By Esther Nworie
The peaceful picketing embarked upon by staff of Federal College Of Agriculture, Ishiagu, Ivo Local Government area of Ebonyi state last week, demanding the removal of the College Provost, Dr. Wilfred Nwangwu, has turned bloody with some members of the union and some members of the host community beaten to stupor by thugs who allegedly interfered in the picketing.
They were attacked on Thursday when the suspected thugs invaded the college to disperse the staff who were picking the school over managerial issues.
The union had started the picketing on Monday June 5th, by locking up the entrance and exit roots of the college as well as other major facilities of the college demanding for change of the college management provost, Dr. Wilfred Nwangwu, who they are accused of not being competent to manage the school.
They accused the provost of allowing outsiders to take up the managerial roles while he is just answering the Provost by mouth.
They had petitioned the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Executive Secretary of Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria and the Acting Chairman, Governing Board of the College, over anomalies going on in the college under the management of the institution.
Our reporter who visited the college on Saturday observed that some of the victims of the attack are still receiving treatment in hospital; some were at Federal Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki, for medical attention while others ran to Enugu State for safety.
The union accused one Barr. Ukah Tony Odinaka (aka Dankwa) of masterminding the attack on the union members by mobilizing the thugs against them during the protest, an allegation which Barr. Ukah vehemently denied through phone conversation.
Some of the union members of the college who spoke to journalists condemned the act but maintained their stand that the Provost should be removed from the office for lack of competence.
The provost is just five months in the office.
They also call on the security to check the activities of the youth president who allegedly masterminded the attack on the picketing members using thugs from the community.
One of them who gave his name as Ngwoke Celestine – Assistant Secretary, Senior Staff Association (SSA) of the college explained that the college is having administrative problem.
“On that day, the union locked down the gate, demanding the attention of Agric/ Research Council of Nigeria and the board in charge of Colleges of Agriculture in Nigeria.
“The Chairman of the Board came on Monday and held meeting with Ishiagu community. On Thursday, thugs came to the college gate with hammers to break the gate. The thugs were led by one Uka Tony, he ordered that the gate should be opened without addressing us to know whether the issues we are having had been resolved.
“I asked them to listen and hear our complaints but they did not. They rather mobilized more thugs and started breaking the keys we used and locked the gate. They pounced on me and beat me till I fell on the ground. I would have been a dead man if not by divine intervention which made me to escape with injuries.
“I have been facing all manner of threats. I am no longer sleeping in my house because those thugs said they will kill me if they see me. They beat hell out of me. I sustained both internal and external injuries.
Another victim, Ajah Gold said he received a distress call that his brother was under attack and rushed to the scene on rescue mission unfortunately the thugs also unleashed terror on him.
According to him, he survived the attack just by the grace of God otherwise he would have been lynched.
“I was in the house when I was called on phone that my brother Ajah Paul is being beaten by some youths at College of Agriculture. My brother was returning from work when they started beating him. So, I rushed to the place and saw how they were beating him and went to rescue him. They left him and faced me and hit me on the like this and broke my head and other parts of my body.
“The attack on me is uncalled for; I didn’t bargain for it, I didn’t know it will happen. I am thanking God that I am alive today because the beating was too much and I would have been a dead man if not police that rescued me and brought me to this hospital.
Paul Ajah Nnanna, a member of the community who is currently receiving treatment in a private hospital Nneche hospital at Ishiagu said he ran into them while returning from farm.
“On Thursday, I was returning from farm when I saw people beating workers at the College of Agriculture. I went there to see what was happening there and immediately I went there, they started beating me. When my brother saw that they were beating me and came to rescue me, they descended on him with their weapons. They were with cutlass, axes, woods and all kinds of dangerous weapons.
“The thugs continued to beat my brother till he became unconscious and fell down. When police came to the scene and released teargas, they ran away. I then mustered courage to carry my brother; the police later carried him in their vehicle to the hospital here in Ishiagu.
“The person that led the thugs is one Dankwa who is the youth President of Ishiagu, he was the only one I was able to recognize”.
