Africa Speaks: Martyrs 1

Aerial view of Niamey and Kennedy bridge, Niger 1992
Photo © Maurice Ascani BP 12012 Niamey

Contents: Strike and Aftermath . . . Black Friday . . . Student Politics . . . My Uncle's Advice . . .
Anniversary . . . A Weekend in Hell . . . home page

Strike and Aftermath

Amadou Gazaly Alkassoum: Feb 8, 1991

The students were on strike and didn't go to school for a month, yet the government had not taken any decision on our demands.

Some students felt they had lost too much time, and they wanted to return to school even though their demands had not been satisfied. However, most students felt that to break the strike would be a great treachery. So a conflict arose between the students, mainly between the faculty of medicine, and all the other faculties.

The medical students decided to return to school. We warned them we would force them to stay with us by any means, even violence. Despite our warning, they returned to school.

So we organized a demonstration. We walked toward the faculty of medicine, in order to make the students get out of class. We did not plan to resort to violence, but we wanted to discuss and talk our our concerns. But when they saw us coming toward them they panicked and locked their gates.

They quickly organized themselves by collecting helmets from owners of motorbikes, and they formed several groups of students, armed with clubs, stones, knives, and well protected by helmets. They made a dense barrier of humans, in order to prevent us from getting into the courtyard of the faculty.

Unfortunately, the peaceful encounter turned violent, because when they prevented us from getting in, we tried to enter by force. A great battle ensued: projectiles made from anything that could be thrown without difficulty were flying in both directions. Some students fell down when hit by the projectiles, others were struggling to open the gate, or to climb over the walls, but they were attacked and beaten by the medical students who were on the other side of the wall in the medical faculty courtyard.

After almost half an hour, the battle ended when three lorries full of soldiers arrived. The crowd disappeared and we could see the students running in all directions.

After a while, we realized that the soldiers hadn't followed us. They did not even get out of the lorries, and we were informed that the soldiers would not attack us unless we touched government property, mainly the cars, the building, or the Hospital of CHU. Thus we returned again toward the medical students, but this time we pleaded with them to open the gate and organize an emergency meeting in order to discuss the problem. But they refused to open the gate under any circumstances.

Then we retuend to the main campus, very angry. We decided to take out our anger by doing a bad act that we regretted as intellectuals. We collected all the lecture notes of the medical students who had participated in the battle, and who lived among us in the campus, and burned all their notebooks and notes.

The government condemned us. It was said on the radio that the faculty of medicine was attacked by its brothers (the other faculties), which caused serious damage: gates and windows were broken, important academic materials were burned, and some students were hurt.

After we atacked the faculty of medicine, the days seemed short, and the nights very long, because all the students were anxious and afraid of an eventual repression by the police, because we had shocked the government. The students who had family in Niamey left the campus and returned home in order to be safe. The students who had no family in town, stayed at the campus at the mercy of the police violence.

Every day that passed felt like a victory, because it distanced us from fear of an eventual attack by the police. Two days passed since the attack with no action from the police, and we concluded that nothing would happend in the future because until now the government had not reacted, apart from the initial condemnation.

But on the third day, in the wee hours of the morning--the clock had already rung five o'clock--I was awakened by a noise that seemed like shouting, and like persons running in the building. My roommate seemed not to have heard the noise because he was still snoring. I quickly woke him, and he was the first to see what was the cause of the confusion, because he opened the window that was above his bed and saw the scene while I was still getting dressed. He quickly got out of his bed and jumped into his clothes that were hung on a nail on the wall.

I realized that something serious was happening, probably an attack by the soldiers. I opened the door and saw a group of soldiers walking toward each door, pulling the students out and beating them and taking them to their lorries that were parked in front of the gates of the buildings.

I quickly shut the door and locked it by double turns of the key. The only other way out was the window. My roommate got out first and I followed him.

Fortunately for us the window led to a sort of garden made by the cook of the campus restaurant. It was not lit, and lay in the shadow of an unfinished wall. The darkness of the place allowed us to escape without being seen or caught by the police.

