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Thursday 31 October 2019

The Burning of Houses in Ndiegoro by Nigerian Police; an Interview Granted by a Native


Furthering investigations on police brutality and the burning of houses Ndiegoro community Aba, Biafra Writers went to the scene of the horrific event and spoke with Natives. One of the natives who offered a full account of the ugly incident is Mazi Anya-Ugo Nwokolo. He is a squad commander of a vigilante group known as Neighbourhood-watch. Biafra Writer's correspondent, Mazi Princewill Akubumma, conducted the interview. Excerpts:

Biafra Writer's Correspondent (BWC): Good evening my brother. Can you tell us your name and what you do for a living, please?

Nwokolo: My name is Mr. Anya-ugo Nwokolo, I am a squad commander of neighborhood watch. We watch and secure this street, Obohia in Ngwa community of Aba south here in Abia state.

BWC: We learnt that there have been indiscriminate arrests of people here. Can you please tell us how it started?

Nwokolo: This whole saga started on Thursday 26th of September 2019. In the noon of that day, members of the Nigerian Police Force went to a bunk to collect title from weed sellers as they routinely do. Right there in the bunk, a misunderstanding ensued, triggering off the ugly drama.

BWC: Please what do you mean by these words 'bunk' and 'Title'?

Nwokolo: Oh, so sorry for using coded names.

All: Laughs.

Nwokolo: Bunk is the name of a place where weeds (marijuana) are sold and smoked while 'Title' refers to bribe usually given to policemen when they come. In most cases, the policemen join the boys there to smoking.

BWC: Ok, I see. So what happened at the bunk?

Nwokolo: That very day the boys refused to part with their money. Argument ensued, culminating in a fight.  The police were overpowered and their rifles taken. In the hit of it all, a police officer and their driver lost their life.

BWC: How did you come about this, were you inside the bunk at the time?

Nwokolo: No, I wasn't in the bunk but as a Neighborhood-watch squad commander, I ask questions. I make investigations. So that’s how I learnt about what happened in the bunk that day.

BWC: Ok, very well. Then after the incident what happened next?

Nwokolo: You know, as it has become the tradition in the Nigerian police force, they see this kind of issue as an opportunity to make money. They at once began a massive arrest of citizens, combing every street here in Ndiegoro community. When the cells in Cameroun Barracks couldn’t contain more people, they moved to Central Police Station (CPS), and when that in turn filled up, they diverted to Area Command Unit. When that too got filled up, they moved to Eziama Police cells, which soon got filled too. Having nowhere else to pack in the people, they resorted to burning people’s houses and other properties worth millions of naira.

BWC: You just said that the police usually take this kind of situation as an avenue to make money, how do you mean?

Nwokolo: Yes, this is because once anybody is arrested, their family members must bail them with money, and so the more people they have in their cells, the more money in their pockets.

BWC: So, they wouldn't worry about the fate of their colleagues by carrying out investigations to fish out the culprits rather than arresting and throwing innocent people into cells just to extort?

Nwokolo: That's how they do their own investigations. Worse still, they would force those arrested to make statements under duress. Thereafter they would ask the family members to pay outrageous amount for their bailout.

BWC: So pathetic, isn't it?

Nwokolo: Very pathetic. Regrettable and unfortunate

BWC: We heard that many houses were razed to the ground, who were responsible for that?

Nwokolo: Many houses were set ablaze by the police officers, the video footage and the photos trending on the social media are the evidence.

BWC: So tell us how it happened

Nwokolo: The burning of houses started on Friday night, September 27, 2019. On that day, I and my men were on our duty post at 12:45am when suddenly there appeared a vehicle with dimmed headlamp approaching us in low speed. I alerted my boys to be on guard. On a closer observation, I found out that the approaching vehicle was not alone; there were other vehicles following behind. These other vehicles had their headlamps switched off.

BWC: You told your men to be on guard, was it to get their guns ready or what?

Nwokolo: Guns? No o, we have been banned from using guns while securing the neighborhood; this was an order from the government. I just asked them to position themselves well just in case, while I stood at the center of the road with my torchlight and a club in my hand.

BWC: With a club and torchlight? Do you think you can secure the neighborhood with that?

Nwokolo: I don't consider it wise to guard the neighborhood with bare hands, but what can we do since the government prohibited us from using guns while on duty?

BWC: Incredible! So what happened next?

Nwokolo: Immediately the vehicle in the front got to where I was standing, all other vehicles behind it turned on their headlamps and many hefty men jumped down from the vehicles and surrounded me and my men with AK47 assault rifles padded with double and triple magazines. It was at this point that I found out that the vehicles were 7 in number and they were Toyota Hilux vehicles which were mainly used for patrolling by the Nigerian police. The men were in plain clothes, however, the only suggestion that they are men of the Nigerian Police being the bold inscription, “Police,” on each side of the vehicles.

I demanded to know who they are, but rather than answer my question, a huge man whom I supposed to be their leader ordered me to come. I took the courage and walked towards him as the rest fixed the barrel of their guns at me. After observing me thoroughly, their leader demanded to know who I am. I identified myself as the squad Commander in charge of that area and the man then demanded for my identity card which I produced from my wallet and handed it to him. After going through the I. D. Card, he handed it back to me and then spoke a certain language which I am not familiar with. Three of his men then moved in to inspect my men once again, this time in a closer range. Thereafter they returned to their vehicles and drove off. As soon as they were out of earshot, I made a phone call to alert my men in the area they were headed. Within minutes I started to hear gunshots in that direction. We also saw flames and smoke rising from that same direction.

My men in that area called to report what has happened, warning me to stay clear of the road as it is very dangerous to encounter them as they return. We immediately took cover and keep watching the road from a vintage position. When they got to the place they met us initially, they alighted and searched for us. Not finding us, they jumped back into their vehicles and zoomed off.

My men in the affected area informed me that those men in police vehicles arrived with gallons of petrol with which they set people's houses and property ablaze. This I confirmed myself when I got there that night.

BWC: So what happened the next morning?

Nwokolo: On the following morning being Saturday, September 28, 2019, many people were woken up with shouts of help and crying of anguish. The men in police vehicles had gone to another street in the noon of that same day to set more buildings ablaze. As that was a busy hour, inhabitants were in the market and other workplaces. The house burning continued unabated till Tuesday 1, October 2019, with the perpetrators going from one street to another.  Receiving no help from the government, the youths of Ndiegoro community decide to take their destiny into their hands, coming out en masse to defend themselves and their property.

BWC: That's very sad. But who owned those houses being burned? Do they belong to the weed sellers that had issue with the bribe-taking and weed-smoking policemen or were the policemen just burning down houses at random?

Nwokolo: The houses they burnt did not belong to any weed seller. No one even knows who the weed sellers that had problem with the police actually are because the incident took place in a bunk and not in the street.

BWC: So what did the traditional rulers of that community and the government of Abia state do?

Nwokolo: The state government didn't do anything. The traditional rulers and some concerned members of the state House of Assembly however intervened. Sadly, many houses and property have already been destroyed.

BWC: How did they intervene? Was there any compensation to the victims who are presumably homeless now?

Nwokolo: There was nothing like compensation. As we speak, the affected people are homeless.  Some of them who are not from this area have gone back to their village, while those from this community, having nowhere to go to, roam the streets aimlessly.  This too is very dangerous because the same police officers and army who made them homeless will arrest them at night and tag them, thieves and armed robbers.

BWC: Thanks for your time.

Nwokolo: Thanks.

Contact us: [email protected]
Twitter:  @BiafraWriters
Instagram: biafrawriters
Publisher: Charles Opanwa

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