Lokoja, the Kogi State capital, was locked down on Thursday as the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) protested the continued closure of the Kogi State University, Anyigba.
The students, who were mobilised by the national secretariat of the body gathered at the popular Ganaja junction, Lokoja, as early as 7:00a.m. blocking major roads that pass through the town.
Travellers going to the eastern part of the country from Abuja and those returning to the capital city were stranded as there was no vehicular movement on the road. The students blocked the road with various objects including their vehicles, blocks, wooden materials among others.
The protesters, who carried placards were said to be demonstrating against the non payment of their lecturers’ salaries which had led to the strike by the lecturers.
The protesters, who vowed not to vacate the roads until the state governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, addressed them and assured them of the time the school will be reopened, paralysed commercial activities in parts of the state capital.
Shops and financial institutions around the venue of the protest were closed to avoid being caught in the web of the crisis.
Government officials including the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Mrs Folasade Ayoade; the administrator of Lokoja Local Government Area and top security chiefs in the state that came to the venue of the demonstration were rebuffed.
The Lokoja local government administrator was said to have almost been lynched by the irate students but for the protection from his orderly.
The students lamented that they have over stayed at home because of the strike embarked upon by their lecturers, lamenting that those who are expected to graduate this year would miss the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme.
The irate students were chanting war song “we want to see Bello. We want see ASUU Chairman. We do not have anything to do with government now.”
The students stated “We want immediate resolution to the lingering crisis. We have over stayed at home. When it started, we thought it would be addressed immediately. Now we have spent three months at home while all other institutions in neighbouring states are graduating.”
It will be recalled that the Academic Staff Union of University (ASUU) have been at loggerheads with the state government over unpaid salary and eventually embarked on strike.
The state government has however paid four months, but the ASUU insisted that the government must pay all before returning to school.
However, reacting to the protest, the state government said it was disturbed by the demonstration but not rattled.
The Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the governor, Kingsley Fanwo, said “we are worried but not rattled. We are worried that commuters were disturbed. We are worried that students failed to know why the lecturers have refused to resume. We are worried about the possibility of hoodlums hijacking the ill-informed protest.
“Governor Yahaya Bello has shown commitment to ending the strike by meeting 80 per cent of the lecturers’ demands. The one he may not accede to is the demand to be exempted from paying tax. That the previous government assented to such illegality and economic jeopardy doesn’t make it right.
“The lecturers have received six months salaries from the present administration that is barely six months old. That should be assuring. What we expect is for the students to pressurise ASUU to call off the strike. Coming to the street wasn’t a good choice.”
On what government is doing to protect lives and property, he said, “measures are in place to protect Kogites. The people of Lokoja are not used to chaos. It is a peaceful town and I can assure that everything will soon come to normal. Governor Yahaya Bello will defend the people and ensure they are protected. Nobody can occupy Lokoja. They should occupy the right places.”
The Commissioner of Police, Kogi State command, Yakubu Usman, said security chiefs in the state had met with the students, but they refused to shift ground.
He, however, said the police would not use force on the students.
“The students are insisting they want to see the governor but the governor is not in town as we speak so we are still talking to them and we are hopeful they will leave,” Usman said.
Usman said he was in company of the Director of SSS, Civil Defence Commandant, SSG, special adviser to the governor on security matters when the students were appealed to.
As at the time of filing this report, the demonstration was still ongoing and the town locked down.