The recent sit-at-home order by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) across states in the South-East may have come and gone, but many people are still suffering from its aftermath, Daily Trust reports.
More than one month after the sit-at-home order by the embattled Mazi Nnamdi Kanu-led proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), nine of the many persons arrested on May 31, 2021 at the Railway Quarters/old Artisan Market area within the Enugu metropolis, are still languishing in prison for the alleged murder of three policemen, Daily Trust Saturday gathered.
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The police said their personnel – Inspector Ibiang Okoi, Inspector Sunday Eze and Inspector Sergeant Omaiye – were killed at Mgbemene roundabout while a Toyota Hilux van with registration number NPF3755D, belonging to the Nigeria Police Force, was destroyed by the suspects.
Our correspondent who visited the Railway Quarters/old Artisan Market gathered that life has been quite difficult for the relatives of the detainees as a good number of them are said to be the breadwinners of their various families.
It was learnt that one of the murdered policemen, who was said to be the driver of a patrol van, was reportedly shot dead around the Artisan Market area on the ever-busy Ogui Road when he ran into the unknown gunmen.
The other police victims were also said to have been killed about 9am by masked gunmen along the Mgbemene roundabout near the Coal Camp area of the metropolis. Mgbemene is a long distance from old Artisan Market/Railway Quarters.
Shortly after the attack at the old Artisan Market area, the commissioner of police in the state, Mr Mohammed Aliyu, reportedly led a heavily armed contingent of policemen to the scene of the crime.
Although the attackers reportedly escaped after killing the policeman, those found within the crime scene and its vicinity were arrested by the police, a witness said, alleging that “even a teenage boy who disobeyed the police order and attempted to run away was shot dead instantly and his body taken away by the police.”
At the end of the incident, scores of people, including nine residents of the area, were arrested and taken to the state Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Daily Trust gathered.
A 22-year-old housewife, Mrs Bright Ubong, narrated how her 31-year-old husband, Sunday, was arrested while he went to buy food for their one-year-old baby, Destiny. She said that since then, she and her baby had been surviving on charity.
“That day, my husband went to buy my baby’s food but didn’t come back. I waited from morning till about 7pm when my neighbour told me that the police arrested him.
“I was also told that the police arrested a small boy, Chigozie Nebo. I joined Mr Nebo to visit his son and my husband in detention at the state CID, but they were later taken to the prison in Enugu.
“I have contacted Sunday’s mother, who is in the village in Akwa Ibom, but she said there was no money. I am really confused and frustrated. She told me that Sunday’s predicament was a spiritual attack, so I am just putting everything in prayer.
“My husband knows that there’s no money, so he said I should not bother myself because very soon they would be bailed and he would be out of the place,” Mrs Ubong said.
She said that even when she was encouraged to consult a lawyer, she was baffled when the lawyer told her to bring N50,000 but she could not afford such amount.
Mrs Ubong appealed to police authorities to release her husband unconditionally because, according to her, “he didn’t commit any murder as alleged.”
Mr John Ani, who resides temporarily in one of the shops at the old Artisan Market, a 68-year-old father of Chikwado, one of the suspects being held, said he and his only son, Chikwado, did night security job at New Haven, but in the daytime he would push wheelbarrow for survival.
He said that on the night of May 30, he and his son had gone to their normal night duty, not
knowing what the future held for them. He disclosed that when they left for home the following morning, he didn’t know that policemen were arresting people at the Railway Quarters/old Artisan Market area.
“It was a coincidence. The real killers had done their dirty job and escaped but the police began to arrest people within the vicinity.
“When I heard of my son’s arrest I was disturbed because I know he is innocent. My son was just returning from where we did night duty as watchmen and the police picked him and threw him into their vehicle and later into prison. My son is innocent,” he told Daily Trust Saturday at the Artisan Market where he pushes wheelbarrow.
His wife, Mrs Chidimma Ani, who hawks cooked groundnuts at Atani in Ogbaru Local Government Area of Anambra State but hails from Nara in Nkanu of Enugu State said, “Since I heard of my son’s arrest, my mind has been troubled. In fact, for the first three days, I could not sleep. I wept all through the nights because of my only son.
“Indeed, the first day I visited him in prison I got back home and developed fever. In fact, as I am speaking with you, I haven’t come out of the shock. The fever was so much that for three days, I couldn’t get up from my sick bed.”
Mrs Ani lamented that the most painful aspect of her son’s ordeal is that he has a serious injury in his left leg, which would have led to amputation but for God’s intervention.
According to her, Chikwado got the injury when he boarded a tricycle (keke) while returning from school and there was a head-on collision between another keke and the one conveying him.
She added that the hospital that was treating him recommended amputation of the leg, but through prayer and God’s mercy, the amputation was cancelled, saying that Chikwado now limps.
“I am appealing to all Godly-minded people to come to my son’s rescue. He is the only son I have. He is innocent,” Mrs Ani said, adding that the family spent N700,000 to save his leg from amputation and has remained bankrupt since then.
“We haven’t gotten a lawyer because we cannot afford to do so,” she added.
Another detainee, Chigozie Nebo, a Junior Secondary School (JSS) student of the Government Technical College (GTC), Enugu, is said to be 14 years old, but the police allegedly changed his age to 18 in order to arraign him.
According to Chigozie’s father, Mr Godfrey Nebo, a civil servant, his son is currently battling with asthma in the prison and he is afraid he may not be able to survive the attack.
