Nigeria’s premier university, the University of Ibadan, has been under siege in the last few weeks by men of the underworld, making many to wonder what is going on in this citadel of learning. The Nation’s Dorcas Egede went there to find out.
I HOPE you will do a good story,” Jadesola Buriamoh (not real name) said looking this reporter in the eye. Wonder why she was that confrontational? She was a victim of the robbery attack on Abdulsalami Post Graduate Hall which happened early hours of Sunday, 11th August. The pain of her loss and the shock of how close she came to harm’s way were still fresh. Besides, only a month before, a similar attack had occurred at the Obafemi Awolowo Hall, another female hostel a few meters away and up until her own hostel was attacked, nothing had been done about the incidence.
One dreadful night
Imagine waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of someone trying to break into your house and you have no way to call for help. That was the situation occupants of University of Ibadan’s Abdusalami Postgraduate Hall found themselves in recently. They were awakened by a loud bang and loud voices. Many prayed the door wouldn’t give way, some slept on, hearing nothing, others quickly put away smart phones and tabs and laptops and other valuables. It was already clear to them that what happened in the Obafemi Awolowo Hall just a month before was about to happen to them.
By this time, the security guards on duty had been tied by the invaders.
There was no one to help.
One of the robbers soon found an alternative route into the hall, since the door to the main entrance won’t give way. They climbed through an open window into the common room on the first floor and from there spread out to the various floors in twos.
Narrating her experience, Buriamoh said, “Waking up suddenly like that with fear and everything, my head still aches.” She noted that the robbers came into her room at about 2:40 am, but they had been within the premises since around 2:10 am. “There were about seven people that came and they spread out to the different floors.
“The guy that came into my room used his leg and an axe to push the door, and the thing gave way. He went straight to where my roommates’ phones were charging and took them. He approached and asked me to lie down. I did as he instructed. He searched for my phones, opened my purse on the bed and emptied it.” According to another victim who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, “We just heard a bang at the door to our room. Immediately he entered, he picked up the three phones that were charging and left. As he was leaving, another guy entered and started searching our handbags and collected the money inside. We were just two in my room.”
Another victim who was said to have been alone in her room when the robbers entered into the hall refused to speak with this reporter. Though she was still visibly shaken from the experience; the main reason she chose to be quiet about the issue, according to her was because talking hasn’t helped achieve anything in the past.
Many of the victims described the robbers as very young boys who moved around the hall addressing one another by names that were obviously nicknames and had weapons like axe, cutlass, broken bottles and other sharp objects.
Talk is cheap
Many of the victims that this reporter met refused to say anything, because they believe that the whole talk would end there and nothing would be done about it. Driven by curiosity as to why the students believed that nothing would be done about it, the reporter went all out to find out what was responsible for the silence culture she seemed to notice.
According to one of the victims, when the robbers went to Awo Hall, people talked but nothing came of their talks. “People have been talking, but what has the talk produced?” assuring her that something would definitely be done, she retorted, “When will they do something? Is it until people start dying?” still visibly shaken from the robbery and her close shave with the bandits, this lady who wouldn’t talk to the reporter, much less identify herself, walked away without a backward glance.
One of the victims said that the reason she doesn’t believe anything will be done about it was because the Vice Chancellor strikes her as one who doesn’t really care about the students.
“A question was put to the VC during the PG new student induction. Some asked what the authorities have done about the robbery that happened at Awo Hall and we weren’t given any satisfactory answer,” she said.
Fearful, unsure of what’s next
There is fear everywhere. Many students are said to have run home, others have gone to stay with friends in other hostels they feel are safer. One of the victims said, “I can’t sleep in the room tonight because even the door is broken and they’re yet to fix it.
“When they came to Awo Hall, they attacked the final year students’ hostel. The operation must have lasted about an hour. A lot of rooms were affected. They were not masked. They are very young boys who were possibly wearing charms. They tied the security men, like I heard.
It is God that is protecting us. This one that happened, I heard they took their time to search people’s bags.”
Apart from the fear occasioned by the unfortunate incidence, this reporter also noticed that there seemed to be this fear of the school authority, as every student that spoke with the reporter did so on condition of anonymity.
Buraimoh who had fearlessly spoken to this reporter the day the robbery happened, curiously became completely unwilling to speak the following day, after she returned from the office of the Chief Security Officer, where they had invited all the victims for interrogation.
