By OBINNA EZUGWU
The brutal killing of at least five young men in Abia State in the course of last month by officers of the Nigerian police force enforcing a lock down order declared by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu in a bid to contain spread of Coronavirus in the state had generated deserved outrage from well meaning Abians and Nigerians in general.
It was particularly befuddling to many that at the time the killings were taking place in mid April, the entire country had recorded not more than 20 deaths from the virus, while Abia had only one case which was not remotely critical. Thus while efforts by the state authorities to curb the virus had taken the lives of not less than five young individuals, the virus whose fatality rate among people under 50 is about 0.02 percent had only infected one person who it was said, had only mild symptoms. Instructively too, till today, Abia has only two cases of the virus, none of which is critical, and no deaths from it.
The regrettable killings, particularly the killing of a young man identified as Ifeanyi Arunsi in Ebem, Ohafia on April 17 by a drunken off duty police officer had as a consequence, led to protests and even an attack on a police station by youths in the area.
The incidents inevitably affected the image of the state’s police command, such that there was naturally a need to restore people’s confidence in the force. This, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Adamu Mohammed probably sought to do by removing the state’s commissioner of police, Mr. Eneh Okon and replacing him with Mrs. Janet Agbede.
The move was widely welcomed across the state. And everyone was thought to be happy with it. Not until a letter dated April 22 said to have been written by Ikpeazu to the Police Service Commission protesting the redeployment of CP Okon surfaced online, leaked it was said, by Dr. Alex Otti, candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) in the last governorship election in the state.
The said letter signed by Ikpeazu himself and addressed the chairman of Police Service Commission – which is not actually the body responsible for such deployment – said Mr. Okon had shown “capacity and industry in the discharge of his state to the effect that crime rate in our state has long reduced under his watch.”
Going further, the letter went on to attack candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Dr. Alex Otti, accusing him of “boosting threats both orally and on telephone.. to remove CP Okon from Abia State because he has refused to allow IPOB and detractors of our president to riot and gain a foothold across Abia State.”
The letter further alleged that Bar Emperor Ogbonna, a legal practitioner being detained by his government for a facebook post that alleged that he went to India to swear an oath of allegiance to the former governor of the state, Senator T.A. Orji, which he shared on his wall, was being sponsored by IPOB through Dr. Otti, while pleading with the Commission to retain Mr. Okon for another six months at least.
Then in what seemed like an attempt to pander to President Muhammadu Buhari, the letter alleged that “Emperor Ogbonna had published seditious information against the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces as well as governor of Abia State on social media.” And without mentioning the extrajudicial killing of Mr. Arunsi in Ohafia which has triggered protests in the area, the letter said the attack by the youths on the police station in the locality was “an ambush by IPOB who are angry because the CP and our Government refused them to have a field day during Nnamdi Kanu’s father’s burial,” while asking that CP Okon be retained because he would “enable us to completely rout the secessionists in our midst and assist the state to mop up the remainder of small arms in the state.”
The letter, which is yet to be officially denied by the state government, has continued to generate condemnations across the state, with Dr Otti who was singled out in it, demanding an apology for what he called defamation of his character by Ikpeazu.
“This letter made many weighty allegations against me including that I am a sponsor of IPOB, that I set up the attack at Ohafia where a policeman shot a young man and the youth of the community carried out a reprisal attack on a police station and that I caused the removal of the CP again for refusing IPOB and detractors of the government to riot in Abia,” Otti said in a response last week.
“I would have responded immediately I saw this bizarre letter but I learnt that the Governor and his team were strategizing on how to deny the letter and christen it “fake”. Somehow, they have not responded officially close to one week after. I believe they have realised that I have more information than they thought. This letter was masterminded by three people, the former CP Eneh Okon, the Chief of Staff to the Governor, Anthony Agbazuere and the Commissioner for Information, John Okiyi Kalu. They subsequently sold the evil plot to Okezie Ikpeazu who had no problems lending his name and signature to it. I will reveal more information on this if any of them denies.
The APGA candidate’s statement attracted a response from the state’s commissioner for information, John Okiyi Kalu who in a scathing attack on him in a statement of his own, dated April 28, suggested that he was “an odious liar.”
Mr. Kalu, while not denying that the governor wrote the letter in question, said he had nothing to do with it contrary to Otti’s claims.
“My attention has been drawn to a statement credited to one Mr Alex Otti who claims to be “a citizen of Abia State” wherein he stated, among other things that, ‘This letter was masterminded by three people, the former CPEneh Okon, the Chief of Staff to the Governor, Anthony Agbazuere and the Commissioner for Information, John Okiyi Kalu. They subsequently sold the evil plot to Okezie Ikpeazu who had no problems lending his name and signature to it. I will reveal more information on this if any of them denies,'” Kalu said.
