Remembering the 1986 “Ango Must Go” ABU Students Peaceful Protest


Thirty-seven years ago, precisely on May 22-23, 1986, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) students embarked on a peaceful protest against their Vice Chancellor, Professor Ango Abdullahi, who invited the police to quell the protest. The violence inflicted by the police is only comparable to that of the 1978 “Ali-Must-Go” nation-wide students’ protest against the increase in education financing.

The Police brutalized, shot, injured, raped, murdered students and other citizens both on campus and the neigbouring Samaru community. The Academic Staff Union of the Universities, ABU Branch, wrote that the general conduct of the police: “violated every known code of conduct for such operations. To the police, it did not matter whether or not one was a “rioting” student or a thirteen-year-old sitting quietly in a secondary school classroom; whether one was fleeing or refusing to disperse, whether one was armed with stones or not. It was as if they had a deep seated grudge against their victims.” The Police shut and manned all escapes routes, “as if ambushing an enemy with the objective of total elimination”. Policemen forcefully broke into female undergraduates’ rooms, slapped, kicked and sexually molested them, including groping them.


The Police targeted students and teachers of ABU Demonstration Secondary School: ordered them to kneel down, do frog-jump and mercilessly beat them. They equally ordered students into their class rooms, where they kicked and beat them with their batons, dropped tear gas canisters and shut the doors. Policemen who could not gain access to the rooms, smashed doors and windows to drop their tear gas, while some dropped theirs outside so that whosoever escaped from the class rooms may suffer equally. Policemen also dropped teargas canisters inside the cloths of a male and female students. Another policeman jumped on the head of a student he forced to kneel face-down, asking him what was he doing in a ‘Demonstrating School’.”

At the end of the police operation, it was officially announced that two undergraduates, Ms. Halima Farida Mustapha and Yahaya Abdullahi, as well as two children, Peter Azuagu and Isa Oyakilome, were killed. The Nigerian Tribune of May 26, 1986 however, reported 7 killed; the National Concord of May 30, 1986 reported 6; the May 28, 1986 Nigerian Standard reported, 19 killed and the Daily Times of May 27, 1986 reported 17. The British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, in its 07:30hours (GMT) news of May 25, 1986 reported 20; the Voice of America, VOA, in its 14:15hrs (GMT) news of May 28, 1986 reported 32, and the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS put the figure at “over 25”. The Punch of May 30, 1986 reported that Ango Abdullahi expressed “no regrets inviting the police”, as “only four people died.’” The Kaduna State Police Commissioner, Nuhu Aliyu, in the Nigerian Tribune of May 29, 1986, justified the violence on the ground that the “law authorised them to shoot… The police do not operate outside the laws…”

“Ango-Must-Go” was the culmination of Prof. Abdullahi’s perceived authoritarianism, mishandling of students’ affairs, alleged mismanagement and consistent students’ resistance against his abuse of power. Between 1979-1986, he governed ABU dictatorially. He was, in fact, undemocratic, non-democratic and anti-democracy. He saw any form of opposition from staff and students as a challenge to his person, authority and power. He was notorious in expelling, rusticating and suspending students, especially union leaders and activists, for insisting that academic freedom be upheld, university autonomy respected and  the conditions in which students study and live, be improved. Students were also severely disciplined for their insistence that the government be responsible and accountable to Nigerians, as well as be democratic, developmental and anti-imperialist.


In 1981, he expelled 30 students and rusticated 165. In 1985, he expelled the Students’ Union President, the Secretary General, and the Speaker of the Students’ Peoples’ Parliament; suspended the Public Relations Officer (PRO), the Assistant Secretary General, the Treasurer and the Financial Secretary. He also warned, in writing, the other Executive members and ordered them to apologize within 24 hours. On May 19, 1986, Abdullahi expelled and rusticated the Chairman and PRO of the Students’ Union Caretaker Committee respectively and warned the remaining members of the Caretaker Committee “to be of good behaviour and avoid being used for ill-motivated reasons which could easily result in an unrest in this University”.

Professor Abdullahi also detested independent and democratic students’ unionism. He was notorious for suspending the Students’ Union; amending of its Constitution; banning congress meetings; appointing university bureaucrats as “Sole Administrators” of the Students’ Union; seizing, and indirectly, managing students’ union account, amongst others. He constantly threatened union officials, used security officials to harass them, and student agents to destabilize union activities. In August 1984, he invited police to disperse the 14th NANS Senate Meeting, hosted by the Students’ Union, on the ground that NANS was “banned” by the Buhari regime. Over 150 students’ leaders were arrested, out of which 10 students’ leaders were detained and charged to court for unlawful assembly. The court discharged the students and dismissed the case. He was also known for disrespecting court verdicts.

There are lessons to be learnt from Ango-Must-Go protest. The protest and the violence therefrom would have been avoided but for Abdullahi’s arrogance, executive lawlessness and crude display of power. It would also have been avoided had the military not destroyed the primordial and civil mechanisms the state and society had hitherto used to frown at, checked and punished – those Fela Anikulapo Kuti called – “VIP – Vagabonds In Power”.

Government panels were fond of blaming “students with extremist views” and “lecturers who are not teaching what they were paid to teach” for campus crises. But teaching involves dialogue, which promotes critical thinking, and, therefore, dangerous to anti-democracy forces. Ango-Must-Go confirmed Paulo Friere’s thesis that: “It is not the helpless, subject to terror, who initiate terror, but the violent, who with their power create the concrete situation which begets the ‘reject of life’. It is not the tyrannized who are the source of despotism, but the tyrants; nor the despise who initiate hatred, but those who despise.”

If governments had respected the critical students’ unionism of the late 1970s to the early 1990s, higher education would not have degenerated to what they are today. Graduated students would have been more critical, patriotic, nationalistic, democratic and development oriented. And the state and society would have benefitted immensely from these.

Over 90 per-cent of the students expelled, rusticated and suspended by Abdullahi were of northern extraction. Abdulrahman Black, Yau Musa Yar’adua and Gayus Obed had their lives cut short partly due to the vindictiveness of that administration. Abdullahi was afraid of expelling students of southern extraction for fear of countless protest petitions, continuous legal litigation and unending media embarrassment. Ironically, Ango Abdullahi today claims to be championing northern interests, democracy and federalism. Now and then, he parades himself as the leader of “Northern interests”, as if the North is made up of a homogenous class, ethnicity, religion and culture. The same North, whose finest, most intelligent, most patriotic and most development-oriented youths, who were committed to emancipatory politics, he successfully destroyed in the 1980s.

ALLAH does not slumber, talk less of sleeping. Neither does HE forget. HE will surely call Ango Abdullahi to account for the deeds and misdeeds he committed against the North, Nigeria and Humanity.

Ahmed Aminu-Ramatu YUSUF

YUSUF, a Deputy Director in the Federal Civil Service, retired as General Manger (Admin.), Nigerian Meteorological Agency, (NiMet).








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