What could have been the largest and perhaps successful mammoth rally of Imo state students’ from state owned tertiary institutions in Owerri in support of the incumbent governor of Imo state and candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the next month’s general elections turned out to become a holocaust and violent volcano in contradiction to the recently concluded Abuja Accord of non violence as people suspected to be of an opposition group unleashed terrorism and mayhem against their chief host and sponsor.
On Monday January 26, 2015, the students in their hundreds abandoned their lectures at the Imo State University, Imo Polytechnic Umuagwo, some from the Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education and converged at the Rochas Campaign Headquarters at Rochas Plaza along Okigwe road Owerri, as early as 8:00am. Hundreds of others were gathered at the newly completed multi billion naira Imo International Conference Centre (IICC) on Bank road, by Orlu road roundabout at Owerri, the proposed venue of the rally where they had expected to be addressed by the Governor.
It was alleged that the students became restless at about mid-day when their anticipated host was not in sight and some started to complain of hunger and others of thirst that needed to be quenched thus the venue became a bit rowdy, charged and even tensed.
However, it was said that when personal aides and party supporters of the governor came, they were intimated but the situation that they made frantic exports and haste to come to the venue to assuage any ugly situation and prepare the ground for the arrival of the Governorship candidate who was billed to come and address the students whose number had then overgrown the capacity of the 5000 convention centre. They met with a different situation that came under control with issuance of water and light refreshment.
The Governor finally arrived the venue at 2pm and promptly addressed the students, made a pledge of #2M to the students to pay off their bill of fare while his in-law and Commissioner of Lands, Uche Nwosu gave #1M in support and his other two aides doled out #500,000 each making a grand total of $4M which drove the students to frenzy.
It was also alleged that in the course of the Owelle’s 60 minutes address and interaction with the students, the venue became infiltrated by some youths wearing T-shirts with TAN inscription while others were found to be allegedly sponsored students from FUTO and POLYNEK who joined the crowd after they were contacted on phones by their supposed paid hirelings.
No sooner had the Governor left the venue at about 4pm and on the return of the Commissioner for Lands, Chief Uche Nwosu to the venue to disburse the money for the students than heaven was let loose, things failed apart and the centre uncontrolled as the infiltrators were alleged to have started hawing sachets of pure water, then stones on the Commissioner. This was followed by destruction of properties including chairs, water fonts, bill boards even the security operations and police were taken by surprise that they had to run for their dear lives before regrouping to release tear-gas on the violent crowd. It was said the few security men on hand were equally rough handled before the release of the teargas.
Eye witness account said that Hon. Uche Nwosu was shielded out of the venue for safety though he later returned when a little calm was maintained to share out the money to the students but this was not until the infiltrators had unleashed mayhem damaging a number of vehicles, bill boards/Television sets in the IICC where three female students were nearly trampled to death, but for the courage of a male colleague who shielded and rescued them.
The vandals were said to have moved to the nearby government house where street lamps and other seven vehicles were battered and vandalized among other items and then spilled over to the Rochas Plaza where a huge bill-board of the APC candidate was pulled down and torn to pieces, all this while, the police who appeared.
There have been allegations that the students became rowdy because the governor did not fulfill his pledge of a donation of #4 Million naira to them, an allegation that has been denied from the government quarters and the students leaders themselves.
The Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on media, Mr. Sam Onwuemeodo had in a statement issued at Owerri on Tuesday accused the PDP in the state for inciting the mob action while the State Commissioner for Information and Strategy had also alleged the Minister for Education, Prof. Viola Onwuliri had organized students of FUTO and FEDPONEK where they have commanding influence and loyal management to invade the rally.
Other sources said that the students claimed that Owelle had been biased or partial in his free tertiary education programme which they contended should be for every Imo child no matter where he/she is studying and not for those in the state owned institutions alone.
They claim to have tabled the matter to the Governor severally requesting for bursary to all Imo undergraduates no matter their institution of higher learning or where they are located without response in sight hence the only way to express their anger was by making noise that generated into a fiasco and mob action.
They also said that several visits had been made to the government house on the issue and promises made were yet to be actualized. Observers say that some millions of naira both of properties were lost as damages in the carnage of that day.
Meanwhile the PDP hierarchy in Imo state has issued a statement denying having a hand in the fracas of the day but blamed it on the Governor and the APC as a party claiming that the students were only reacting to the inability of the Governor to fulfill a pledge he made to them in the past. One thing is certain though. The perpetrators of the mayhem are said to be students of FUTO and FEDPONEK who are aggrieved over the non-benefit of the free education programme. However, the police must explain why they condoned a situation where students climbed the 3 story Rochas Plaza and succeeded without being arrested in tearing the man’s huge flex banner. Surely they are culpable of complicity and that is also possible since they are largely controlled and on the pay roll of PDP leaders and candidates. It is a gross violation of the peace accord signed recently by the presidential candidate to stop their supporters, loyalists, and admirers from act of vandalism and violence. That it was allowed to happen in Imo state cannot be anything else but political unless as pundits would say; the Nigerian youths are now bestial and already mortgaged their future and so cannot lay claim to anything decent or responsible in life.