‘So that means the semester is over?’ John asked with his usual quizzing look.
‘Perhaps,’ Nnanna replied. ‘We won’t give them what they want. Besides, we don’t have it.’
Nnanna and his bosom friend, John trudged along the stony Idemba road toward the school motor park. The university had just been shut down indefinitely after the entire second year students refused to write their GST paper. Only two students were allowed into the hall because the rest hadn’t paid their school fees. Tempers began to flare outside the gigantic examination hall amongst the mammoth crowd.
Chenko, the most popular boy in the entire Business department, a giant of a boy with light skin and the eyes of a cat was the instigator of the mass protest.
‘Guys and girls, make we act naa,’ he blurted out amid the incomprehensible voices of the restless students. It did not take much effort to gain the attention of a few people and in less than three minutes, there was a little silence.
‘How we go dey here dey look this people?’ He continued. ‘We no get money to pay dem. Abi dem want make we steal?’
His voice was much more reduced. Perhaps it was a strategy deployed to gain the undivided attention of the crowd. It hardly worked. Most girls still chattered though, some frowning their over-primped faces while others noisily chewed their bubble gums, making tak-tak sounds. It was hard to believe that such kind of people actually came for an exam.
Chenko talked at length to the crowd, telling them what they already knew- that the university authorities were mere puppets of the government and that the students were overly exploited. Everyone knew that; perhaps they needed a voice to talk to them, to bring them together under one voice. And that was exactly what Chenko gave them.
The pale-looking security men in their frayed uniforms who stood in front of the brown entrance door of the hall began to sense trouble. Unfortunately, they had little time to react before the already agitated students descended upon them, breaking into the exam hall and chasing away the sole invigilator. The two students inside the hall- a boy and a plump girl were also beaten mercilessly. The agreement before the examination period among the students was that there was to be no payment whatsoever for any fee. These ‘over-zealous’ two were scape goats.
Louvre blades were broken and the discoloured chalkboard at the front of the big hall was destroyed. The students did not leave any stone unturned in their quest for annihilation. Chants of ‘we no go gree oo, we no go gree’ accompanied their march through the main school pathway and they resembled buzzing bees flying in the direction of a fleeing honey thief. Word had spread round the school of the riot that had ensued and the students of other departments started up their own protest in solidarity. It was just as if hell broke loose on the university main campus.
Strangely, word went round the state as fast as the harmattan fire, that there was war in the university and mothers began to call their only sons and daughters, instructing them to return home immediately. The last time a riot started in the school, no fewer than thirty students lost their lives. But today, it was about to get a lot worse.
The students from other departments merged with the main initiators of the riot after successfully disrupting the examinations at their respective classroom blocks. The crowd was roughly about a thousand students and they moved forward like the legendary 300 spartans, destroying the glass walls of the school library and administrative block, throwing missiles at the windscreens of all the cars in sight, all with a view of reaching their main destination, the senate building.
It was known among the students that most decisions that the university authorities made concerning them were made in the senate building. The vice and pro- chancellor’s offices, together with the respective deans and bursary offices were located there. It was basically a powerhouse.
Back at the school hostel, the feeble-hearted and cautious students had already packed their bags, heading for home. They did not need to be told of the outcome of the madness that was occurring in the main campus. Many students felt it was justified, while others felt it was not the right way to react. Some others fled the school because they were cultists and they knew that some of their aggrieved rivals would have seen the riot as a beautiful opportunity to attack. The rest were either the only children of their parenst or the offspring of ministers and high-ranking government officials who felt that the students would attack them because of the crimes most of their parents committed.
At the onset of the mass protest, the chief security officer had notified the commander in charge of the local government area division of the disturbance going on in the main campus. About fourty-five armed men were immediately deployed to the senate building because an important meeting was going on. They moved swiftly, clad in their traditional grey and green coloured uniform with their round ash helmet. Some had tear gas containers on their hands while others had guns, mostly AK-47 rifles. The remaining ordinary security and police officers scampered to the safety of their homes, far away from the school.
