There was pandemonium at the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) Television College (TV COLLEGE) in Jos, Plateau State, last Thursday. Policemen attached to the Government House in Rayfield went wild, firing gunshots and teargas canisters indiscriminately as they chased students into the college campus.
The students were on field practice when they ran into a group of youths protesting the killing of Saf Ron Kulere of Bokkos, Da Lazarus Agai, by unknown gunmen. The Bokkos youths peacefully marched on the Government House, but they were dispersed by a joint team of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) and mobile policemen.
The students, who watched from a safe distance, saw the youths’ protest as newsworthy and brought out their digital cameras to record the scene. This did not go down well with the security operatives, who ran after the students.
Sensing trouble, the students ran back to their campus, but the security men chased them, firing guntshots and teargas canisters.
At the college main gate, some of the students were apprehended, maltreated and harassed by the rampaging officers. Some had their digital cameras seized; others were whisked away.
When other students got wind of the development, they mobilised to rescue their colleagues from the officers. This, however, led to a confrontation. The officers threatened to shoot any student who stood in their way as they attempted to seize more cameras.
The students prevented the officers from maltreating their colleagues, who went for field practice. This resulted in a fracas. The officers fired more shots and teargas to disperse the growing crowd of angry students. Some students were injured in the ensuing chaos.
Uren Makut, a graduating student, escaped being shot when she attempted to take pictures of students being maltreated by the officers at the college gate. A policeman pointed his gun at her as she ran away from the scene.
Reliving the incident, Uren said: “At the point I saw the policeman moving close to me with his gun, I ran for my life. I did not even care whether he would shoot me or not. I only recalled there was heavy gunfire and I needed to be safe. I was completely terrified. I saw death, but I cheated it. Only a few people have come face-to-face with such brutality and are still alive.”
The officers fired teargas canisters into the campus. The students condemned the action, describing it as “provocative attack” on the campus.
Uren added: “It is against the law to use force and lethal weapon against peaceful protests. That should be the last resort when protests become violent. But, the Bokos youths’ protest was obviously peaceful.
There was nothing that would have warranted the officers to fire gunshots. We tried to get pictures of how the youth were being maltreated by the officers, but we ended up being brutalised and chased like wild animals. This is lawlessness.”
Masara Usman, a 300-Level student, who was manhandled and had his digital camera seized by the officers, relived his encounter. “While taking photographs from a corner, an officer in mufti came and hit me on the face. I fell down. The officer picked up my camera and attempted to smash it. Some female students rushed and prevented the camera from hitting the ground.
“I was brutalised. But the camera was released after the intervention of the chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Plateau State and the school management. When I got it, vital photographs had been deleted and the camera lens-cap holder was broken,” he said.
Another student, Faruk Usman, explained how he escaped from the scene. Faruk said: “I was standing at the school gate when I heard gunshots. Then a teargas canister landed in front of me. I alerted other students standing close by. We saw students running towards the campus. Then, we moved into the school, but some students were caught and beaten by the police at the gate.
“When we cautioned the officers not to manhandle our colleagues, one of them aimed his rifle at us and threatened us. I remember telling one of the officers that students should not be maltreated, but he threatened to shoot me. As we ran away from the gate, the policemen fired teargas at us.
The officers came in a Hilux pickup. They slapped a student, Paul Bot, who was standing in front of the school gate. I learnt Paul has been complaining of ear problem. The officers lacked manners and a sense of decency,” Faruk said.
He added: “When the policeman aimed his rifle at me, two things ran through my mind. The thought that he could fire shots or he could not. I was not really standing up for myself, but for the safety of other students. I was not thinking of myself at that point in time.”
Paul Bot, a 200-Level student, said he was standing in front of the school gate when he heard gunshots. “They released teargas and it was affecting us inside the school, because the campus is a stone throw from the Government House.
When the officers got to the gate, a policeman charged towards me. His colleague, who was an inspector, tried to restrain him, but the officer still came forward and slapped me. I became unconscious and students had to take me away just as the policeman was also pushed away, by his superior. I did nothing wrong. I had my identity card on my neck and was standing gently at the college gate,” Paul explained.
The officer, who slapped Paul was identified as Isa and he is said to be attached to the Government House.
One of the protesters, who simply gave his name as Anthony, said the youths were on a peaceful demonstration when the officers opened fire.
He said: “When we got to the Presidential Lodge axis of the Government House, we were confronted by a group of mobile policemen. We tried to explain the motive behind the protest. Governor Simon Lalong came out, but refused to address us when he saw the crowd.
When the officers saw the governor’s reaction, they concluded that we were a group of thugs sponsored by a political party to cause chaos. That was when the security operatives went wild, beating some of us. The students were not part of the protest, but they saw everything that happened and they tried to film it. This is what led to the shooting.”
After the officers left the campus, students blocked the road leading to the Government House, demanding the release of their camera and other gadgets seized by the officers.
Addressing the angry students, Head of Department of Television Engineering Mr Titus Mazhinyi, pleaded for calm, saying the school management was making efforts to retrieve the seized gadgets. He also said the detained students would be released.
Normalcy returned after the HOD’s address.