Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN) is a network of 49 civil society organizations spread across Nigeria and committed to promoting police accountability and respect for human rights. It was established in 2000 to provide opportunity for civil society input to police reform processes and the enhancement of safety, security and justice. NOPRIN writes to bring to your attention and to request you to order a prompt, impartial and exhaustive investigation into the tragic and shameful episode of Saturday, August 26, 2017 in Owerri, Imo State.
On the orders of the Governor of Imo State Anayo Rochas Okorocha, a combined force of the Nigerian Army from the 34 Artillery Brigade Obinze, Owerri, Imo State; operatives of the Nigerian Air Force, State Security Services, The Nigeria Police, Civil Defence, Imo Security Network, and hundreds of armed thugs allegedly imported from outside the state capital were deployed as security cover for the illegal eviction of traders at Ekeukwu Owerri market and the demolition of the market in contemptuous disregard of a restraining court order.
This cruel and self-serving act of terror resulted to the death of no less than three citizens, one of whom has been identified as Somtochukwu Ibeanusi a 10-year-old boy who was helping his parents to evacuate their goods trapped inside their shop. No less than three others sustained various degrees of injury while scores lost their goods and livelihoods at this critical period of economic challenges. The demolition is illegal and criminal because it was carried out in utter disobedience of a court order restraining the governor from taking the action pending the determination of the substantive matter before the court.
The deployment of soldiers is unlawful and unwarranted since it was purely a civil dispute. We call for an investigation to determine whether the deployment of the military to aid the governor in his atrocious and lawless act received the approval of the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. NOPRIN calls on the President to order and ensure an end to acts which degrade the institutional and professional integrity of the military such as the reckless and unnecessary deployment of its personnel during internal security situations which the police can effectively deal with.
Since it is well known that the military are trained to kill, anybody who deploys them at will and in needless and unjustifiable situations such as the case under reference can only be viewed to have premeditated to commit extrajudicial killing. NOPRIN is worried by Governor Rochas Okorocha’s propensity for violence, his self-confessed disdain for the rule of law and disregard for public opinion.
Brazen display of executive lawlessness and impunity has become the hallmark of Governor Okorochas administration. This is not the first time that the Governor of Imo State would unleash savage violence on the people he ought to be governing, targeting, especially critics and political opponents over disputes which are subjects of pending judicial proceedings.
With the people of Imo State languishing in anguish and poverty, the Imo State Governor decided to relocate the Owerri main Market being a traditional market known as Ekeukwu Owerri, from the Owerri Municipal Council where it is located to Egbeada in Ubomiri, Mbaitoli Local Government Area. Meanwhile, the stalls and structures in the market were built by private estate developers whom the old Owerri Local Government Area and latter Owerri Municipal Council contracted to build and operate the market for a period of ninety-nine years (99) in order to recoup their investments in constructing the stalls.
Those businessmen and women who invested their funds in the building of the market stalls are now in danger of losing their life investments. Not even a protest by over one thousand (1,000) Owerri women, dressed in black or letters of appeal by the traders in the Owerri main Market would appease or assuage the governor or make him change his mind. He vowed to demolish the market with effect from 1st August 2016 and that no power on earth can stop him from doing so. Sometime in 2013, the governor came up with the idea after building his mini Government House on a land he fraudulently and forcefully acquired from indigenes of Orji and Mbieri at a place called Spibart Road.