Comrade Ahemefula Nkemdirim, Chairman of ASURI said, “We were doing a peaceful picketing starting from Monday until Thursday when the Youth President of Ishiagu led thugs with diverse forms of weapons to destroy what we were doing. They broke our main gate and broke the admin building allowing the school board to go into the building.
“We think that they should have brought law enforcement agencies to do whatever they want to do instead of hiring thugs.
“Some union members were wounded and they are in the hospital receiving treatment. We stand our ground that our Chief Executive has lost control of his administration and we demand for his immediate removal without waste of time.
On his part, the accused Youth President of Ishiagu, Uka Tony Odinaka when contacted on phone denied the allegations.
He rather accused the picketing college staff of blocking the Federal Road thereby obstructing movement of the road users.
His words, “What happened was that those people were not protesting, they were blocking the public way. The Deputy Governor of the state came to the place and directed that whatever be their grievances, they should channel it to the Coordinator of Ivo Development Centre, Okorie Daniel who will then channel it to him and he will send it to the Federal Government. The Deputy Governor told them to open the school gate to enable the board members of the school who came from Abuja to listen to them to get their issues resolved and they left there.
“I was called by the traditional ruler of Ishiagu community, HRH Moses Okafor Ngene that the board members of the College of Agriculture, the staff and management including the union members were coming to visit him over a matter they have been having at the school.
“I came to the meeting however late and they were asked what actually their problem in the college was so that the board and the traditional ruler will know how to look into it. They said that one of their union members by name Christy was reposted from where she was initially posted and that they are demanding that that their union member should be returned to her office. Apart of that, another of their demand was who should be the chief Security of the school and that their causal workers have not been paid and should be paid.
“The board chairman said if that is the case, there is no case. He said they should reduce it into writing so that he himself will sign, the traditional ruler will sign, staff and management of the school will sign and the Provost of the school will also sign in the presence of everybody and a press conference will also be called to cement the arrangement.
“He said that the execution of that communiqué cannot emanate from the main road, that they should be allowed to their offices. When they get to their office, the union members will now present officially their demands to them and the union members and everybody were all in the same page. So, personally, I was only in the meeting as a witness and other stakeholders that graced the meeting.
“At the middle of the meeting, the college board, the traditional ruler and other stakeholders of the community decided to go back to the college to execute the communiqué and read it to the press. So, when they got to the school gate, some of the union members who refused to attend the meeting blocked the main road to the college gate. The union members were led by one Bamidele Adekunle.
We said no, “you don’t have the power or right to block the public road, that this place pass through Ishiagu and you can’t block it; if you have any protest, go inside your school and do the protest”. So, that was what exactly happened.
“I am not a member of the youth group that held election a month ago that resulted in the attack of some persons. I am not a member of that hamlet youth group. I am not a member of that environment and I can’t mastermind the attack. So, it is a mere allegation and very ridiculous. It is most ridiculous and the matter is already in court and if by any means the allegation is worthwhile, I think the police who have done the job would have also known the people they will charge to court. The police on their part have already charged the matter to court maybe the only accusing fingers they are appointing to me is my legal representation because I am the counsel of those alleged to have committed the offence”.
Counsel to the college workers’ union, Barr Dominic Ajah berated Bar Ukah Tony Odinaka the youth president for the incident.
The counsel said the youth leader overstepped his boundaries by leading the thugs that attacked the workers and some villagers at the College of Agriculture.
“My name is Dominic Ajah Esq the counsel to Non-Academic Staff Union of Federal College of Agriculture Ishiagu and Senior Staff Union of Federal College Ishiagu. My position is that the attack by Mr. Anthony Dankwa Esq and his thugs from Ishiagu in an internal issue between the College Administration and their staff is illegal and wrongful of him to intervene, it is an abuse of power.
“The attempted murder of an indigene of Amagu by the thugs is bad and highest exercise of recklessness and impunity. We call on the police to bring all the perpetrators to book. No one is above the law”, he said.