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How 30 year-old blind Third year student lost his life in UNN’s hostel

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By Sunday Elom

The University of Nigeria, Nsukka, UNN, has fifteen hostels for undergraduate students. Whereas one of the male hostels, Mbanefo has been abandoned since 2014, 12 hostels are allocated to female students while two; Eni-Njoku and Alvan Ikoku halls only are occupied by male students.

The two male hostels located at the popular ‘Franco Republic’ in the Nsukka campus are in a pitiable state. From the gutters around and within the two three-storey buildings, the toilet facilities, the carelessly connected electric wires, the hostels are infectious, life-threatening and unconducive for habitation, particularly for students in general and blind students who require special need and care in particular. 

Few meters above head level at the left pole of the entrance of room 125, Eni-Njoku, is an open electric junction box with interconnected electric wires of varying millimeters, some parts of which are non-coated. The directions of the wires quickly show the number of rooms which depend on power supply from the medium-sized junction box.

One of the open junction boxes in Eni-Njoku Hostel. Photo by Sunday Elom N

Just an arm’s length above the bed is a non-coated 2.5mm wire connected from the junction box outside the room to an open fuse-pot meant for wall socket. The wire runs loosely to the ceiling fan metal rod where it is carelessly interconnected with one or two running to different directions to serve different purposes.

Electric wire connection in room 125 of Eni-Njoku Hostel. Photo by Sunday Elom N

A similar condition is observed in room 106 of Alvan Ikoku Hall. Inside the room are two metal bunk beds of two steps at the left side and a single metal bed at the right side. At the center of the room is a square high wooden centre table and a long wooden bench. A large cupboard of six unequal partitions knighted on the wall is directly facing the entrance. Two middle partitions of the cupboard have lost their covers.

Electric wire connection in room 106 of Alvan Ikoku Hostel. Photo by Sunday Elom N

Outside the room is a long passage leading to different parts of the two-winged three-storey building students’ hall of residence or hostel as it is popularly called in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions. The passage is always wet as a result of water poured by occupants in ‘200, 300 and 400 series’ of the hostels.

On the walls are broken and scattered metal garder, disjointed electric wires are dangerously and carelessly connected from one open-junction box or the other. Most of the electric wires are either half-burnt or half-opened during the fact that they are illegal connections. Also, behind the hostel are scattered half-burnt and half-coated electric wires concealed in grasses and heaps of refuse.

The toilets at the extreme left corner of the hostels are no longer usable; hence, students have abandoned them while some are officially sealed by the Works Department of the institution.

Toilets in Alvan Ikoku and Eni-Njoku Hostels. Photos by Sunday Elom N

Emeka Ezeudu Emmanuel: Virtualy-impaired unfortunate victim of UNN’s carelessness

Students with Special Needs, otherwise known as visually impaired and other physically-challenged students share 100 series of the hostels with the rest of the students. At Eni-Njoku hostel, visually impaired students occupy rooms 119-127 while at Alva Ikoku Hall, they occupy rooms 105, 106 and a few others.

University of Nigeria, Nsukka campus has at least 75 Students with Special Need as revealed by the outgoing president of Association of Students with Special Needs, ASSN, Chidozie Echezonam. Emeka Ezeudu Emmanuel, an about 30-year-old third year student of the Music Department was among these numbers. But unfortunately at 3a.m on Monday 14th June, 2021, he lost his life.

Emeka who was partially visually impaired lived in room 106 of Alvan Ikoku Hall till that black Monday when he reportedly got electrocuted behind his hostel. His death sparked a “bottled” rage from his colleagues and friends, who eventually staged a protest following a statement released by the Dean Student Affairs, Prof. Edwin Omeje. The lions roared, but were cowed!

Whereas eyewitnesses, including Emeka’s roommate who spoke with Orient Weekend said that the deceased was electrocuted while trying to defecate behind the hostel, Echezonam said they became enraged when Prof. Omeje in his statement said that Emeka committed suicide because he lost in the ASSN presidential election.