Copyright © 1998 Amadou Gazaly Alkassoum


View of Niger river and Kennedy bridge, University in distance,
from Grand Hotel, Niamey, Niger, 1992

Black Friday

Alassan Salissou: 12-21-90

This morning is a very bad one for me. In my bed, I begin to think deeply. A lot of images flow in my brain. Then suddenly I see the most horrible image. It is about our march of February the 9th, 1990.

On this day, early in the morning we were on the Kennedy bridge. A great crowd of students had formed to march to the presidential palace to peacefully demonstrate against the government. As we marched across the bridge, the students were crying "MNSD down!" " Ali Saibou down!" "IMF and World Bank Out!"

At the end of the bridge, we encountered a corps of policemen who were lined up to form a barrier. They would not let us cross. They said to us: "Hey! Students back! If not, we will shoot you!"

We responded in chorus: "If you are not women, shoot us!" We refused to go back.

Immediately, the police officer ordered: "Fire!"

Tear gas began to explode around our heads. But students who were prepared for such occasions took out their wet handkerchiefs and covered their faces.

The hundreds of students stayed on the bridge, and continued shouting: "Down the fascists! Down the fascists!" This peaceful demonstration went on for about an hour.

Then the police officer ordered his men to fire on us with real bullets. The policemen began to shoot. One, two three . . . three of our fellows were shot dead by these fascist forces.

All the students became furious and decided to die there on the bridge instead of turning their tails. We began to throw stones, but then other forces came--soldiers and presidential guards--and began to fire on us.

Many of our comrades were injured or shot dead. We call this day now "Black Friday."

Copyright © 1998 Alassan Salissou


Editor's notes: MNSD: the only political party in Niger at the time: Mouvement National de Societe de Developpement.
Ali Sibou: president of Niger, military dictator
IMF: International Monetary Fund. The IMF and World Bank are blamed for Niger's economic and political problems.

Student Politics

Moussa Yacouba 12/4/91

A few years ago I had great admiration for school in Niger. I found everything very easy, and everybody was happy at school. We worked in harmony. Teachers and students were friends. I had great expectations for higher studies.

When we passed our exams, we hoped that the desired path was open for us. Our first three weeks at University were full of happiness. We were eager to learn something from the people we met at school. Then one day we were asked to attend a meeting. This is when the troubles began.

At the end of the meeting, we were told that we would be going on strike, because of a serious academic problem. We were waked up the next day by whistles, and called to attend a "sit-in" at the Ministry of Education. Most of us were amazed at what was going on, but we felt obliged to participate because of the influence of the students' leaders. Yet, despite all these threats, some students stayed at the campus.

After the sit-in at the Ministry, our demands were not satisfied. Then students decided not to go to school unless their demands were fully satisfied. At the beginning of all this, it looked like a joke to me, and I said to myself, "It's just a token strike." But as things grew worse and worse, I began to take the matter very seriously.

At the end of the year, the academic year was declared void. We were very unhappy, and I lost all hope as far as studying is concerned.

I wish I had attended another school, abroad, where the motto of the people is Peace and Work.

Copyright © 1998 Moussa Yacouba


My Uncle's Advice

Assan Abdou 6-14-91

During the last holidays I visited my uncle who lives in a small village near Damergou, a high mountain. He is a famous charlatan, known all over the region. As it is a habit among us to take gifts when visiting, I bought some sugar and tea for him, and groundnuts and chocolate for his little children.

Early in the morning, I woke up and did my morning praise as usual. I went to say good morning to my parents and drank fura for my breakfast.

My mother gave me some advice: "You know that your uncle has great knowledge and he is also powerful. Don't be shy, ask him for something to protect yourself."

I knew this was the reason I was sent to visit him. It was said that he is capable of fighting with bad spirits, and he always wins the struggle. My mother told me that a long time ago he spent two days in the bush without eating and drinking and fought an evil spirit who brought misfortune in the region. I really wanted to see that strange and mysterious man because I had never met him, though I had thought about him many times.

I left my village and started my journey. The sky was cloudy and a cold wind was blowing. I found water and took a cold morning bath and continued on my way. Late in the afternoon, I saw three small roofs made of grass. It was the village. My journey was ended.

