Posted by News Express | 6 October 2014 | 5,002 times
“Silence in the face of evil is evil itself: God will not hold guiltless.
Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act”—Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
The Civil Liberties Organisation, Anambra State Branch writes your esteemed office on the above subject matter.
One of the laudable cardinal undertakings of Your Excellency’s Administration is the initiative geared towards ridding the state of all manner of violent crimes and criminality. This bold initiative, justifiably owing to the centrality of security need to all, has elicited acclamation both from the supporters of Your Excellency’s Administration and the nay Sayers alike. One of such commendation from the opposition flank was the recent remarks credited to Chief Joe Igbokwe, APC Publicity Secretary in Lagos at a Security Fund Raising event organized by your Administration in Lagos.
However, like a bold and conspicuous stain on a clean white linen, there has resurfaced a dangerous phenomenon in the state that requires urgent nipping in the bud, or be allowed to snowball into a tradition to the utter discredit of the gains already made in the area of security by the Administration.
Our office, in the last three months, has received a deluge of reports from citizens (both visitors to and residents of the state alike) concerning the activities of a criminal syndicate who operate under the guise of Revenue Collectors and Vehicle Emblem Agents and Taskforce in the commercial city of Onitsha. These groups operate in Onitsha and its environs despite the continued radio announcements by the State Government to the effect that such activities are not only illegal, but criminal.
Our independent investigation coupled with our personal encounter with two of such many groups on Friday, 3rd day of October, 2014 reveal that if such activities are not halted, the city of Onitsha will sooner than later be in turmoil as the people will have no other option than to take their fate in their own hands and revolt against them. This is so because, though few of their victims who recounted their tales of woos in the hands of the brigands did so with sense of resignation to fate, many, on other hand, narrated the account of their ordeals with a sense of intense displeasure and resentment as to why such criminal activities will be happening with impunity in a city like Onitsha and both the people and the government seem disabled in fighting for the people. In all honesty, Sir, the resentment and angst against the activities of the boys is increasing by the day, more so, when many more people are falling victims by the day, and only time will tell what will happen next.
The groups whose main camp is the former Federal Ministry of Works office compound, beside Holy Trinity Cathedral, Onitsha operate with impunity and wanton braggadocio of “nothing de happen” attitude. Within the compound, there are more than five different booths or makeshift offices, each manned by a commander, with many fierce-looking boys working under him. Two of the groups with which we interacted, are respectively headed by one Tony Anazonwu and one Ejike (surname unknown).
Smoking of Indian hemp (marijuana) and all kinds of hard drinks and rums is a pastime for all the boys you find within the vicinity. In fact, the sight of boys smoking marijuana is a commonplace with the compound. The appearance of each of the commanders is greeted with what has become their traditional mode of compliments. On seeing their “ony isi” (their boss or commander), one of them shouts, “gbuchaaaaa”!!!! (Salute!!!), and every other person will chorus, “tuaaii Papaaaaa”!!! “onye rua uka!!!,” “ofu n’anya!!!” (Anyone who doubts, sees!!!). The effect of this mode of greeting adopted by the groups is to create a frenzy atmosphere for effective harassment and extortion of their victims.
OUR ENCOUNTER WITH THE BOYS
On Thursday, October 2, 2014, Comrade Vincent Ezekwueme, Anambra State Chairman of Campaign for Democracy (CD) brought a report that his Fiat bus was impounded by the boys, and that he was being asked to cough out the sum thirty-five thousand Naira (N35,000.00) for emblems and “taskforce penalties”. Upon receipt of this report, our Legal Secretary, Comrade Justus Uche Ijeoma, asked him to give the phone to the leader of the group so that he would get the gist of the group’s demand but the said leader refused to collect the phone from him. Our Legal Secretary knowing one of their leaders, Ejike who was one of the officials of the disbanded ASTA, called him on phone but he explained that it was not his group, but Tony’s group that impounded the vehicle. He, however, promised Comrade Ijeoma that he was going to talk to Tony and that the vehicle would be released. This promise was not kept as the vehicle was not released.
So, on the following day, Friday, October 3, 2014, Comrades Ijeoma and Vincent Ezekwueme went to their office for the release of the vehicle. Unfortunately, they did not meet the said Ejike in the office, but what the comrades saw on ground was that many vehicles (apparently belonging to victims) were being driven into the compound by some of the boys in “James Bond-style.” There was also stern harassment of the victims, sometimes spiced up with beating and pushing by the hoodlums.
