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“A Seemingly Normal Thursday”

I stepped outside the college building and was greeted by the very intense Ekiti sun. It was a few minutes past 3pm. I had sat through three 2-hour classes and was completely exhausted, in fact too exhausted to get lunch at cafeteria 2, which I noticed was crowded with people. I ultimately decided to eat snacks for lunch that day and I walked back to my hostel.

After changing into a more comfortable outfit, I sat on my bed and began to eat the snacks I bought from the provision store in my hostel while scrolling through WhatsApp to view and reply to messages I had gotten earlier in the day while I was in class.

As I preoccupied myself, a loud screech was heard through the speakers in the hostel. I assumed that the hostel officials were about to give us one of their usual announcements, that there were men at work in our hostel and we were to cover ourselves up and wear more clothes as it was a female hostel, or maybe something else we had heard before. I didn’t think too much of it. These announcements were always made by a female hostel official, so imagine my surprise when the voice that came through the speakers was a male one.

”Good afternoon girls” he said, with a deep, male voice.

I was so shocked that I hastily put down my phone, and glanced at my roommates, who also had surprised looks on their faces. He introduced himself as Mr Wahab, a school official in charge of the student body. I had met Mr Wahab weeks prior when I needed some registration documents signed at his office.

He said that the Senate had come up with a new segregation rule for the students. He proclaimed that male and female students were not allowed to kiss, hug or even hold hands on school property. This was in relation to an already established rule that students were not allowed to have sex on the premises. Immediately as he said this, a loud noise filled the hostel. There was screaming, laughing and a lot of complaining. The noise was so much that one of the hostel officials took the microphone from him and asked firmly for us to be quiet so Mr Wahab could finish his announcement. She gave the microphone back to him so he could continue. 

He then said that the Red guards and other school security officials had been given the order to patrol the premises with canes and were advised to flog any male and female student they saw acting like a couple. When he said this, the noise began again, a lot louder than before. The complaining worsened.

One of my roommates angrily said, “What kind of rubbish is this? Are we still in secondary school?”. I stood there in front of my bed with my mouth slightly open. I didn’t know whether to laugh or not because it sounded way too absurd to me, like a joke that somehow wasn’t one at the same time. I knew Afe Babalola University was an institution with a lot of crazy rules, but I didn’t think flogging university students and grown adults as punishment would one day become one of them. After Mr Wahab left, another hostel official told us to be quiet and threatened to take us to the monastery as punishment if the noise persisted. We all began to quieten down probably because spending a cold night locked up in the school’s monastery is the third worst punishment in ABUAD, one that nobody ever wants to experience.

My roommate theorized that this was probably a desperate attempt by the Senate to reduce the number of rape and sexual assault cases that had been piling up since the semester began. I picked up my phone and went to my department group chat on Whatsapp and I could see my coursemates talking about it. Apparently Mr Wahab had been to their hostels as well before coming to ours. I could also hear noise coming from the hostel close by and that was when I realized that he was going on an announcement tour that evening.

This was something that could have easily been communicated to us via text, Whatsapp, or email. The decision to have Mr Wahab walk from hostel to hostel under the scorching sun to deliver the message himself was certainly a choice. They must have really wanted us to take this new rule as seriously as possible hence the theatrics that day.  I remember telling my roommates that this rule was way too controversial and that it was going to rub people the wrong way and honestly, it did way more than rub people the wrong way.

A few hours later, I headed out to get dinner. On my way out, I could hear the girls in my hostel still talking about the new rule given earlier that evening. It must have been a real concern to them, as they probably had boyfriends and didn’t know how to meet with them that night without facing the wrath of the red guards. When I stepped out of the hostel building, I could hear loud music coming from the engineering college, like a live band. It looked like a party, I didn’t know what they were celebrating, but they looked like they were having a lot of fun. I wondered whether the celebrations would continue despite the approaching curfew. I strolled to the cafeteria nearby and got my dinner, a plate of jollof rice, fried fish and plantain. As I approached my hostel, I saw a crowd of people gathered in front of my hostel and cafeteria 2 beside it. Since there was a party happening nearby at the engineering college, I assumed that a musician had been hired to perform and they finally showed up and was taking selfies with students but when I got closer what I saw instead was a really furious red guard with a torchlight in one hand and a cane on the other, conversing with different hostel officials. I asked a girl beside me what happened, and she said that they had just witnessed a fight between a male 500 level engineering student and the red guard in front of us.

