Emmanuel Addeh, in this piece, examines the violence and bloodshed that occasioned the National Association of Nigerian Students zonal convention in Otuoke, Bayelsa State last week
It was supposed to be a routine exercise during which students from tertiary institutions in the South-south region gather to periodically elect their representatives who would oversee their welfare and other related activities for a given number of years.
But last weekâ€™s meeting which took place from 25-26 of November turned out differently: it ended in sorrows, tears and blood, to borrow from the lyrics of a song by late Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
Not only did the students kill and maim, they also allegedly kidnapped, robbed, and tortured some of their victims, including non-students.
The participants in the imbroglio were fully armed and spoilt for war, despite arrangements made by all the security agencies in the state to avert violence.
A day before the event, the Amba Asuquo-led Bayelsa Police Command had had series of meetings with the students and sister security agencies to ensure the peaceful conduct of the students’ polls, yet none of the words of caution mattered when the trouble started.
Indeed the Vice Chancellor of the institution, Prof. Seth Jaja, had before registration of delegates commenced, personally addressed the participants, pleading with them to be of good behaviour before retiring to his office.
The settings were the young Federal University, Otuoke and Yenagoa, the state capital.
While some of the students, especially those from Uyo in Akwa Ibom were preparing for a gun duel with another faction from the same university, the leadership of the studentsâ€™ body in Bayelsa was busy hijacking commercial vehicles and dispossessing the occupants of their belongings.
What turned out to be a total mess was supposedly meant to be the zonal election of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), yet it was not just that the event ended in chaos, it also led to the arrest of several students, most of them in their final year.
In the aftermath of the bloody encounter, the police said that they had arrested 15 of the suspects, including the President of the students’ body in Bayelsa, Perewari Benjamin who led the team that attacked the commercial bus drivers and took away their valuables.
Police said they recovered arms and ammunition from the suspects, including two locally-made single-barrelled pistol; two live ammunition; five 9mm live ammunition and charms, some of them found in a vehicle whose occupants were led by one Gabriel Duff, the Students Union Government President of the University of Uyo. Heâ€™s still being held by the police.
Aside the shooting and eventual killing of one Elvis Magam, a University of Uyo student who was participating in the event, one Tonye Samuel, a student of the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, was also shot and severely wounded.
Some of the suspects also hijacked three buses at gunpoint which they hired from Ammasoma Park in Biogbolo, Yenagoa, to take them to the venue in Otuoke, seriously injuring the drivers and dispossessing them of their belongings.
The police added that two factions of the students’ body came in from UNIUYO, noting that some of the students who were arrested were already under serious reprimand and had promised to be of good behaviour before the incident.
Commissioner of Police in the state, Asuquo said that Akpan Esuabanga, Aaron Wisdom, Gabriel, Etefia Otobong, Akwaoso Uwankmfon, all from UNIUYO, were among those arrested in connection with the attempted murder.
He listed the three other suspects connected with the murder on the school campus as Emmanuel Ebere, Okon Ben and Obiakarije Innocent, noting that the remains of the deceased had been deposited at the morgue.
Those who hijacked the buses and injured the drivers, he said, were Asari Enagob, Suoguai Bina, Ibe Ogbonna, Igbanibo Tari, Ekperi Kenneth, Kemefie Ebimene and Chukwuma Lawrence, most of them final year students of the Niger Delta University, Amassoma in Southern Ijaw local council.
The CP noted that despite the deployment of 11 patrol teams in collaboration with the army, civil defence, the vigilante group in Otuoke and the university’s internal security, the students still went on a shooting spree, leading to a breach of the peace.
â€œIt is disheartening to note these events which occurred at the zone ‘B’ election for coordinators of NANS, at the Federal University, Otuoke where the students representing universities and higher institutions in the South-south degenerated to the use of firearms,â€ he said.
A victim of the violence who was among the drivers whose vehicles were hijacked, Ayoola Kehinde, an indigene of Modakeke in Osun State, said around 10a.m. on Saturday, the day of the election, four of the students hired buses from him at Amassoma Motor Park.
â€œFour of the students came to Amassoma Park on Saturday, around 10 am and said they needed three buses. We agreed for N8,000 per bus. When they boarded the buses, they said they wanted to pick some persons from Biogbolo.
