Enugu — For a long time to come, the inhabitants of the sleepy coal city of Enugu, Enugu State, will not forget Thursday, June 29, 2000.
A city not given to students' protests and demonstration like Benin City, Ile-Ife, Ibadan, Lagos and Ekpoma, Enugu was rudely woken up from its slumber that morning when students from the Enugu campus of the University of Nigeria took to the streets to protest the gruesome murder of a final year law student, Kingsley Ikoku Chukwu, the Igwe of Kenneth Dike Hall of residence.
Igweship in the University of Nigeria and indeed in most universities in the South-East is evolved to interwove the mores and culture of the Igbo people with the academia. Against this backdrop, there is always an elected Igwe for each hall of residence and the Igwe enjoys the paraphernalia of the office in the campuses as accorded such royal fathers across the land.
The students, who marched through major streets in the coal city from as early as 7 a.m., with leaves, brought commercial activities to a halt. They chanted war songs and made bonfires in the streets, notably Edinburgh, Zik Avenue, Okpara Avenue, O'conner, etc., to make banks and other businesses hurriedly close shops.
In their midst were miscreants, school children and even hoodlums as they marched to their prime target, the District Headquarters of the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) situated along the ever busy Okpara Avenue in the heart of the city. At the NEPA district headquarters, property valued at several millions of naira were destroyed by the irate students. Windscreens and headlamps of seventeen vehicles parked within the precinct were smashed, while louvres and doors of the first two floors were reduced to rubbles. Files containing important documents at the main gate were destroyed and more were seen littered the premises.
According to the gatemen on duty during the incident while narrating the early morning mayhem to his colleagues, "I was in my office at the main gate when I saw a group of students singing war songs and advancing towards the building. All of a sudden, they stopped at the gate and before you could say one, a bottle was thrown at the gate, smashing the louvres and I had to run for my dear life."
The students had concluded their attack on NEPA before the police, who the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC) of the campus, Prof. Francis Okafor, told newsmen, had advance knowledge of the students' protest against NEPA showed up
The transfer of aggression against NEPA, it was gathered, stemmed from the fact that as at the time Chukwu was killed there was power failure and the students reasoned that if there was light, the killers would not have escaped unnoticed.
From NEPA, they re-grouped and marched to the Government House where they met the Governor, Dr. Nnamani Chimaroke, who addressed them and tried to calm the already frayed nerves. Governor Nnamani, while condemning the dastardly act, described the incident as sorrowful and promised to ensure that NEPA provided a dedicated transformer in the institution. Besides, the governor promised to beef up security in the institution while he assured them also that he would ensure that the culprits were brought to justice. A representative of the students, Gabriel Onyewife, had while condemning the killing of their colleague, appealed to him to assist the institution by providing it with steady water and power supply and adequate security network.
Chukwu's death has, however, remained a mystery in the campus with no definite account being able to be provided by anyone. The president of the post- graduates students union, Ogbu Ugochukwu, himself, a former Igwe in one of the halls of residences, disclosed that the late Igwe Kingsley Ikoku Chukwu, who was said to have celebrated his Ofala(coronation anniversary festival) the Sunday before his death was killed by unknown gunmen who cashed in on the darkness in the hostel following a power outage.
According to him and other students, who spoke to City Diary the late final year law student was killed between 9.30 and 10 p.m. when majority of the students were watching the European cup semi-final match between Portugal and France and were completely diverted that they were unaware of what went on in the Kenneth Dike hall. "We heard a gun shot and because of the match that was going on, we did not take notice of it. We thought that it was these usual shots we are familiar with," a student who craved for anonymity said.
But the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the Enugu campus, Prof. Francis Okafor, had this to say: "What happened on Wednesday night, June 28, 2000 was that a final year law student was killed in his room. The late student, Kingsley Ikoku Chukwu, was the Igwe of Kenneth Dike Hall and Chairman, Council of Traditional Rulers of the Halls. "He had his Ofala last Sunday which was well attended by the University community, including the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Gimi Mbanefoh."
Continuing, he said, "the students were bewildered and frightened with the killing of their colleague. Unlike some institutions in the country, where there had been reported killings and lost of lives, our campus here had never had such experience. This is the first time such is happenning and whenever students are confronted with this sort of unfortunate sad event, they are compelled to give expressions to such a grievance."
