleum Engineering and Political Science respectively. We demand their immediate release from prison custody and the dropping of all charges against them.
The arraignment of the UNIUYO 44 is being painted by the State as an effort to dissuade brigandage and vandalism. Meanwhile, it is a political trial meant to criminalize protest and scare students from ever daring to oppose poor studying conditions and government anti-poor education policies. Instead of putting students on trial for fighting for their rights, we insist that the demands of students for better transportation conditions which led to the protest in the first place must be addressed. This is the only way to ensure justice and peace in the University on a sustainable basis.
The June 12, 2013 protest against bad transportation policy went riotous after it was brutally attacked by armed police who in the process killed a student named Kingsley Udoette. While the ERC is stoutly against violence as a method of struggle, we nevertheless put the blame for the degeneration of the hitherto peaceful student protest on the provocative actions of the armed police drafted to the campus on the invitation of the University's Vice Chancellor.
According to reports, police shot indiscriminately at protesting students leading to the death of Kingsley Udoette. Seeing the lifeless body of their colleague, the students hitherto protesting peacefully went riotous and vented their anger on anything in sight. Now in order to cover their crimes, the police have arrested and arraigned 44 students of the institution on various trumped up charges ranging from murder, arson to malicious destruction. Also in addition to this, when the University which was closed for several months eventually reopened, students were asked to pay N10,000 damages fee.
Given the legendary illegality and excesses of the Nigerian police, it is very well possible that most or all of those standing trial today may not have participated in the vandalisation of the University's properties. According to our investigations, most of those arraigned were arbitrarily arrested not at the scene of the protest as would be expected, but from their hostel located at Udi street in Uyo and some along the road. We demand that the Commissioner of Police provides evidence linking the arraigned students with either the vandalisation which occurred and/or the state murder of Kingsley Udoette. Anything short of this will amount to a grave injustice against the UNIUYO 44.
The injustice being perpetrated by the University of Uyo management and the Akwa State government against ordinary students must stop. If justice is to be served, it is the Commissioner of Police and the University Vice Chancellor that should be standing trial today for killing Kingsley Udoette. But such is the travesty and miscarriage of justice that the victims have now become the villains.
The situation in UNIUYO is not an isolated event. It is part of a concerted effort by the government to suppress students right to protest and resist their anti-poor education policies. In many campuses across the country, there are similar cases of attacks on democratic rights of students including ban of unions and victimisation of students activists. However students must not be deterred. The struggle for proper funding of education must continue until victory.
We call on the Academic Staff Union of University (ASUU), Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) and Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and all other staff unions at the University of Uyo to equally condemn the trial of the UNIUYO 44 and call for their freedom. The ERC will continue in every way we can to give solidarity to the campaign to free the UNIUYO 44 because "an injury to one is an injury to all".
Hassan Taiwo Soweto Michael Ogundele
National Coordinator National Secretary