A few days after of the killing of students of the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, by unknown gunmen, the university authorities have kicked against an uncomplimentary remark attributed to the Commissioner of Police in Edo State, ALEXANDER OKERE writes
The Management of the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State, is currently fuming over what it has described as the incautious remarks by the state police command over the gruesome killing of five persons within the university community.
Three students of the institution and two others were shot dead by gun-toting assailants at a local bar located around Judges’ Quarters in the Esan West Local Government Area of the state.
What was intended to be a celebration by a group of friends last Tuesday, turned out to be bloody when a fight reportedly broke out between two persons over an undisclosed matter. One of them, who had claimed that his shirt was torn during the fracas, left the scene in fury but returned shortly with a group of armed men who opened fire, killing five persons.
Listed among the deceased were a final-year medical student of the school, Chinedum Anakor; a final-year student of English, identified as Oba James; a post-graduate student and son of a former council chairman, Oselumense Abulu; a serving corps member, identified as Ugwi Martha; and one Jerry Omobude. The shooting was said to have resulted in a pandemonium as other fun-seekers and customers fled for their lives, while the bar was abruptly shut.
The Commissioner of Police, Mr Johnson Kokumo, had described the incident as a clash between rival cult groups, adding that that no fewer than four suspects were arrested, while arms and ammunition were recovered from them.
Kokumo had expressed concern over the prevalence of cultism in the university. He also reportedly vowed to address the “rising wave of cultism in the school.”
The police commissioner was quoted to have said, “Ambrose Alli University, I must admit, is a den of cultists. The killing was as a result of a fight between rival cult groups. We are determined to get to the heart of the matter and check the rising wave of cultism at the school and other tertiary institutions in the state. We cannot tolerate the situation.”
But the CP’s statement drew the ire of the management and staff of the university, who described it as false and lacking in substance. The Vice-Chancellor of the University, Prof. Ignatius Onimawo, wondered why the police would link the attack to the university.
Onimawo stated, “That (CP’s remark) is an unguarded statement. What facts does he have on ground? For a very long time now, there have been no known cult activities in AAU. So, how did it become a den of cultists? Two people had a quarrel in town and, in the process, one of them shot some people in town, in a restaurant and during a party. How does that make it (university) a den of cultists?
“Does that make sense? If an incident happened in Benin and a student was shot, would you say that the University of Benin is a den of cultists? The incident (killings) happened very far away from the campus and while it was happening, we had an international conference taking place in AAU. We never had any issue with anybody.”
The vice-chancellor said that although the university was saddened by the death of it’s students, describing the institution as breeding ground for cultism was unacceptable. He also challenged the police commissioner to present his facts.
Onimawo said, “We regret that two of our students were involved in the deaths but that is not to say that somebody of the CP’s status would just make a sweeping statement. It is very unfortunate that he could talk like that.
“But we, as a university, will respond appropriately. If there is insecurity in town, that is the job of the police, not the job of a vice-chancellor. I am not happy with that kind of statement from the CP of Edo State, who was supposed to do his investigation before coming to make that kind of statement. We will respond.”
On its part, the AAU chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities said the police commissioner erred as his comment not only lacked fairness, but it also exposed the alleged failure of the security agency to carry out its responsibility of providing adequate security in the area.
The Chairman of the chapter, Dr Monday Igbafen, said, “This is still the unguarded statement some of us talk about. It is unguarded because we expect that if he (CP) knew that this place (AAU) is a den of cultists, what have they (police) been able to do? Do they want to wait until they kill all of us here? Theirs is to sit down in Benin and say it (AAU) is a den of cultists.”
“We do not think that is a fair statement to come from somebody who is occupying an office in one of the security agencies in this country. Nobody is saying there are no cultists but he should go an weight the description, ‘den of cultists,’ very well.
“He (CP) has been commissioner of police in so many places. Is he saying that there are no cultists in other universities? But if he knew that there were cultists here, what has he done since he came. We do not think that his statement is fair to the university,” Igbafen added.
But the commissioner accused the VC of being economical with the truth, adding that there were statistics to prove the position of the police on the prevalence of cultism in the university.
Kokumo said, “If he is sure of what he has said, he should write a letter to the security agencies, particularly the police, requesting that we should withdraw all anti-cultism security measures we have put in place. If he is sure that Ambrose Alli University is cultism-free and cultism has not eaten deep into the fabrics of the entire university community, let him write a formal letter to the police.
“I can produce the statistics of cultists arrested from his end, who were processed through the courts. We have the records. I hereby challenge him to an open debate. I will come up with the statistics of cultists and cultism in the university.”
However, civil society groups in the state called on the Edo State Government to take urgent measures to prevent a re-occurrence of the killings.
A coalition of civil society organisations, known as the Edo State Civil Society Organisations, explained that security agencies must live up to their responsibility of securing lives and property.
The Public Relations Officer of the coalition, Mr Osazee Edigin, noted, “The security agencies saddled with the responsibility of securing lives and property, which also involves the ability to detect crime, should step up their operations in ensuring that the perpetrators are made to face the wrath of the law. Government at all levels should see the protection of citizens’ lives and property as a major component of the social contract entered with the people.
“The police should work more on intelligence reports in fishing out the perpetrators of the killings before they strike. If this is done, it will stop future occurrence and there will no longer be ground for it to fester.”