Meanwhile, as Comrade Ijeoma was driving into the compound he saw a woman sitting dejectedly by the gate, wailing and weeping. The sight of the woman elicited a deep concern in our Comrade and he called on her to know why she was sobbing in public. The woman who identified herself as Mrs. Opurum, wife of Mr. Festus Opurum (one of their victims for the), was still trying to pull herself together to be able to narrate her travails in the hands of the boys when one of them came and started shouting on the Comrade for daring to poke nose into a matter that does not concern him. Before the comrade could say a word the boys descended on him, slapping and beating him with their fist. They poured sand on him from head to toe; dragged him about like a common criminal. It only took the intervention of sympathisers to rescue the Comrade from the paw of those renegades.
When Comrade Ijeoma was extricated from their hands, he put a call to their leader, Ejike to intimate him of the kind of treatment that has been meted out to him by his boys. Ejike told the comrade that one of his boys who, according to him knew Ijeoma had already called him to inform him of the “blunder” his boys had committed. He pleaded with Comrade Ijeoma that he will fish out all the boys that participated in beating him. The criminal assault on Comrade Ijeoma was reported at the Central Police Station, CPS Onitsha for investigation and prosecution but before the police could arrive the venue all the boys had taken to their heels. The police officers who came for the arrest called Ejike on phone and he assured them that he will assemble the boys and bring them to the station. The particles of sand that entered the comrade’s eyes have been causing him severe pains in both eyes since then.
A SAMPLE OF THEIR VICTIMS ON 3RD OCTOBER, 2014 ALONE
A sample of just few of the victims that were waylaid, harassed, tortured and robbed by the group on Friday October 3, 2014 alone is thusly presented hereunder to buttress the ruthlessness of the mode of operation of the boys.
MR. FESTUS OPURUM (08033471281)
Mr. Opurum, owner of Toyota Dyna vehicle with Registration Number: ACA 713 XA, was driving out of a mechanic workshop in company of his wife when the boy double-crossed them and dragged him out of the steering; forcibly searched him and collected all the money he had on him and drove the vehicle by themselves to their premises.
They were later told that the amount of money found on him was Ten Thousand Naira (N10,000.00) and that his bill (both for the Emblems and penalty) is Thirty-Five Thousand Naira (N35,000.00), and so he should go and look for a balance of Twenty-Five Thousand Naira (N25,000.00) before he could be released. His attempt to query the rationale behind their conducted attracted beatings from the boys, as according them; they were not permitted to ask questions. That was exactly the situation that made the wife to be crying when our Comrades arrived at the venue.
MR. ADULE OSUFU: (08020857772; 07061012219)
Mr. Osufu is the driver of Toyota Previa with Registration Number: BEN 08 ZN. When he was accosted and his vehicle forcibly impounded they were eleven occupants (including women and children) in the vehicle. After searching the driver and collecting all the money he had on him, which is Five Thousand, Five Hundred Naira (#5,500.00), they ordered all the occupants out of the vehicle, abandoned them at Upper Iweka where they were arrested and drove the vehicle by themselves to their theater of extortion.
It took the driver, who is from Ekpoma in Edo State about two hours of running around in Onitsha to locate their office. When the driver finally located them in their office, they told him that he should go and bring a balance of Twenty-Nine Thousand, Five Hundred Naira (N29,500.00) before he could secure his freedom.
Sunday is the driver of a Suzuki Bus with Registration Number: FGG 100 BN. At the point where Sunday was stopped, he was searched and the sum of Seven Thousand Naira (#7,000.00) was forcibly taken from him. When his younger brother, Chibuike Onyeaghala who also was in the vehicle with him was searched and no money found on him, the boys gave him a beating of his life. They also drove his vehicle by themselves to their camp. They were later told to go and bring Thirty-Eight Thousand Naira (N38,000.00) to make it Forty-Five Thousand Naira (N45,000.00).
CHIBUZOR IBEH (09092159997)
Chibuzor Ibeh, owner of a private car, Chrysler Voyager with Registration Number: KSF 337 CH. According to him, he was going to have his wedding ceremony the following day (Saturday, 4thOctober, 2014) and so had gone to the market, in company of his friend, to buy few things in preparation for his event.
The marauding gang accosted them on the way; removed his Vehicle Number Plates and forced him to their camp. On getting there, they told him that his bill was Sixty-Five Thousand Naira (N65,000.00). He was detained there for a long time until our Comrades returned from the Police Station, where they had gone to make entry for the assault on Comrade Ijeoma (by then our Vice Chairman, Comrade Alex Olisa had joined our team), and insisted that the young man would not pay any kobo. When the Comrades insisted that the owner of the “contract” should come if he must pay anything, they hurriedly release Chibuzor.
The case of Uchenna and the driver carrying his load (plywood) is perhaps the most pathetic. Uchenna is a plywood dealer at Ozomagana Street in Onitsha. He contracted the driver to carry the goods to his customer in Warri, Delta State. They were accosted on the way by the gang and with their usual commando-force, took them to their camp. Both the driver and the owner of the goods (Uchenna) were searched, and the only three thousand naira found on Uchenna was first taken by them.
