It is no longer the police teaming up with the law abiding members of the public to fight crimes and their committers, rather, it is now the police teaming up with criminals to fight and punish the law abiding members of the public for being law abiding and avoid being in conflict with the criminal law. This ugly scenario has risen to an apogee in Onitsha, Nnewi and Awka zones of the State, with Onitsha zone being the hardest hit. In Onitsha zone, for instance, it is now a crime to be law abiding and saintly to be criminal.
In its 2013 World Human Rights’ Day report, issued in Onitsha on 8th of December, 2013, the Anambra State Branch of the Civil Liberties Organization named Okpoko Police Station in Ogbaru LGA of Anambra State as “the most corrupt policemen (station) in Anambra State”. The roguish police station is headed by SUPOL Emeka Ugwu. The “most money conscious officer” labeling went to SUPOL Tony Onyakhire, the unit commander of the Okpoko Unit’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The “officer with a compromised mindset” went to SUPOL Friday Onoja, the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of Awada Police Station in Idemmili North LGA of Anambra State. On the positive side, the Anambra CLO gave CSP Shehu Meikudi, the DPO of Fegge Police Station in Onitsha South LGA of Anambra State “a role model and a disciplinarian” award.
In addition to the foregoing, the leadership of International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law agrees with the Anambra CLO that Okpoko Police Station is the doyen of corruption in the present Anambra State Police Command. It is also correct to say that its two pillars of corruption are predicated on roadblock and police station extortion and bail fees. Its main victims are traders conveying their wares from one place to another. Also, among all the units of the Special Anti Robbery Squad of the Anambra State Police Command, the Okpoko Unit is the most degrading, corrupt and commercialized, followed by the Onitsha Central Police Station’s Unit. The Awkuzu SARS Headquarters remains unrivalled in terms of homicidal atrocities. In other words, it remains the “Anambra Killing Field”, surpassing threefold the records of the Anambra State Criminal Investigations Department. The Awkuzu SARS also has the “most expensive police bail fees chart” in the entire Anambra State Police Command.
Out of the three zones of Onitsha, Awka and Nnewi, police formations in Onitsha are the most corrupt and criminally minded; followed by Awka zone including Awkuzu SARS and Ogidi Police Station; and Nnewi zone. In the field observation and investigation carried out recently by the leadership of intersociety to ascertain the level of compliance concerning the January 2012 country-wide ban and dismantling of most of over 3,500 police roadblocks by the Inspector General of Police, Mr. M.D. Abubakar; it was found that the compliance level in Onitsha zone has fallen to 20% from its post January 2012 level of 60%. That of Nnewi zone fell to 40% from the referenced level of 70%; while that of Awka zone stood at 60% from the referenced level of 80%. This simply means that the IGP’s order is in a verge of collapsing in Onitsha zone; shaky in Nnewi zone; and under threat in Awka zone.
It is recalled that IGP Mohammed Abubakar had on 30th of January, 2012, ordered the instant dismantling of over 3,500 police roadblocks across the country owing to hardships and death of many innocent citizens arising from the criminal policy. As at that time, Southeast geopolitical zone had over 1,500 police roadblocks and constituted about 60% or N32. 2Billion of the total criminal proceeds of over N53Billion raked in through roadblock extortion in three years, between 2009 and 2011( Intersociety 2011). The dismantling was substantially sequel to theIntersociety’s twin report of December 2011 on police killings and corruption in Nigeria. The IGP later constituted and stationed a number of special police checkpoints mounted by the Federal Highway Police patrol teams, which were stationed in strategic road checkpoints with official tags and identity cards. He also ordered for motorized patrols by the Zonal and the State Police Commands.
The policy under reference was not only celebrated by many Nigerians, but it helped in a great deal in remedying the battered image of the Nigeria Police Force and endeared the present IGP to the hearts of many, if not most Nigerians particularly the road users. In spite of this noble image remedial approach by IGP Mohammed Abubakar, the directive is still observed in breach and has risen to an apogee in recent weeks especially in Anambra State. Our field checks few days ago (December) showed that the personnel of the State Police Command including general duties, SARS and anti-riot, have flooded Anambra roads again especially in Onitsha zone.