Reacting to this sudden withdrawal, one postgraduate student who stays off campus said, “they may have threatened them with their result……… It worries me that robbers came in here and spent about an hour and nothing was done about it. In fact, after the Awo Hall robbery, measures should have been put in place to forestall this kind of thing.
What the school authority should do, by students
Many of the students believe that the school authority isn’t doing enough to ensure security. A final year student who spoke to The Nation Sunday, said that “The school authority should install security cameras within the hostels; security men should be more than two and should be armed.”
An aggrieved victim said, “UI claims to be the first and the best but they’re actually the last and the worst. Their library is poor and the infrastructure is very bad. It is the old name that is working for them. They need to up their game. They should employ expert security personnel, and young men too; all our security officers are old people. They should contract the security to an organised security outfit instead of employing people that they will just be paying peanuts.”
She added, “UI is very porous. You can just come in and go out at any time. Also, the idea of them not having a Student Union makes it like they’re not civilised. How wouldn’t you have SUG in a school and it’s as if you’re just threatening the students.
I see this place as a prison where you can’t speak or fight for your right. If there was an SUG, they would have arrested this situation.”
A student who wasn’t affected by the incidence, but feared that things might get worse if nothing is done about it soon enough, said: “This place (Abdulsalami Postgraduate Hall) is still a little more secure than Awo Hall. The robbers couldn’t access the main entrance, so they climbed through a window into the common room. The security people are old and they are not armed. Before now, they used to come and pick things through the window. One day, I learnt one of them came and the security man tried to pursue him, but before the old man could take a step, the boy ran away. They should give us younger security men.”
Any change since the Awo Hall robbery?
One undergraduate student who stays at Awo Hall said, “They installed security lights around the hall, cleared the lawns that were overgrown with grass, and they restricted movement of guys around female hostels. Before guys used to stay around the hall till 12 midnight; but they have changed the time to 10pm.
One student said that since the robbery incidence at Awo, the school authority has increased the number of security men working in the hostel.
According to Jay, “The security inside here is very porous. The way new hall is structured, it is very easy for anyone that is athletic to climb to the first floor, and I heard the robbers are young boys between 18-20. Another thing is that the security men are not armed, they are also not vigilant. A friend of mine told me of how he came down one day he intentionally took a stroll after the Awo robbery to see what’s up. When he got to the lodge, the security man on duty was soundly asleep. He didn’t sneak up on the man, but walked normally and the man didn’t wake up.”
Staff quarters not spared
One young man, who gave his name as Kay, revealed that these robbery attacks didn’t just begin last month, as many people believe. He said the staff quarters have long been under attacks, the only reason people are hearing about these recent ones is because the media caught wind of them.
“Things were not like this until early this year,” a source said, adding that “everything started this year. At least I know that they started with staff quarters before they moved to the Halls. Two weeks ago, they raided the whole of Philipson quarters. In fact, a professor was telling my dad that he thanked God they didn’t do anything to his daughter, but they took her phones and her laptop containing her project.
“And these things are happening because they do not have SUG. Assuming there’s an SUG, all students would have been asked to go home, but unfortunately, there’s nobody to speak for us. It’s very unfair. The saddest part is that the VC is not saying anything,” she said.
According to a professor, what is going on in the premier university is only a reflection of the insecurities we are currently experiencing in the nation. “They have been attacking quarters too. It is a reflection of what is going on in the society, and UI is in the middle of town, we are surrounded by residences.”
He believes however that the school authority is on top of the situation and will come up with a lasting solution soon enough. He, however, said the students need to learn constructive dialogue, adding that not everything must be gotten by force. “The problem I have with the students is that they don’t talk when they are supposed to talk. This thing that has happened now, I expect them to go and meet the VC and talk to him, but they will not.
If it’s that there is no water now, that’s when they will start fighting,” he said.
Has this got anything to do with bike men?
One person who gave his name as Jay told The Nation on Sunday that “there are about three gates leading in and out of UI. When I was doing my Masters programme here, I used to see them patrolling. Every time I’m returning from class at night, you see them everywhere. That’s why I’m wondering what is going on now. Why will they be robbing and the security men will not know what is happening? I even learnt that the security men in Abdusalami Hall were tied down. I also learnt that the security man for the male hostel had to lock up the hostel that the guys shouldn’t come outside. They said the guys wanted to come out, but he locked the place and refused to allow them come out.
