Over 1,000 students at the University of Ghana, Legon staged a demonstration on campus Thursday, calling for tighter security measures in the face of an escalating spate of gun violence.
At least three gun-point robberies have taken place at the University during three weeks of vicious crime. One lecturer was attacked in his campus bungalow, where his wife was shot; another student was shot on the balcony of his Sarbah Hall Annex B accommodation; whilst four students were robbed by armed, masked thieves in the Afronet internet café.
"Theft and mobile phone snatching started on campus about two semesters ago, but then they were using knifes and clubs to snatch the mobile phones from students,” says Frederick Tonyi Senayah, Acting President of the Students' Representative Council.
"Now they have graduated from knives to guns and cutlasses."
Kwame Gyan was one of the students robbed at Afronet café in Sarbah Hall Annex A. At about 12:30 am on Tuesday February 6, the internet facility was stormed by two men, one wearing a red mask. One of the robbers carried a machete, and the other a "locally manufactured shot gun," he told The Saturday Statesman.
Kwame"s mobile phone was on the table in front of him; it was grabbed by the men, along with the phones of two of the other three people in the room, all the belongings of the café attendant who had been sitting outside, including the entire day's cash earnings, and a laptop.
Emma, an Agric student from Sarbah Hall, was the only female in the café. "All I heard was, 'everybody down'… I didn't know what was happening; I thought maybe it was a joke or someone going to try some funny game on us. But then I saw that everyone was down, so I joined them on the floor."
In her confusion, Emma had thrown her phone under the table. "Then the one with the gun came to me and said, 'Where did you drop the phone?' 'It's under the table; just take it, take it'."
It took several minutes before the attendant was able to raise the alarm about the robbery. "Apparently, they had warned her that if she tried to make any noise, they would cut her into pieces."
"No one put up a fight so no one was injured," said Kwame; but these victims were lucky compared to other students on campus.
Two days later, Emma woke up to hear more screaming from the bungalows adjacent to Sarbah Hall Annex B. Two intruders, against welding a gun and a machete, had entered one of the bungalows.
One male National Service volunteer was caught off-guard - listening to music at about 4am on Thursday February 6, he was approached from behind and had his phone snatched. He tried to resist and in the struggle was dragged out onto the balcony by the machete-carrying thief, where the armed thief was waiting.
Farida Khailann is a close friend of the victims and was in the building at the time. She told The Saturday Statesman how another man friend, also a National Service volunteer, had ran onto the balcony to try to help. He was shot in the groin, suffering "very very very serious injury," according to the SRC president.
The victim was discharged from hospital on Thursday, although he had returned again for check-up when The Saturday Statesman contacted him yesterday. Friends say he is responding to treatment, "but you know how bad a gun shot wound is."
Many students now feel the situation is getting out of hand.
Abigail, a fourth year Computer Science student, said that another phone left had taken place the night before. "We are scared; everyone is scared," she said.
Richard, a level 400 student, joined in with Thursday's demonstration. "The violence is getting worse," he told The Saturday Statesman, pointing to a spot close to the Standard Charter ATM machine in the centre of campus where a student was shot last week.
"The place is becoming empty at night; this used to be a 24 hour university, with students working and using the libraries at all times. But now people are reluctant to walk around at night because it's getting too dangerous."
"The University authorities have really let us down. When we are here, we have no parents; so they are our parents and they have a responsibility for our security. They are not living up to our expectations."
In a petition presented to University authorities Thursday, Senayah writes on behalf of the student body. They are demanding, as a matter of urgency, massive improvement in the lighting system on campus, most especially around the area around the athletic oval, Commonwealth Hall, new N-Block, college of Agric and Consumer Sciences and the routes leading to the Ghana hotels and the Jubilee Hall.
They insist that the current university security system becomes more professional and purpose-driven.
They want telephone hot-lines provided in the various halls of residence, staff residences and departments, and ask that the university introduce police patrols on the university campus, especially between the hours of 6pm and 6am.
"The entry points we have on campus are too many," says Senayah, who believes that the majority of robberies are being committed by non-students. "They always enter from the Nogutchi area – we have so fence there, no security, it is dark and easy to get in."
Such is the level of concern amongst University students that they have issued an ultimatum; "If after one week we see no change in the security situation on campus, we shall advice ourselves accordingly."
Asked as to the likely nature of further action, Senayah hinted that the next step could be more violent demonstration.
Armed robberies are also an increasing problem at the country's other tertiary institutions. An attack by armed thieves on the village of Amamoma near the University of Cape Coast in early February reignited concerns about security on campus and its environments.
The armed attack on a group of non-resident students reportedly lasted about three hours with one of the victims hospitalised with serious cutlass wounds.