Wednesday, June 7, 2023
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How Air Force men almost killed us on campus — UNIOSUN lecturers, students

Femi Makinde writes about the sorrow, tears and blood left on the premises of the Osun State University by personnel of the Nigerian Air Force who invaded the institution to attack its students

They came like marauders on a mission to kill. Even though no life was lost to their dastardly attacks, the agony of their despicable act was deep on their victims.

The foregoing succinctly captured the experience of students and lecturers of the Ipetu Ijesa campus of the Osun State University last Tuesday when some personnel of the Nigerian Air Force Safety Institute in the town invaded their school.

The invasion caused great confusion among the students, lecturers and other workers in the university.

Our correspondent gathered that trouble started when the airmen beat and detained a student believed to be one of the Yahoo boys (Internet fraudsters) in the school.

A source familiar with the matter said, “There are Yahoo boys in our school and they usually settle men of the Special Anti Robbery Squad whenever they come. At times, the boys would call the policemen that they should come for the ‘settlement.’

“The SARS came as usual on that day but one of the Yahoo boys ran away to the Air Force institute to stay with his friends. He was accused of not contributing to the money to settle the police before he ran away.

“His friends went to see him there and demanded that he make contribution but his Air Force friends said they should leave the guy alone. The boys asked the Air Force men to stay out of the matter. The insult was said to have infuriated the Air Force men who descended on the boys. One of the boys was seriously beaten and detained.

“Some students, who heard of what happened, mobilised and wanted to go there to free him but the lecturers prevented them. The Air Force men probably thought the students were going to attack them. So, they invaded the campus and beat up some students.”

SUNDAY PUNCH gathered from some residents in the town that many of the students had been enduring brutality from the officers for a long time. The cruelty, it was learnt, was not hidden from the school authorities who hoped that things would change for the better.

The military men were said to have been harassing the students, especially the male students at ATM points and even when on commercial motorcycles otherwise called okada.

One of the students, Biodun Olaoye, told our correspondent that the airmen detested queuing at automated teller machine points anytime they wanted to make withdrawals. He added that they also became terror to the okada riders as they often ordered them to drop their passengers especially students, saying they wanted to ride on the same bike.

Olaoye said, “We have been suffering in silence and each time we reported to the management at Ipetu campus, they would just ask us to forget about it. But the last one was terrible because lecturers were also attacked. They were beaten like common criminals, including a female lecturer.’’

Ibrahim Sulaiman, who is a 400 level student of the school, had once been a victim of the airmen’s brutality. He said he and his colleagues were receiving lectures when they heard that the officers were coming to attack them.

He added that invasion of their campus by the military men was common.

According to him, the Vice Chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities at the university, Dr. Femi Abanikanda, tried talking to the rampaging airmen, but he was attacked.

Sulaiman said the armed officers pounced on the lecturer and hit him with clubs and gun butts on the head and every part of his body.

“Up till now, we do not know the reason for the attack. Even the Dean of Student Affairs, Dr. Adebimpe Adigun, was surprised. She made an attempt to approach them but they threatened to shoot her and she stopped. Many of us ran away into the bush to escape from the ‘terrorists’ in military uniform.

“If they know they are so brutal, they should ask to be redeployed to war zones and not where they will be harassing innocent and armless students.  We have been tolerating their excesses for a long time but this one must not go unpunished. All we want is justice. Those who invaded the campus should be fished out and prosecuted. This is not just a case of invasion but brutality and attempted murder. They beat our lecturers mercilessly and some students were injured,’’ he added.

Another student and a victim, Tunji Ibrahim, said, “The attack is condemnable and the government must not allow it to go like the previous ones. The previous attacks were never reported and that is the reason they have not stopped. In fact, we are grateful to journalists for reporting this one. Only God knows what would have happened if they have killed one of the students because they really didn’t care if anybody died with the way they beat us. It was terrible and I don’t pray for such again.”

Abanikanda, who is still nursing the injuries sustained from the attack, told SUNDAY PUNCH on the telephone that he was awaiting the result of the X-ray he did to know the extent of the damage done to him.

The lecturer stated that he heard that the military officers arrested and beat one of the students mercilessly. He added that he and two other lecturers decided to meet the commandant of the Air Force institute but on getting to the gate of the school, some fierce- looking airmen pounced on them, including the female lecturer and rained blows on them.

