A 500 level student of Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa University, Bauchi narrates his experience during and after bridge collapsed in Gubi Campus of the university recently as result of flooding that reverged the passing bridge.
By Rilwan Muhammad
I wouldn’t know the intensity of the rainfall hadn’t I spring to my feet to feel what the breeze outside the four walls of the classroom I used as my reading venue was like.
But I was also exhausted from the four or so hour reading I did in the morning. I felt I wanted to stretch my legs.
It was a downpour, I concluded when I stepped outside the class.
As a 500Level student in a heavy-teaching university like ATBU, one must tighten one’s belt and swot-up to face the academic chores and challenges that come with being a final year student.
In addition to the good number of courses (9) I take as a fifth year student of Agricultural Economics and Extension, I’m simultaneously doing my research works for my project and non-project seminar. And the realisation that any slight mistake would mean additional year was what informed my decision to go back to class at night, after having read for hours in the morning of the fateful day.
Monday (August 5th, 2019)
I wasn’t having any exams to write on Monday, so I decided to allocate the best part of my time in serious reading.
As I woke-up in the morning of the fateful day, I took my breakfast – which was, of course, nothing beyond the normal breakfast of any average student – and made my way to class.
While on way to class, I hadn’t decided on what venue to use for reading, and that was because there were students from other levels taking examinations. “Should I wait for them to finish the examinations and then I use one of the classes? Should I take to the university library and read there? of the two options my mind had offered, the latter was the one I didn’t hesitate rejecting.
Going to library would mean taking nearly 25minutes of trek. “Let me reach the classes first and see if there is any unoccupied class.” I concluded.
I was still debating within myself when I reached the very pedestrian steel bridge that, until its collapse on August 5th, 2019, had been used by students, especially during the rainy season when water flowing beneath the bridge would have been too much to make easy the passage of students.
The bridge had been faulty for some weeks, perhaps because the users of the bridge were now beyond the bridge’s carrying capacity.
In 2017 when I was in 300Level, Gubi campus was only a home for two faculties – faculty of Agriculture and Agricultural Technology and faculty of Technology Education – and a college of medical sciences. Then, only male students were inhabitants of the hostels of Gubi campus. Female students would only come for lectures, and by 4-5p.m., they would have gone back to the other campus – Yelwa campus.
Now that female students have been moved to Gubi campus and another faculty – Management Sciences – the surmisal that the construction of another bridge was necessary was anything anyone with a clear foresight would draw.
Sure the bridge was safe for use after its repair by the leadership of the Students’ Union Government (SUG) of the university, I crossed the bridge, exerting all my little force as I stepped on each step of the bridge.
While at my faculty, I managed to take the risk of spending time looking for an empty class. They have finished the exams, I surmised when I saw the classes empty.
So, at least I was saved the effort of going to the library.
I decided on which class to use, found a seat, sat and started doing the business.
Since the final draft of my exams timetable was out, the choice as to what to read was made less stressful.
I slid my hands into the little briefcase I brought with and fetched the printout of Agri-Business Management and Finance. I read till I understood I had attained my tolerable comprehension limit. I then packed, said “Zuhr” prayers at a mosque in proximity to my faculty and led my way to hostel.
After the usual boring trek, I was at the hostel, in the comfort of my room to have a nap.
Just before the sun set, yours truly was on his way back to class again. I sauntered into my faculty and as was like me, I found a place and sat at the edge of the last seat in the class, and then went on the business.
I continued to read for hours, with only a few breaks to observe “Magrib” and “I’sha” prayers.
Everyone in the class was minding their business; only a little noise could be heard: I was happy.
My attention only got distracted after a certain girl had materialised. She wasn’t talking to me; she was talking to her, perhaps, colleague, but the murmur had successfully succeeded in taking my mind off what I was reading.
“I hate noise, especially when reading,” I cursed with a whisper only my bones could hear.
“Sannu, ina wuni”, a voice, which I understood as the girl’s (the one that was distracting me), greeted.
She was some looker, so I didn’t brook any hesitation answering her greeting. “Lafiya,” I responded. I asked whether she was going to use the space beside me, and her answer was in affirmation. I quickly got up, allowing her take the space beside me.
