Cholera death sparks protest

December 25, 1998

Obafemi Awolowo University, created over 30 years ago in the city of Ile-Ife, was once described as architecturally the best campus in Nigeria.

It had an efficient and functional lake from which it got clean drinking water. This water was also pumped into an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

But now drinkable water is no longer regularly available, and the swimming pool has been closed because of lack of chlorine.

"I did warn several years ago that a situation where 20,000 students are not supplied with clean water could easily lead to water-induced epidemics," declared a professor of community health at the university, who spoke anonymously. "Nobody listened to me then, and now tragedy has struck."

At a hall of residence a 19-year-old student has died of cholera. Tope Ajayi, a student of agricultural economics, collapsed and was taken to the university health centre - renamed "Death Centre" by students because of its notoriety for wrong diagnosis and lack of drugs - where he died.

An autopsy confirmed the cause of death was cholera, a finding that angered students.

Known for embellishing militancy with Yoruba traditional song, students invented one to suit their angry mood. They sang: "You have caused a lot of sorrow, those of you who killed Tope and did not allow him to grow old."

Their anger increased when the university authorities did not participate fully in funeral arrangements. A group of students went to the official residence of the vice-chancellor, who was off campus, but they later "captured" Eniola Akingbohungbe, the deputy vice-chancellor, and held him hostage for over 20 hours in the dead student's hall of residence.

It took the intervention of officials of the Academic Staff Union of Universities to persuade students to release Akingbohungbe on the promise that the chronic water shortage would be resolved and a freeze on the students' union account would be lifted.

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