Stampede at exam venue leaves injured students hospitalised

A compulsory assessment for first-year students at the University of Calabar (UNICAL) in Nigeria’s south had to be suspended until further notice following a stampede at the examination centre that left at least 22 students injured.

Professor Florence Banku Obi, the vice-chancellor of UNICAL, told University World News that the institution would take steps to avoid a similar incident in the future.

The general studies and communication skills (GSS) exam – a computer-based assessment for students from various faculties (education, arts and social science) – was scheduled to be taken in groups from 9 to 11 November, but a number of students, who could not complete theirs on Friday, 10 November, due to rainfall, were supposed to sit for the exam on Saturday.

University World News learned that, on Saturday, security officials could not control the sizeable crowd at the examination centre and the pushing and shoving snowballed into a stampede as the students desperately struggled to find their way into the venue.

In multiple viral videos of the incident, several unconscious students are seen and are being rushed into a waiting ambulance and a pickup van en route to hospitals.

The Nigeria Union of Campus Journalists (NUCJ) at UNICAL said at least 22 students, including a pregnant woman, sustained injuries and were admitted at the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH) and the school’s medical centre.

“[The doctor on duty] during our visit reported various injuries, including seizures, fractures and bruises. [She said] two individuals were in critical condition and X-ray results were pending. However, all patients were responding well to treatment, with the pregnant lady receiving proper care in a separate ward,” the NUCJ said in an incident report released by its editor, Mfonma Afangideh, and president of the NUCJ, Sandra Michael.

Strategies to avoid another stampede

Jolayemi Mayowa, the director of information of the student union government at UNICAL, said the vice-chancellor visited the five students who have remained in hospital on Sunday, 12 November, adding that, “they are fine and will be discharged soon”.

Mayowa said the students’ body will meet with the university management in the coming days to map out strategic measures to prevent a recurrence.

Vice-chancellor Obi said: “We looked at the footage of what happened and it was a very sad incident. It wasn’t that the crowd was too big, but rather a question of the students refusing to organise themselves. The number of computers in the hall is enough; it was just that the students were not patient enough.

“We use the same centre for post-UTME [Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination] exams [for admission seekers]. I don’t know why [when] fewer than 12,000 students were to write an exam [GSS] there was a stampede.

“Going forward, we will sensitise students more to ensure that they always keep to the GSS examination schedules. I have held a meeting with those involved and we discussed security measures. We will bring more security personnel to coordinate the exam.”

Students blame poor coordination

Some injured students, who have been discharged from the hospital, shared their experiences with University World News. One of them, Ima Felix, collapsed in the crowd.

“I saw death, but God saved me. I was rushed to the hospital [the UCTH]. I couldn’t breathe. I had an asthma attack and it was terrible. The exam hall has a capacity of about 450, but thousands of students from three faculties were scheduled for the exam on Saturday. Being the last day, everybody was impatient to gain entrance into the exam hall,” she said.

Another student, Blessing Uka, said she fainted and was rushed to the UCTH where she was revived.

“I was grateful I did not die. The crowd was extremely big at [the examination] centre, so the pushing and dragging led to so many serious injuries. Many people were rushed to the hospital. Some students were seriously bleeding,” Uka added.

Nsikak Ibatt, who graduated from the university in 2022, explained that proper coordination would have averted the stampede, lamenting that a similar incident occurred last year (2022).

He advised the school management to review the exam timetable and to ensure that the computers are in good condition.

“The school has all the students on its database. The central timetable planning committee should use this as a tool to aid them in drafting out timetables for [the] GSS exams. The exam is here to stay, which is not a bad idea. However, it is sad that the school does not have the exact number of sound computers that can cover registered students for a faculty, let alone four faculties.

“What led to this stampede was that students who had exams [on Saturday] came to the venue to find other students who were scheduled [to write earlier] but were yet to start [with their assessment]. This unhealthy condition for Nigerian students is avoidable. If nothing is done, next year will be worse than this,” Ibatt said.