• Apologise to traders
By O’star Eze
The 33 traders recently arrested during November 23 clashes between members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) and police officers in Nnewi, Anambra state have regained their freedom.
The release follows intense public outcry and pressure over the arrest of mostly traders by security operatives who were eventually paraded and accused of inciting the public, destroying police vehicles, killing one policeman and injuring others. They were also charged with terrorism.
Although details of their release were unclear as at press time as the state Police Public Relations Officer, SP Haruna Mohammed could not be reached for official statement, Orient Daily learnt that the suspects paraded on November 25 at the state police command, Awka as IPOB members were released on Saturday night.
A police source who spoke with our correspondent on conditions of anonymity because he was not
authorised to speak to the press, disclosed that the traders were secretly released secretly to avoid public attention.
“They were secretly released last night to avoid public attention”, the officer stated.
However, the chairman of the Fairly-used and New Motorcycle Dealers Association, FUNMDA, Mr. Chukwueloka Ubajekwe, disclosed that the 33 traders were released at the office of the Nnewi Area Commander, ACP Nnanna Ama.
Ama, who also confirmed the development, said the 33 traders, mistaken for IPOB members were released in his presence as at 11:30 pm on Saturday, December 1, 2018. He adds that they were instructed to report to the police headquarters in Awka on Monday to collect their personal belongings, including monies, motorcycles and items of clothing.
According to him, the IGP’s Special Team, who released the suspects, tendered unreserved apology on behalf of the Nigerian Police to the affected persons, their families, the Nnewi community and Anambra people over the mistaken identity.
When our correspondent got the Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of operations, Mike Okoli on the telephone, he declined to speak on the matter. “Call Haruna (Mohammed); he is our spokesman,” was his last response. Several calls placed on the PPRO’s contact number were not answered while subsequent calls indicated that his phone was switched off.
However, a foremost civil rights organisation in the state, the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Laws confirmed the release of the traders.
According to the chairman, board of trustees of Intersociety, Barrister Emeka Umeagbalasia, the traders “regained their freedom last night (Saturday) on orders of the Force Headquarters, Abuja following public outcry trailing their unlawful arrest and detention by the police.”
“The 33 paraded traders were released relatively unconditionally, while four out of the remaining reportedly lost N1.2m (N300, 000 each) to a police extortion racketeer operating within the state police command using an unnamed legal practitioner as a front.
“It is possible that the 10 persons were excluded from the list of those paraded because of their acceptance under duress to pay huge sums as criminal bail fees.
“The affected traders were said to have been threatened by the police extortion racketeer to deny offering such criminal bail fees, said to have been handed over to a police lawyer.”
According to him, Intersociety, earlier on Sunday, spoke to the chairman of the Motor Spare Parts Dealers Association in the market who confirmed their release and criminal loss of N1.2m. According to him, the affected traders were either afraid to speak out or under pressure to deny same to avoid possible police reprisal.
“We welcome the release of the 43 traders but demand for thorough investigation into the allegation of loss of N1.2m and recovery of same if proven to have been extorted. The extortionist lawyer and his or her paymasters, if truly exist in the instant case, and found culpable, must be sanctioned.
Orient Daily reported that the fracas, which erupted when pro-Biafra agitators marching towards the Agbaedo market and shouting: “no elections without referendum”, according to police authorities, led to the death of a police inspector, several other officers injured and destruction of police vehicles.
Parading the suspects at Anambra State Police Command Headquarters, Awka, the Force Public Relations Officer, DCP Jimoh Moshood, had said that those arrested were “members of the proscribed and unlawful indigenous people of Biafra (IPOB) responsible for the killing of a police inspector, inflicting serious injury on a divisional police officer (DPO) and some other police personnel, and setting ablaze of a police patrol vehicle in Nnewi, Anambra state on 23rd November, 2018.”
He adds: “All the thirty-three (33) suspects arrested will be arraigned in court on completion of investigation under terrorism prevention amendment act 2013 and other capital offences such as murder, attempted murder, rioting and malicious damage of government property and police vehicle including looting and stealing.”
Shortly after the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) dismissed police claims on the fracas, insisting that those arrested by police were not its members
IPOB’s Media and Publicity secretary, Comrade Emma Powerful, claimed in a press statement, that the purported attack on police officials and death of the officer were stage-managed and the pro-Biafra group remained a peaceful organisation and never carried out such an act.
Describing the allegations leveled against IPOB by police as “shocking and baffling,” Powerful urged for release of those arrested in relation to the incident as they have nothing to do with the incident.
Similarly, one of the suspects, Evangelist Sunday Ilonze, denied allegations that he was a member of IPOB, even as he claimed that he was attending to customers in his shop at Motor Spare Parts line when he was ambushed by policemen and arrested. Another suspect, Vincent Okoroafor, said he was the vice chairman of his line in Nnewi market, Prince of Peace Line, and the chairman of the choir in St Michael’s Catholic Church, Nnewi. He also said he just returned from the burial of a Reverend Father’s father at Nnewi and was packing some goods that were delivered to him with one of his apprentices when the policemen and the army came and arrested him alongside his boy.
In protest of the detention of its members, tagged terrorists, traders shut down eight major markets in Nnewi last Tuesday in Nnewi.
Traders at the Agboedo motor spare parts Nkwo Nnewi market, where the clash took place, had, on the day of the incident, closed shops before other markets in the city joined in solidarity. Over 10,000 traders whose shops were under lock and key had demanded for an unconditional release of their members, insisting that they were not members of the pro-Biafra group as taged.
Chairman of Agboedo Motor Spare Parts Dealers Association (AMSPDA), Chief Gabriel Chibueze, who took journalists round the market to show them the shops of the arrested members, maintained that the detained persons were traders.
He explained that the arrested traders could not have been involved in the fracas, saying the location of the protest was not close to the market.
“The place the protest took place is far from the market. In order to ensure the fracas didn’t escalate to the market, we the executive closed down all entrances leading to the market while our members continued their business.
“Suddenly, we saw a combined team of police and army who broke the gate of the bank in the market and started beating our members. They arrested both masters and their apprentices.
While demanding for the immediate and unconditional release of the members, Chibueze insisted that the market would continue to be under lock and key until they were set free. “We appeal to Nnewi Police Area Commander, the Anambra State Commissioner of Police, the Inspector General of Police and Governor Obiano to order the immediate release of the Nnewi traders.
“If they are not released, shutting down of the market would be extended to the state and the entire South East,” he threatened.