The party was a celebration that final year engineering students threw to commemorate the end of their exams. One of the students attended the party with his girlfriend, a 300 level student who was in the same college as me. At a point during the party, while the live band performed, the girlfriend decided to leave as curfew was approaching and she also wanted to get dinner. He offered to walk her to the yam and chicken stand in front of cafeteria 2 so she could get dinner and they could bid each other goodnight. It is unclear whether either of them heard of the new rule announced hours before as they were both still in their college wear. They held hands as they strolled from the college to the food stand. After she got her dinner, they hugged and he pecked her cheek. As soon as he pulled away from her face, he felt a stroke of cane across his back. He turned around to see where it came from and the red guard switched on his torchlight directly in the boy’s face so  he wouldn’t be able to see. He then proceeded to flog the girl across her left arm. The boy lunged after the red guard in a fit of rage.

“Are you mad?” the boy could be heard screaming.

He grabbed the red guard by the collar and slammed him against the ATM point in front of cafeteria 2. It’s important to note that the boy was about twice the size of the red guard, making it difficult for the red guard to fight back.

By this time, people started to gather and it drew the attention of the other red guards to the scene. They managed to pull the boy off the red guard and started beating him. According to the girl who narrated the story, he wriggled himself out of their grip and ran to his college to call his friends to his aid. I looked to the side and the girlfriend was sitting on the floor crying silently. I didn’t see her initially. I could hear the red guard telling the hostel officials and other red guards that he had called the monastery and that he was going to make sure the boy and his girlfriend slept there that night. It was about 8:30 pm at this point. I decided to go back to my room to eat my food as it was getting cold.

Most of the girls in the hostel stood in front of their windows to see what was happening outside. My roommates were in other girls’ rooms probably gossiping so I was alone in my room. The noise outside initially died down, so I thought the ruckus was over. At about 9 pm, few minutes before curfew, the fight began again. This time, it sounded more like a riot. I could hear war cries and slamming tables. I rushed downstairs to see what was going on. I peeked through one of the staircase windows and I could see some male engineering students exchanging blows and strokes of cane with the red guards. It was really violent.

At some point, some students started throwing tear gas around. I had no idea where tear gas came from as its possession was highly prohibited on school premises. Some of the students in the hostel started scuffling with their hostel officials who tried to stop them from going outside to watch the riot and that became a fight of its own. There were also students who were cheering on and chanting war cries as if it was a wrestling match for their entertainment. I had never witnessed anything this violent before. After a while, the lights in the hostel began to flicker. It felt like a real life horror movie. I took that as my cue to go to bed, I had seen enough that night. The lights continued to flicker as I walked back to my room. I could hear one of the hostel officials yelling at the students to go to their rooms as it was time for curfew.

That whole part of school reeked of sweat and tear gas, I wondered if I was going to be able to sleep that night. After the lights flickered for about five minutes, there was a blackout across campus. The rioters could no longer see each other anymore so they reluctantly stopped fighting and eventually dispersed. I don’t know how long the blackout lasted because I fell asleep as soon as my head touched my pillow.

It took days for the smell of tear gas to wear off. I’m still surprised that the rioters didn’t destroy any major school property apart from a few dents here and there. The school cleaners spent the entire Friday cleaning up the streets where the riot took place. I wondered what type of punishment awaited the students who took part in the riot. Suspension? Expulsion? I leaned towards the latter since it involved school officials, I was curious to see how things would unfold. A colleague of mine said she slowly developed asthma in the days that followed due to a tear gas that was thrown into her room through the window. I was horrified.

Exactly two weeks later, an emergency school meeting was called. Afe Babalola himself, the founder, came to school to address the school and give out punishments himself. It was bad enough if you had to stand before the Senate, but if your delinquencies were so grave that it attracted the attention of the founder himself, there was no mercy for you. At the school meeting, he called up about five students and lined them up in front of the school, he then read out their misdemeanors and declared their expulsion. The final year engineering student was expelled for insubordination and assaulting multiple school security officials, his accomplices were indefinitely suspended. Two 100 level students were expelled for having sex on school premises weeks prior and the remaining two were 200 level students who were expelled for tampering with the school’s electricity supply while the riot happened. That was it. I felt sorry for the 100 level students the most, I looked at their faces and it was a combination of regret, fear and sadness. Their university education had just began, they hadn’t even matriculated and they were kicked out. It was such a cruel thing to do to these students, parading them in front of the whole school while expelling them, but then again, ABUAD always had a knack for the theatrics.

That was also the last time that segregation rule was enforced. Maybe the senate quietly removed it, but there was no flogging again in ABUAD after that day. I never saw red guards patrol with canes again after that day. This is one of those things that I witnessed that sometimes feel like a fever dream, but it happened. It really happened.

Chidinma Okezie is a budding writer and aspiring actress from Abia State, Nigeria. She briefly studied Media and Communication at Afe Babalola University, Ekiti State Nigeria. Singing, dancing and watching movies are her favorite pastimes.

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