When I arrived at the village, I was welcomed by my uncle's wife, who, after greeting me, brought water and food. I was very tired and thirsty, so I ate and drank. I then asked for my uncle. She said he was out and she didn't know whether he was in the bush or at the farm.

After about half an hour, my uncle entered the compound carrying a load of wood on his back. He placed it in a corner behind his room and came straight to me. We shook hands and he said "I dreamed that I would have a visitor. It was you. I'm very happy to see you." He asked for news of my parents, grandparents, sisters and brothers. I said they were well and sent greetings to him and his family.

We did our evening praise together and then sat to talk. We talked about our family background, life in general, and then about current events.

He said, "My son, I'll help you to succeed and I can protect you against your enemies. I've heard about your student strike. It was very bad. How did it come about? Why did you go on strike? The government, as I know, gives you food and shelter and even money."

I began: "The reasons why we went on strike were numerous. First we asked the government to invest money in order to train our teachers. If they are better qualified, the quality of our learning will also improve."

He nodded and said, "That is true."

I went on: "Our libraries and laboratories should also be equipped, and other facilities need to be improved. As you know the number of students becomes greater and greater every year. The dorms and classrooms are not sufficient. We need more rooms. All men and women in this country have the right to go to school, but the government policy of education is breaking that law, especially in their "Project Education III," which will require poor parents to pay the school fees for their children. That means, in our opinion, that the children of the poor will never go to school. So we went the authorities to change the latest project, or replace it with another plan, or at least reach a compromise."

My uncle laughed and said: "All these things turn around money. Don't you know that the country has financial problems? The worldwide economic crisis can not permit the government to spend too much money on you. You know it too, but you refuse to face the fact."

I said that I agreed with him but there are things that he was ignoring. Our leaders are using politics for their own interests, not for the nation, as they claim many times. They steal and spend public funds for their own interests and after that they come back to the people and say, "We are in economic difficulties."

Just then his wife Ya Faji brought dinner. It was brabusko and miyal yakuawa. This delicious traditional meal is well known and greatly appreciated among the Kanuri people. I like it very much. So I ate very well that day. After that we drank some tea.

Then I continued. "Father," I said, "When the rhythm changes, the dance changes also. This world changes, our system of education should also change in order to satisfy the needs of the people. Instead of waiting for outsiders to come and help us, we should use what we have and do whatever is possible for our own interests. So we want the government to do all these things, not at the same time, but gradually.

" So, about the strike. We sent our delegates to negotiate with the government to see what is possible to do immediately, and how to satisfy these requests in general. But the president refused to welcome them. The second time, the president agreed to meet with the students, but he said that he cannot help us because he has no money. He then made a timid proposition. The government would build one classroom, and for the rest we must keep quiet. The third time we approached him, he sent an officer who said, 'If you disturb the public order we will do our duty.' That was clearly a warning to us."

"Now I understand why the police fired on you," my uncle said.

"In order to show our disagreement with the government we decided to demonstrate peacefully. We wanted people to be conscious of these serious problems. The students began to cross the bridge, but at the other side of the river we found policemen and Republican Guards ready to fire. We pressed forward anyway, but they began to shoot. Three students died, by official count. That was how things went."

My uncle said in a clear and loud voice, " I was told that your leaders are drunkards and they didn't take care of your interests. So be careful. I want you not to take part in that kind of demonstration. Do as the government wants you to do. It is for your own interests." He paused, and then said more quietly: "I was told that hundreds of students died, and others fell into the river, and many others had left the country. We were very anxious to hear about that. We thought you were dead. The president said you students were armed and you attacked the police. You even set fire to the police station. That was why they fired. Where and how did you get your weapons?"

I explained that the students have no weapons,  that our demonstration was peaceful. That was only a lie to justify their wild actions in the eyes of the people.

By now it was very late at night. My uncle asked me to follow him, and I did so. We left the village without talking to each other. After about half a mile we came to big tree. I was frightened because it was very dark. He ordered me to sit down.

He then began to talk in an incomprehensible way for a long time. It was as if he was angry. I noticed that he was carrying a cock. Suddenly he stopped and sat down in front of me. He dug a small hole, put some medicine powder in it, and slaughtered the animal. Its blood poured in the hole, and my uncle covered it.