Some of the areas they were sighted harassing, molesting and extorting people are Onitsha Niger Bridgehead(up and under), Niger Street, Creek Road Roundabout, Port Harcourt Road by Upper Iweka, Upper Iweka by Aba Park, Owerri Road by Obodoukwu Road, Obodoukwu Road by Ede Road, Oraifite Street and Ezeiweka Road( Awada), Upper Iweka Under Flyover and Upper Flyover, Modebe Avenue, Nsugbe/GRA Road, Owerri Road by Rojenny Stadium (joining federal highway police team), Atani Road by Odekpe Central School, all in Onitsha zone. Others are Nnewi-Okigwe Federal Road by Azia/Isekke Road junction, Nnobi/AwkaEtiti Road by Ichida town, Ekwulobia Roundabout, etc.
The foregoing illegal police roadblocks monitored, did not include those mounted by the Federal Highway Patrol teams in designated areas like Onitsha-Enugu Dual Carriage Way by Nkwelle-Ezunaka junction, Onitsha-Enugu Dual Carriage Way by Umunya, Onitsha-Enugu Dual Carriage Way by Amansea, Onitsha-Owerri Dual Carriage Way by Nnewi Old Road junction, Onitsha-Owerri Dual Carriage Way by Okija Bridge and Isekke/Orsumoghu Road junction. The criminal routines of these illegal police roadblock squads are random demand for strange vehicular papers from their operators and receipts of wares being conveyed or carried from one place to another. Even when such vehicular operators and wares’ conveyors provide all particulars known to Nigeria’s body of laws in matters of tort and crime laws, further flimsy demands are made so as to find ways to extort them or arrest and take them to police stations, where they are brutalized and cowed to pay illegal and astronomical bail fees or “buy back their wares” or both. In some cases, the criminal police officers label vehicles driven by their owners and wares being conveyed as “stolen or contraband” all with intent to extort.
The Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS), on its part, engages in mass raids and arrests usually when people are retiring to their residences from works or businesses. Such criminal activities are also carried out in the evening time and in the streets during relaxing and retiring hours and early morning when people are rushing to their places of work. The victims are passersby, private and commercial motorcycle and motor vehicle operators and their passengers and wares. At times, the SARS operatives demand for strange papers and particulars from their victims and at the other times, they arrest and brutalize their victims indiscriminately. Sometimes, victims of SARS are set or framed up and labeled “receivers of stolen goods or items looted from house breaking or burglary”.
Those arrested are usually bruised before taking to Okpoko Police Station, where they are subjected to further torture and other inhuman or degrading treatments, after which they are held captive with a threat to transfer them to Awkuzu SARS Headquarters and label them “armed robbers” with possibility of being killed summarily without diligent criminal procession including fair trial. Usually, to avoid being so labeled and executed, victims of SARS mass raids and arrests pay huge unlawful bail fees demanded of them by their captors (SARS). Though the criminal activities complained of are carried out by different SARS Units across Anambra State, but the Okpoko Unit is the worst perpetrator, followed by the Onitsha CPS Unit, then Awka CPS Unit, Nnewi CPS Unit, Ekwulobia and Ihiala Units.
Out of numerous recorded SARS mass raids and arrests particularly in Onitsha zone, that of 29th of October, 2013, is most callous and shocking, and therefore, worthy of mentioning. On the said date, between 7:00pm and 8:20pm, the Okpoko SARS Unit squad personally led by SUPOL Tony Onyahkire; its Unit Commander, invaded New Road/Abazuonu Street, Ihitenansa and Upper Acha Street all in Iyiowa Odekpe Layout in Ogbaru LGA of Anambra State with three 18-seater hired buses and arrested forty (40) adult residents of the area including husbands and wives, nursing mothers and pregnant women. They were arrested in front of their residences and street sales stores. Names of those arrested are: Ebuka Uchendu (male), Ejike Chukwuka (male), Mmaduka Isabel Chinenye (female), Ekene Olegeme (male) and Chinazo Olegeme (female)(sibling), Sunday Ugochukwu (male), Onyeka Enemuo (male), Patrick Chukwu (male), Chigozie Amachu (male), Udeme Usara (male), Emeka Obi (male), Amara Offordum (female), Ime Ekarika (male), Gift Donald (female), Izueke Ethelbert (male)(matcheted & wounded), Eric Ndukwe (male), Nonso Onumaegbu (male), Ebuka (male), Joseph Ugwueke (male), Sir Lawrence Chukwudebere (male), Mr. and Mrs. Norbert Okafor (husband & wife).