â€œWhen we got there (Biogbolo), they said there were some persons at Ebis they wanted to pick. By the time we got to Ebis, we picked some persons.
â€œAfter that, I asked them to pay my money. They said their boss was on Isaac Boro Expressway and that when we got there, they would pay. By the time we got there, we did not see anybody. They said their boss was in the Aritalin area. It was then I told them I was not going to Aritalin.
â€œOne of them said I was talking rubbish and he slapped me. As he slapped me, others joined him and they started beating me and my brothers. One of them dipped his hand into my pocket and took the N50,000 I wanted to send to my wife in Lagos to pay my childrenâ€™s school fees.
â€œHe took the money and my ATM card, phone and seized my vehicle key. One of them brought out a gun and used the butt to hit my head,â€ Kehinde said.
According to him, as blood gushed out of his head, the students left with his brother, whom they forced to drive them before he sighted a patrol van of operatives of the State Anti-Robbery Squad approaching.
The security operatives reportedly trailed the suspects before they were rounded up and taken to the police headquarters.
However, the incident has also drawn the attention of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) Worldwide, who condemned the killing of a final year law student in Otuoke.
The Chairman of IYC, Central Zone, Mr. Tari Porri, said the council would not allow anybody to destabilise the existing peace in the zone, which covers Bayelsa and parts of Rivers State.
He frowned at the trend of students bearing arms in the name of cultism, describing the violence in the NANS election as an aberration and embarrassment to the real essence of education…
â€œThe IYC under my leadership in this zone will not tolerate activities relating to cult wars or inter-communal crisis. We will not tolerate anybody coming to disturb the already existing peace in the state.
â€œIf anyone is found wanting, we will mobilise the entire law-abiding Ijaw youths against the person. Youths should be law-abiding. They should not partake in organisations that will not bring honour to the state or organisation that will bring disrepute to the Ijaw land.â€
While advising the youths to identify with meaningful ventures that would bring joy and progress to the Ijaw nation, Porri, said no election was worth the life of any youth.
â€œWe are appealing to the entire youths in the central zone to be law-abiding and to be serious with their lives instead of engaging in vices that will destroy them.
â€œLook at a young man who was just killed, a promising young man, a Law student from the University of Uyo. The gains and aspirations of that young man had been cut short,â€ he said..
Porri wondered the fate of the country where an organisation like NANS hitherto reputable for moulding talents and careers of youths had become a safe haven for criminals and cultists.
He added, â€œWe were all parts of NANS. When we were playing active NANS politics, we would shout and scatter things but you would never see a student beating and slapping another student much less handling weapons to kill.
â€œThis time around, young boys of 15 to 20 years will be moving about with guns. Some persons were also arrested because guns were found in their vehicles. We say no to this because it is an aberration.
â€œAs the leader of Ijaw youth central zone, I appeal to students to steer clear of cultism and other activities that will destroy them and bring disrepute to the Ijaw nationâ€.
Also denouncing the violence occasioned by the convention, the national leadership of the studentsâ€™ body in a statement by its president, Mr. Chinonso Obasi, alleged that the deceased student of Law was shot dead by suspected cultists and commended the Bayelsa Police Command and the Department of State Services for their swift response and arrest of suspects.
â€œIt is unfortunate that some misguided youths parading as students were drafted in by some aspirants to frustrate the efforts of the organisers.
â€œThe national leadership of NANS salutes the promptness with which the security agencies apprehended some suspects and clearly wish to state that the association is interested in the arrest, investigation and prosecution of all those involved including their sponsors.
â€œIt is crude, inhuman and unfathomable that young people now resort to arms possession and usage in clearly a students’ election,â€™â€™ he said.
Obasi called on the security agencies to fish out all those involved in the mindless killing of a fellow student, noting that the death of the Law student should not be swept under the carpet.
At the time of putting this piece together, it was learnt that the deceased student’s remains had been conveyed back to his state for burial.
He probably had a premonition of his death. Quoting Christopher Walker in one of his posts on Facebook before his death, the late Magam said â€œLife is hard, death is easyâ€. To his loved ones, this death came too soon, too easy!