The explanation of the driver to the effect that he had purchased the papers from them earlier fell on deaf ears. The boys could not be persuaded even when the driver presented almost a bucket-full of papers and emblems to them. They first told the owner of the goods to go and make up, the one they had already taken, to Five Thousand Naira (N5,000.00) so that they would be released.
However, after the man had gone out and brought additional Two Thousand Naira (N2,000.00) to make up the money to the agreed sum, they took another turn and told him that what he was going to bring is Twenty-five thousand naira (N25,000.00) or else that he should get another vehicle to trans-load his goods and leave them with the driver. This, they said apparently because they saw that they (the victims) had become helpless. They were only released when Ejike, their leader came in much later in the evening and “scrutinised” the papers brought by the man and found that they were complete.
However, the five thousand naira they had fleeced out from the man earlier on was not refunded, even when our comrades demanded for a refund of the money to the man, they were severely threatened that “if they don’t shut-up, that they were going to pay with their lives.”
It is important to mention here that there was another man whose case was very similar to that of Mr. Uchenna, the only difference being that the said man complained that the boys, ostensibly in a bid to find a sufficient ground to hold him and extort money from him, surreptitiously removed two or three papers from the bulk he gave to them for inspection.
This was confirmed by Ejike who noted that it was not possible for one to buy/have the papers which the man has presented without having the “missing” ones as the bulk is usually sold jointly and not separately. It was in reliance on this premise that Ejike released him, though like in the case of Uchenna, the money remove from his pocket when he was searched was not refunded.
There are a thousand and one instances of such reports that come to us on daily basis but we have chosen to uses the above instances all of which happened not only on the day, but within a space of hours that our comrades were in their compound. The first three victims mentioned above were hurriedly released immediately our Comrades stepped out to make entry at the police station but none of them was refunded the money collected from them, thank God we have their contacts.
Even the good-man posturing of Ejike, as seen in the last three instances cited above, is a mere hoax aimed at giving the false impression to us that he is being humane with the people. If not he would have ordered for the refund of all the money they criminally collected from the victims.
From the foregoing, it is clear that the activities of the boys, apart from being criminal and illegal, are carried out in utter disrespect for sanctity of the citizens’ fundamental human rights to freedom of movement and of fair hearing.
When contacted, the Commissioner for Transport, Barr. Chuma Mbonu, told us pointblank that the State Government, at present, has not appointed any individual as her agent in this regard; and that any person purporting to be an agent of the government for the purposes of sale or purchase of emblems is a criminal and should be arrested. It is, however, observed that the activities of the boys, one way or the other, receives active support from some people within the corridors of power in the state.
In the cause of threatening our comrades, one of the boys unwittingly declared that the owner of the job is “Oba of Obeledu” who, according to him, is highly connected to those in Government, and that no one can stop the job. Truly speaking, would have regarded these comments as a mere puff, but the audacious impudence with which the boys operate suggest very strongly that they must be receiving their backing from somewhere around the top.
Again, His Excellency, assuming, but not conceding that they are agents of this Administration, the afore-described mode of operation of the boys which is devoid of any atom of civility and candour is antithetical to peace and presents a horrible image of lawlessness, anarchy and absence of order for the state, particularly when the perpetrators claim to be working for the state.
We call on you to, as a matter urgent necessity, direct security agencies, preferably the SSS, to move in and arrest all those involved in this heinous act of criminality and bring them to justice. The state must not be allowed to degenerate to a Hobbesian state of affairs, where might is right.
There should also be a thorough investigation of the activities of the group with a view to ascertaining the level of involvement of any member of your State Executive Council or indeed, any government official in the whole ugly developments, and anyone found to have a hand in it should be adequately sanctioned. In the case of a Commissioner we recommend immediate sack as the irreducible punishment for this act of sabotage.
The Government should also make an official unequivocal public statement on the issue of emblems in the state and make sure that such statement is followed up with Radio and Television announcements.
We also recommend that a Commission of Inquiry be set up to conduct public hearing on the foregoing issues and those found culpable by the Commission should be made to face the severe punishment of the law. It is completely unacceptable for a few individuals, no matter how highly connected, to constitute themselves into a force against the tide of a peaceful and orderly society just for their selfish pecuniary interest.
Thank you in anticipation that this important letter will receive the most urgent attention it deserves.
•Being text of an open letter written today to Anambra State Governor Willie Obiano by the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Anambra State Branch, entitled ‘A Return of the Era of Intimidation, Battery, Sundry Extortion and Broad-Daylight Robbery By Illegal and Criminal Revenue Collectors in the City of Onitsha and Its Environs: A Call on the Government of Anambra State for Urgent Action’. It was signed for Anambra CLO by Justus Uche Ijeoma, Legal Secretary, and Comrade Alex Olisa, Vice Chairman.
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