Following the killing of a policeman by youths of their communities, the people of Umunze and Ihite in Orumba-south local government area of Anambra State now live in fear of endless police invasion, one of which have claimed a life already and destruction of properties in the communities .OKECHUKWU OBETA writes.
The Umunze and Ihite people in Orumba- South local government area of Anambra State now live in fear of continuous police invasion and reprisal attacks after one of such invasions and attacks claimed the life of a woman and saw to a wanton destruction of properties in both communities.
Hell was let loose in the two neighbouring towns few weeks ago after one of the policemen who invaded the area from Zone 9, Umuahia, to carry out an investigation was allegedly killed by some people who were protesting intimidation and extortion of money from their people by policemen.
In protest against the death of the police officer, a team of heavily armed policemen from the Anambra State Police Command was deployed to the area. The deployed policemen on arrival were said to have descended on the people, beating them up, arresting any male person on sight and putting them in their waiting Hilux van after which they were whisked away and detained at the state headquarters of the Federal Art-Robbery Squad ( FARS), Awkuzu.
The enraged policemen were said to have also embarked on massive destruction of properties, including residential buildings, shops, and vehicles in the area and setting them ablaze. A woman aged about 30 was said to have slumped and died while scampering to safety during the mayhem. A middle aged man, Mr. Ikechukwu Nwankwo from Awa community in neighbouring Orumba-North local government fell victim of the police indiscriminate arrest in the area. He is a commercial photographer. And he had gone to Umunze to give coverage to a wedding ceremony when he was arrested along with some other guests at the event and detained at the FARS station. He was later released three days after, his Nikkon 510 camera which the police officer who drove them in a Toyota Hilux van to the FARS station seized from him was not returned to him, he stated.
In retaliation, the people of the area invaded the Umunze police station and destroyed parts of the police station and many vehicles parked there including the Divisional Police Officer’s personal car. Properties destroyed in the two communities and the police station were said to be worth millions of naira.
More than 46 persons, including, youths and the elderly were said to have been arrested by the police in the area during the crisis and detained at the Federal Art-Robbery Squad ( FARS) state headquarters, Awkuzu. The president-general of Umunze town Union, Mr. John Akanyionu, however, told LEADERSHIP Friday last week that about 38 of those arrested have been released. He stated that those still being held in detention were eight persons.
Hon. Nwankwo stated that he had been in touch with virtually all the stakeholders in the matter, including the traditional ruler, Igwe Promise Eze, some other opinion leaders in the affected communities and had made contacts with some top government officials in the state and the police high command concerning the sad event.
He said that he was satisfied that his intervention helped in quelling the skirmishes. He, however, said that he decided to visit home to enable him conduct on the spot investigation on what happened.
The traditional ruler of Umunze, Igwe Promise Eze was full of praises to Hon. Ben Nwankwo, who represents the areas in the House of Reprsentatives for his efforts in ensuring that the crisis was brought under control. The monarch was of the opinion that the people of his domain could only be blamed over the incident to the extent that “they over-reacted by attacking policemen who are on uniform”.
The traditional ruler said that his findings showed that the affected policemen were actually deployed from Zone 9, Umuahia to carry out investigations in far away Akpu community, but, only decided to come to his domain because they got “tip off” that there is a hotel here where some people smoke Indian hemp.
He stated that the policemen who were only three in number on arrival arrested some people, mostly youths and whisked them away to Ajali police station in neighbouring Orumba-North local government and detained them there, instead of detaining them at Umunze police station which is in charge of their area.
He stated that over ten people were arrested by the policemen and detained at Ajali police station. He stated that the police officers later released the ten persons after extorting between N5, 000 and N10,000 from each of them as “money for bail”.
The traditional ruler stated that it was the huge sums of money extorted from those detained earlier at Ajali that infuriated the people and they decided to resist any further arrest of anybody when the policemen came back that second time.
He stated that when the three policemen came back the second time, the people of his area had started nursing the suspicion that the policemen might after all, be fake policemen. So, when the president-general of the town was contacted, he then contacted the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in charge of the Umunze police station to confirm if he was aware of the operations of the affected policemen.
He, however, stated that the DPO said no. Continuing, the monarch stated, “Even though I blame those who attacked the policemen, because I know that it is wrong to attack any policeman who is on uniform, I will say that it was the conduct of the policemen that provoked the people to attack them.” He said that the policemen had shot sporadically at his people when they resisted their arrest, and, that about three persons sustained bullet wounds. He stated that it was when their bullets suddenly got expended that the three policemen became helpless and attempted to run away before the locals confronted them.
A reprisal attack from the police followed on Friday, March 2, when a team of policemen from the state police command invaded Umunze and the neighbouring Ihite town, shooting sporadically, arresting and hounding any person on sight into their waiting patrol vans. The angry police officials who were avenging the killing of one of their own, destroyed buildings, set vehicles ablaze, and, at the end, whisked about 46 persons away.
Though Hon. Ben Nwankwo believed that the skirmishes would not have occurred if not for the professional misconduct of the affected policemen, he, however, condemned the conduct of those who attacked the policemen.
“It is an indefensible conduct for anybody to attack a security man on uniform,” he said.
He commended the traditional ruler, Igwe Promise Eze, and the Transition Committee Chairman, Barr Raymond Onyegu, for their timely intervention which prevented the situation from escalating and also commiserated with the families of the policeman and the woman who lost their lives in the incident.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP Friday, the state commissioner of police, Mr Garba Umar described the allegation by the local government chairman that the police was planning another reprisal attack on the people of the area as an undignifying statement against police from a political office holder.
“Are police hoodlums, how can you say that police is planning a reprisal attack? This is an incident that happened about four weeks ago,” the state police boss stated in a telephone interview with LEADERSHIP.
Meanwhile, efforts made to get the reaction of the spokesperson of the Anambra State Police Command, Nkiru Nwode on the alleged plot by the police to launch another reprisal attack on the people failed. She only made a promise to call back but never did.