We Need a Cleanup of the Mob Justice in Universities

Life has become very cheap. The way David Otim Ojok, a former student of Makerere University and a software developer, lost his life at the hands of some rogue residents of Nkrumah hall, is how easy it has become to decide who lives or dies.

Otim was no stranger to Nkrumah hall. He was a computer student in the same university he had dealt with some of the students when he repaired their computers on credit. Those who know him claim that he had gone to look for someone who owed him Shs 500,000 but had been elusive with payment.

Many students of Makerere have a false sense of entitlement. They feel the world owes them a big favour and they should always have their way. That is why when they are given money by their parents or benefactors to pay tuition fees, they instead decide to spend it in bars or on football betting and then later claim that the university is behaving arbitrarily in demanding 60 per cent of the tuition fees in the first six weeks of the semester.

It is now the students who determine how the university is governed they decide when to pay and not pay fees. When the university administration attempts to resist this, the disruptive and violent strikes follow.

The story of having free things and answering demands for dues with violence are not new in the university. I remember in my earlier years at the university for my first degree, there was a cranky student from Mitchell hall. He was in the habit of picking sex workers from or around Ange Noir discotheque. He never paid for the services.

He would represent himself as a rich man from Wandegeya. He never used to drive so, most of the times, he would seek cab services. But he never had money to pay the cabs either. What he would do was to ask the sex worker to pay the cab driver on an understanding that she would be reimbursed when they arrive at their destination.

Many sex workers fell for this ruse and later were embarrassed for their kindness. To a stranger, Mitchell hall looked like a block of apartment, and some sex workers were not sophisticated enough to tell the difference between a private residence and a students, hall of residence.

These sleep-over sex workers would usually be led out of the hall at about 8am. This student would lead the woman out of the hall on the understanding that he would pay for her services (already enjoyed) and refund the money paid to the cab driver at the exit – as they exchange farewell hugs. It was never to be.

The student would lead the sex worker closer to the gate and then pretend as if he had forgotten his wallet in the room. So, he would ask the sex worker to wait at the gate as he returns to pick the wallet. It was at this time that the student would signal to his other fellow students to shout at and harass the woman out of the premises.

They would shout: “Malaya vva wano, tugenda kukuba”, meaning prostitute get out of here, or we beat you up. It would be total confusion for the sex worker. First, she wouldn’t be able to tell who fleeced her. She wouldn’t be able to recall the room number and even if she did, she was never be allowed to return to the hall.

It is not easy to trace your way back to those labyrinth corridors of the hall, especially if you went there at night and for the first time. Others used to do something similar to cab drivers whom they just abandoned at either the main gate or gates of halls of residence.

I am told a similar thing happened to Otim. He had gone to demand what was owed to him, but the dishonest students decided to label him a thief, well-knowing what could befall him if such information is picked by idle students.

But why do students turn violent to solve social problems? And why do they think they are untouchable and they have the monopoly of violence? The inspector general of police, General Kale Kayihura, has been recruiting and training some of them into crime preventers. One would have thought that this training should have had impact in the way students conduct themselves.

The crime preventers are supposed to detect and prevent crime in their localities. It appears the idea of crime preventers in the university has a different meaning. Again, there was a clash between Makerere and Kyambogo students last week. What is worrying is that while some students pretended to be interested in watching the match, some of them carried stones and other violence tools to the pitch.

They even had articles, which looked like axes, metallic pipes and broken bottles. Why on earth would police allow such a match to take off when the signs are that violence is most likely to reign? University students ought to put their act together.

The police should do their work and bring to book those who killed Otim. He must not die in vain. The gusto which they have used to investigate high-profile murder cases should be used in this case as well.

The students should also know that they owe nobody any favour. They are just students who went to the university to seek knowledge and skills that might be useful to them in future. And you can imagine how barbaric it is for a university student to choose mob justice to settle personal scores! And the students should know that when it comes to criminal liability, any person involved is liable individually.

The author is the finance director, The Observer Media Ltd.

Source : The Observer

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