Exactly three months after at least two students of Nasarawa State University were killed, allegedly by officers of the Nigerian Army, neither the state government, nor the police, appear willing to punish the culprits.
The students were killed on Monday, February 25, when hundreds of students of the University protested the deteriorating welfare conditions in their school. The students marched on the streets of Keffi to protest against absence of potable water and electricity on their campus. In a bid to disperse the protesters, live bullets were fired and some students killed.
Although initial reports said four students were killed, the police later confirmed the death of two students in the protest. Both the Nasarawa Police Command, and the Nigerian Police spokesperson, Frank Mba, denied that the students were shot by police officers, with Mr. Mba referring questions on those who pulled the trigger to the Nigerian Army.
Witnesses also said the shots were fired by soldiers from the 177 Guards Battalion in Keffi, who apparently came to help the police quell the protest; a claim the army has denied.
“What these people are writing (about soldiers’ culpability) is not correct. Soldiers were not deployed and couldn’t have carried out the shooting. Our men were on patrol duty at Keffi,” Ibrahim Attahiru, the Nigerian Army spokesman had said.
Following the outcry that greeted the killings, at least three different arms and agencies of government vowed to investigate in order to identify and bring the culprits to book.
The Nasarawa State Government, which owns the university, said it would carry out an investigation. The House of Representatives also agreed to set up a committee to investigate the killings; while the police, who has the statutory responsibility of crime investigation, also said it would carry out its investigations.
A month after the Nasarawa government admitted that its investigation committee has submitted a report; no action has been taking on it.
Illyasu Yakubu, the Director of Press to Tanko Almakura, the Nasarawa State Governor, told PREMIUM TIMES in April that the commission of enquiry handed-in its report late April and it would take the state government one week to study the report.
One month after, the state government is yet to take any action on the report, even as Mr. Yakubu refused to respond to further enquiries. The government had earlier removed all the principal officers of the university including its Vice Chancellor from office for a different reason.
Just like the state government, the House of Representatives is yet to conclude its investigation of the killings.
A failing police
Perhaps the most controversial of the investigations is that expected by the police.
The Nasarawa police, who pledged investigations immediately after the incident, later said it would await the report of the state government’s investigations.
The spokesperson of the Nasarawa Police Command, Micheal Ada, told PREMIUM TIMES that the police investigation is still pending as it is still awaiting a reaction from the state government.
“The commission of inquiry is yet to release their report, we are still waiting for their report and we have not received a legal advice from the Directorate of Public Prosecution on the matter.” Mr. Ada said
When asked why the police would wait for the state government’s commission of inquiry in order to proceed with its investigation, Mr. Ada explained that the police would conduct its investigation but still had to wait for the state government’s reports before it proceeds.
The failure of the police to proceed with independent investigations drew the ire of human rights lawyers who questioned the competency of the Nasarawa police.
Charles Musa, a lawyer, said the foot-dragging of the police and the state government to probe the culprits was another example of how things are easily swept under the carpet in Nigeria.
“Unfortunately the history of probes, committees and investigative panels in Nigeria is basically a tactics to delay and make sure tempers cool and the matters will be swept under the carpet and it will appear that this is just another example of the obnoxious practice of trying to play to the gallery; to make sure that criminals go unpunished which is unfortunate because the culture of impunity has become the order of the day,” Mr. Musa said
“It will appear as if there’s a cover up. Perhaps the police doesn’t want to ruffle feathers if they find out it is the army or vice versa. It’s really a pity that nothing has been done three months after these young people were murdered in cold blood,” the lawyer added.
Another lawyer, Jiti Ogunye, questioned the excuse of the police saying the killing of the students is a criminal act as they were not convicted of any crime nor sentenced under any lawful authority. He said such criminal acts ought to be investigated by the police and reports forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecution.
“Setting a commission of inquiry means taking up the job of the police and then probably politicise the whole matter.” Mr. Ogunye said of the state’s probe.
He stated the commission of inquiry cannot take the position of the police under the constitution or any law and that the inquiry report cannot be used for prosecution, as the Director of Public Prosecution in the state cannot give advice based on reports of a commission of inquiry.
“The police cannot claim that they are waiting on the report from the commission of inquiry and therefore will not do their job,” he said.
“The police has a duty to investigate crime, they have that power under the Police Act and under the constitution while commission of inquiry is an administrative platform to fact find and make recommendations; it cannot perform the function of the police and therefore its report cannot be a basis to prosecute anybody,” he said
Mr. Ogunye urged the police to conduct appropriate investigations and do what is useful in bringing the killers to justice.