TWO students of the University of Port Harcourt were on Monday feared killed during a protest over an alleged policy by the management of the institution that tuition must be paid before they would be allowed to take their first semester examinations.
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One of the students identified as Peter Ofurun, who was said to have been hit by a bullet from a policeman, had died instantly.
Another student also hit by a bullet was rushed to the hospital, even as sources claimed that she died on the way to the hospital for treatment.
The UNIPORT students’ protest had halted all academic activities in the institution as they demanded that the Vice Chancellor, Professor Sunday Lale, should address them and also reverse the policy
Ofurun was a student in the Faculty of Management Science before he met his untimely death.
Sources disclosed that the two students were hit by the bullets when policemen opened fire to disperse the protesting students and stop them from occupying the busy East-West road for a long time.
The students’ presence on the East-West had caused a heavy traffic as travellers waited in vain for the students to disperse for them to continue with their journey.
It was gathered that the students had come out from their various hostels at about 4.30am to express their grievances over the stance of the UNIPORT management to stop them from taking their first semester examination over their non-payment of the fees.
An armoured personnel carrier that was moving close to the institution to ensure that calm returned was also trapped in the traffic.
It was gathered that the UNIPORT management has embraced a policy that stopped students, who had yet to pay their school fees, from taking their exams.
Affected students, according to a source, will also be made to carry over the courses.
But the protesting students described the policy as a form of victimisation, adding that the dwindling economy of the nation was affecting them as they were unable to pay their fees immediately.
One of the placards of the protesting students reads, ‘Say No to No School Fees, No Examinations’.
“We have pleaded with the management of our school on several occasions to extend the deadline for the payment of the school fees to second semester, but to no avail.
“We will prefer the school to be shut down until the management accepts our position on this matter. We are going to continue with our protest until the Vice Chancellor comes down here to address us,” one of the leaders of the protesters vowed.
However, as of 3.30pm, no representative of the institution was around to speak with the angry students.
Another protester, the President, Edo State Students in UNIPORT, Mr. Andrew Osose, said, “The management of the school did not consider the real life situation before trying to enact the academic policy.
“They said if you don’t pay the school charges, you cannot write exams and we the students pleaded with the management that let it be the second semester exams.
“We pleaded that they should open registration till one week to the second semester exams because all fingers are not equal. But the school management paid deaf ears to our plea.
“We have consulted and we have consolidated and we are still consolidating because the protest is peaceful. We are not destroying any property and we are not doing anything violent. We are only trying to make the public hear our plight.
“They are sending text messages to the parents of the people who have paid to tell us that we should write our own exams and let those our mates that have not paid to suffer, we said no because even the Bible commissions us to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.
“We are doing this because of the economic meltdown, which the country is into. There are students whose parents just lost their jobs. How would they be able to pay? We know the nature of our economy now; how would students meet up to pay?
“Most of the lecturers in the senate that are making this policy did not go to school with their own money. They did not come from rich background, but they have all forgotten their root. They want the students to pay by fire by force.
“We are paying N2,000 each, which amounts to N97 million every year for National Health Insurance Scheme, yet they do not give us health attention.
Reacting, the Deputy Registrar, Information of UNIPORT, Dr. William Wodi, explained that the protest was not about any increase in fees, but about few students, who wanted to write exams without paying their N45,000 school fees.
Wodi said that while 98 percent of students had paid and ready to sit for the exams, the two percent remaining refused to pay, even after extending the deadline on five occasions.
Maintaining that the fee was not new to the students, Wodi added that the immediate past administration had directed that no university should take beyond N45,000 as fees.
According to him, “The problem is not the school fee policy because we have been enforcing it since the past administration. It is not a new rule that students should pay outstanding levies. The issue is the refusal to pay.”
The UNIPORT spokesman, who said the first semester examination for the 2015/2016 academic session would no longer begin on Monday (yesterday) as schedules, warned that those who failed to pay their fees would carry their courses over.
“We have continued to extend the deadline for the payment of the fees. The deadline was first moved from February 12, 2016 to March 11 and to March 30.
“We moved it again from March 30 to April 5th and now to April 7th and we said we are no longer moving it further. But they are saying that the economy is hard,” he said.
Wodi, however, disagreed with the position of the protesting students over the claim that some universities were less than the N45,000 being charged by UNIPORT.
“It is practically impossible to run the school free of charge and we cannot use the fees of those who have paid to subsidise that of those who have not paid.
“We are not expelling students; we are only saying that those who fail to pay will not be part of the exam and they are carrying the course over,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Senate of the University of Port Harcourt has shut down the institution with immediate effect.