How I worked with Babangida to subvert Students at UNN—-Confession of a former SSS student agent that exposes how Nigerian security operatives sponsor violence in Nigerian Universities
By Dr Nwankwo Tony Nwaezeigwe, PhD
I gained admission into University of Nigeria on merit after scoring two hundred and sixty-nine over three hundred JAMB Point-Score. That was at the time we never knew that parents could facilitate University admissions for their children. Because I was working as an Aviation Signals Technician with the Civil Aviation Authority, Enugu Airport, I had to keep my plans of further education out of the knowledge of my boss, since I did not plan to study engineering. So I used my kinsman’s Mr. Nduka Eseji from Ogboli Quarters, Ibusa working with the Post and Telegraph (P&T), Enugu, as my discreet contact address. I returned from work one afternoon to see a letter slipped into my room from under the door and when I opened it, it was my JAMB letter of admission to study History at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
My decision to study History did not go down well with my father who had wanted me to study mechanical engineering and thus he vowed never to spend a dime for my studies, especially since my uncle Mr. Nosike Nwaezeigwe who studied History and Philosophy at the University of Maiduguri found it difficult to secure a job. But my mother encouraged me and I continued with my studies. It came to a point that my Ezukwu village had to intervene to compel my father to show concern, since both my father and mother were like brother and sister, having come from the same village, in addition to my father’s mother coming from the same village. In fact outside my village, the only other village I have second generation descent is Umuosowe kindred of Umuodafe Ibusa where my maternal grandmother hailed from.
I had planned to retain my job for sometime while studying discreetly without the knowledge of my boss since having deviated from engineering I was no longer qualified for a study-leave. So I kept my admission secret for sometime shuttling between Enugu and Nsukka. But it did not take long before the aku-oyibo Nsugbe was broken. My boss the Chief Technical Officer Mr. Ukwem Kalu from Ututu in Arochukwu Local Government Area invited me one early morning and informed me that he called to specifically congratulate me for my admission at University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and that as a father he was advising me to put up application for study-leave with pay and that it did not matter which course I was studying since there are non-technical sections in Aviation Department. I looked at him speechless for a moment not knowing what to say. Finally I caved in to his sinister motive. I quickly wrote the letter and brought it to him, which he immediately counter-signed in my presence but noted afterwards that as a technical staff studying history he was not approving my application and that for the same reason my salary should be stopped immediately. When I was informed of his decision, I went to him to express my disappointment over his betrayal. He looked at me and said young man I want you to choose right now between going to that University and retaining your job. I quickly retorted that I was going to the university, and immediately walked out of his office.
My pro-Igbo activities began as I noted in my previous writing in 1986 when I single-handedly protested against the removal of Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe as Chief of General Staff over his comments on Nigeria’s membership of OIC. I had approached Ubani Chima to request that we mobilize the students to demonstrate against Babangida for disgracing our brother out of office, but he responded by saying that all of them were reactionary forces and for that reason, they were not interested. It was for that reason I decided to take an individual action.
The SSS (DSS) eventually came to arrest me but the University authority intervened and decided to issue me a query. Since the query came from the Dean of Students’ Affairs, Mr. D. D. Tabansi from Onitsha, it had to pass through the Dean of Faculty of Arts Prof Donatus Ibe Nwoga—a celebrated scholar of African literature known for his work “The Gods as Messengers among the Igbo” from Mbaise Imo State, before getting to me through my Head of Department.
When the query got to him he immediately summoned me to his office. When I entered, he looked at me for a while and said young man sit down. I then sat down. He brought out a publication cutting from a newspaper attached to a yellow sheet and said, young man you wrote this? I was just looking at him in bewilderment because I never understood what he was referring to. He then said, you wrote something about Ukiwe and Babangida and I said yes. He said come ad shake my hand. I got up and took a hand-shake from hm.
He then explained to me how the SSS came to pick me up the previous day but the university authority refused, telling the SSS that they did not even know the young man they were talking about, imploring them to allow the university deal with the mater internally. He then said I should not worry and that the query was for both of us. He told me to take a pen and sheet of paper and then dictated the answers for me. He afterwards instructed his Secretary to type it, after which I signed. He counter-signed and told me to go, assuring me that as long as he was in the university nobody would arrest me.
