Governor of Nasarawa State, Alhaji Tanko Al-Makura
Toba Suleiman, Amby Uneze in Owerri and Senator Iroegbu
The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) has risen in unison for four of its own who were mauled down by the bullets of law enforcement agents invited to help quell the riot at the Nasarawa State University, Keffi.
The students were said to have filed out to protest frequent outages and acute water scarcity on their campus.
The soldiers who came to quell the riot have been fingered for firing the bullets that killed the affected students, but the army authorities have denied the allegation, insisting that at such occasions, they do not fire live ammunition.
But not swayed by the denial, NANS has announced plans to march on Abuja, the Ministry of Defence and other 36 state capitals to compel President Goodluck Jonathan to bring to book perpetrators of the heinous act.
The association, which is currently spoiling for a war with the Governor of Nasarawa State, Alhaji Tanko Al-Makura, over the ugly incident, also called on Jonathan to set up an ad hoc committee to investigate the matter and prosecute any soldier found to have participated in the killing of the students.
Members of the House of Representatives have also expressed dismay at the invitation of soldiers to quell students’ protests. The lower chamber had also ordered a probe into the killings.
Briefing the press in Ado-Ekiti, the NANS National President, Yinka Gbadebo, said the national secretariat of the association had been directed to relocate to Nasarawa State with immediate effect.
While expressing disappointment with the murder of the innocent students during a peaceful protest, NANS urged students to commence a process of civil disobedience against Al-Makura in any public function across the country, until those behind the heinous crime are apprehended.
Gbadebo, who declared the governor persona non-grata over the killing of the students, said students would not rest until those who killed the four students were brought to book.
He decried the deployment of soldiers to the streets during students’ protest, saying that should have been the constitutional role of riot policemen.
Also, Senate President of NANS, Donald Onukaogu, fumed at the murder and condemned the act. In a press release signed by him, he described the killing of helpless and hapless Nigerian students as barbaric and horrific, stressing that the students were only demanding in a peaceful manner better welfare from the institution's authority.
Onukaogu observed that the killing of the four students was a clear indication that the law enforcement agents attached no value to the lives of the citizens they were supposed to be protecting, warning that "we will not rest until those who carried out the evil act are brought to book."
"It is totally condemnable that soldiers will shoot at a civil and peaceful gathering of students engaging their management on the need for conducive environment. The Senate secretariat of NANS hereby declares operation "Occupy Nasarawa," he added.
Describing the killing as senseless and barbaric, he called on the president to set up a committee to investigate the matter and court-martial or prosecute any soldier found to have committed the nefarious act.
NANS threatened to take the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to ensure justice for the murdered students, if the Federal Government failed to discipline the ‘trigger-happy’ soldiers who allegedly committed the crime.
But the Nigerian Army has denied the killing of the students. The Director of Army Public Relations (DAPR), Brig-Gen Ibrahim Attahiru, explained Wednesday in Abuja that the students were not killed by soldiers.
Attahiru who spoke in defence of the soldiers from 177 Guards Battalion, who were involved in the operation, said they (the soldiers) did not use live ammunition throughout the exercise.
The Nigerian Army has often been accused of high-handedness and extra-judicial killings in some parts of the country, the latest coming from the Amnesty International, although the Army authorities have denied the allegations.
While fielding questions from journalists, the army spokesman maintained that their officers do not use live ammunition in such situations.
He said: "We don't use live rounds in such situations. Since we did not use live rounds, I will not be drawn into answering such a question. I will in no way belabour the matter. I will tell you categorically that our troops were not involved in the shooting.
"The police had the duty to cover the country in such situations which they did... the soldiers that intervened in the crisis were just on patrol along the Keffi-Akwanga Expressway, which was part of the 177 Guards Battalion patrol routes, before the incident broke out and they waded in to restore normalcy.
"This road was blocked with logs of woods and burning tyres, which hampered vehicular movement, leaving travellers stranded for hours while numerous vehicles were damaged by the violent crowd. It was also reported that the irate crowd were looting travellers' belongings and throwing stones, bottles and metal objects at the security operatives at the scene of the incident. However, it is believed that the protest was hijacked by some hoodlums and cult members who are students of the university.
"As a result, the violent crowd burnt down two vehicles at the police station located across the campus and seized a tanker loaded with petroleum product with the intention of burning down the whole station. The combined efforts of 177 Guards Battalion troops with other security operatives prevented the hoodlums from this act."
And in what appears as belated action, the Nasarawa State Government yesterday announced the suspension of the General Manager (GM) of the State Water Board, Mallam Safiyanu Ibrahim, pending the conclusion of investigations into the incident. It was the scarcity of water in the campus that triggered the riot. The state government has directed the most senior officer in the state water board to take charge while investigation into the incident lasts.