LAGOS, Nigeria – Police fired tear gas Friday at several hundred students and unemployed youths in Nigeria's largest city protesting a presidential decision to rename one of the nation's top universities.
The demonstration began peacefully outside the gates of the University of Lagos as students surrounded an armored police truck and placed palm fronds on it — a symbol of protest in Africa's most populous nation.
Many had begun to return to campus when an altercation broke out between some protesters and police. Officers responded by firing tear gas, sending screaming students running back inside the university's gate. Some students began throwing stones and glass bottles at the officers. A senior police officer threw stones back at the students in between firing tear gas canisters.
At least one student became overcome by the gas and had to be carried away. Officers briefly detained one of the students.
The anger comes from a decision Tuesday by President Goodluck Jonathan to change the name of the university to Moshood Abiola University, in honor of a political prisoner who died in jail over a decade ago. Abiola was a businessman widely believed to be the winner of a 1993 presidential poll annulled by then-military ruler Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. Babangida's military successor, Gen. Sani Abacha, later jailed Abiola. The businessman died in prison just as Nigeria's military gave up control of the country and the nation tried democratic rule.
Since the decision, protesting students and local unemployed men known as "area boys" have marched through the streets and at one point took over a bridge linking Lagos' islands to the mainland. The university declared a sudden two-week holiday Wednesday but many students remain in the university's dormitories, from where they continue to organize protests.
Friday's protest came as Jonathan attended a dedication ceremony for a naval ship in the city. Though not in the same neighborhood as the protest, a military attack helicopter escorting Jonathan could be seen crossing the sky in the distance.
Students "are so, so angry about the name change by Mr. President," said Afolabi Adebanjo, a university student who helped lead Friday's protest. He suggested the president could instead have improved the aging university, for example by erecting new buildings, then naming them after Abiola.
After firing the tear gas, police attempted to broker a truce by buying angry students and the unemployed men drinking water in plastic bags and offered money to help bring a disc jockey to turn the protest into an impromptu block party.
Many students said they would continue to protest.
Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellap.