Tuesday was an unusual day in the Port Harcourt metropolis as the voices of students of the university of Port Harcourt rang across the four corners of the city, literally rattling the city. The quietude and serenity that had for sometime pervaded the city were punctured momentarily by the voices of the students who were peacefully protesting alleged molestation by thousands of ex-militants who are camped in the neighbouring community of Aluu for training and rehabilitation.
The ex-militants have been in Aluu since October when the amnesty deadline expired and have been in the rehabilitation centre undergoing training. But matters apparently came to a head last Sunday when some of the ex-militants were alleged to have invaded the Abuja campus of the university molesting and raping students while several of the students scampered for safety.
As if the terror and mayhem which they unleashed on that day was not enough, they were alleged to have also stormed the university the following Monday at about 5pm raping and maiming the students. This state of affairs, according to our investigation, was what triggered off the students’ protest on that Tuesday afternoon. As it were, the students who were armed with all manners of placards drove through the major roads of Port Harcourt from Choba where the university is located and anchored at the Government House Drive along Azikiwe Road to register their protest as well as demand prompt action of the state government to nip in the bud future occurrence of such dastardly acts of lawlessness by the ex-militants.
The students in their usual radical tradition laced with a tinge of youthful exuberance became uncontrollable as they made frantic efforts to gain entrance into the Brick House, the seat of power. On several occasions, security operatives stationed at the gate of the Government House shoved them to forestall any ugly incident but the students stood their ground, raising their voices high and demanding to see the governor who was unavoidably out of the state on official engagements.
The security agents including members of the dreaded Joint Military Task Force took charge of the situation but the students could not be placated as they chanted. “We no go gree o! We no go gree!! “The chants became unending until the state Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Mr. Ogbonna Nwuke, the Acting Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr. Blessing Wikina and a host of newsmen and cameramen came to the scene to meet them.
Even when the President of the university’s students Union Government, mr. Solomon Amadi was given a microphone to express their grievances, the atmosphere was still rowdy as the voices of the students continued to ring across the horizon. The students comprising youngmen and girls remained unconsolable as they continued to chant solidarity songs, shoving and drifting towards the Government House gate.
The security men were also in their hundreds at the scene to contain the situation and the Deputy Commissioner of Police and other top security brass in the state were sighted at the scene to bring the students under control.
When Mr. Ogbonna Nwuke who represented the governor started addressing the crowd, his voice was barely audible as the students’ protest became more strident, insinuating that they only wanted the governor to address them or in the absence of the governor, the deputy governor or the commissioner for Information.
Unfortunately, the demands of the students could not be met as the governor was said to be attending a meeting in Aso Rock in respect of the Super Eagles qualification for the 2010 world cup. It would be recalled that the governor is the chairman of the task force that qualified the country for the football fiesta in South Africa next year. The deputy governor, on his part, was on the delegation to Kenya for the qualification match between the Super Eagles and the Harambee stars of Kenya which gave the country the world cup ticket last Saturday. The deputy governor had not returned to the state capital that Tuesday afternoon while the Information Commissioner was also away on official assignments.
Mr. Nwuke appealed to the students to give peace a chance as the government was prepared to look into their grievances and take prompt action.
He also recognised the fact that the students through the protest were expressing their fundamental human rights, and urged them to see reason.
Even the presence of the university’s dean of students Affairs at the scene could not pacify the revolting students who shouted: “Dean, Go home, Dean, go home!! Dean, go home !!!” The Dean stormed the Government House Drive shortly after the students’ arrival and pleaded with them not to take laws into their hands. He particularly pleaded with the SUG president to take the students back to the university as they had already made their points.
But journalists and security men pleaded with the students to show understanding and retire to their campuses having laid bare their grievances to the appropriate authorities.
Some of the students who spoke with The Tide On Sunday indicated that they were prepared for any consequences as the actions of the ex-militants had made the university environment unsafe.
Some of the placards carried by the protesting students read in part, “Relocate Ex-militants to Aso Rock or brick House. We say No to Rape of our students. Governor Amaechi, please save us”. The placards in their own way expressed the state of mind of the students who demanded that the rehabilitation camp of the ex-militants should be relocated from Aluu community, a neighbouring community to Choba where the university is located.
No doubt, the students’ protest was a mild drama of sorts as some of the students on sighting reporters and cameramen working for Silver Bird Television ran towards them and apparently conscripted them to capture the unfolding scenes. The shout of “Silver Bird! Silver Bird!! Silver bird!! rented the air.
In all, the tension generated by the protest was doused when Mr. Solomon Amadi personally approached the Honourable Commissioner and demanded that a meeting be scheduled between members of the SUG exco and the governor for another day with a promise that he was going to de-mobilise the students.
The students’ protest once again brought to the fore the fact that all is not well with the Federal government’s post-amnesty programme across the Niger Delta. Several observers of events in the Niger delta believe that the action of the ex-militants was ample proof that the post-amnesty programme is not properly handled by the federal Government.
There are strong indications that the ex-militants are not regularly paid their allowances and that infiltrators also storm the camp and start demanding for such allowances without being fished out.
There are also widely held views that the amnesty and all its financial fallouts did not also take care of genuine activists of the Niger Delta struggle. This is also creating and generating tension across the region.
For sure, one thing the protesting students might have forgotten was that the camping of ex-militants and their rehabilitation was actually a federal government’s affair.
However, several persons are of the view that this is the time to cage the ex-militants to possibly stop them from wreaking more havoc to society by molesting and harassing innocent, law-abiding citizens of the country.