By Timothy Agbor, Osogbo
Pandemonium reigned in Osogbo, capital of Osun State, southwest Nigeria on Thursday, 22nd May, 2014 reigned when irate students of Osun state-owned tertiary institutions who were protesting the three month old industrial action of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) clashed with anti-riot policemen.
The placards carrying students had assembled at the popular Olaiya junction of Osogbo around 9:30am and barricaded major roads in the city with the students’ union buses donated to them by Governor Rauf Aregbesola, used tyres, big stones among other obstructing structures thus resulting to traffic gridlock for more than four hours.
The over 10,000 students insisted that the state government must meet the demands of the striking lecturers so that they can resume lectures in their institutions.
But this development hightened tension among residents and traders at the affected protest areas as anti riot policemen moved in from Oke-Fia end of the state capital in vans and Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) to quell the riots.
Upon the arrival of the anti-riot policemen at the scene of the demonstration, the fierce-looking gun wielding policemen started firing tear gas at the students. As this went on, the students were also hurling stones and other dangerous objects at the security agents, a situation which led to commotion as traders hurriedly locked their shops for fear of being attacked.
In the ensuing melee, residential and official buildings located in the Olaiya areas, including the office of the Correspondent Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Osun state chapter along Odi-Olowo road, were not spared as several rounds of tear gas canisters were fired into then, culminating in the breaking of louvres at the back of the latter building.
The rampaging students, who allegedly vandalised some vehicles fled into neighbourhoods, but later regrouped to hurl missiles at the police, who were trying to disperse them with tear gas, just as APCs from the special security outfit, identified as Swift Action Squad (SAS) complemented the combatant policemen to restore order.
By the time crisis subdued, no fewer than 10 students were arrested by the police, including the President of the Students’ Union Government (SUG) of Osun State Polytechnic, (OSPOLY), Iree, Comrade Adetunji Oluwaseyi Phillips.
According to Comrade Phillips, who addressed journalists before his arrest, “we have taken measures to end the industrial action. We have met with the state governor, Mr Rauf Aregbesola and the leaders of ASUP, but all these efforts have failed to yield positive results.
“When the state government announced our resumption last week, we jubilated and resumed on Monday only to discovered that lecturers were not available to teach us. Why did they announce resumption on radio and newspapers when a compromise had not been reached between ASUP and government. The issue of 65 years old retirement age, illegal deductions for contributory pension and heavy tax regime raised by ASUP have not been addressed. They are toying with our future”.
The students again re-grouped and marched to the headquatre of the state police command at Okefia to register their displeasure to the Commissioner of Police. They were however restrained by another team of policemen who accosted them on the way.
Consequently, the angry students vent their anger on the state Deputy Governor and Commissioner for Education, Mrs. Grace Titi-Laoye Tomori as they booed and hurled abuses on her on sighting her convoy.
Meanwhile, when the Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), in Charge of Operations in Osun State Police Command, Mr Olumide Kayode visited the NUJ Correspondents’ Chapel office for an on the spot assessment of the damage done by the combatant policemen, he claimed the tear gas were not deliberately fired at journalists saying the canisters were fired to curtail the excesses of the protesting students.
Speaking on the development, the Senior Special Assistant to Governor Aregbesola on Public and Civil Matters, Comrade Waheed Lawal condemned the policemen that fired tear gas at the students describing it as unfortunate and uncalled for.
Comrade Lawal said since peaceful protest was part of their rights to press home their demand, the police would have been civil in addressing the situation rather than resulting to tear gassing them. He then appealed to the Correspondent Chapel members not to be angry over the action by the police.
When contacted, the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) of Osun Police Command, DSP Folasade Odoro confirmed the protest, but said the Police had succeeded in restoring normalcy and brought the situation under control.