DURING the early hours of Friday, July 12, a gang of robbers attacked a female undergraduate hall of residence, the Obafemi Awolowo Hall, at the University of Ibadan (UI). The attackers, numbering about 10, reportedly stormed the hall around 1 a.m and reportedly operated unchallenged for almost two hours. According to reports, the hall porters had previously undertaken some inspections in the rooms by 11p.m and when the students heard knocks on their doors, they assumed that they had returned and willingly opened the doors to the attackers. At least five students reportedly sustained injuries during the attack while many gadgets, including phones and laptops, were carted away by the hoodlums.
Barely a month later, on Sunday, August 11, armed robbers again attacked the female block of the Abdulsalami Abubakar Postgraduate Hall at the university, carting away mobile phones, laptop computers and other valuables belonging to students. According to eyewitnesses, the robbers were about seven and divided themselves into groups and tried to gain entrance into each room. They tied up the security guard on patrol and two students from the male block who tried to confront them received machete cuts. Reacting to the incident, the chairman, Council Committee on Security, Professor Ademola Aremu, who visited the hall in company with the vice chancellor, Professor Idowu Olayinka, stated that the police were working hard to apprehend the suspects. According to him, the invaders had shown a pattern by attacking female hostels and operating during holidays when the majority of students had left the campus.
It is indeed saddening that within the spate of a month, female hostels were twice attacked by felons in UI, putting the lives of the hapless students at risk and creating a climate of terror. This inevitably leads to the question whether the authorities learnt any valuable lessons from the first robbery incident at the Obafemi Awolowo Hall where the robbers reportedly had a field day, dispossessing students of their belongings and wounding several of them physically and psychologically. How could robbers have been allowed such a free reign in a university of the UI’s status? Indeed, were any structures not put in place to checkmate such incidents after the first attack and if there were, what made the second attack possible?
It would appear that the felons invading the female hostels apparently see them as soft targets, and it is benumbing if not tragic that a message of insecurity and helplessness was conveyed to hapless students whose parents put them under the care of the school management. Even if the items stolen from the students can be replaced, it is open to question whether they will be able to put the dastardly events behind them as quickly as possible and concentrate fully on their studies. As it is, there is no evidence to suggest that the students and their male counterparts are not sleeping with only one eye closed, disturbed by the recent incidents. After all, if the female hostels were robbed twice without the culprits being apprehended and with apparent zero resistance from the UI security network, how can students be persuaded that such attacks may not be staged on the male hostels, perhaps with greater deadliness given the gender of the occupants?
In case the UI management has not grasped the point, part of the reasons some students choose to stay on campus is the assumed comfort and security that the environment offers. When these benefits are absent, the campus loses its lustre and becomes just another unsafe environment. To say the least, therefore, the attacks are bad for the image of the university. While there can be security breaches in any environment, it is expected that attacks on university campuses which nurture a considerable percentage of the country’s future leaders will be treated as grievous security breaches and steps immediately taken to ensure that they do not recur, or at least are maximally resisted if they do. Sadly, neither scenario was in evidence in the latest robbery incident in UI, and it can only be hoped that the apparent regime of security laxity will be curbed immediately.
These robbery attacks must stop, but so must the alleged infelicities on the campus. For instance, students are reported to have paid N6,100 each for WiFi connectivity but the facility is reportedly not available for their use. In addition, the crucial issue of student unionism must be frontally addressed. For all its proven inadequacies over the years, student unionism remains a bastion against cultism and deadly crimes on the country’s campuses. Against this backdrop, the allegation that students’ voices are being muzzled has to be addressed quickly and decisively.
Following the dastardly incidents, the UI management imposed a partial curfew on the campus from 12 midnight to 5a.m. But the imposition of a curfew is not the solution to the security breaches. It is a knee-jerk reaction to a serious problem. Students should be able to move about freely on campus, including at night. They should be able to leave their hostels and head for any of the lecture rooms at any time. It is an open secret that students often prefer to study in the lecture rooms at night rather than in the hostels where they may be disturbed by fellow students. The security of UI is a core responsibility of the management: it should rise up to the challenge without delay.