Narrating how Emeka died, Echezonam said: “At 3a.m while I was reading, I started hearing noise outside. Oftentimes we hear such noise when students catch a thief, when there is a fire incident or any other thing that one needs to run for his life. I was still trying to understand what was happening when one of our colleagues, Darlington Maduneme came to my room with some sighted students who knew Emeka. 

“The sighted students told me that Emeka was electrocuted. They said that when they saw him where he was electrocuted, they had to cut the wires with pliers before they brought him out. They also told me that some parts of his hands and legs were burnt a little. 

Behind room 106 of Alvan Ikoku Hostel where Emeka Ezeudu Emmanuel was electrocuted. Photo by Sunday Elom N

“Less than 20 minutes after the students left my room, a porter from Alvan Hall and some health workers from the school Medical Centre came to ask me about him. They said they heard that he lost in an election. I said yes. They said they want to find out more about him. I told them to be specific on the particular details they want about him but they were just looking at me. They only kept saying they heard he lost in an election. I said yes but that is not the point at that moment.

“In less than an hour, I received a call that he was dead because they said he was still breathing when they rushed him to the University’s Medical Centre situated at the Nsukka campus.

At 6a.m, I went to the Medical Centre and asked the doctor what exactly happened but she said that her duty is to confirm him dead or alive. I pressed further to know what exactly happened to the guy, whether there was any sign of burnt on him but she snubbed me and left. 

“At 10a.m the Dean of Student Affairs called me and said he heard about the death of one of us. He asked for the guy’s room and I told him. He said he was going there and that the parents said they would bury him on Wednesday and that I should prepare my people to attend the burial. That was the last discussion I had with him on the incident. 

“Then, around 8p.m of the same day, we heard the information released by the Dean saying that there was no trace of wire. That the deceased’s roommate said he committed suicide. 

“The statement hurt us more than the guy’s death because we were not expecting that. It was a big blow to us because we don’t know how they came up with such information.”

Meanwhile, one of Emeka’s roommates who pleaded anonymity for fear of victimization by school management told Orient Weekend that the deceased was popularly known as one of the students who do not use the hostel toilets even when he was living in Eni-Njoku hostel. 

The roommate who confirmed that Emeka always goes to the bush to defecate also insisted that although the deceased was not happy with some persons because of the ASSN election, he was never depressed nor did he show signs of deep bitterness.

According to the roommate, Emeka and one other visually impaired student were in the room that day because the rest of the roommates went to night class.

“The blind student said he woke up by 3a.m to urinate outside and Emeka was sleeping inside. He came back into the room and locked the door. After some time, some students came knocking at the door and he opened the door and asked them why they were knocking at that time of the night and they told him that Emeka was found unconscious behind the hostel.

“He insisted that Emeka was sleeping and then checked his bed but found out he was no longer there. That was when he knew that the deceased left the room when he went to ease himself,” the roommate narrated.

Speaking on the personality of the deceased victim before his demise, the roommate said that Emeka was a comfortable and jovial person who, to the best of his knowledge has never complained of anything in life.

“When we heard about suicide, we were surprised because even though it is true that he was not happy with some people, he was not depressed. That same night he eventually died, he bought Egusi (grounded melon for cooking as soup) and gave it to me to cook for him the following morning. He also gave me N300 for the soup because he usually does that whenever he wants to cook,” he explained.

He further said that the deceased was good at going around and gathering his colleagues’ assignments and giving them to fellow students who are not visually-impaired to do for them.

“That same night he brought one of them and gave me three letters to write for them which I told him that I would do at night class and that he should send me more details on WhatsApp. I was waiting for the details when I got the news of his death. He was happy that night,” the roommate added.

The election, the outcome, the reaction

Emeka’s death was widely believed to be an electrocution but according to a peaceful protest video Orient Weekend obtained from the ASSN President, the University’s Dean Student Affairs, Prof. Omeje faulted the claim. He repeatedly commanded the agitated students to “shut-up” or “I will leave you here.” He rather questioned the credibility of their claim while none of them was at the scene of the incident.