In March 1988, during my final year there was students’ violent demonstration at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and as usual all the Universities in Nigeria had to mobilize in solidarity. We were already accustomed to such situations and each time the Universities would be closed for some periods and the students would be made to pay for the property destroyed in the course of the demonstrations before resuming. So when the ABU demonstration began, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife followed. Then University of Ibadan, University of Lagos, and University of Benin joined almost immediately.
It was obvious that University of Nigeria Nsukka must follow suit, especially when the President of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) then—Emmanuel Ezeazu was from there. And as would be expected the Student Union officials with the Marxist Students group led by Ubani Chima started the mobilization of the students for action almost immediately. What the University authority did was to preempt the demonstration by closing down the school a week before the actual Easter break and ordered all the students to vacate the campus except those final year-students who wished to stay back.
The problem with University of Nigeria, Nsukka was that while the students of other Universities in the North and West, including University of Benin would march outside the University campuses and move into the streets to mobilize public support and even beef up their rank and file with street urchins, the students of University of Nigeria, Nsukka would devote themselves with the destruction and looting of school property. It was only at University of Nigeria Nsukka that the Vice Chancellor’s Lodge was attacked, looted, and set ablaze by the students. It is also only at the University of Nigeria Nsukka that the University Bookshop, Oba Akenzua and Margaret Ekpo Refectories, Aku Chris Pharmacy and Senator Fidelis Okoro’s Restaurant were looted by the students in the name of demonstrations. At the end of every process of demonstration and looting the students were sent away and made to pay more than even what were looted by just a few criminals. Thus even at the very place the future leaders of the Southeast Igbo were being groomed, the sense of patriotism was not there.
When it was time to resume after the break the University authority was afraid to re-open the University for fear of the aborted demonstration. It was at that point that the Vice Chancellor Prof Chimere Ikoku requested the Deans of Faculties to find ways the School could be opened and law and order maintained. They made enquiries to find out who could counter the strong forces of Emmanuel Ezeazu, Chime Ubani, and Olu Oguibe, and I was eventually approached by my Dean who then the German-born Prof Edith Ihekweazu and her Associate Prof Benson Oluikpe. I gave then my strategy which they eventually adopted.
First we should lead an internal enlightenment campaign against any further demonstrations in the school among the final-year students who were still on campus and tap from the sentiment of their eagerness to graduate. Thereafter the school should be re-opened, and on the resumption date all the Campus Gates should be put under lock and key except the Main Gate and, allow me and my boys to mount identity checks with the assistance of the University Security officials to make sure that only the bona fide students of the University with valid identity cards entered the Campus. This was to forestall the infiltration of NANS executive officials who normally compel the local Student Union officials to obey their instructions.
We did the enlightenment campaign from one Faculty to the other with Prof Oluikpe leading, and subsequently instructed the University authority to re-open the scholl. Every plan moved as smoothly as expected and the University resumed normal lectures. Meanwhile from the group of the anti-demonstration students five of us—myself, Obinna Uche of Microbiology from Arondizuogu and presently a politician; Obasi Igwe of Linguistics and Nigerian Languages from Akaeze in Ebonyi State, presently practicing Law at Owerri; T. O. C. Okunna of Archaeology from Ukpo in Anambra State who is in the United States of America; and Okey Nwankwo of Pharmacy from Nibo in Anambra State who is a big-time road construction contractor at Abakiliki, emerged as the core-leaders of Student anti-demonstration group in the University and we subsequently named ourselves “Operation Zero Option” (OZO). We continued to monitor the activities of Comrades Ubani Chime, Emmanuel Ezeazu, Olu Oguibe, Joshua Ogadinma, Adewale Adeoye, and Jide Ojo among other Marxist radical students in conjunction with the University Security Department headed then by Mr. Ken Ejeckam from Isulo in Anambra State, who later became the Sergeant-at-Arms of Anambra State House of Assembly.
Within two weeks of re-opening the school, the same group mobilized the students for what should have been the most destructive demonstration in the history of the University, safe for our daring intervention. Just one late evening at about 7 pm I was summoned by the Vice Chancellor to his Lodge by Prof James Okoro Ijeoma, his kinsman in my Department. When I got to the lodge I saw the Vice Chancellor, his wife, and the Chief Security Officer under tensed situation. They asked me if I was aware that there was going to be a massive students’ demonstration that night and I said no. Then the Chief Security Officer briefed me and told me to take a surveillance trip to Zik’s Flats Hostels which was always the starting point of all students’ demonstrations.
