Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt
The Senate of the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) monday evening announced the closure of the institution following a violent students’ protest over a new school fees policy that prevented some students from writing examinations.
THISDAY gathered that a final year student of the Faculty of Management Sciences and President of the faculty students’ association, Peter Ofurum, was shot dead during the protest.
A text message from the Spokesman and Deputy Registrar (Information) of the university, Dr. Williams Wodi, said:, “Senate has shut down the university with immediate effect. All students directed to vacate their hostel accommodation before 6.00 p.m today (Monday). Students’ Union and all their affiliate bodies suspended with immediate effect. The closure will last for one month.”
He however said the university was yet to confirm the death of any student.
Wodi said the institution was aware of the death of three persons in the last two days outside the campus, but said investigations were on to determine if any of the victims was a student.
“Yesterday, a mobile policeman was shot outside the campus. Also yesterday, a person suspected to be a trader was shot at the same spot. Today, we heard that another person was shot at the same area. We do not know yet if the person is a student or not. Mind you, that happened outside the university campus. We will need to go through the Students’ Affairs Directorate to identify if any of the victims is a student,” he said.
Students of the university had yesterday morning gone on rampage, destroying buildings and setting up barricades along the East-west Road and adjoining roads in protest against the increase in school fees by the authorities of the institution.
The protest, which started before 6 a.m, caused heavy gridlock on the East-west Road and disrupted activities at the motor parks around Choba Junction of the highway.
Economic activities around the adjoining communities were also put on hold as the students smashed windows and door glasses of buildings, forcing traders to scamper for safety.
The students carried placards with inscriptions: ‘Stop exploiting students’, Prof. Ndowa Lale (Vice Chancellor) must go; ‘N45,000 tuition fees: highest among federal-owned universities’, among others.
The students, THISDAY gathered, later stormed the Abuja Campus of the university where they destroyed some buildings and other school property.
Scores of regular and anti-riot policemen however watched as the students carried out their protest.
The students said they were protesting against a directive of the university authorities that any student who had not paid the increased school fees of N45,000 as at April 4 would not be allowed to write the examinations and also stands dismissed.
THISDAY gathered that UNIPORT management in 2015 adopted a policy which made tuition fee a prerequisite for student’s participation in examination, a policy which compelled defaulting students to repeat a whole academic session.
The protesting students demanded the withdrawal of the policy, which they argued was unfair to poor students.
One of the protesting students, who did not wish to be named, said the students took to the streets to disrupt examinations slated to begin on April 11.
According to him, “The management placed a deadline for school fees payment and are now trying to enforce it before the examination.
“This action by UNIPORT to bar poor students who had defiled all odds to study and become responsible citizens to the society is draconian and wicked.
“We will resist this attempt by the university management to victimise students whose parents could not immediately afford UNIPORT’s exorbitant tuition fees.”
Another student, who gave his name simply as Biggy, vowed that students would remain on the road until the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Ndowa Lale, addressed them.
He alleged that at least six students had been injured by the police.
Reacting to the development, spokesman of the university, Wodi, expressed regret that the protest was being masterminded by only two per cent of the university students population who failed to meet the deadline for the payment of the fees.
“What’s going on is that less than two per cent of our students are protesting and are refusing to allow workers and other students to come into the campus to start their examinations or do their legitimate duties,” Wodi, a deputy registrar said.
He said the protesting students had destroyed his office and Faculty of Science Block.
He said that university management had given students several notices to pay their tuition fees before the examination scheduled to commence yesterday, adding that about 98 per cent of the student population had complied with the no-fees-no-examination policy before the protest.
“We sensitised our students as far back as November 2015 that we are going to change the perception of University where students carry over school fees from year one to the final year and that they should pay what we gave as outstanding charges because we do charge school fees,” he said.
He said, “We were patient and generous enough such that we shifted the policy implementation five times from November 2015 to April 7, 2016.
“The exam was scheduled to begin today (Monday), but protesting students have successfully disrupted the exams of which we are taking inventory of destruction on campus.
“The police are currently trying to contain the situation of which the rules of engagement is not to injure anyone but to pick up those who are ring leaders of the protest.”
Wodi said the university Senate would meet later in the day to take a position on the matter.
On the allegations that some students died in the protest, the state Police Public Relation Officer (PPRO), Ahmad Muhammad (DSP), said, “This is a mere allegation. What the police did was just the discharge of its mandate of restoring normalcy and orderliness in the university. There was no loss of life throughout the incident. In any case, if there is such, it will be investigated.”