Others are Patricia (female & pregnant woman), Uchenna Okonkwo (male), Marcel Ogbuefi (male), Chiamaka Ekechi (female), Uchenna Nwaebo (male), Chigozie Eke (male), Johnson Chibueze (male), Monday Nwali (male), Uchenna Nwabueze (male), Victor Okeke (vigilante) (brutalized & bruised), Nnaemeka Ugwu (vigilante), Okafor Chigozie (male), Offordile Tobechukwu (male), Ozoude Chinonso (male), Uzochukwu Chibuzor (male) (brutalized & bruised),Emeka and John Nnakaelo (sibling) and Okoye Andrew (male). They were packed like sardines in the three 18-seater buses alongside others arrested on their way to Iyiowa and taken to Okpoko Police Station where they were crammed in a batcher and asked to pay N10,000 each or risk being labeled “armed robbers” and transferred to Awkuzu SARS for possible summary execution or subjected under huge bail fees conditions.
By the time, the Intersociety team led by Comrade Justus Ijeoma got to the Station, over seventy citizens were counted as total number of those arrested and detained by Okpoko SARS. They were dumped in two small batchers without gender separation and made to excrete in two plastic buckets for the two batchers. Our timely intervention not only cost the criminal SARS squad the sum of N700,000, which they would have raked in illicitly on a swoop from their over seventy detainees on average of N10,000 for each detainee, but also the sum of N20,000 forcefully demanded and collected from Sir Lawrence Chukwudebere and Mr. Norbert Okafor was refunded to them by the leader of the SARS Unit, SUPOL Tony Onyahkire amidst apologies. All the arrested citizen residents were detained till about 9:30am 30th of October, 2013, when they were released unconditionally owing to our intervention and insistence. Till date, such criminal raids and arrests have not abated. They were repeated on 2nd and 9th of December, 2013, respectively, by the Okpoko SARS Unit between 5: pm and 6:30pm in areas like Atani Road by Orange Drugs Industries Limited in Ogbaru LGA of Anambra State.
Following from the foregoing, therefore, the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar is put on notice over the foregoing atrocious acts of his personnel in Anambra State. The State is now under siege. The most shocking thing is that criminal activities particularly road and street extortion and brutalization are again on the increase in the State. Criminal entities have taken over the State especially the city of Onitsha and its environs. Anambra Roads are now “Onitsha Main Market”, where for you to pass especially with your wares or personal belongings, you must part with police and innumerable militant extortionist youth groups.
In one of our field observation tours, we encountered a leader of one of such innumerable militant extortionist groups ordering a police officer who also extorts to “mind his own business and let him mind his own as well, because we are in this business together with the same intent”. Such is the ugly scenario playing out in Anambra State, especially Onitsha and its environs. The IGP must address these criminal activities of his personnel as a matter of utmost immediacy and public importance. The Onitsha Area Commander, Mr. B.C. Wordu and his DPOs of Onitsha CPS, Fegge, Inland Town, Okpoko and Atani as well as the Awada and Ogidi DPOs, who are under Awka Area Command, should be particularly queried and code-sanctioned for dragging the remedying image of the NPF and the IGP back to their inglorious epoch. The new CP of Anambra State Police Command, Mr. Usman Akila Gwary must be directed to put an immediate stop to these atrocious and illegal acts and make all roads in the State conducive so as to allow the citizens of the State to celebrate the 2013 Christmas as free born Nigerians and not as those under captivity.
Emeka Umeagbalasi, Chairman of the Board
Comrade Justus Uche Ijeoma, Head, Publicity Desk