By EMEKA EJERE
Mr. Collins Peters (not real name) is a resident of Port Harcourt who has lived in the Elelenwo part of the city for 15 years. But December 2017 is the month he will never forget in his lifetime. That was the month he saw himself behind the bars over his alleged involvement in ritual practice.
Peters, 45, who said he is yet to recover from the rude shock two years after, told Business Hallmark that he later realised that he was a victim of the desperation of some unscrupulous policemen to make money for the Christmas celebration that was few days away.
He shared his ordeal: “My friend had visited me on that fateful Sunday and we both boarded a trio-cycle (popularly known as keke NAPEP) to a viewing centre to watch a football match.
“We were walking down to the viewing centre after alighting when a young man in his 20s suddenly appeared and was pointing at us saying, “Look at them here…look at them here.”
“He was talking to a team of 7 heavily armed policemen who quickly arrested us after branding us ritualists. As if that was not enough, the young man stripped himself, brought out his manhood and was claiming that he lost his organ immediately we paid him for the tri-cycle ride. I hadn’t taken a conscious look at who the keke operator really was.
“They took us to the Elelenwo Police Station, a station that is notorious for illegal arrests and detentions, where we were detained, after all efforts to regain our freedom by way of explanation proved abortive.
“But before we were detained, one of them took me by the side and confided in me that it was only a set-up as some street urchins (popularly known as area boys) were sent out to implicate people and accuse them of either armed robbery or rituals, just to help the police extort money from the victims.
“He, however, promised to set me free if I was ready to part with some money. But I refused, insisting that I was innocent and should be released without any payment. Some others came and made similar offers but I stood my ground.
“I kept asking, what is happening here? Because I could not understand how, in less than 10 minutes, the young man who claimed to have lost his manhood had rushed to the police station, made an entry and was given 7 policemen to come and arrest us.
“In the cell we received the beating of our lives from hardened criminal inmates. I, however, organized a prayer session there, which clearly made the policemen uncomfortable. They released me three days later, maybe, after suspecting that my continued stay there might put them in trouble.
“But I insisted that my friend should be released as well since we both were arrested together”.
Peters was proving his earlier point that the police do more harm than good in the security business of Port Harcourt. He was responding to a question of why businesses now close before 9:00 pm in many parts of the once bubbling Port Harcourt City.
He believes that people now close their shops early because they are afraid not only of the robbers but also of the police who can connive with the robbers or look the other way while robbery goes on due to their ulterior motive.
Our correspondent gathered that since the beginning of the ember months, there has been an upsurge of shop robberies, snatching of hand bags, handsets and other valuables by those believed to be desperately looking for money to have a good Christmas.
The precautionary fear, which is worsened by increasing lack of public confidence in the police, has taken toll on many businesses especially those which thrive better at night.
Visit to Diobu, Rumuokoro, Rumuola,Rumuokutaand Elelenwo ampng other areas confirmed that business owners are already counting their losses due to the near death of night life.
Mr. Francis Chinda, runs a restaurant and bar in Diobu. He said although he is not afraid of losing anything to robbers, his business has been badly affected by the sharp decline in the rate at which people move about at night.
He said, “You know my business is more of a night business. Anything that impedes free movement at night affects my business.
“This area is notorious for inter-cult clashes. And once that happens, the cultists use the opportunity to loot, maim or even kill in some cases.
“I can tell you that about 70 per cent of my patronage comes at night. You can imagine what I’m losing by closing before the peak hours of my business
On his part, Mr. Pius Okoro, a man in his 60s who runs a provision store, identified high rate of youth unemployment and lack of commitment on the part of security operatives as some of the factors fueling insecurity in Port Harcourt. According to him the story is the same in every part of Port Harcourt at the moment, as people start closing their shops once it is 7:00 pm, since the bad boys can come at any time.
“A young man of 25 years was killed just recently after being robbed in his shop”, Mr. Okoro recalled. “There’re so many idle minds around, no jobs. Many companies that used to do mass recruitments no longer do due to bad economy.
“And to make the matter worse, the police are not committed to fighting crime.”
At a major supermarket in Rumuokoro, the manager, who does not want his name on print, lamented that the outfit has lost about 50 per cent of its sales since the problem of insecurity worsened in Port Harcourt.
Commenting on why the outfit now closes earlier than usual, the manager said “Both our staff and potential buyers are afraid, nobody wants to be robbed or killed.”
As a measure to address the incidents of robbery in the capital city, the Rivers State Government had in May this year restricted the movement of the trio-cycle operators from 6:00 pm to 7:00 am, a move that caused a temporary hardship until both the operators and commuters adjusted accordingly.
It was widely believed that after the ban of commercial motorcycling (popularly known as okada,) most robbers resorted to the use of the trio-cycle to perpetrate their criminal acts.
Business Hallmark observed that in a bid to remain in business for an unrestricted duration, many keke operators have since upgraded to the use of mini buses. While some operators who had the means were able to purchase the buses themselves, many others either run on hire purchase or are employed by someone whom they make remittances to daily or weekly, depending on the agreement.
The state government has also banned the activities of hawkers and roadside traders on the major roads across the city, though compliance is far full total. Intelligence report had revealed that many of the hawkers also engage in robbery at a slight opportunity.
There has also been an increase in police and taskforce patrol to ensure improved law enforcement. However, the increased rate of robbery as the yuletide approaches, some argue, raises questions about the effectiveness of the measures put in place by the government.
However, a member of the police emergency team, who refused to give his name, said the police in Rivers State have recorded up to 80 per cent improvement in securing the state.
“We have not received report of any breakdown of law and order by any group of bad boys”, he said.
Reacting to the situation in a telephone interview with Business Hallmark, the Rivers State Police public relations officer, PPRO, Mr. Nnamdi Omoni, maintained that there is no security crisis in Port Harcourt.
He stressed that the city is peaceful as people are going about their lawful businesses unmolested.
“Port Harcourt is peaceful. People are going about their lawful businesses unmolested. We are fully prepared to ensure peaceful Christmas and New Year celebrations.
“There’s an increased police patrol. We have increased our presence in vital places like banks, worship centres and critical government infrastructures.”
On the alleged robbing and killing of the 25 –year-old man, Mr. Omoni described the report as “unverifiable.”