Then my uncle raised his hands toward the sky and said, "My son has come to ask for protection. Make him powerful and successful." There were other things that I'm not allowed to tell because they are secret.

After the sacrifice we went back home. My uncle gave me some medicines and explained how to use them. He gave me a talisman and warned me never to leave it at home or throw it away. As soon as a dangerous thing will happen, I will become invisible. That is wonderful, I thought.

The following morning I said thanks to him and returned to my village, promising that I would go back to see him one day.

Editor's note: Charlatan: In Africa: a holy man, healer, sorcerer; not pejorative
Power: supernatural power]

Copyright © 1998 Assan Abdou


Camels crossing Kennedy Bridge, Niger River, evening, Niamey, 1992


Salifou Adjirami: 2/9/92

Sunday, February 9, 1992, was the second anniversary of the "Killing of February 9th, 1990" (la tuerie du 9 Fevrier 1990), in which three students and many were wounded during a peaceful demon stration on the Kennedy bridge.

Early in the morning, students, pupils, members of syndicates (unions), political parties, associations, and others, were mobilized to celebrate this second anniversary. It was a great event in the life of Niger because so many different Nigeriens--now called the "Democartic Forces"--came together at this popular meeting.

The first meeting took place at the Place of Martyrs (roundabout of the Kennedy bridge). This place was inauguated on the first anniversary of the killings, on Februrary 9, 1991. Many speeches were made, the most important being the President of USN (student union), and the Secretary of USTN (workers union). Both were applauded with great interest and accompanied with chants and slogans against those who had committed the crimes two years ago.

This commemoration lasted for one week, from the 9th to the 16th of February. Many activites were planned; some cultural events took place in the stadium. Some were organized by scholastics (secondary school students).

Debates were organized in order to inform and sensitize some who do not know the importance of this event. Many locations around Niamey were inaugurated and marked to immortalize the souls of our martyrs, to show they did not die for nothing. For all of us, syndicates and others, these slain students are martyrs to the process of democratization.

These days of commemoration made people aware of the unity and power of all "democratic forces."

Copyright © 1998 Salifou Adjirami


University of Niamey, Niger, 1992

A Weekend in Hell

Abba Soumaila Saidou March 16, 1992

I was in my last year at the Teachers' Training School in Zinder, and the Easter holidays were drawing near, when the students went on strike. After a day's strike, the police and the soldiers were sent to restore order in the school. When they arrived, they asked us to leave the school immediately.

Then I spoke out against their intervention in our school and told the lieutenant who was conducting the operation that there was no need to come with their weapons, if the aim of their operation was to restore order. The lieutenant ordered one of his men to take me to their truck.

Then a fight broke out between soldiers and students. Suddenly the school yard became a vast field of smoke as the soldiers used their tear gas in response to the students storming them.

A few minutes later, most of the students were arrested, but some fled into neighboring districts. The soldiers withdrew when they realized that the school was clean.

After this, we who had been arrested were taken to the prison where the soldiers began to kick us with their boots while we were running in the yard. Then they pushed us into a huge court whose walls were built of stones.

For me the troubles did not end, because the soldiers came back to the prison around midnight and isolated me from my school mates. They whipped me hollow before submitting me to a series of questions.

First of all they asked me to denounce the civil servants who were behind our strike, but there were none, and I could not give them any names.

Secondly they wanted to know if we were not infiltrated and manipulated by some Libyan activists who were trying to destabilize the military regime through student protests.

But that was not the case. During that time the Libyans became the scapegoats for most African regimes who were facing protests and riots from their citizens.

When the soldiers could not get any information from me, they resumed beating me once more till I fainted. When I came back to consciousness I found myself lying in a puddle of water.

The next day after our arrest we were asked to help the prisoners in pounding millet, a task usually reserved for women. As soon as I started pounding, blisters opened in my palms and I stopped pounding. The only food available in that hell was a kind of porridge that none of us could eat.

After three days stay in hell we were released and allowed to go back to our boarding school and we resumed our normal life again.

Copyright 1998 Abba Soumaila Saidou

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