When I got to the University Second Gate, all I was hearing was the deafening sound of “soli soli soli solidarity forever”; the demonstration had started already with many students trooping down to Zik’s Flats Hostel to join. I quickly recoiled and branched off to Mbanefo Hostel where I met T. O. C. Okunna fully relaxed in his room with talcum powder over his neck and chest like a woman under Omugo (nursing mother). I alerted him of the looming danger and he immediately joined me. We ran to Fulton Avenue where Obinna Uche was relaxing with his girlfriend and I quickly alerted him of the danger on the ground.
We quickly located Obasi Igwe and Okey Nwankwo afterwards. Obinna Uche and Okey had developed an impoverished canister made from anti-mosquito insecticide which sprays violent flame on ignition with lighter. Armed with it we proceeded to the Vice Chancellor’s Lodge and demanded for a car without University inscription. The only official car in the University without University inscription was the Vice Chancellor’s official car—a Peugeot 504 saloon. As he was feeling reluctant to hand over the car to use, his wife quickly snatched the key from him and gave to us. We then moved with Obinna Uche behind the steering wheel.
We noted that the only safe place and moment five of us could confront the more than two thousand students that night would be at a Hostel Quadrangle because if we should wait for them to advance into the open campus street our mission would become out right suicide. So we drove just after the hockey pitch, entered the narrow street lying between the pitch and Eni Njoku Hostel and waited patiently for the students to match into the Eni Njoku Hostel Quadrangle. Soon after we heard their deafening solidarity songs and earth quaking foot-steps as they trooped into the Quadrangle.
By then it was getting to 9 pm and so the whole place was fully dark. We then disembarked, parked the car carefully and joined the crowd as they marched into the Hostel Quadrangle. As Ubani Chime raised the microphone and echoed “Great Lions and Lionesses”, we attacked him with Obasi Igwe snatching the microphone from him. As he raised alarm and before the students could realize what was happening, we released the canister with threatening flames. Immediately there was a state of pandemonium with all the students fleeing towards different directions. Within two minutes five of us had dispersed the over two thousand students and instantly aborted the demonstration that night.
With all the students racing back desperately to their different hostels while some took refuge in their fellow students’ rooms at Eni Njoku and Alvan Ikoku Hostels, we drove back triumphantly to the great embrace of the Vice Chancellor who had already received the news of what became known as “Two Minutes at Eni Njoku”, after the Ninety-Minute Israeli raid at the Ugandan Entebe Airport. From that moment we became a dreaded force in the Campus for the Protection of the integrity of the University. I was nicknamed “Chief University Stooge” by Ubani Chima and his group; while I referred to him as “Chief Student Stooge”, because definitely every leader must be a stooge to some powers within or without to remain in power.
The next stage became a contest between Ubani Chima and I over the leadership of the students Union. As would be expected Ubani Chima group propped up from their Marxist radical group Ogbuabo from Ohodo town near Nsukka for President and Joshua Ogadinnma for Secretary General, while I supported Joe-Jackson Egbo from Nkanu in Enugu District. My candidate won the Presidential election while their candidate won the position of the Secretary General; and before they could invade the equally volatile Students’ House of Representatives, I convinced Mr. Ogbuabo to cross over to my side and with the influence of Students Affairs Department, he was issued nomination form to contest the House of Representatives Seat in his constituency which he won through my influence and eventually became the speaker of the House of Representatives.
With that I virtually took over the Students’ Union from Ubani Chima and his group. In apparent annoyance, I was physically attacked by the group in broad day light and subsequently admitted at the University Medical Centre. It was while there that my group launched a retaliatory attack and got Ubani Chima and his group equally beaten up in broad day light and finally brought peace and stability to the School until we graduated.
After my graduation I was posted to Rivers State for my National Youth Service where I underwent my orientation. Immediately after my orientation I was recalled to the University where the Vice Chancellor facilitated my re-posting to Anambra State and subsequently brought me back to University of Nigeria, Nsukka to undertake my Primary Assignment. I eventually served at the Department of Archaeology as Fieldwork Research Assistant attached to Prof Edwin E. Okafor. But beyond my outward academic duty, my major assignment for being in the University was playing the role of Student Security Assistant to the Vice Chancellor. I was later joined by Obasi Igwe thus making us two.
