Tempo (Lagos)

25 July 2002

Nigeria: Students Burnt Alive

At Ondo State Polytechnic, Owo, the fear of re- prisal attack is now the beginning and end of wisdom. Of the ten suspected cultists that sneaked into the campus on 4 July, five of them were burnt to ashes, while the remaining ones escaped.

Now, realising that the survivors would have become like a wounded snake, and likely to be mapping out a strategy for a counter-attack, fear has gripped the school administrators and students alike. It is, thus, not surprising that the institution has been shut down indefinitely.

The reporter arrived at the scene of the lethal offering when the last of the five unlucky ones was at the peak of agony. Fire burnt on around him without ceasing. An obscure figure, blindly but frantically running around in search of something, just something or somebody to extinguish the flames that were digging deep and deeper into his flesh, hastily mumbled some words that could have been passages from the holy book.

Naturally, there were different versions as to what actually led to the killing of the five students who, TEMPO gathered, were not students of the polytechnic. But it was confirmed that the group of young men, initially totalling about ten in number, entered the school premises at about 1.35 a.m. for what was suspected to be the initiation of new members into their fraternity and had proceeded into the bush to conduct their meeting.

However, luck apparently ran against them when they were spotted gaining entrance into the school by one of the security officials, who then informed the school Cadet, a sort of security outfit, though made up of students of the school.

At about 2.30 a.m., the Cadet team, numbering about 30, stormed the defiled bush and captured five of them while others ran away. The unlucky ones were then taken to the students' union building where they were stripped naked and mercilessly beaten. No western weapons were found on them, but they were said to have been in possession of some charms.

At about 5.30 a.m., the rector was said to have sent words to the students to hand the culprits over to the police but by then, some members of the Cadet appeared bent on nailing the hoodlums to the cross and, so, were vehemently opposed to letting them go. At some minutes past six, by which time the news of the incident had filtered even beyond the campus, the five students were reportedly marched to the front of the school gate. Their hands were tied to their backs and set ablaze. One of them is said to be an HND II student from the Polytechnic Ofa, Kwara State.

TEMPO's survey reveals that the majority of the students were not in support of the manner in which the Cadet handled the whole affair and most were convinced that the killing of the five boys would give cause for those other five who escaped to regroup and retaliate, particularly since they were suspected to be members of the Black Axe Confraternity, which happens to be one of the largest and most feared secret cults on Nigerian campuses.

Almost immediately, students were seen packing their bags and leaving for their various homes, anxious to get away from the school. According to Bisi Olatunji, a part time diploma student of Business Administration, "Those guys that escaped will definitely inform the rest of their comrades in all other institutions and come back to retaliate, and when they do, innocent students would be the worst for it." Efforts to get the Rector to comment on the issue proved abortive, but the school remains under lock and key.

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