From OGBONNAYA NDUKWE, Aba
After storm comes sunshine, so goes the saying. But in Abia State where hoodlums said to number about 200 burnt down and destroyed some police stations early in the week, killing four police officers and men, in the process, the sun is yet to shine after the storm.
In fact, with the 7 pm- 7am curfew imposed on Aba and its environs, the ban on the movement of Keke (tricycles) and commercial motor-cyclists, with security operatives patrolling the city in convoy of vehicles and looking for and arresting suspects, it may take a while before the city returns to normalcy.
It will be recalled that hoodlums, on February 23, 2021, struck at random in high places including locations once thought to be impregnable and left in their trails mayhem, deaths, tears and sorrow. At least, four policemen reportedly lost their lives while offices were razed as gunmen attacked the Abayi Osisioma Ngwa Divisional Police Station. Two other police formations in the state suffered similar fate.
The following day, two police stations located in Nkpologu, Aguata Local Government Area and Ozigbo, Orumba North LGA, both in Anambra State, were attacked in similar manner by gunmen. In that attack, four policemen reportedly lost their lives. The bandits who the police said numbered over 200, also carted away arms and ammunition from the station located along Umuojima/MCC Road, in Osisioma council area of Aba commercial city.
There were conflicting reports about the casualty figure. Saturday Sun gathered that two of the officers were killed at Abayi Osisioma, while the other two met their untimely death at Omoba Divisional Headquarters of Isiala Ngwa South. Abia State Police Public Relations Officer, Geoffrey Ogbonna, said some of the hoodlums were also killed in the shootout that ensued during the Omoba incident, while others escaped with arms from the station. At the Abayi/Umuojima Osisioma station, several buildings and vehicles packed in the premises were among property destroyed by the bandits.
In similar development, the hoodlums attacked the Police Mobile Force (PMF) 28 Squadron, located inside the State Police Command Headquarters, Umuahia and made away with five AK-47 rifles from the squadron’s armoury. After the incident, the attackers reportedly escaped unchallenged.
Speculations on brains behind the attacks
So, who did it? Since after the incident, fingers have been pointing in different directions. Some blamed it on unemployed youths who are aggrieved with the society. Some believe that angry and unemployed youths who had borne the brunt of biting economic hardship in the country including recent policies of the Abia State government to throw them out of businesses, may have contributed to the spate of attacks on police stations.
Some point at members of the society who are displeased with what they see as continuing acts of police harassment, intimidation, extortions, post-ENDSARS protest. Others think that members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) are responsible for the attacks. But neither the organisation nor the police have issued statements to that effect.
While they appreciate the police for their protection from criminal elements of the society, some residents who spoke to our correspondent said policemen and women in various formations especially in Aba and Umuahia, the state capital, see their posting as an opportunitiy to extort and exploit the populace.
An Aba-based journalist and human rights activist, Eusebio Eke, likened police stations in the town to market outlets where terms of bailing detained persons were financially bargained: between N50, 000 and N100,000, depending on one’s bargaining power and acumen. He called on police authorities in Abuja to urgently redeploy all police operatives out of the state and bring in fresh blood to cope with the rising trend of banditry and killings.
Respondents said that issues of mistrust between the police and residents in the commercial city has existed for a long time, with people especially youths, vowing to invade their barracks or beat up any of their personnel at any given opportunity.
A senior legal practitioner who did not want his name mentioned in print, said policemen in Aba and Umuahia deploy harassment and intimidation, arrest and detain innocent citizens with threats to kill them should they fail to cooperate by paying demanded sums of money.
He illustrated his point with a case he handled for a client who was arrested on some spurious charges. According to him, he was taken to Umuahia after buying a second hand motor sparepart in a market in Aba. His client, he said, was never reported by anybody. Rather, the policemen involved with case were eager to collect money from him. They threatened to move him to an unknown location should the lawyer report the matter to the state Commissioner of Police. The threat, he said, made him to pay N400, 000 out of the N600, 000 being demanded for his bail. Even with that, the seized motor parts are yet to be returned.
Mrs Naomi Ezuruike, a petty trader who live on Azikiwe Road recalled how her son, one Kingsley, was once brutalized and extorted by the police over unfounded charge of buying a stolen handset. She said he was tortured and made to cough out N300, 000 for bail from detention. “I told the policemen torturing my son and beating him with electric cable that he was innocent of what he was being accused of. Yet they did not listen to me,” she alleged.
Life under the curfew
As at now, the answer to the question of who did it has continued to generate different responses from the public, some of which are contradictory. But life has never been the same for Aba residents since the ill-fated attack. A trader who gave his name as Uchechukwu Ibeji, confessed to Saturday Sun that Aba has been under siege. This is because police detectives, in a joint-patrol with other security operatives have continued to combe the streets to look for and arrest suspects. And, this has generated not only an atmosphere or climate of fear, but also an excruciating period of suffering and hardship for the citizens.
Movement after 7pm has become extremely difficult as people now trek long distances to their home. Jude Nwaka, a trader in footwears who arrived Aba from Cotonou, Benin Republic, narrated how he slept at the motor park after their bus arrived the city a day after the beginning of the curfew.
“I didn’t know what was happening until I got into Aba. Since there was no Keke anywhere, we slept at the park. It was the following day that I went to lodge in a guest house from where I freshened up and went to Ariaria market.”
Uneasy calm now pervades Aba city following the unfortunate incident that happened at the Abayi Osisioma Divisional Headquarters. Findings by Saturday Sun show that residents are apprehensive of actions that might be taken on them by the authorities even as they lament the death of night life in the usually bubbling commercial city east of the Niger.
They also complain about police operatives in a joint operation with other security agencies patrolling the streets and arresting innocent persons who were unable to properly identify themselves and their missions. They also alleged arrest of commercial tricycle operators who flouted the 7pm-7am curfew imposed on Keke and Okada riders in Aba and Umuahia. “We could not trace any of the persons arrested to find out whether they were able to secure their release or not,” one of the operators said.
Some of the operators interviewed lamented that the new time of operations given them will make it difficult for them to meet up with the agreed daily returns. Others said it will alter the terms of the hire purchase agreements they entered with their principals.
They said instead of making them the escape goat, the state government should rather rejig its security network. Chief Donatus Okeke, sectional leader of association in the town, told Saturday Sun, that though many of the bandits have infiltrated the tricycle and motorcycle riders’ groups, he believes that government can come up with measures that can help identify the bad elements from the good ones who are only after working and earning their daily living with which to take care of their families.
But Nelson Nwafor, the Executive Director of Foundation for Environmental Rights Advocacy and Development (FENRAD), a non-governmental organization believes that “the reduction of operating hours for Keke operators in Aba and Umuahia, is in order as it will help to curb crime in the state noting that they had been fingered as being involved in attacking warehouses, POS terminals and snatching handbags from innocent wayfarers.”
Eze Ibe Enyeazu, chairman, Aba South traditional rulers’ council, also commended the ban adding that the use of commercial tricycles and motorcycles for robbery was negating the efforts of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, and chairmen of councils in fighting crime.