Hangings provoke student unrest

December 1, 1995

Security was stepped up at Nigerian universities this week as students staged a two-day boycott of lectures in protest at the executions of novelist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight pro-Ogoni campaigners.

In the aftermath of the hangings the National Association of Nigerian Students held an emergency meeting at the University of Ibadan. Despite a threat from Ibadan police to arrest student leaders if they went ahead and held the meeting, it was attended by presidents and secretaries from most universities, polytechnics and colleges of education.

After hours of deliberation they came out with some resolutions on the Ogoni crisis and the increase in fees for the 1995/96 session.

Mallam Ibrahim Dibal of the University of Maiduguri, secretary general of NANS, declared his organisation's support for the suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth. NANS backed sanctions including an oil embargo.

"To show our disgust at the killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa, and the unacceptable hike in fees, NANS has called for a two-day boycott of lectures," he declared.

Academic Staff Union of Universities branches at many universities across the country condemned the hangings and expressed support for more sanctions against Nigeria. The lecturers' outrage is borne out of the fact that Mr Saro-Wiwa's novels and short stories are widely read as recommended textbooks in departments of English and African literature.

However, a group of lecturers at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, has strongly condemned the suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth. Led by Ahmed Noddibbo, of the history department, they called for outright withdrawal of Nigeria from the Commonwealth, which it accused of being at the "root" of many ills afflicting Nigeria internationally.

Security measures had been stepped up by police, anticipating a possible breakdown of law and order during the lecture boycotts. The military authorities are in no hurry to reopen the universities of Ahmadu Bello, Obafemi Awolowo, and the University of Nigeria at Nsukka, which have been closed because of separate internal crises. There were plans to station police anti-riot tanks at the gates of all universities including that of the University of Jos in northern Nigeria where students are also angered by the executions.

In Port Harcourt, Nigeria's leading oil city and the venue of the trial, there was an uneasy calm at the main campus of the two universities in the city. According to reliable sources, the River State military authorities sent an urgent message to the University of Port Harcourt teaching hospital authorities, warning that no corpse should be buried at the public cemetery for ten days after the hanging of Mr Saro-Wiwa.

The nine are said to have been buried in a mass grave after their bodies had been sprayed with acid, allegedly to forestall any move by relations to remove them for re-burial in their birthplaces. Armed soldiers kept watch over the cemetery, with an armoured car in the street turning back motorists and pedestrians.

The manner of burial, which is contrary to Ogoni tradition and indeed African burial traditions, angered students at both Port Harcourt's universities, the University of Technology and Federal University. They gave vent to their anger in a violent confrontation with government supporters who were chanting the praise of General Sani Abacha and denouncing the expulsion of Nigeria from the Commonwealth. The students hailed the Commonwealth decision as courageous and also called for more comprehensive sanctions against Nigeria's military regime.

The 15th annual meeting of the Association of Nigerian Authors, which was taking place at the University of Lagos, was thrown into confusion by the announcement that the executions had taken place. Theo Vincent, the country's leading literary critic and professor of literature at the University of Lagos, told the meeting: "Nigeria and the creative world have lost a bundle of creative talents and energy."

Part of the proceedings were turned into a form of memorial to Mr Saro-Wiwa, with students and lecturers taking part in readings. Later the following demands were adopted:

* an international tribunal under United Nations auspices to investigate the ecological effects of oil exploration in the Niger delta and to try anyone found to have committed acts of genocide or crimes against humanity in Ogoniland

* a judicial inquiry into events in Ogoniland since January 1993 with special reference to the activities of the River State Internal Security Task Force

* economic and diplomatic sanctions against the military government, including ostracisation from the United Nations and its agencies, all other international forums, and a boycott of Nigerian crude oil until the election of a democratic government

* a trial before an impartial High Court, admitting all the evidence disallowed by the tribunal, with the relevant government officials tried for murder if Saro-Wiwa and the others are acquitted.

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