BY EMEKA EJERE
Leaders of the Southeast Nigeria have condemned in strong terms the spate of killings being perpetrated in the region by security agents purportedly enforcing the lockdown order by state governments to contain the spread of the novel Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the region.
On Sunday April 19, Nigeria recorded 86 new cases of COVID-19 infection – the highest number of infections recorded in a day, bringing the total confirmed cases to 627 with 21 deaths.
Seventy of the new cases were discovered in Lagos, while the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) confirmed seven more cases. Katsina and Akwa Ibom reported three new cases respectively while one infection was confirmed in each of Jigawa, Bauchi, and Borno (the index) States.
Although the Southeast has just recorded about four cases of COVID-19 infection and is yet to record any fatalities, security agents have killed five persons in Abia State and two in Anambra State since the lockdown, which is now in its third week.
The latest extrajudicial killing, which sparked riots and burning of public properties, including police stations and high court, occurred at Ebem Ohafia at the weekend when a young man identified as Ifeanyi Arunsi was shot dead by the police.
Reacting to the incident, a chieftain of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Dr. Alex Otti, condemned the extrajudicial killings in the state by security agents, warning that it is “an avoidable invitation to anarchy.”
Otti, in a statement signed by his media assistant, Ferdinand Ekeoma, expressed his “utmost sadness and disappointment” over the incessant killings, noting that the lockdown ordered by the government to save citizens from the COVID-19 pandemic has been abused.
Describing the latest killing and others before it as “vicious, humiliating, senseless and highly provocative,” the 2019 APGA governorship candidate said: “It’s disgraceful and a clear manifestation of incompetence and unprofessionalism for security agents to have wasted five innocent lives of promising youths in different parts of the state, even when no single case of Coronavirus has been officially recorded in the state.”
He stated that there was no reason for security agents to be pulling the trigger without restraint in a state with no culture of violence or militancy, adding that Abia youths have always engaged in their businesses peacefully.
According to him, the peaceful disposition of Abia people should not “warrant the level of extreme violence being unleashed on the youths by extortionist security agents, who seem to have found the state as a fertile ground to make quick money.
“The incessant killing of Abia youths has the propensity to ignite uncontrollable violence and general breakdown of law and order,” he warned, citing the spontaneous protest and violence that erupted in Ohafia at the weekend.
Similarly, the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, has called on the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, to stop the rising rate of extra- judicial killing of innocent Nigerians in the Southeast by trigger-happy policemen hiding under the cover of enforcing the COVID-19 lockdown.
Abaribe, who made the allegation in a statement at the weekend, tasked the inspector-general to explain to Nigerians why his men have found the entire Southeast as most vulnerable in the circumstance to deploy such level of maximum force on the citizens.
He said at the last count, no fewer than six Igbo youths had met their untimely death in the hands of trigger-happy policemen, purportedly enforcing the stay-at-home order.
Abaribe said: “Why the concentration in the Southeast? In Aba, Abia State, precisely in Uratta junction, one youth was allegedly gunned down, while another was heavily brutalised with gun butts to a point of coma on Friday.
“This came a day after another young man was killed in Umuikaa junction for no just cause. It could be recalled that two weeks ago a petrol attendant in one of the petrol stations in Ogbor Hill was also shot and killed while on duty by a policeman who claimed stray bullet.
“There are also reports of protests in Ohafia, in Abia State today (Saturday) over alleged killing of some youth in the community by the same police. Again we have not forgotten the alleged killing of another young man in Nkpor near Onitsha in Anambra State.
“There may be some other unreported cases in this region involving the officers of the Nigeria Police, yet in all of these we have not heard of any decisive action taken by the police high command to stem this ugly tide,” Abaribe said.
According to him, the entire Southeast, which has not recorded any death as a result of the pandemic, has lost more of her people in such brutal but avoidable circumstances in the hands of people that are statutorily empowered to protect them.
He said the inspector- general, should as a matter of urgency call his men to order, halt these brazen brutality against the people, carry out a thorough investigation in these killings and ensure that the culprits are brought to book.
On his part, former chairman of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) Ikeja Branch, Mr. Onyekachi Ubani, described the killings as worrisome and condemnable. Ubani wondered why the police should be so brutal to people at a time Nigerians are supposed to treat one another with high sense of humanity.
“It is sad that a region that has not recorded any fatalities in this pandemic has suffered this level of extrajudicial killings in the hands of security operatives”, he told Business hallmark in a telephone interview..
“It is worrisome; it is condemnable. Southeast is not a conquered territory.
“I’ve always raised concerns that the kind of security presence you see in the Southeast, there is no other part of the country that you see it.
“If you travel from Lagos to Southeast, the number of roadblocks you see is alarming. What is it?
“Unfortunately, they’re not there to protect the people of the region but to extort money from them and perpetrate all sorts of atrocities against them.
“Those guns they use are bought with taxpayers’ money. It should be used to protect them and not to intimidate or kill them.”
The one-time second vice-president of NBA revealed that a group of lawyers of Igbo extraction are already working towards getting the cooperation of the victims’ families with a view to taking a legal action on their behalf.
Also, human right lawyer and public affairs commentator, Barr Fred Nzeako, who described the extrajudicial killings as worrisome, observed that Nigerians are facing an unusually difficult time and wondered “why the security agents are not alive to that.”
He said the situation demands a total synergy between the leaders and the led, pointing out that a situation where the security officers make it look as if the leaders and the led are at war will defeat the purpose of the lockdown.
“They (security agents) should be mindful of the fact that a hungry man is an angry man and stop expecting that everything will be perfect in terms of compliance when some people are already losing their minds due to hardship”, Nzeako cautioned.
“They must apply a high level of human face at a time like this, otherwise how many people can they kill?
“It has happened in Anambra; it has happened in Ohafia, Abia State. Who knows where next, he queried?
Meanwhile, the Abia State police command in a statement signed by the state Police Public Relations Officer, Geoffrey Ogbonna, acknowledged that a police officer fired the shot that killed the man at Ohafia.
He said the officers involved were neither on patrol nor lockdown enforcement operation, but were on their way back from a drinking joint where “they got drunk” and had issues with people offloading goods.
The PPRO further stated that the policeman who pulled the trigger had disappeared from the scene of the argument only to appear with a police rifle and started shooting sporadically thereby killing the young man.
He added that the police officers involved in the incident have been arrested and further investigation and eventual prosecution would follow.