Prof. Omeje who also repeatedly said that some of the physically challenged students were “talking rubbish” insisted that the deceased might have committed suicide. “Shut up or I will leave here! How do you know it was electrocution? Were you there? None of you was there and some of you are here talking rubbish! From what we know, if you see someone electrocuted, some parts of his body must be burnt.”

Dean Student Affairs, Prof. Edwin Omeje addressing protesting visually impaired students. Video by Chidozie Echezonam

Although in the video, Omeje did not specifically say that Emeka committed suicide because he lost in election, Echezonam said the Dean specified in his press statement that the deceased committed suicide because of the outcome of the election.

According to Echezonam, ASSN conducted its Presidential election on Friday 11th June, 2021. Emeka contested in the said election.

“During the election, he asked about his agent because we are normally allowed to bring a sighted agent but the student affairs representative asked him if he doesn’t trust him”, he informed.

The ASSN President said they didn’t have problems with the election processes, but Emeka lost in the election narrowly on just 25 votes against 32 votes polled by the eventual winner.

“He came to me and asked if the constitution of our association specifically provides that a candidate must bring an agent during election. I checked the constitution and on Sunday I told him that it is provided in the constitution and that a candidate must provide an agent to make sure that there is no malpractice. He asked if that is enough for him to hold on and challenge the outcome of the election by writing to the Student Affairs; I (had) told him that I will check.

“Though I know the election was not rigged, I didn’t want to bluntly tell him to forget about the election. I wanted to gradually advise him to accept the reality of the election. But although he was planning to go to Student Affairs on Tuesday because Monday was a public holiday, he was not so bitter to the point of committing suicide as insinuated by Dean’s statement,” he argued. 

“On that same Sunday evening, he asked his friend in room 120 Eni-Njoku Hostel if he cooked, that he (Emeka) wanted to eat. So, he was not melancholic or depressed,” Echezonam added.

Visually-impaired are not suicidal, blind students lament

Speaking on Prof. Omeje’s statement that Emeka might have committed suicide, Echezonam insisted that visually impaired students and persons are not suicidal. Echezonam who was a Medicine and Surgery student lost his sight in his final year. He said he spent seven years staying indoors before he gathered courage to move on with life and continue his education.

“From what I know as a final year student of Psychology, visually impaired people are not suicidal,” he said.

Also speaking, Adebisi Olajuwon, a visually impaired final year student of Political Science said, “If we can summon courage to come to school and we didn’t kill ourselves when we became blind, is it because of some trivial issues that will make us kill ourselves?”

According to Olajuwon, “One thing I felt is not also rational in the Dean’s statement is the fact that he didn’t even say that maybe because of Emeka’s bad sight, he might have come in contact with the electric wire.”

He therefore noted that what led to the protest is “a character assassination (of that section of students who are visually-impaired) published by the Dean Student Affairs, telling the general public that Emeka committed suicide which we know it is not only a lie but a stigma on we visually impaired, because we are not suicidal. The impairment alone is enough to make us strong. So, I don’t know of any other challenge that can be more than being blind.”

Our ordeals: Visually-impaired students recount numerous ordeals, seek immediate redress

Some visually impaired students who spoke with Orient Weekend narrated the ugly experience they pass through on a daily basis from dangerously connected electric wires to toilets and bathrooms, struggles to attend lectures as early as possible or get kicked out by lecturers, amongst numerous challenges.

According to Olajuwon, accommodation in UNN has been paying a lot of money to live in a ghetto.

He said that since 2017 till date, physically-challenged students living in Eni-Njoku hostel have no toilet. “What we do is, when we want to defecate, we would look for a sighted student to guide us into the bush or we would climb to 400 series with a bucket of water in one hand and a guide stick in the other hand.”

Olajuwon revealed that the cleaners working in the hostels are not being paid regularly, and so sometimes they leave the toilets “we are managing unattended for weeks.”

“I take my bath by 4:30a.m every day. In doing that, I must use my slippers to check if there are faeces. God knows that I’m not lying. That is our struggle every day. 

“In this school, we have accepted our fate in the sense that we even pride in the suffering. I can categorically tell you that there is no special arrangement for us apart from the admission processes which we don’t write post-UTME (post Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination). 

