Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Killings at UNIPORT

Last week, a band of gunmen invaded the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on three motorbikes, brandishing AK47 rifles. Reports say they headed for the office of the university’s Chief Security Officer ostensibly to kill him but he was not available. In their disappointment and rage, they shot dead his guest and lecturer in the university, Dr. Ikhesan Ozuru.

Reports also claim that university authorities promptly alerted the Joint Task Force in the state, which engaged the cultists in a gun duel. Three other people – two students and a middle-aged woman trying to flee the trouble spot – were killed, while a professor and some students were wounded. The quick intervention of the JTF, however, led to the killing of two members of the gang and the arrest of one.

Rivers State, like other states in the Niger Delta, has been notorious for violent crimes for some time now. In particular, it is alleged that some political leaders in the state are members of the criminal gangs falsely called cult groups. Without doubt, arms and amunition get into the hands of the students through the political leaders who use them for their criminal selfish ends during and after elections.

The UNIPORT onslaught is one of the innumerable incidents of killing and robbery by students within and outside the university campuses across the nation. More worrisome is the involvement of female students – the supposed homebuilders and mothers of the nation and students of private universities who, experts say, are the alternatives to the rot in the public school system.

It is regrettable that even in the face of this ugly development, bare-faced criminality on campus is still being dressed up as cultism and common criminals in our institutions of higher learning are being treated with kid gloves. It is also sad that the people of the Niger Delta have not clearly separated criminality from their legitimate struggle for resource control.

The link of ‘bigmen’ with the campus murderers either as their sponsors or parents has eroded the government’s moral authority to firmly apply the law. It will be recalled for instance that, when a former Vice-Chancellor of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Prof. Rogers Makanjuola, charged some campus cultists to court for allegedly killing some student leaders in 1999, the accused were mysteriously released. Worse still, they had the effrontery to approach the university for reinstatement. Examples such as this explain why other students are emboldened to engage in criminal activities on campus.

Until the blood suckers on the nation’s campuses are charged to court for murder and the heavy arm of the law appropriately applied, our institutions will continue to be breeding grounds for common murderers and bandits.

The UNIPORT authorities deserve commendation for rising to the occasion and putting a distress call through to a security agency. The JTF also deserves a pat on the back for its prompt response and intervention.

Allegation of membership of cultism against political leaders is, however, not limited to Rivers State. It is a phenomenon that is nudging the nation’s polity to its nadir. It should therefore be carefully investigated, and if found to be true, stemmed in the interest of the nation’s fragile democracy.

The Police should conduct exhaustive investigations in order to extract useful information from the surviving member of the cult group in JTF’s custody that will lead to the arrest of the other members still at large and their sponsors. All those who conspired to invade UNIPORT should be brought to justice irrespective of their status.

The judiciary and security agencies should ensure that the case is not subjected to political manoeuvres like the OAU saga. The task of ridding the nation’s tertiary institutions of cultism and violent crimes is a national one that should be discharged by all the agencies concerned with all sense of responsibility and patriotism.