“From the main gate and other entrances, everybody enters and goes anyhow they like, nobody checks them. Immediately that thing happened, there was supposed to be some kind of serious security check at the gate at least for the next three months.
“Based on what I heard, those who ganged up are the okada men that they stopped. They stopped them from operating within the school and brought in tricycles. They stopped them last month. I even heard someone saying that now that they’ve stopped the bike men there will be robbery in the school because people must eat. “In fact, it was because of the robbery that they stopped the bike men, but the thing now increased. People are linking the stoppage of the bike men to the sudden increase in robbery. They were also stopped because of reckless driving. Some of the accidents on campus were caused by them.”
According to a female Masters student, who evidently had her first degree from UI too, there may be a connection between the operations of bike men that was stopped and the new wave of robbery. According to her, the bike men were stopped on July 1 and the first attack on the halls happened on the 12th.
In the words of one Opay agent, the new motorbike taxi firm, who spoke to this reporter, the management of UI brought this calamity upon themselves because of their refusal to listen to anyone but themselves. “The moment they were about to stop the bike men, we had a meeting and I told them that stopping bikers would be a problem. This people know everywhere on campus, and these are people that have been taking N5,000-7,000 on daily basis to take care of their families, now you’re sending them away. What do you expect to get in return?
“Some of these people are graduates, even Masters Degree holders, you pushed them into frustration,” he said. Claiming that the decision to stop the operation of bike men was a done in the interest of the management alone, the Opay agent said that students are worst hit, as they can hardly move around the school like when there were still bikes.
Unlike other students who believe that the bike men were stopped because of theft, the Opay agent believes that it’s not true. He asked if it has ever been proven that the bike men are responsible for the theft in the school. “Naturally, there is no issue of theft that has been proven that it was done by a biker. I have been in UI for a long time there is no record of any bike man that was caught in theft,” he noted.
He believes that the professors who have six vehicles to their names are the ones responsible for the stoppage of activities of bike men. In his words, “They have politicised it simply because some professors have six buses and those buses aren’t delivering what they’re supposed to deliver, claiming that okada is taking all the passengers. So, they found a way to eradicate the bike men.”
The wounded warrior
After trying frantically to reach the two guys who had risen to stand up to the criminals, this reporter eventually met with the one that sustained an injury on his head. He refused to speak with the reporter or even give his name.
When the reporter called him a hero, he refused to accept the title and said instead, “I’m not a hero. I’m a common man. I don’t talk to people.” He added that if the reporter wanted something to write about, she should just go ahead and say that “I lost the battle, 1-0” pointing to his bandaged head, he said “that’s my scar. Go and publish that.”
Perhaps the nameless guy is right. He bears the scar as his badge of valour. However, the question is: when will the university authority rise to its duty of protecting its students?
In defence of UI management
The Public Relations Officer of the Premier University, Olatunji Oladejo, who spoke with The Nation on Sunday in a phone conversation, said that he wouldn’t call what happened in Obafemi Awolowo Hall and Abdusalami Postgraduate Hall robbery attacks, but thefts, because the perpetrators targeted phones and laptops and money where available.
On the attacks were said to been on since the beginning of this year, Oladejo said this was not true. He, however, admitted that staff quarters have also been affected, noting that the quarters that houses his own family has been affected.
In response to talks that the school isn’t doing enough, he said the management is trying it’s best to bring a lasting solution to the problems in the school at the moment and return the University to the safe place it has always been. He, however, said that it would be in the best interest of the school not to disclose the plans they have to nip these criminal acts in the bud.
When asked if what some students are saying about the disengagement of bike men being responsible for increased theft is true, Oladejo admitted that the management hadn’t considered that as a possibility, but that now that his attention has been drawn to that possibility, investigations would be carried out in that direction.
Expressing concern about the students’ pleas for anonymity for fear of victimisation and the sudden refusal of one of the victims to speak with the reporter after having returned from the office of the CSO, Oladejo said the management doesn’t gag any student, noting that some students can sometimes be mischievous.
He noted that the university has been in the eye of the storm lately, adding that the university is a microcosm of the nation, and so the theft it is experiencing is a reflection of what is going on in our society today. He, however, assured of the management’s efforts at restoring the premier university to its original safe state.