“Initially there was a shuttle park in front of our hostel and it made it easier for us to go to school but the school suddenly removed them,” Echezonam lamented.

According to Olajuwon, the school only equipped their Special Library with benches and tables while every electrical appliance, laptops and every other things in the library were provided by the ASSN, UNN chapter and donations from people like former Permanent Secretary of Women Affairs, Anambra State, Airtel and other philanthropists.

He further lamented that there are intimidations from some lecturers. “They force us to buy textbooks even when they know we can’t read them instead of giving us the soft copy of the books which we can download into our mobile phones and laptops. In exams, it is only the General Study courses that the coordinator gives us enough time to write our exams but the rest of the courses are a different story. Some lecturers even remove our papers from the typewriters while we are still writing.

A letter obtained by Orient Weekend showed that the former president of ASSN in 2016/2017, Chinedu Adibe wrote to the Works Department on the situation of their hostels facilities; they promised to work on them but later said they had not been permitted to do it. 

One of the toilets in Eni-Njoku Hostel sealed permanently by Works Department. Photo by Sunday Elom N

The letter, titled: AN APPEAL FOR A WORK ON OUR TOILETS, read in part; “Sequel to the letter/complaint that was dropped earlier on the above-stated challenge, I want to bring to your notice again, that nothing has been done about the special students’ toilets in Eni Njoku hostel from the time the complaints was made and the development has brought untold hardship on the special students in this particular hostel.”

“This has constituted a great and serious risk to us and most of us are already agitated. We plead that you come to our rescue by expediting urgent action on this ugly development”, the letter stated.

School authorities mum, ignores probing Emeka’s unfortunate demise?

Despite the persistent outcry of the physically-disadvantaged students of University of Nigeria, Nsukka, the university management apparently has chosen to ignore them, Orient Weekend can authoritatively report.

The institution may not only have trashed the case of the visually impaired student’s death in a waste bin, it has also barricaded the information from the media, while evading every effort made by Orient Weekend to get the institution’s authorities speak on the unfortunate electrocution incident that claimed Emeka’s life.

Between June 23 & 24, 2021, Orient Weekend visited Nsukka Campus to speak with the University management on the death of Emeka. For the three consecutive times our reporter went to the Student Affairs Department to speak with Prof. Edwin Omeje who is the Dean, he was said to be on official duty. This reporter also went to the Public Relations office to speak with the PRO, Chief Okwun Omeaku but he was also said to be on official function at the Enugu Campus of the institution.

Several calls were placed on Prof. Omeje’s phone number but he did not pick or called back. On Friday 25th, the reporter called the Associate Dean of Student Affairs; Dr. Chris Ezeibe who referred the reporter back to PRO, saying he, (the PRO) is in the right position to make known the position of the institution on the matter. On Saturday 26th, the reporter called the PRO but he referred him back to the Dean Student Affairs. He said the school management has stated her position on the matter to the Dean. 

When this reporter told him he had called the Dean several times without any response, he told him to send the Dean a text message and revert to him (PRO) on the Dean’s response. A message was sent to the Dean who replied apologizing for his not being available to speak with the reporter in his office. The reporter responded to his response, requesting when to call him but he never replied.

The Dean’s response was relayed to the PRO via text message but he never responded to the message.

Subsequently, Orient Newspapers Editor placed a call on Prof. Omeje on July 1, to speak on the matter but he said he was on appraisal function. The editor also called the PRO but he said, “I have been busy moving from Enugu to Nsukka since last week at an official function.”

When the editor pressed him to tell him the position of the school management on the matter, he simply said, “The school is investigating the matter.” However, the editor insisted he should explain the mode of the investigation and the deadline given to the panel to submit its report but rather than oblige the request, Chief Omeaku abruptly dropped the call.

Till the time of filing this report, the management of University of Nigeria, Nsukka, has neither officially investigated Emeka Ezeudu Emmanuel’s death nor made public the progress recorded so far in its acclaimed investigation into the death.

 Visually-impaired students therefore, just like the rest of UNN students in the Franco republic are traumatized and deeply concerned on who could be the next victim?

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