ON Saturday January 21, two students of the Osun State University (UNIOSUN), Osogbo, Kazeem Adesola and Ibrahim Ajao, were on the receiving end of bullets fired indiscriminately by officers from a police patrol team representing Zone 11 of the Nigeria Police Force in charge of Osun, Oyo, and Ondo states. According to eyewitnesses, Adesola and Ajao were taking part in a kickabout with their friends somewhere in the Oke Baale area of the town when plain-clothes police officers from Zone 11, ostensibly on the trail of ‘Yahoo Yahoo’ internet fraudsters, interrupted their game.Normally, an encounter such as the one that took place would be expected to end peacefully. A police officer approaches a citizen (or a group of citizens in this case), makes enquiries, and peacefully makes his exit after verifying the bona fides of the individuals. But on this particular occasion, events took a different turn, the reason being that, instead of merely verifying the identities of the students, the police officers, in a rerun of a horror movie that millions of Nigerians have seen too many times, went ahead to demand monetary gratification from the students.
Naturally, the students refused to play ball. After all, they had broken no law. They had merely come to enjoy a game of football, and were loath to part with their hard-earned monies and mobile phones, which, according to the students, the police were in the habit of illegally confiscating. When the students took a stand, the police officers, not wanting to lose face, callously opened fire, in the process hitting Messrs. Adesola and Ajao.
According to a student who witnessed the incident, “We were playing football when they came. They always come like that to arrest students here. They would say that we are involved in yahoo-yahoo and they would seize our laptops and phones. They would collect money on the pretext of bail. But we resisted them on this last occasion. Within the twinkle of an eye, the policemen started shooting. When the policemen started shooting, we ran away but the bullet hit two of us and they were rushed to the hospital.”
The Osun State Police Commissioner, Mr. Fimihan Adeoye, has said that the police officers involved have been arrested and detained. That is not enough. First and foremost, Mr. Adeoye should give the Force’s version of events and explain why his men had to shoot at defenceless students. More important, in order to lay down a marker as well as send a message to the watching public that the Nigeria Police Force has no place for such officers, they should be discharged forthwith and then made to answer to charges. Any officer who points his gun at the very citizens he swore an oath to protect does not deserve the protection of his uniform.
Naturally, the students have been ventilating their anger. They should do this, peacefully, for as long as they deem necessary. Their right to protest is guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution. Beyond mere protest, however, they should pour their energies into making sure that their colleagues receive the best medical attention and getting the officers involved in this callous act indicted and prosecuted.
The UNIOSUN Vice Chancellor, Professor Labode Popoola, has weighed in by suggesting that the students were exposed to danger because they were living off campus. This is totally absurd. Is Professor Popoola saying that his students should expect to be safe only when they are resident in the university? The Vice Chancellor is tending to ringworm when leprosy is clearly the problem, and in doing so damages his own authority.
The state governor, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola, must step in to ensure that justice is done. A society in which police officers shoot freely at innocent citizens without fear of censure or prosecution endangers and diminishes us all.