“I touched his body the other day I went to see him, and it was very hot,” he told Daily Trust amidst tears.
The 52-year-old Nebo told our correspondent who visited the family at the Railway Quarters, near the old Artisan Market, that his son was framed up. He also alleged that the police changed his date of birth from 14 to 18 years.
“But I learnt that when he was taken to prison, a top official there insisted that he would not be put in prison because of his age,” he added.
He also alleged that the police, “in their funny way of roping in the innocent, wrote that my son, alongside others, were arrested at Mgbemene roundabout, which is very far from the place where the policeman was shot at the old Artisan Market area.”
He said his son had never been to Mgbemene roundabout since he was born, stressing that Chigozie always went GTC, along the Enugu-Abakaliki road and returned to their residence.
Nebo alleged that the police were trying to implicate Chigozie for no just cause, adding, “Remember that there was no movement that day, so how could my son have trekked from old Artisan to Mgbemene roundabout?”
He recalled how the commissioner of police in the state led a team of heavily armed policemen in their numbers, with armoured tanks and other vehicles and arrested anybody found around the area.
He said, “All the nine people the police arrested were innocent. They just went for sightseeing after the gunshots stopped. That was how my 14-year-old boy was implicated by the police and charged with murder.
“I learnt that a boy who was trying to escape and evade arrest was instantly shot dead by the police.”
According to him, when he tried to know where they were taking his son to, one of the policemen became very angry and ordered him to go back or he would be killed. He said that at this point, he quietly left.
However, out of frustration he went back from a different direction. This time, one Igbo policeman saw him and beckoned on him to come.
“I told him that my son was 14 years old and I would like to know where they were taking him to. The policeman said I should come to the Enugu command CID unit the following day.
“After some days, they tried them at their mobile court and later dumped them in prison pending when the conventional courts would reopen after the nationwide strike by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN),” he said.
Furthermore, Mrs Amaka John, a 26-year-old seamstress, is one of those whose husbands were arrested. Her husband, Mr Adie John, 28, hails from Cross River State but resident at the Railway Quarters, Enugu, from where he operates a commercial tricycle (keke) to eke out a living.
For Mrs John, life has been very rough and tough, especially as she just came out of the hospital, where she underwent a major surgery during childbirth.
“It has been very difficult for me because I just came back from a major operation, where I also lost my baby. I don’t even have strength to work and get what to eat. It has not been easy for me since my husband was arrested,” she said.
She said her husband had gone to fix the flat tyre of his tricycle on that fateful day. “It was on his way back home that the police arrested him.
They arrested him with the keke key and the tyre, but they have returned the tyre and key to me, saying there was no need to keep the items there. But they are still keeping John in prison.
“That’s what happened. And since then, we have been going there asking for help, but no solution yet; rather, what we have been hearing is, come today, come tomorrow,” Amaka said as she fought back tears.
She expressed worry over the present health condition of her husband, which she said had deteriorated when she visited him last in the prison.
She added, “He told me that he was sick, so I brought malaria drugs for him, but they (prison officials) said I should not enter there with the tablets, and that they could not take it inside.
“Later, I begged one female officer who asked me to write his name and that of the ward he is staying. I did as she advised and dropped the tablets and his name there.
“However, during my last visit, John told me that they had not given him the drugs. I was later told that except I was present and tasted the drugs, they would not give it to him.”
She called on the authorities holding her husband to “please, in the name of God, release him as he did not commit any crime, let alone killing a policeman.”
Miss Evelyn Nwankwo, an indigene of Ishielu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, also recounted how her male friend, Mr Gospel Ebietomere, an indigene of Urhobo in Delta State, was arrested.
Ebietomere resides at the Railway Quarters, Enugu, from where he operates a commercial tricycle and gives account to the owner periodically.
According to Miss Nwankwo, her friend was arrested when he went to see if there was movement so that he would convey passengers to their various destinations and get some money for the day.
“He was arrested at the JJC Artisan Market axis. I was not aware of his arrest until about 10am when somebody told me about it,” she said adding that she could not go to the police station the same day to find out the true position of things because there was no movement.
Daily Trust Saturday learnt that the arrest and detention of Ebietomere has an adverse effect on his younger sister who ought to be preparing for her Junior Secondary School (JSS) examination.
“His younger sister, who I think is 16 or 17, is here and in secondary school. The girl is finding it very difficult to cope because the breadwinner of the family is in prison. She is about to write the JSS examination, but how to pay for her is a very big problem,” Miss Nwankwo said.
She said she had contacted Ebietomere’s relatives and his pastor, who she said consulted a lawyer to apply for his bail.
“The day I visited him, he said I should help to call his people to brief them. I also called their town union people. They don’t know me and I don’t know them,” she said.
The police have, however, insisted that the suspects should face prosecution as they are being charged with murder and unlawful and malicious damage of police vehicle.
The charge sheet obtained by Daily Trust states that “the suspects and others at large, on May 31, 2021, at Mgbemene roundabout, Ogui Enugu, within the Enugu north magisterial district, did conspire among yourselves to commit murder, and thereby committed an offence punishable under section 494 of the criminal code, cap 30, volume 11 of the revised laws of Enugu State of Nigeria, 2004. The case is between the commissioner of police and nine suspects.”
Efforts to get the spokesman of the police in the state, ASP Daniel Ndukwe, to react to the allegation of changing the teenager’s age, among others, were unsuccessful as he did not answer calls placed on his telephone line, nor did he reply to a text message sent to him.