Scores of visually-impaired graduates and students on Monday protested against government’s failure to pay bursary and provide jobs, blocking the main gate to the Imo State Government House in Owerri to air their grievances.
The protesters, who alleged marginalisation by the Governor Rochas Okorocha-led administration, said the government was treating them “like strangers in our own state.”
Displaying placards with various inscriptions which depicted their grievances, the blind protesters demanded an end to what they tagged deliberate abandonment and marginalisation by the government.
The demonstrators, who assembled under the aegis of the Nigerian Association of the Blind, Imo State chapter, called on Okorocha to be responsive to their demands.
They vowed not to leave the gate to the government house until the governor addressed them.
Apart from the demand for special job opportunities for blind graduates in the state, the protesters equally demanded the immediate release of accumulated seven-year subvention arrears and bursary allowances for blind students in higher institutions.
The protest caused gridlock on the road to the government house, as security men manning the gate battled in vain to disperse the demonstrators.
The Chairman of the association, Christopher Kalu, said the state government had failed to build a special school for the blind which was promised the association seven years ago.
Kalu said “We visited the governor in December last year to remind him of his promise, but we found out that the commissioners are not helping matters because several efforts to get the governor to implement his promise through his commissioners are not yielding fruits.
“In January this year, we sent a warning note that if we come to the government house as a group on protest, we will not leave until our demands are met.
“Now we are here. We will not leave until our demands are met. We are demanding a sum of less than N4.5m. We are demanding that our graduates should be given job opportunities in our own state. We are not demanding too much.”
An unidentified government official was seen pleading with the protesters to leave the government house gate, but they refused.
The government official said the governor had taken notice of their presence and was committed to making sure they were happy.
In Kwara State, policemen on Monday used tear gas to drive off some protesting students from the College of Education, Ilorin.
The students, who organised the protest to address some alleged shortcomings in their school, said their lecturers were being owed six months’ salaries by the Kwara State Government.
They lamented that the non-payment of their lecturers’ salaries had negatively affected their academic activites and delayed their semester examination.
The students sang songs and displayed placards with different messages, including, ‘Pay our lecturers their six months’ salaries,’ ‘Maigida, are you not collecting salary?’
The students, who started the protest from their campus, marched through Ibrahim Taiwo Road and the Unity area before heading to the state government house.
Their march was, however, halted by policemen at the Unity Roundabout, who fired tear gas canisters to disperse them.
The students ran helter-skelter, covering their faces after inhaling the gas.
Business organisations, including banks, hurriedly locked their gates, while petty traders on the roadsides and passersby scampered for safety.
The Speaker, Student Union Government of COED, Ilorin, Mr Ajamiu Mathew, told PUNCH Metro that five students had been arrested by the police.
He pleaded with the state government to address the challenges of the institution so that academic activities would continue.
But the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Media and Communication, Dr Muyideen Akorede, said the state government had released N125m to all state-owned tertiary institutions as their June 2018 subventions.
He said, “The protest by students was unnecessary; government has made good its pledge to make money available to state-owned institutions.”
The commissioner explained that the state government used to disburse subventions to the institutions on a quarterly basis but had changed it to monthly in order to assist the institutions to meet their monthly salary obligations.
“With the release of the subventions for the payment of June salaries, the institutions now have only one month outstanding salary to clear, which is for July. The July subvention to our institutions will be released soon,” he added.
The state Police Public Relations Officer, Mr Ajayi Okasanmi, said five undergraduates were arrested because the protest became violent as the protesters started destroying property.
He said, “When the protest became violent, the police were left with no choice than to disperse the protesters, while five hoodlums were arrested. They will be prosecuted after investigation.”