Campus protests at backing for general

May 8, 1998

Nigerian students have defied a "shoot-to-kill" warning from police and protested at the support of the country's five registered political parties for General Sani Abacha as the sole presidential candidate in the election scheduled for August 1.

The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) called for mass demonstrations against the continuation of military rule on May 1. Students from the University of Ibadan were involved with other young people in violent battles with police, who eventually fired live ammunition. At least four people were hurt.

In Lagos, students who erected barricades of blazing tyres and wood near the main entrance of the state university were dispersed with water cannon. In a Lagos suburb, a student leader was injured in a separate clash with police.

Demonstrations also took place near the University of Ilorin and in Port Harcourt, home of executed Ogoni campaigner Ken Saro-Wiwa, where anti-riot police vehicles were deployed.

Among other democratic, human rights and professional organisations, the Academic Staff Union of Universities and the NANS outlined their fears for the consequences of the action.

An extraordinary meeting of ASUU's national executive council, comprising chairs and secretaries from 34 universities, declared that General Abacha's self-succession bid was "inherently dangerous and harmful to democracy".

"Neither the state of the economy, education, health and other spheres of human activity would support any further continued stay in office of General Sani Abacha a day beyond October 1, 1998," the union said.

As a way out of the impasse, ASUU called for the release of all political detainees and a new dialogue with "popular forces" and Chief Moshood Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the 1993 presidential election, to form a government of national unity.

The union said a national government should be able to undo the damage, restore confidence and search for viable answers to the national question. It expressed shame that the five parties were attempting to force General Abacha to rule Nigeria through aggressive campaigning and declared that the detention and continuous "persecution and arrest of the people claimed to be in opposition to the government amounts to authoritarianism, intolerance and subversion of the basic rights and freedom of individuals".

Police in Lagos state have arrested some students, including a student leader at Lagos University for allegedly planning an anti-government demonstration at the Federal College of Education. According to Paddy Ogon, a Lagos official, the students were caught with more than 1,000 anti-government posters.

At the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, 800 kilometres from Lagos, the police raided the office of Sam Asogwa, a political science lecturer. After several hours of interrogation, they arrested him and confiscated anti-government posters reading "Military Rule is a Crime Against Humanity", "Stand Up Against It" and "Military Anti-Civilian Collaborators Have Failed Nigeria".

Lasisi Assobie, ASUU's national president and a senior lecturer in the same department as Dr Asogwa, said: "He is locked up by the police, in a cell where criminals are being kept in sub-human conditions.

"The cell has six inmates instead of two. The sanitary conditions are horrible."

At the Obafemi Awolowo University, in the Yoruba city of Ile-Ife, students stormed the palace of King Olubuse Sijuwade and warned him to stop his campaign for General Abacha's succession or risk being dethroned. King Sijuwade is a business partner of General Abacha.

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