BY JIMITOTA ONOYUME
THE alleged shooting of Senator Magnus Abe by the police last Sunday at the Arts and Science College, Rumuola Road, in Obio Akpor local government area of Rivers State is the cause of division in Ogoniland with one group saying the senator lied over the incident while another group said the alleged attack was a clear case of a move to kill another Ogoni son after the judicial murder of Ken Saro-wiwa, a foremost environmentalist and former leader of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), by the Abacha administration.
Rivers State Police Command was at the centre of it all as there were allegations that policemen shot Abe on the chest with rubber bullets. The senator, who represents Rivers South East senatorial district, was at the Arts and Science College that Sunday morning to assess preparations for a rally slated for the venue by the Save Rivers Movement, a pro-Governor Chibuike Amaechi group.
The division the alleged shooting of Abe has caused among his Ogoni kinsmen manifested when two different youth groups embarked on rival protests. The first one, held on Tuesday, condemned the alleged attack by the police on the senator. The protesters, who blocked the Akpajo end of the East West Road as early as 6am, described the incident as an attempt by the security body to assassinate Abe. They said they would resist acts of impunity on the part of the police even as they called for the immediate transfer of the state Police Commissioner, Mr Joseph Mbu.
About seven vehicles were smashed on the Akpajo end of the East West Road during the protest.
The protesting youths said they were not ready to lose Abe the way they lost Saro-wiwa several years ago. One of the youth leaders, Mr Isaac Obe, told Sunday Vanguard that women, elders and several others in Ogoniland were so pained when they heard the news of the Abe attack.
“Our people came out to protest to the world against what happened to Senator Abe. We lost Ken Saro-wiwa, we do not want to lose another son”, he said.
The protest later became violent when the police mobilised to disperse the protesters who had taken over the East West Road thus making it impossible for vehicles to pass. Some of the youths, who resisted the action of the police, hurled stones and other objects at the policemen as they fled. Windscreens of vehicles caught in between the police and the youths were smashed.
A leader of the youths, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said some miscreants tried to hijack the protest, blaming the destructions recorded during the exercise on the miscreants.
When contacted for comment, Rivers State Police Command Public Relations Officer, DSP Ahmad Muhammad, said he was at the airport on his way to Abuja that day when he got a call that some miscreants were smashing vehicles on the road in the name of protesting. He blamed miscreants among the protesters for the damage done to vehicles.
According to him, the police only moved in to clear the road for road users
The following day-Wednesday- some protesters under the aegis of Ogoni Youths Movement and Federation of Ogoni Youth Leaders, in their thousands, stormed Bori, headquarters of Gokana local government area, to denounce the allegation by Senator Abe that he was shot with rubber bullets by the police. The protesters, who marched through the major road in Bori, said the senator lied.
Comrade Sunny Bekanwa, National President, Ogoni Youth Movement challenged Abe to show the world the injuries he sustained from the alleged action of the police.
Some of the placards they carried read, “Ogoni for Goodluck Jonathan,” “Ogoni youths are in support of the police,” “APC has no place in Ogoni,” “Magnus, show evidence of gun shots,” “Ogoni youths, Elders say Mbu must stay,” “Amaechi and Abe are collaborators in crime and lies,” “Ogonis are for Wike, PDP,”
While hailing the state police commissioner for aborting the rally of the Save Rivers Movement SRM that Sunday, they called on the Federal Government to leave Mbu as commissioner of police in the state.
The protesters later stopped at the Area Command office of the police in Bori where some of their leaders took turns to address the crowd. They pledged support of Ogoni for President Goodluck Jonathan and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) led by Felix Obuah in the state. Unlike the first day when the police fired teargas to disperse the protesters who had blocked the East West Road, the police provided escort for the Bori protesters.
In a related development, a group, Rivers Voice, has asked that those who protested against Abe be ignored, saying they were sponsored by the PDP.
Coordinator of the group in Rivers South East senatorial district, Mr Emma Osaro, said the protest against the senator showed that the PDP was behind the alleged assassination attempt on Abe.
“I am not surprised that the police protected the Bori demonstrators as against those who protested the shooting of Senator Abe; we lost Ken Saro-Wiwa to the Federal Government, now they want to kill our dependable senator and son. We will resist it,” he said
‘OUR SHOOTING STORY’
Meantime, the Chief of Staff, Government House, Port Harcourt, Mr Tony Okocha, who allegedly witnessed the incident, said he was at the Arts and Science College venue of the rally, with the senator to assess preparation for the Obio Akpor local government arm of a rally of the Save Rivers Movement. According to him, he got a call earlier in the day that the police had been told to ensure the rally did not hold.
So like Abe, he rushed to the venue of the event to see things for himself.
He said they were talking with the police while the senator was trying to call the Inspector General of Police when suddenly the police started firing teargas.
