Campuses riven by killings

January 1, 1999

Examination calendars in Nigeria's 34 state and federal-owned universities have become unpredictable since military rule truncated the second republic of Nigeria in December, 1983.

Universities have had to close for long periods as students, angered at the absence of democracy, have disrupted campus life.

There is, however, another form of militarisation at work - the incessant violent operations of rival student cults.

Even as Nigeria took its first steps towards restoration of democracy, two universities were affected by cult activity. In eastern Nigeria, the examination hall at Enugu State University of Science and Technology was turned into a battlefield between rival student cults known as Black-Axe and the Pyrate Confraternity.

Obioma Chukwudi, an engineering student, said: "Hardly had we settled down to start our examinations than we saw armed students barricading the two entrances to the hall. They did not cover their faces. They immediately fired shots at Okechukwu Opara, who was sitting near one of the windows. Students, lecturers and attendants abandoned all examination materials and struggled to get out through the windows.

"Suddenly, I saw the armed students rushing towards Okechukwu Opara. They shot him in the legs to prevent him from running away, chopped off two of his fingers, then dragged him from the hall, dumped his body in a corner of the campus and pumped bullets in his head.

"Another student was later discovered dead with several bullets in his stomach."

In apparent retaliation, the cult organisation to which Okechukwu Opara belonged staged an evening raid on a house near the campus. Seven young men stopped their car in front of the family home of a meteorology student at the university. According to an eye-witness, the men, armed with machetes, guns and axes, cordoned off the street.

The student was buying a roasted ear of corn from a street trader when he became involved in an argument with the men, who drew their weapons and hit him in several parts of the body, finally shooting him several times in the heart.

A few days later, a female student was shot dead by people believed to be members of a rival gang apparently looking for her boyfriend.

At the University of Ibadan, whose academic year is 12 months behind schedule, the Pyrates Confraternity and Black Axe also disrupted examinations, clashing on three consecutive nights using axes, cutlasses and guns.

According to police sources, three students and a canteen attendant died at the student union building.

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