The vicious attack by the police on 14 students’ leaders campaigning against rustication and attacks on the democratic rights of students of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) on Monday October 10 is condemnable and the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni has a duty to caution his men from being turned into private thugs of despotic University Vice Chancellors like the UNILAG VC.
The Police command must also foot the medical bills of the injured students and return the items allegedly seized from them as well as replace items the police willfully damaged during the premeditated assault. These items include phones, laptops, buses and other personal effects of the students and their union.
We make this call conscious of the fact that 48 hours after the incident, the Police has continued to justify its actions with lies and half-truth that will only succeed in portraying members of the police force, a few of whom are quite professional, as a band of private thugs available for hire by any despotic University Vice Chancellor with a deep pocket.
Around midday on Monday 10 October 2016, students leaders and activists under the auspices of the Joint Campus Committee (JCC) of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) Lagos State axis were on their way from the Federal High Court Ikoyi where a case challenging the illegal rustication of leaders of the University of Lagos Students Union (ULSU) came up for hearing when a band of armed policemen descended on them. They were beaten, brutalized and dumped in the cell at SCIID Panti where they were detained till 9pm of the same day.
According to the police spokesperson, SP Dolapo Badmus, in an online statement, the student leaders were so assaulted because the police got wind of the information that they were on their way to disrupt ongoing examinations at the University of Lagos. According to her “some group of students which preliminary investigations revealed are not students of UNILAG arrived Unilag road by Cemetery, in four different buses with the intent to invade Unilag campus, in order to disrupt the on going examination process. The Command’s operatives from Area C command and Yaba division who got wind of the move prevented them from advancing”.
Curiously, SP Badmus has not revealed where the police allegedly “got wind of the move”. Was it a by a tip-off? Did the police ask any of the student leaders and they confirmed their mission was to protest with a view to disrupting ongoing examinations at UNILAG? The students’ delegation was led by the NANS JCC Chairman, Samson Adewale Moses and other officials of the body who are not unknown to the police. How exactly did the police get the information and even if this was true, is the best and most professional way to prevent this from happening by unleashing mayhem on them? It appears that the only “wind of the move” the police, which had been hired by the University weeks before now to patrol the University’s gate in anticipation of protest, got is the fact that buses containing students leaders and activists was on UNILAG road and from this they drew the conclusion that the mission of the buses’ occupants was to invade the University. Meanwhile, UNILAG road does not lead only to the University from which it derives its name; it also leads to other areas of Akoka. Also, the University of Lagos is not the only institution located in Akoka and Yaba area of Lagos. There are several other institutions within the same vicinity.
As far as the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) is concerned, while we do not see disruption of examinations as the best strategy to prosecute struggle, nevertheless, anybody who feel aggrieved about government or Universities’ anti-poor policies has a right to protest at any time and any place he or she deems fit so far he is not breaking any law. Many times, Nigerians have protested in this country shutting down the entire country and occupying public places and government buildings. If the Police reasonably feel that a protest could threaten or disrupt an on-going event like an examination, they are bound by the duty of their profession to offer the best possible protection for the event so threatened through professional policing procedures. Ambushing and beating to stupor students allegedly found on a road leading to UNILAG is crude policing reminiscent of the era of military despotism.
The truth however is that the students had no such mission in mind. They were simply on their way to hold a meeting at one of the higher institutions in the area in order to review the court proceeding and address the media on the next steps of the campaign. At the court, the University of Lagos had succeeded in ambushing the judicial process by not appearing in court thus forcing the court to adjourn the hearing till 25 October 2016. The implication is that the rusticated students’ leaders would be unable to participate in the on-going examinations and consequently lose the entire academic semester. From the court, the students moved in a convoy with a view to using the premises of either FCE Akoka or Yaba College of Technology to do a meeting from which a strategy to continue the campaign would be worked out. It was while on their way that a detachment of the police attacked them.
Monday’s attack on the students is another testimony of the real function of the police as an agency of repression instead of an institution for the maintenance of law and order. This year alone, students have been killed and injured across the country at protests as police fire indiscriminately in defense of the University authorities against students’ peaceful protests to challenge bad policies. The recent shooting and killing of protesting workers in Nassarawa state by the police and that of the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) are recent examples that come to mind.
By their recent actions which are biased towards the University management, we have no doubt that the Police in Lagos have been converted to the private thugs of the Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) in his agenda to keep UNILAG students enslaved. But this will not douse the fire of resistance and struggle. In the coming days, the ERC will take the step of petitioning the appropriate authorities until this matter is treated with the urgency and seriousness it deserves.
Hassan Taiwo Soweto Michael Ogundele
National Coordinator (07033697259) National Secretary