By Christopher Oji and Chinelo Obogo
Local and foreign travelers as well as workers were stranded, yesterday, as students in their hundreds barricaded all entry and exit routes at the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Ikeja, to mount pressure on the Federal Government to resolve the over seven months industrial strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
The students on the platform of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) said the protest, which grounded commercial activities and led to cancelling and rescheduling of flights was only a preamble, adding that it was ready to go on a week-long protest till government accedes to its demands on the resolution of the strike.
The students’ national body had earlier threatened to ground activities at the local and international airports across the country, beginning from yesterday as part of the #EndASUUStrikeNow which started with the shutting down of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the main carriage in the Ibadan metropolis.
The protesters arrived at NAHCO junction enroute the Murtala Muhammed International Airport Expressway as early as 7am and condoned off the road leading to the international terminal and the airport tollgate with vehicles. They brandished banners with various inscriptions and chanted solidarity songs.
A team of security operatives led by the Deputy Commissioner of Police Airport Command, Sunday Kayode and Nigerian Air Force (NAF), Commandant, Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, were on ground to ensure the protest was not hijacked. One of the student leaders, Afeez Babateye, assured the security officers that the protest would remain peaceful as long as they were not molested by security operatives.
However, many passengers whose vehicles were denied assess to the Lagos airport terminals were seen trekking to the terminal carrying their luggage on their heads while others dragged theirs.
An official of Air Peace told Daily Sun that many of their flights had to be rescheduled because several of their passengers and even some of their crew were held up in the gridlock for hours and were forced to trek to get to the airport.
Spokesperson of Arik Air, Ola Banji, confirmed that the airline had to reschedule some of its flights to accommodate passengers that were stuck.
Spokesperson for the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, Faithful Hope-Ivbaze, told newsmen that the protest was a peaceful one but that security was beefed up around the airport.
At press time, Public Relations Officer of the Airport Command of the Nigeria Police, DSP Ojelade Olayinka, told Daily Sun: “The students blocked the road, protesting their fundamental human rights, so we don’t need to use maximum force on them, but they should not overdo things. The government and the whole world have heard their complaints, so they should not disturb other people’s rights. We are still appealing to them to give peace a chance and leave the road. We are not using maximum force but making appeals. I know that very soon, they will calm down.”
In addition to the airports, NANS said it was ready to ground the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Third Mainland Bridge also in Lagos.
According to a statement by the chairman of National Taskforce on #EndASUUStrikeNow, Ojo Raymond: “We are using this medium to reiterate that this protest continues and that we will not for any reason back down until Federal Government takes the educational sector as a priority. It is quite pathetic that the Federal Government is making use of the armed forces to quench a genuine struggle of Nigerian students despite the fact that these officers are also victims of the system whose children are also affected the same way we are.
“Today’s protest at Muritala Muhammed International Airport (domestic and international wings) is just a preamble of what is to come in days ahead. And, we are informing the general public and the international community to pay serious attention to this struggle because we have been duly informed of the plan of the Federal Government to mobilise heavily against this protest. This was even witnessed today as anti-riot police officers and men of the Air Force were mobilised to attack us not until they were prevented by the mass of Nigerian students. We maintain that this protest shall last a week here in Lagos State and would be held simultaneously at the Muritala Muhammed International Airport, Nigerian Ports Authority and the third mainland bridge until our demands are met.”
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