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Again, police high-handedness leads to needless death

By HENRY UMORU

This is the story of how a policeman senselessly killed a woman with an seven-month pregnancy in broad day light, leading to the burning of a bank  and cars.

Murder at dawn! Mpape rests on a hilly slope; slipping into chaos last Monday, January 31, could not have been a fate it desired. If there was a fate Mpape or its residents desired, it would have been one of the opulence of the serene Maitama District on the other side of the hill.

Last Monday, chaos visited Mpape big time. For Mr. Okere, husband of Doris, a 30-year-old woman with a seven-month pregnancy, fate couldn’t have been crueler than it was that morning.

An angry  policeman who, if he had been posted to any bank on the other side of the hill would have been much more civil, decided to use the power of the state wrongly.  And, so, because Mpape typifies the dingy, decrepit squalor which most settlements in Abuja represents, the policeman decided to treat Mrs. Doris that way. Or, how else would a mere attempt by a taxi driver to make a U-turn in front of a bank lead to sudden fury and what the police authorities described as ”accidental discharge.”

It all started that Monday morning when a taxi, with number-plate Niger XA 783 SRP, was caused to attempt a U-turn in front of the bank.  The taxi driver allegedly refused his order and made his U-turn in front of the bank.

Time was 7:30 a.m. Typically, an argument would occur between a policeman and a taxi driver.  It did. This led the trigger-happy officer to fire at the vehicle that had other passengers inside the vehicle, aside Doris. Three other passengers in the taxi were said to have sustained serious injuries.

Before the angry policeman carried out his action, it was gathered that the woman who was in the front seat of the taxi, pleaded with the policeman to allow them go considering the fact that the taxi had already completed the U-turn and was poised to proceed on its way.

The plea was turned down by the unyielding policeman who insisted that the driver must turn back and go the way he came.
The insistence of the policeman to prevent the taxi from moving allegedly infuriated the woman who got into a hot exchange of words with the policeman, even as the policeman allegedly threatened to shoot.

The woman was said to have replied him thus, “don’t you have a woman at home as a wife” and the policeman’s reply was that he was carrying out his official job. Within the twinkle of an eye, the policeman shot the woman.

The gunshot, it was gathered, attracted passersby who saw the body of the victim in a pool of blood. Pained by whathad happened, they went berserk leading somewhat, to an early morning revolution. The policeman fled and made his way back into the bank building.

Following his escape into the banking hall and the anger of the people, the mob took laws into its hands and set the bank ablaze including nine vehicles parked on the premises of the bank, some belonging to the workers. Nothing was spared but the human beings in the bank.

Even the Automated Teller Machine, ATM, of the bank was vandalised with efforts made to pull it down. Although some of those who attacked the machine took  advantage of the disorderly situation.

It became an opportunity for thieves, jobless youths, miscreants and thugs to loot using the confused atmosphere as a reason.
Commenting on the incident, a motor mechanic who operates close to the bank, disclosed that irate passersby on seeing the lifeless body of the woman became very enraged.

This, according to him, made the mob force its way into the bank, throwing stones and other objects in the direction of the bank even as vehicles and other property on the bank premises were destroyed and the bank set ablaze.

Relative calm did not come until the intervention from the Mpape Division of the Police and the Police from the FCT Command led by CP John Haruna, a detachment of the Brigade of Guards led by the Commander, Brigadier-General Emmanuel Atewe, and men of the Fire Service from the Federal Capital Territory.

As soon as the police team arrived and with moves to disperse the angry persons commenced, the officers started shooting sporadically into the air to disperse the mob. They were supported in the dispersing the mob by officers and men of the military and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC).

Workers  of the bank who were inside the burning building were rescued by the soldiers, just as the policeman who caused the trouble was later taken away under disguise in an ambulance belonging to the Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC after he had pulled his uniform and put on a mufti to escape being lynched by the mob. The corpse of the woman was later taken away in a military ambulance, while fire fighters who came some minutes after the fire started succeeded in putting out the fire but not before a substantial part of the building had been burnt.

The FCT police commissioner, John Haruna, promised that the officer who allegedly shot the woman would be properly investigated and prosecuted accordingly. Also speaking on the incident, the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Mr. Jimoh Moshood, a Superintendent of Police (SP), said eight vehicles and a dispatched motor-cycle belonging to the bank were burnt by the mob while another vehicle was vandalised, just as properties belonging to the bank including air- conditioners were removed in the process.

According to him, patrol teams from the Mpape Police Division and B Department (Operations) of the command were mobilised to the scene to avoid further loss of lives and property, pointing out that the team ensured that the bank’s vault was protected, even as he stressed that the damage would have been less if the mob had not denied the fire service team access to the bank.

He added that the killer-cop whose names he would not disclose has since been arrested and was facing orderly room trial for accidental discharge after which he would be dismissed from the Nigeria Police Force if found guilty and prosecuted.

But the situation is no longer a matter of if, but when. The Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Hafiz Ringim, moved by the ugly incident, has directed that a criminal suit be instituted against the erring police officer.

Questions that beg for answers are: Must a policeman who ought to protect the lives of the people be provoked to that level of opening fire on a pregnant woman or  killed the woman? Were the killed woman to be his wife or mother, and arguments of such ensued, will the same policeman act the way he did? As the police investigate into the matter, it is hoped that a thorough investigation would be carried out.

By the same token, it is hoped that the proper punishment would be meted out as that would serve as a deterrent to other trigger-happy policemen in the country.


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