There is confusion in Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT) after about 13 students reportedly died of strange illness within a few weeks.
ESUT is located in Agbani, Nkanu West Local Government Area of Enugu State, South-east Nigeria.
It is owned by the Enugu State Government.
Some students confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that several of their colleagues have died in recent times, but they were uncertain of the illness responsible for their deaths.
“We don’t know the cause of the deaths. Even some people I asked said they don’t know either,” Ekene Nnamani, a graduating student of mass communication in the institution, told PREMIUM TIMES.
“Many have died (of the strange illness),” he added.
A 400-level student of law of the institution said at least 13 persons have died of the strange illness recently.
“One of the people (victims) was a girl in our hotel who died recently. She died at ESUT Teaching Hospital Enugu where she was taken to,” the student said.
‘Shut ESUT now’
Reacting to the mysterious deaths on the campus, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) South-east Zone, asked the institution’s management to shut the school immediately to save lives.
In a statement on Wednesday by its Regional Coordinator, Chidi Nzekwe, NANS said it was concerned by the frequent deaths of students in the university.
“Our investigations have shown a high level of negligence on the part of the school administration, ranging from non-functional students’ clinic, which is a major factor for the unfortunate deaths of our students,” the group said.
“In the light of these disturbing findings, the leadership of NAN Zone F has taken a decision to order the immediate shutdown of the institution from tomorrow 24 August 2023, till further notice.
“This action is necessary to engage in extensive meetings with relevant stakeholders including the university management, medical experts, security agencies and students’ representatives,” it added.
University authority reacts
The Dean of Students Affairs Department of the institution, Jude Udenta, in a statement on Thursday, condemned the students’ union for calling for a shutdown of the school.
Mr Udenta, a professor, said contrary to the speculations, only five students have been confirmed dead.
The dean said it was “unfortunate and distressful” that the institution had been pushed to discuss publicly the “circumstances of the deaths of our beloved students.”
He said, contrary to speculations that the victims all died of a strange illness, one of the students, who died last weekend, lost his life in a motorcycle accident.
He explained that among the deceased students, he was the only student who died within the university campus.
“The case of two young ESUT students who died somewhere in a lodge in Enugu town is still under investigation. What could we have done to stop the tragedy?
“Meanwhile, immediately we got the information, we held meetings with our security committee on these matters. We asked them to sensitise all off-campus students about use of generators and such other risk factors,” Mr Udenta said.
“About the remaining two cases still under investigation, they were said to have died of certain undisclosed ailments which they tried to tackle in town through self-medication,” he added.
The dean said the university authority has asked pastors to pray for divine intervention to bring “an end to such tragedies” on campus.
Enugu govt orders investigation
Meanwhile, the Enugu State Government has ordered an investigation into the deaths in the university.
A delegation of the state government led by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Chidiebere Onyia, disclosed this during a visit to the institution on Friday.
Mr Onyia, a professor, said the government decided to go beyond an earlier directive to the State Commissioner for Health, Emmanuel Obi, to investigate the institution and its medical facility, because of its genuine concern about the welfare of students.
“The governor is concerned and has asked that we come here for a preliminary fact-finding mission concerning what we have read on the social media, and a few of them were also communicated to us directly as it regards the concerns they have about the medical facilities.
“He has asked us to find out what is going on with the state of the facilities and the veracity of a few comments made on social media through NANS. So, we have decided as a government, to visit, to make sure that we are open to getting information from students, and from the citizens generally,” the SSG said.
On his part, the State Commissioner for Health, Mr Obi, a professor, said the reports of the deaths in the university were still yet to be verified.
The commissioner stressed that his team at the Ministry of Health swung into “investigative operation” immediately they got the information of the strange deaths.
“The moment the information came, we started by sending the disease surveillance and notification officer in Nkanu West Local Government of which Agbani is one. The officer has investigated and reported to the ministry, and the ministry has also done its own preliminary investigation.
“For this time, the report is that we still have independent unrelated cases of deaths that have included students of ESUT as a university,” he said.
Also speaking, the Vice-Chancellor of the institution, Aloysius Okolie, claimed that the “fake news” was spread by some students who had lost in an election held on17 July and wanted to blackmail the university.
Mr Okolie, a professor, however, admitted that some students and non-students outside the university environment died as a result of “varying factors” such as accidents and terminal illnesses, among others.
“We had to trace the deaths. Formerly, we had a case of two deaths, and we are aware of what happened at an off campus at GRA, ESUT College of Medicine, where a lady and her boyfriend were in a room and one of them died and the other survived. The provost said as soon as they finish the autopsy, the report will be on my table.
“The one that the registrar also reported to me was said to have died somewhere in Abia State, and that she had been away for three months. We got the contact of the family, wrote a condolence letter and approved the sum of N100,000 for the family,” he said.
“Then there was a former National Youth Service Corps member that reported from the South-west and left on the grounds of being sick, and three months later, she died. We sent our condolence letter and some sum of money.
“The other one that happened was an accident in Enugu. The student went to church in Enugu and had an accident on the way back and died. Another lady that had been battling a terminal disease, anemia, died and we saw it on social media,” the vice-chancellor added.
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