It was almost noon when the students approached the senate building from the adjoining wide, tarred pathway. The boys were mostly in front, some bore clubs and broken wooden handles while the others held burning sticks in their hands. The girls were interlocked between the boys, and they did most of the chanting and shouts of ‘woooo wooo.’ They sounded like sick owls.
The students were barely fifty metres away from the senate building’s green and white coloured gate when a soldier came out with a voice-amplifying gadget. Holding the amplifier steadily whilst looking at the raging crowd, he spoke directly into the microphone.
‘This is an official warning from the Nigerian Army. You all are ordered to stop and lay down your weapons.’
Frustratingly, he barely heard himself. He stopped and looked ahead to see if the students would yield to the warning. Their pace seemed to even double. He spoke into the microphone again, ‘I repeat, you. . ,’ before the first stone landed on his eye. Then came the sharp bottles and metal cans. He let out a groan that he alone heard while he turned back, running toward the gate. But just as he sped through the gate, the first group of soldiers came out, wearing face masks. They then released the tear gas into the air in front of them, toward the onrushing students.
Because they didn’t expect an assault from the authorities, the boys in front of the crowd fell mercilessly to the intoxicating power of the released gas. There was commotion among the students and most of them could not see because the gas enveloped the air around them. In a bid to escape, majority of them ran into themselves. Unlucky people who fell down, were mercilessly trampled upon. The girls started fainting. But as horrific as it was, the soldiers were not done yet. The second group emerged from the gate and opened fire on the already enfeebled students. Then came the wails and shouts of anguish of numerous souls that were caught by the bullets. The bullets continued raining non-stop for about three minutes before the soldiers stopped shooting. Then, they retreated while watching as the students who managed to stay alive scrambled to safety, fleeing the scene. Noises that could be heard now were that of the stampede and cries for help from the dying boys and girls.
Ten to fifteen minutes later, the smoke enveloping the atmosphere cleared a bit and a new kind of silence ensued. But this kind of silence was not entirely silent, it was a kind of noise that dead corpses made. Battered bodies of young men and once-gorgeous ladies littered the tarred path. They were at about fifteen to twenty in number. The smell of roasted flesh also filled the air coupled with the last sounds of a fleeing feet. The soldiers came out of the gate, standing outside to ensure that no living student still remained hidden. Then, the university chancellor and his associates came out of the senate building, heading for the staff residential quarters.
The next day, the news on the cover page of The Spear Newspaper read thus:
“SEVERAL CULTISTS SHOT DEAD IN CLASH WITH ARMED SOLDIERS AT THE STATE UNIVERSITY
Yesterday, being the 3rd of August, 2012, a good number of students, presumed to be cultists responsible for the killings and crimes committed in the state were shot down during a shoot out with soldiers of the Nigerian Army. Sources gathered that the students had started a violent protest because one of the cultist was sent away from the exam hall as a result of malpractice. Another source reported that some other students had sworn to stop the school exams because they had not paid their fees. This happened in spite of the fact that most of the said students were cultists who often wasted the money given to them by their hardworking parents. Is this . . . ”
Later the same day, a young man of 28 was interviewed on the radio. This was what he had to say:
Interviewer: Are you a student of the university that just experienced a break in the academic calendar?
Student: I am a final year student in the department of Mass Communication. This is our 5th forced strike in two years now.
Interviewer: Are you aware of what really happened in your school yesterday?
Student: What they have been saying are all lies. It was not a cult clash. All the students agreed to do this. I mean, how can we pay a hundred and fourty thousand naira every semester? When did we turn into a private university? Do these people even consider our plight at all? Our parents work day and night to cater for us and we students have to work part time in order to pay for our fees. And yet they keep increasing the fees every year. Do you know that this is my eighth year here? I’m supposed to have graduated four years ago but here I am. If the lecturers aren’t complaining of unpaid salaries, then its the non-academic staff fighting for money. I even wonder what these lecturers use the exorbitant amounts of money we pay them for their textbooks and handouts for. Yesterday, the soldiers there opened fire. . .
The radio station went off air abruptly. Minutes later, the station came back on air and instead of continuing the interview, it was announced that it was now time for the weekend naija hip hop top ten countdown.
Days later, an old man with a bent gait entered a police station to report that his 28 year old son was missing.