Continuing, he said as they kept on firing tear smoke to disperse the crowd, some of the policemen fired rubber bullets which hit Abe on the chest. The Chief of Staff said one of the rubber bullets also hit his left leg.
“On Saturday evening, being 11th January, 2014, I was at the premises of Rivers State College of Arts and Science, Rumuola where the stage for the rally was set up and we expected that the following morning, being Sunday, the rally will hold as planned by the Save Rivers Movement”, Okocha narrated.
“On Sunday morning, as early as 6am, my phone rang and the caller said the police, about five troopers, had besieged the premises and dismantled the canopies, chairs and table arranged for the event, while teargas was shot to disperse the crowd. When I got to the venue, I saw a crowd of policemen, including three armoured personnel carriers (APC), and also saw how the venue was upturned by the police.
It was not too long after I met Senator Magnus Abe that the police started the shooting of teargas and rubber bullets. One of the rubber bullets hit me on the left arm of my leg and also touched Senator Abe, right now, I can’t walk properly. Despite the police invasion, we were armless. When we saw that Magnus Abe had been injured, we managed to put him into a vehicle that took him to hospital for treatment before he was flown abroad”.
He said Abe was taken to a hospital in D Line area of Port Harcourt. At the hospital, one Dr Mackay Anyanwu, who administered first aid on him, said the senator was treated for traumatic shock. “The patient was brought in a state of a shock, as evidenced by low blood pressure. He was restless and he couldn’t communicate or reason coherently”, he stated.
‘’ As a first aid, we treated him for traumatic shock, because the implication of his state was that there was severe blood trauma and the amount of layers affected could not be detected immediately. This can only be done through the haemorrhoid tests.
‘’We have administered oxygen treatment on him for resuscitation and primary medication, but we also detected severe internal bleeding and high level haemorrhaging in him. Another bad news is that we also detected that the affected side is showing severe swelling, which led me to the conclusion that he must has been hit by a high calibre weapon and my fears were confirmed when I was told that he was shot with a rubber bullet”.
WE DON’T HAVE RUBBER BULLETS-POLICE
The police however denied the allegation that it fired rubber bullets at Abe. The state Police Public Relations Officer, Muhammad, said those behind the allegation that the senator was shot with rubber bullets were merely blackmailing the police.
According to Muhammad, Abe and the Chief of Staff, Government House “peacefully walked to” their vehicles while the police were dispersing the gathering with teargas.
“I want to state categorically that the police did not fire any shot, no single ammunition was used. We don’t shoot rubber bullets. We used minimum force to disperse the gathering at College of Arts and Science, Rumuola. When I say minimum force, I mean smoke, teargas.
The police image maker also said they had to disperse the gathering because the organisers, Save Rivers Movement, SRM, did not obtain police permit for the rally. According to him, the state police commissioner had made it clear to all that organisers of such programmes must get permit for events.
‘WE WROTE TO POLICE’
When confronted with the police claim, the state Chairman of the SRM, Mr Wolu Charles, said the police was being economical with the truth. According to him, they notified the police about the rally on January 7, stressing that their job was to only inform the police to provide security and not to seek permit for such gathering. He said the police acknowledged receipt of their letter.
Wolu, who said SRM is known to law, noted that it does not need police permit for its programms. He said Section 1 of the Public Order Act which the police relied on to disperse its gathering that Sunday had long been quashed by the court, noting that the section is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution.
“I want to debunk the statement by the commissioner of police that there was no communication between the police and the Save Rivers Movement. The police stamped our letter written on the 7th for our rally in Obio Akpor and Khana local government areas “, he said.
Wolu described the action of the police as barbaric and an attempt to replace democracy with autocracy, saying his group would continue to champion the good of the state.
Also counsel to the group, Bar Ken Atswuete, condemned the action of the police that Sunday, saying it violated the rights to free movement of residents of the Rumuola Road area where the incident occurred.
It would be recalled that the police that day also closed the ever busy Rumuola Road venue of the rally to traffic. Vehicles were diverted to adjourning roads.
The Inspector General of Police, Mr Mohammed Abubakar, has ordered a full scale investigation into the alleged Abe shooting.
In a similar vein, the Senate Committee on Police Affairs was in Port Harcourt last Tuesday on a fact- finding mission on the issue. It met with the state Police Commissioner, Mbu, and was also at the Government House, Port Harcourt where it listened to the account of the Chief of Staff, Government House, Port Harcourt, Okocha, of the incident.
Ogoni Leaders of Thought, in a statement issued in Port Harcourt, called for immediate investigation of the incident, saying it was a near assassination of Abe.
In a statement by Justice Peter Akere (rtd), Messrs Eddie Wikina, Peter Medee and Hon Marcus Nle Eji, the leaders said Ogoni would not hesitate to ask the police to leave the area if its alleged acts of impunity were not stopped.