Students step up Abacha protest

March 20, 1998

Nigerian students opposed to the military regime of General Sani Abacha have vowed to continue their protests until power is handed to a democratically elected civilian government.

Lagos was the scene of violent clashes between the police and several thousand demonstrators, mainly students, earlier this month. Despite repeated warnings by police that demonstrators would be dealt with ruthlessly the students took to the streets shouting anti-military slogans.

Police cordoned off and occupied a park where the United Action for Democracy planned to hold a day-long rally to start off a series of campaigns against the much publicised plan for General Abacha to transform himself into a civilian president through state-controlled presidential "elections".

As students converged on the park near the campus of Lagos University, police fired several rounds of tear gas on the marchers. As the confrontation escalated, shops and a nearby market were ordered to close and the police used them as strategic corners to confront the students. Students threw stones and hurled back tear gas canisters at the police. Clashes between police and students took place in other parts of the city.

UAD leader Olisa Agbakoba and 19 other students were arrested and taken away to an unknown destination. Police sources said they would be charged with organising an unlawful meeting.

Student leaders Omiloba Olagunju and Lanre Adeleke publicly backed an anti-Abacha campaign, describing the general as a threat to democracy in Nigeria and the West African subregion.

The students described the police action as double-speak and confirmation of a conspiracy with pro-Abacha campaigners.

"This was the criminal silence that normally greeted the activities of these groups when they were doing pro-Abacha rallies in the past. This also goes a long way to show that Abacha and his acolytes have not imbibed the spirit of democracy which gives room for opposing views," said the students' leaders.

"While restating our opposition to military rule, we also demand free education at all levels and the immediate reinstatement of all expelled students who have suffered from various forms of academic victimisation from university administrators."

Students in virtually all 35 universities condemned a two-day carnival organised in Abuja, seat of the federal military government, to mobilise public opinion to "persuade" General Abacha to remain in office.

"While the rest of the population is facing acute shortages of petroleum products and water, and the military junta is planning mass retrenchment of workers in the public sector, Abacha is sponsoring a crowd to campaign for him. As a student of history, this situation reminds us of when Rome was burning, the emperor and his acolytes were busy feeding Christians to the hungry lions kept in the emperor's courtyard," said student leader Rosaline Hassan.

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