Protesting student killed during police confrontation

The funeral took place last week of a student who died during student protests which had led to confrontations with police at Abdou Moumouni University in Niamey. The university was closed for five days, and more than 80 students were charged with taking part in an illegal demonstration and other offences, but were acquitted.

The student union, USN, claimed Mala Bagalé Kelloumi had died after being hit by a teargas grenade, but authorities asserted he had fallen and there was no connection with police operations, reported Radio France Internationale, or RFI.

Thousands of students, relatives and friends attended the funeral of Kelloumi, and Ousseïni Sambo of the USN demanded the country’s president apologise to the union and send condolences to his family, reported RFI.

Unrest had been growing at the university since September, when students went on strike to protest against their working conditions, reported RFI. On 4 October they erected barricades in front of their campus, blocking traffic, and police were called in.

The students spelt out their grievances then, including demands for new classrooms that had remained unbuilt for up to four years; lack of lecturers, who in any case were “always working for the ministries” and were insufficiently qualified; and “total lack of security” on the campus.

Later in the year police were summoned when students at the universities of Zinder and Maradi also voiced their discontent, demanding back payments of their grants and protesting at their teachers’ strike that had lasted several months, reported RFI.

Students at Maradi burned tyres and erected barricades. Police reacted with teargas, and rioting spread to nearby schools. A Maradi student representative said there had been tens of arrests and some injuries.

RFI reported being told by the higher education minister that the government was planning extra funding in the 2017 budget to deal with the problems identified by the students.

The Niamey campus, which accommodates 23,000 students, was closed on 10 April following the incidents during which violent clashes took place and Kelloumi died.

The National Commission of Human Rights met all parties concerned to try to renew dialogue between the students and government, and AJAN, the association of young Niger lawyers, met 17 of about 60 students who had been arrested and demanded their immediate release, reported RFI.

The campus of Abdou Moumouni University was closed down, but the higher education minister Mohamed Ben Omar told RFI that there would be no “wasted university year”, and his door remained open. “Concerning the [students’] claims, none of them stands up. I have explained in full, the grants are in the process of being paid; for Abdou Moumouni University there remains only one faculty, about 500 grant-holders, who are now being paid,” he said.

He told RFI there was a state social benefit for students not receiving grants which required legislation before it could be paid. “But we remain open, my office is open, all my colleagues are there. We are ready to talk at any time.”

The university reopened five days later, and 83 students appeared in court on 14 April charged with taking part in an illegal demonstration, blocking circulation and rebellion against state authority. They were acquitted, and 17 were released immediately, reported RFI.

This article is drawn from local media. University World News cannot vouch for the accuracy of the original reports.