With Joe-Jackson Egbo still the President of the Students’ Union and Ogbuabo as the Speaker of the Students’ House of Representatives, I still had overwhelming influence on the Student body and for some time there was semblance of stability in the Campus. But the danger of Ubani Chima’s influence and ability to cause trouble in the Campus was still there with Joshua Ogadinma as the Secretary General of the Students’ Union, and being more vibrant in revolutionary carriage than both Joe-Jackson and Ogbuabo, it required a close heel marking to keep order in the Campus. I did my utmost best with the support of Obasi Igwe and members of the SSS (DSS) who were engaged on regular surveillance over student activities. The DSS soon found me as a reliable fellow for effective execution of their missions since oftentimes I would reject their strategies of operation and bring up my own strategies which often turned out to suit the operations. In fact by the time I was completing my NYSC the then Anambra State Director of SSS (DSS) Mr. Obunseh who took over from Mr. Odeh invited me to join the Agency but I rejected it because I needed a profession where I would be free to express my opinion without any official hindrance. Working in DSS is like the profession of Judges. You don’t even have the freedom to comment on national issues as an individual even after retirement. It was in the course of these operations that I was nearly lynched by the students in my former Hostel—Akintola.
The SSS had received intelligence reports that there was going to be nation-wide demonstrations by the students against the Federal Government. Indeed the President of the Students’ Union had already received instructions from the National Union of Nigerian Students (NANS) to mobilize for that purpose but he was reluctant to do so. For that reason he was being threatened by the radical wing of the Students’ Union led by the Secretary General. As usual they decided to nip it from the bud by arresting the Students’ Union ring-leaders.
I and Obasi Igwe were invited to lead the operation while the DSS stayed at the background. The first operation was successful but the second ended in a disaster. Akintola Hostel is known as the “White House” because that is the official residence of the President and Secretary General of the Students’ Union. Our next operation was to arrest the Secretary General Mr. Joshua Ogadinma. Indeed the Hostel with its twin Akpabio Hostel which is a three-storey building is the tallest of all the Hostels in the Campus being situated on Hill-Top Slope, just backing the University Medical Centre.
As we approached, the DSS moved into the Medical Centre and parked their car while Obasi Igwe and I marched upstairs to the third floor where the Secretary General had his residence. Obasi Igwe stayed a little distance behind while I proceed to knock on the door. Unknown to us the news of our first operation had filtered into the Campus and so Joshua was on alert. As soon as I knocked on his door he raised an alarm prompting the students to emerge from their rooms and before I could know what was happening I was surrounded by hundreds of Student from both Akintola and Akpabio Hostels. Obasi Igwe succeeded in escaping to the downstairs but was caught and beaten mercilessly to the point of death safe for the quick intervention of the DSS officials who quickly fired a warning shot thereby scaring the students away before they rushed and took him away and fled the scene leaving me to my fate. In fact as they fled the official report was that I had been lynched by the students.
Akintola was my Hostel and I was well known there as in the Campus. As I stood haplessly surrounded by the irate Students who had started pushing me around in preparation for the main action, and papers had started flying from behind on my head, I knew the next object would be stones. I looked up at the crowd I saw two faces knwn to me—my cousin Dumebi Monyei studying Psychology then, and Edozie my room-mate who is presently a Director with EFCC and was then studying Geography and from the sister-town of Ishiagu in Delta State, I saw their faces ridden with grave resignation.
I thought of the next action to take there was none coming forth. As the papers started flying on my head with intensity and the pushing around became violent, I quickly released myself, fell down abruptly and dived underneath the mob with many of them falling on top of me. As every one of us on the ground struggled to find our feet, I quickly shrugged myself off the crowd, pushed my way violently to the second floor where I saw the staircase blocked in waiting. I then turned back and ran towards the corridor cul-de-sac over-looking the Students’ Union Centre with only the protector-railings separating me from the deadly ground below.
As the crowd surged violently towards me, I pooled one leg over the rail protector of the corridor and before they could get hold of me I quickly brought the second leg out and immediately released myself from the second floor of Akintola Hostel. Landing safely as they watched me in amazement I took off and ran to the Security Department from where I and the wounded Obasi Igwe were taken to the DSS Office in Nsukka. Meanwhile the Vice Chancellor had relocated to Enugu Campus in anticipation of the planned demonstration which subsequently took off the following day, during which the President of the Students’ Union was publicly assaulted and I was banned from entering the Campus by the students for fifty years. The consequence of the demonstration was that the school was closed once again for some periods.