That, according to him, may have accounted for reasons why they went into solidarity march throughout that Wednesday night which led to the march the following morning to Governor Chimaroke Nnamani to register their protest and complain about the non-availability of social amenities and insecurity in the campus.
The Deputy Vice-Chancellor, in agreement with the students, admitted that there is insecurity in the campus. "I will not deny that there is insecurity. If we talk of insecurity in Nigeria campuses in general, this place has been lucky because this is the first time we have such a situation. But a situation where a student can be killed in his room goes to show that there is insecurity." He agreed that the campus is porous because of infiltration by certain elements and informed that the University authorities have mapped out strategies to improve on its own internal security systems, while calling on external security forces for co-operation.
City Diary, however, gathered that before the gruesome murder of Igwe Chukwu, there had been reported cases of car snatching in Lady Ibiam Hall of Residence and stealing in the same hall. As an instance, a man who was said to have gone there to visit his girlfriend, reportedly came out to found his car stolen just as a father who brought his daughter to school was reportedly robbed of his money in the same hall in broad-day light.
The DVC as well confirmed that, saying that he personally went to that hall when the incidents were brought to his notice. "I went there personally and noted some lapses on the part of the students. We are going to insist more that visitors to students in their Halls of Residences must identify themselves at the porter's hall. A situation where visitors do not sign the visitors' book and are allowed to go into the hostels will no longer be allowed," he said.
On the vandalisation of the NEPA office, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor said he was shocked when he got a call from NEPA that his students had vandalised the place. "I got worried as a public officer and I expressed shock at what happened. Now, you know we are in a period of crisis management. At my own time I will emphatise with NEPA," he said. The DVC said he was, however, shocked when hours later, another call from NEPA asked him to send an assessment team to access the damages, and threatened to have power supply to the campus cut for the next six months. "We had taken the initiative to alert the police that our students were moving into town, to the government offices to protest the killing of their colleagues. Knowing the type of comments they were making about NEPA, we also informed the police that NEPA could be a target.
"I don't know who went to NEPA. I know that the students who left the campus were going to the governor's Office to protest. A group may have veered off from their original route and when the students went to town, vandals joined along the line because of the performance of NEPA which touches every body's lives. My students may have been there, and I am sorry about the destruction of government property, especially NEPA," he said as he responded to a question on whether his students were actually responsible for the vandalisation of NEPA property.
Denying the allegations by students that he was insensitive to the death of the final year law student, the DVC noted that all those students who said so "were unkind to me if they know the trauma I went through that night."
"About 2000 students in the thick of darkness came to my house that Wednesday night and for two hours I was addressing them, offering my sympathy about the horrendous incident. I marched with them to the Plant House to see if any thing could be done and I had the option of running away as advised by the security but from my experience, I decided to meet with the students. There is nothing like insensitivity. I was not insensitive and I thank God that I took the decision to stay with the students," he said.
He denied also that the killing of the late Igwe might be connected with secret cult activities within the campus, saying that reports from the security department of the institution does not indicate that the killing is so connected. While stressing that security agents should be left to crack the riddle of what might have led to the killing of the late student, he said with confidence that cultism has been successfully eradicated in the campus.
But Ogbu Ugochukwu, the President of the Post-Graduates Students Union in the campus, however, did not agree entirely that cultism has been eradicated in the institution. Arguing that the involvement of secret cults in the killing of the late Igwe could not just be wished away easily, he added that nothing has been done significantly to eradicate secret cults in the campus. "As a member of the Eradication Committee on Cultism in the campus, I know that not much has been achieved and I know how many times they have planned to kill me," he said.
The late Igwe Kingsley Ikoku Chukwu, who hailed from Obulo Autonomous Community in Isochi, Umunneochi Local Government Area of Abia State, was of a very humblefamily. The fourth son of a family of five boys, his father has been bed-ridden for four years as a result of undisclosed illness while the mother who lives in the village was said to have attended the late son's Ofala in Enugu three days before he was mysteriously assassinated.
Sources close to the family also disclosed that his elder brother, Livinus Chukwu, a deceased businessman died in similar circumstance two years ago. The late Kingsley Chukwu, as gathered, was the remaining hope of the family.
As it stands therefore, Ikoku's death last June 29, is as well the death of the family's hope of any possible emancipation in the nearest future.