“Let me state without equivocation that Mr Otti lied against my person and possibly lied with other statements made in that publication titled “RE: PROTEST AGAINST THE TRANSFER OF THE ABIA STATE COMMISSIONER OF POLICE, CP ENEH OKON”.
The commissioner went on to berate the former bank chief with unprintable words, but regardless, failed to deny that the leaked letter came from the governor.
A raging controversy:
Since the letter emerged, many Abians have expressed shock at the development, while the government has become failed to admit or dismiss its authorship, even as attempts to get officials of the administration to address the allegations raised particularly against Otti were met a certain lack of interest.
Residents of the state spoken to in the course of the week expressed worry over the development, even as a good number said nothing surprises them anymore in the state.
“It is strange that the governor could write such a letter, but not really surprising,” noted an Abia journalist who prefers to be identified simply as Chinwe to avoid witch-hunt.
“Abia has largely become a police state where critics are haunted. I’m sure they wanted to other commissioner to stay because they were using him to do the job of harassing critics,” he said.
“Abia has become something else. Imagine that during the election, some brought coffins to threaten that if the current government did not return, blood will flow. Today everyone is scared in Abia.”
In the meantime, the new police commissioner is said to have settled in well and is, according to some residents, gradually restoring sanity in the state police.
“There’s relative peace in Abia State ever since the arrival of our beautiful Woman Commissioner of Police Janet Agbede. Remember that under the former Chimpanzee CP, police shot and killed three Abians just in four (4) days and a total of five (5) persons were shot and killed under the pretext of enforcing lockdown,” wrote a social commentator based in the state, Akah Solomon
“This woman has already shown sterling desire and assurance to return sanity amongst all in Abia State. She has in her capacity visited the family of Mr Ifeanyichukwu Arunsi, the 17year old boy (WAEC Candidate) slain by Officer Odogu in Ebem Ohafia of Abia State Honestly, I pray for the woman to succeed in every of her good intentions for both Abia State and her people”
When contacted to make necessary clarification on the letter, the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Bar Onyebuchi Ememanka insisted that the administration was only focused on defeating the Covid-19 pandemic and doesn’t have time to engage in any discussion about any letter.
“The only preoccupation of the Ikpeazu led administration at this moment is this Coronavirus pandemic. We don’t have time to engage anybody on any senseless argument,” Ememanka said.
“The only preoccupation of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu at this moment is how to manage this medical emergency, every other thing is of no consequence, particularly coming to engage in a war of words with a man who is desperately seeking for attention; a man we defeated on two consecutive elections and defeated in all the courts, who is now looking desperately to be in the news for whatever reason.”
The press secretary said the administration was not ready to engage in war of words with Dr. Otti whom he said was only seeking attention while rebuffing further questions about the authenticity of the letter.
“We don’t have anything to discuss about letter or no letter. We cannot be fighting a medical emergency that has brought the world down and people expect us to be exchanging words with Alex Otti we will not dignify him,” he said.
The state’s Chief of Staff, Bar Anthony Agbazuere, one of the officials of the government mentioned as one of the masterminds of the letter by the APGA candidate, also declined to discuss the letter, insisting that there was nothing to discuss about it.
“The other one (the letter) is not something to discuss,” he said. “We don’t discuss such thing. That one of letter is neither here nor there. It’s stupid of anybody to talk about it. What is letter? Otti’s boys published something. Assuming without conceding that the governor complained and said somebody has been doing well let him stay, is it an issue? People are just lazy upstairs.”
However, reacting to the state officials’ claims, spokesperson for Dr. Otti, Mr. Ferdinand Ekeoma, noted that they were only trying to be evade the key issues since, according to him, they know they wrote the letter and are ashamed that it got leaked.
“The government is one that is very combative. They are always in the media trying to make a lot of noise even when they are doing nothing. If they didn’t write the letter, it couldn’t have taken them 24 hours to deny it, and even back it up with verbal attacks,” Ekeoma said.
“You saw the things they fabricated there. Assuming they didn’t write it, they would have accused us of fabricating lies against the governor. But everybody knows they wrote the letter. It’s been a week since the letter came out and they have not refutted it.
“Going by the content of that letter, you could see the type of people they are. As Dr. Otti pointed out, it is despicable that the governor could find time to write such falsehood against a citizen at a time like this. It shows that the government is only pretending to be busy, but they are actually not busy.
“Everything they wanted to achieve was to ensure that the former police commissioner was not redeployed. And in doing that, they played down the importance of the lives of their own citizens. But the fact that millions of Abians condemned what happened in Ohafia should have caused them to show remorse. And the fact that up to five citizens of the state have been killed in this lock down, something that has not happened anywhere else, should have given them reason to show empathy. But unfortunately, they didn’t do that.
“All they wanted was to retain that Commissioner of Police because they have been using him to arrest and detain citizens illegally. There is no other thing.”