He said that the ‘rescue team’ later returned to the campus and calmed down students, who were already spoiling for a showdown to protest the way their lecturers were beaten.

Abanikanda added, “They hit my head repeatedly with the big sticks in their hands and with gun butts. They hit my head about 18 times. Apart from the injuries on my head, they lacerated my body. I sustained a cut close to my ear. I have cuts on my back and my legs. They have been attacking our students for a long time. They have turned themselves into terrorists in the community. There was blood stain on my car and I was driven to a hospital where I was treated. The beating was much.’’

The female lecturer who was beaten alongside Abanikanda, Dr. Florence Yusuf, said she was scared of going back to Ipetu Ijesa because her attackers might still want to continue attacking lecturers and students without any reason.

Yusuf said, “I have never been that harassed and beaten in my adult life. After the attack on our students, Dr. Abanikanda, another lecturer and I went and told them we wanted to see their commandant but before we could finish uttering the word ‘commandant’, they pounced on us and injured Abanikanda. I was thinking that they would spare me because I am a woman but I was wrong. One of them grabbed me by the shoulder and pushed me violently. It’s only that I cannot expose where I was injured but the traces of the man’s finger nails are still on my shoulder.

“I thank God that I wore something like silk. If I had worn something like ankara, I would have been stripped the way he handled me.’’

She also urged the Federal Government and the NAF to set up a commission of inquiry to look into this case.

“The last intervention was the fourth I did in the case of assault on our students by the airmen. I can identify the one who beat me. These men are evil. The government should not keep silent on this. We do not need to wait until the students are killed before taking a bold step,” she said.

Following the violence, the ASUU-UNIOSUN chapter called on the government to ensure the prosecution of those who mastermined the attack.

The chairman of the union, Dr. Seye Abiona, said the two institutions could no longer co-exist side by side in the town considering the airmen’s crude manner.

According to him, either of the institution may need to be relocated for peace to reign.

Also, the Deputy Coordinator of the National Association of Nigerian Students in the South-West, Mr. Saheed Afolabi, condemned the attack on the university and called for a probe into the invasion.

He said he discovered that the airmen had been unleashing terror on the students for long. Afolabi further said NANS would not fold its arms and watch the military men, whose salaries were paid by taxpayers, to be attacking students senselessly.

He said, “This act is condemnable. I think the state government and the Air Force must decide what to do to put a permanent stop to these mindless attacks on defenceless students.”

The management of the UNIOSUN also said that the rampaging airmen must be prosecuted publicly to serve as deterrent to their other lawless colleagues.

The Acting Registrar, Gafar Shittu, in a statement, said the management could no longer guarantee that the campus would continue to operate with the level of brutality meted out to students of the university by the airmen.

The statement read, “The vice-chancellor directed the DVC (Administration) to lead a team for a first hand assessment. A critical assessment of the situation has shown that except a drastic action was taken following this recent attack, which is a culmination of the previous incessant and perhaps lesser violations and brutalisation of our students, there will be another incident, which may lead to loss of lives and property. While we condemn this despicable act in totality, we wish to appeal to the Nigerian Air Force, and indeed, the federal authorities not to allow the perpetrators go unpunished.”

“The statement added that a week break was given to staff and students of the Ipetu-Ijesa campus as part of efforts to restore peace and douse tension.

It noted that the airmen had no justification under any guise to invade the university campus as enshrined in the country’s extant laws.

It was gathered on Friday that the management of the university held a meeting with the top officers of the NAF institute and some chiefs in Ipetu Ijesa on the matter.

Our correspondent also learnt that lecturers had returned to classes after the expiration of the one-week break given to students.

However, the Commandant of the NAF Safety Institute, Air Commodore Ayo Jolasinmi, said although he was far away from the institute when the invasion happened, the matter would be thoroughly investigated.

He said he did not know what happened but was sure that the matter would be looked into and anyone found guilty would be punished.

Also, the Director of Public Relations and Information, NAF, Air Commodore Olatokunbo Adesanya, told SUNDAY PUNCH that investigation was ongoing on the matter.

He said the report of the panel set up to investigate the attack would be made known to the public when ready, adding that the NAF was a discipline agency which would not allow its officers to violate the rights of innocent persons.

Adesanya said, “Investigation is still ongoing. I will let you know when the report of the panel is ready.”

He further said the investigation would be thorough in order to get to the root of the matter, saying the NAF would not hesitate to prosecute any officer found culpable based on its rules.

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