I wasn’t in the mood to talk her into agreeing to spare a minute with me in a conversation, so I pretended as though a girl of her appreciable looks wasn’t seated beside me.
As minutes dragged to hours, a friend and roommate, Shitu, was asking for a key to our room. He was sleepy, he complained. I handed him the key and continued to focus on the note I was going through. A few hours after my friend’s departure, rain began to pelt down in torrents.
The class I was in was, perhaps, designed in such a way as to absorb sound. The sound of the raindrops hitting the roof I didn’t seem to hear, until minutes after the establishment of the rain, and that was after 11p.m.
I was tired. I decided to go out for a walk to reinvigorate my feeble body so I could continue reading all the night.
Approaching the door and placing my hand on the door knob to jack it open, I was greeted by an absorbing cold that could activate a serious catarrh.
I returned and sat and continued reading, ignoring my aching bones.
It was minutes after 11p.m. already. Many students were tired and wanted to call the reading off, but the rain wasn’t ready to cease. The girl seated beside me was, I understood, more than exhausted; she wanted to go and take some respite. She grabbed hold of her writing materials and signaled to her colleague to take their leave.
It was a torrential rainfall, and they only had to go out to confirm that it was. The duo, certain they couldn’t dare walk in the rain, decided to shield themselves under a roof, and they were back in the class.
A few minutes later, the rain was ceasing. I was out to stretch my aching legs, and only while I was there, that girl (I now was becoming a friend to) and her friend were on a second attempt to go back to hostel.
“You are going in this rain!” I summoned the courage to caution her, but her reply that they were going in spite of the rain left me thinking of the quantum of the risk that there was in going to hostel in that dead night and in rain and only in their two’s. “Why don’t you exercise a little more patience till the rain ceased?” I volunteered to warn, but they were far gone to make sense of my voice, which was subdued by the pelting rain. “Their decision.” I said in a soliloquy as I returned to the class, sat and continued to read.
Engrossed in reading, I didn’t seem to notice a certain girl’s entering the class. It was the girl’s increasing voice, accompanied by gasping, that invited my attention to what she was saying. ”There was overflow of water. We couldn’t cross the bridge,” the girl was saying.
“So the rain was this torrential that the bridge was blocked by water so much that it couldn’t be crossed by its users!” I said, my attention totally taken off from what I was reading.
The news soon diffused into the class and everybody was not his/herself. And that was around 11:40p.m. Then we didn’t hear of any loss of life.
I pretended to be reading, but in reality I was only watching and flipping the pages of the printout that was before me, not in the least understanding a thing out of what I was reading.
At exactly 12a.m. (August 6th, 2019), my friend, Zahraddeen ZMB, waved at me, asking whether I would join them walk back to hostel. I didn’t hesitate joining them.
The crowd that gathered itself at the entrance of my faculty was an indication that the bridge and the pedestrian route were not passable. The crowd – a composition of students (male and female) from different faculties – was unruly; some were cursing the person behind the movement of the university to a dungeon called “Gubi”, some were shouting and some keeping mum.
We joined the crowd but didn’t join in the rantings.
“Many have lost lives,” “no fewer than 10 died.” “The bridge has collapsed with students on it.” these students were saying in rage.
Since the figure – 10 – didn’t come from authorities concerned, I wasn’t in for it, but one thing: I was shocked by the news.
We waited for the rain to cease, but it was ceaseless.
“Why don’t we go back to class and shield ourselves.” I suggested to my friend. Minutes later, we decided to take the long route; the main road that linked some of the buildings and student hostels.
The fact that one would, on the average, spend 30 – 40minutes before one gets to the hostel was the reason the road wasn’t usually used by students, especially in the night.
Walking on the road, with our trousers folded about our knees and conversing and lamenting about the tragic incident, we covered the distance that ordinarily would have been arduous to cover within that short time.
Back in the hostel, the environment was rowdy; everyone, including those that were not at the scene, was giving narrations.
