AT least seven students from Nigeria's Federal University of Port Harcourt have died within a year in mysterious circumstances. They are believed to be victims of warring between secret campus cults.
The latest victim, Uba Ezenwu, was not a student, but his father is a professor in the university's chemical engineering department. Ezenwu, who was shot in the neck and head, was found dead near the university campus.
Two days before that killing, a student of health and physical education was shot dead nearby.
In a separate incident, Emeka Nkwocha, a first-year student of political science, died near the campus, apparently in a shoot-out between two secretive cults known as Eiye and Black Axe.
Earlier this year Joseph Tondon and Stephan Donkpe, both students, were killed in strange circumstances. At about the same time, four students drowned in a river near the campus returning from initiation rites into a cult.
It is thought unlikely that any of the killers will be found.
The university's vice chancellor Theo Vincent, a well-known literary critic, said that poor facilities and the cults made campus life stressful and difficult. He spoke of "the menace of secret cults whose brazen operations have turned them from secret to open cults. They represent a demonic plague and seem to be part of the decay . . . of a university".
On an unscheduled visit to the campus, Colonel Musa Shehu, the Rivers State military administrator, was shown dilapidated hostels and classrooms and was briefed on the cults. He heard that the university could not deal with the situation because cult members are being protected by people within the police and the judiciary.
Port Harcourt students have organised a week-long seminar to discuss the cults. According to Sylvester Udeorah, chairman of the student union: "The eradication of cultism and the dangerous activities of cult members is the joint responsibility of students, lecturers and parents. We will continue to sensitise the students on the need to turn their backs on these secret cults."
Recently, two men kidnapped a female student from a university hostel, an event that sparked mass student demonstrations.
The students protested against the poor campus security and the police's apparent inability to deal with the unexplained murders. Protesters blocked a major road for several hours. When the State Police Command arrived at the scene, violent clashes with students followed.