ABUJA (AFP) – Nigerian police fired teargas at teachers and students and shot live rounds into the air as they tried to disperse a rally over college closures on Tuesday, protesters said.
The march, in the capital Abuja, was called by two academic unions who have been on strike for several months, but protesting teachers were also joined by a number of students.
Despite the stand-off, no one was reported injured during the protest.
The organisers of the rally, the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) and the Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU), have been demanding facility improvements at a range of technical colleges across the country.
The march, which the unions said involved about 100 people, began at Abuja’s Eagle Square — which is often the site of political rallies — before moving towards the parliament, where organisers had planned to formally present their grievances to lawmakers.
“As we were about crossing the road to the Memorial Arcade, the policemen who barricaded the road started shooting live bullets, tear gas canisters and they are using their water can vehicles to disperse the crowd,” Tunde Lawal, a teacher at the rally, told AFP.
He said the security forces had tried to prevent the rally from reaching the National Assembly.
An AFP reporter saw two police vehicles and dozens of armed officers barricading the road that leads to the assembly complex.
A police officer at the scene, who requested anonymity, described the incident as a “very serious battle.”
“It involved the use of everything to disperse the protest,” he said, although he added that no one was injured.
Teachers at state-run technical colleges say they have been forced to work in buildings with decaying facilities, and lack the infrastructure and support to teach effectively.
The walk-out on Tuesday was latest in a series of strikes which have crippled parts of Nigeria’s post-secondary education system.
A six-month nationwide strike by university lecturers last year piled pressure on the government of President Goodluck Jonathan, which has been accused of presiding over the further decline of public education in the country.
Lecturers involved in that protest only went back to work after the government pledged to honour a 2009 agreement guaranteeing a series of facility improvements.