The Governor who sees himself as the owner of all the lands in Imo State by the virtue of the Land Use Act, sought to remove the mechanics from their Orji and Nekede mechanic villages. The mechanics protested, informing the Governor that the two mechanic villages were so captured and designated in the Owerri Development master plan by Owerri Capital Development Authority (OCDA). They further informed him that they have expended huge sums of money, building up and developing their mechanic shades, installing some High Technological Machines, some of which were burrowed underground and which could get damaged should they be removed. The mechanics further complained that they obtained approval from the Owerri Capital Development Authority (OCDA) to build their shades and even residential houses where a good number of them and their families reside. They told the Governor that they hold valid statutory Certificates of Occupancy duly issued to them by the Government of Imo State which had not been revoked. They pleaded with the Governor to consider the harsh conditions of the country’s economy and allow them to stay in their workshops and especially as the alleged proposed site for their relocation in Avu had not been developed and till date there are neither roads, water, light nor any other form of infrastructure being put in place for them to becoming an alternative of their mechanic villages. The Governor ignored all these essentially as his desire was to acquire the lands whereby the Orji Mechanic Village situate for expansion of his kingdom on earth being his residential house at Spibart Road, which is close to the Mechanic Village.
On or about 14th of July 2016, His Excellency the Governor after the attempt to persuade the mechanics at Orji Mechanic Village as to vacate so as to enable him expand his kingdom failed, he went to have a general meeting with all the mechanics, numbering about five thousand (5000) in attendance. As expected, the meeting became very rowdy with the young mechanics shouting out their opposition to being relocated.
Information in the public domain and from the accounts of some of the mechanics who were eye witnesses had it that the Governor was so enraged that he physically assaulted one of the mechanics who appeared stubborn to him. At this juncture, the mechanics scampered for safety with everybody running for his dear life. His Excellency Owelle Rochas Anayo Okorocha seized the opportunity to invite the demolition team made up of four (4) excavators and three (3) caterpillars and they came to Orji Mechanic Village and demolished it completely without leaving any structure standing. None of the mechanics was able to remove a pin from his workshop; hence they lost their means of livelihood and investments in a twinkle of an eye. For some time, the Governor barricaded the entire area with lorry loads of mobile policemen and members of the Nigerian army from the 34 Base Artillery Brigade Obinze. About twenty (20) mechanics were arrested on the spot and were detained for sometime by the Imo State Police Command on the orders of the Governor, without any offence committed. A good number of the vocal leaders, who had expressed their opposition to the Governor in a bid to relocate them during that meeting, were forced into hiding. These mechanics and other persons whose structures, shops, business establishments etc had been destroyed by the Governor without compensation and without the likelihood of any one being compensated for ever are now crying to High Heavens for justice. They are crying to the Federal Government especially the president of Federal Republic of Nigeria to call Governor Okorocha to order. In practical terms, they have now joined the ranks of internally displaced persons and they are crying for help.
NOPRIN is seriously concerned that Governor Okorocha’s characteristic resort to barbaric and brute force rather than due process threatens our democracy. Brute force has become his only trump card since he has completely lost public faith and goodwill. His resort to the use of the military to muscle his way through unpopular actions in utter contempt of court orders must be checked. NOPRIN calls on President Buhari to take necessary actions to put an end to the excesses of Governor Okorocha who is a member of his All Progressives Congress Party.
His unconstitutional and undemocratic behaviours- including his frequent illegal deployment of military officers from the 34 Artillery Brigade, Obinze and Air Force personnel must be checked. The role of the Commanders in those military formations should also be investigated. NOPRIN calls for an investigation of the extreme and disproportionate use of force and abuse of firearms by the military and other security agencies.
All those found to be responsible for the reckless shootings, killing and injuries to the victims should be identified and prosecuted. The rights of the victims to timely and adequate compensation and remedies should be guaranteed. Conclusion In conclusion, the Governor’s latest action has the dangerous potential of raising the level of crime and insecurity in the state. As we write, the Ekeukwu Owerri stretch of Douglas Road in the Imo State capital is flooded with military personnel and this has imposed fear and undue restrictions to people’s freedom of movement. Residents now live in fear, and this state of fear and uncertainty cannot be allowed to stand.
We trust that you will act promptly and decisively to call the imperial governor to order and prevail on him to abide by the rule of law, allow due process and civility to guide his actions, and that he respects the people’s rights if they are not to be provoked to resort to rebellion.
Yours sincerely, Okechukwu Nwanguma National Coordinator 08064974531