I changed and sprawled on my mattress, and only then did it dawn on me that Ahmad, one of our roommates, wasn’t in the room. I placed a call to his number, but it wasn’t reachable. Different thoughts began to attack us: “where must he be?” “Is he safe?” Minutes later, there was Ahmad, jacking our door open. Only then, the thought of that girl that insisted that she must go in the rain assailed my mind. “May she be safe.” I prayed.
The atmosphere was too rowdy for one to sleep, and besides, what peace of mind had one when one’s colleagues were reported dead? That was how we spent the rest of the hours with our eyes widely open in mourning.
While we were in the comfort of our room, some students were out on a voluntary rescue mission together with the medical team of the university. I was scared to be out, so I remained indoors.
Barely before 5p.m. I fell asleep and had a brief sleep. I was awoken to the noise of students who were lamenting their displeasures. The Dean of students had come, and while giving out his speech in an attempt to lull the grief of students, he, it was gathered, made a goof, which the students saw as uncalled for.
There at the university clinic, the SUG president was granting audience to newsmen amidst angry mob that started a protest, bucking blames on the university management for not constructing a good bridge.
A phone call with the SUG president, he told me how he narrowly escaped the wrath of the mob.
It was only then that I became aware of the riot that was ongoing. I refused to join. Later, witnesses confirmed how the mob angrily annihilated billboards, shattered glasses of the university clinic and destroyed parts of some building in the university.
It continued like that until security personnel were deployed to contain the situation. A little of teargas, and the mob was lulled down.
Back at the hostel, students were busy narrating their experiences. Some of our colleagues in Agric disclosed that they were on the second step of the bridge when it collapsed. It was a first-hand information we received from them.On how they managed to escape, they hardly could tell.
Around 12p.m. on Tuesday (August 6th, 2019), only a few students remained in the hostel, that followed a notice by the university management asking students to vacate the two campuses – Yelwa and Gubi.
Seeing how students were leaving in hundreds, we sprang into action, arranging our luggage, books and what have you.
Prior to this time, I received calls from my brother (who also sojourns in Gubi campus) asking me to vacate as soon as would be possible as police were at the gate, firing teargas. My brother was afraid lest something nasty would happen again, so he insisted that I leave. He has already vacated the campus, he confirmed to me.
We trekked to the gate with our luggage, and luckily we were given a lift by one of our lecturers. That saved us the minutes of waiting for a shuttle bus that would convey us to town.
We were alighted at Awala, and from there we boarded motorcyclists; my friend going to “Wuntin Dada” area of Bauchi, and yours truly to “Fadaman Mada.”
Authorities in the university later confirmed the number of dead persons and those injured and asked students who couldn’t trace their relatives or colleagues to report to the security office of the university.
While all this was happening, the SUG president was at the police headquarters with other authorities of the university and commissioner of police of Bauchi state.
On Wednesday (August 7th, 2019), delegation from the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) arrived Bauchi for a condolence visit to ATBU.
On Thursday (August 8th, 2019), the delegation of the NANS led by the president, Comr. Danielson Akpan, met and had a session with the leadership of the SUG of ATBU and the management of the university.
Before the meeting, the delegation of the NANS, together with the leadership of SUG, was at the scene of the incident.
On Friday (August 9th, 2019), the Pro-chancellor briefed newsmen and later had a press conference at the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) secretariat, Bauchi state.
While this was happening, a committee set up by the university – Fact-Finding Committee – was coaxing out information from the SUG president and other students who claimed to be eyewitnesses.
Barely before noon, I was at the NUJ secretariat at the request of the SUG president, who later showed at the conference room after having excused the committee to attend another function.
Later in the evening, we bade farewell to the NANS delegation.
As one of the aides of the SUG president of ATBU, the days – Monday to Friday – had been tiresome; writing releases, answering calls and whatnot.
Since the occurrence of the incident, we hadn’t time to attend to our personal chores; only on Saturday, and that was when I sought to take leave of Bauchi to my hometown, Dukku, Gombe state.
Rilwan Muhammad is a 500L student of the department of Agricultural Economics and Extension, faculty of Agriculture and Agricultural Technology, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi