By Peter Duru

MAKURDI—The mysterious shooting of an Igbo trader detained under police custody in a police post at Vaase village in Logo local government area of Benue state has left sour taste in the  mouths of many, including the Igbo Traders Association ,ITA, who are demanding an explanation to the circumstances surrounding the  murder.

The deceased  whose name was given as Innocent Okorie was said to be a renowned trader who was based in Wukari, Taraba State .

But he met his untimely death in a rather bizarre and inexplicable manner in a remote village in Benue State where it was alleged that a mob besieged the police station where he was ironically detained in leg cuffs for safe keeping , dragged him out of detention and shot him.

In a petition written to the Benue State Commissioner of Police by the ITA and made available to Saturday Vanguard, the association raised a number of posers that demand explanations from the police high command especially the officers and men who were on duty at the post on the day of the commission of the act.

According to the body of the petition, on the 15th day of May 2009, which was a Vaase market day; the late Innocent Okorie, who was until his death a member of the ITA, traveled from Wukari where he resided as a trader to sell his wares at the neighbouring Vaase market, in Logo local government council of Benue State .

And while at the market where he had displayed his goods, he became thirsty and  purchased water  from an eleven year old girl who was hawking sachet water.

But after gulping the water, he discovered he did not have money in small denominations to pay the girl who also couldn’t raise a balance for him. It was agreed by both parties that the young Tiv girl call  back later in the day to collect the money for the water when late Innocent must have garnered small denominations to enable him pay for the water .

But that was not to be because when the girl called back later in the evening of the same day, her customer could not still raise the small denomination of the Naira to pay for the sachet  water he drank.

At this point, an argument ensued between the late Innocent and the girl over the issue of payment and the issuance of balance after payment was effected.

The ensuing argument by both parties attracted the attention of villagers in Vaasa and passersby who mistook him for a kidnapper and descended on the trader and beat him to a state of coma, leaving him half dead in a pool of his own blood.

The villagers had alleged that the trader was on  the verge of kidnapping the sachet water hawker in a sack bag to an unknown destination, hence his antics of delaying the payment for the water he consumed.

The mob action virtually left the entire market in disarray  as it was believed that the Igbo trader was already dead, prompting traders and buyers alike to scamper for safety in the event of a police action to apprehend the masterminds of the action.

But on storming the scene of the crisis, the police at Vaase arrested the deceased who was already in coma and detained him at the Vaase police post.

The police had insisted that they  would keep him under their protective custody on the ground that it was getting dark and  assured  that he would be released the following morning.

The police then mounted leg cuffs on the detainee and kept him in a cell even  in a state of coma.

According to the ITA petition, that same night, some hoodlums stormed the police post, overpowered the police men on duty, broke into the police cell and dragged Innocent Okorie out of detention and shot him on his stomach and the young man who was already in coma died instantly.

His remains was allegedly dumped in a gully in anticipation that the rains would come down that night and the floods would wash away the corpse to an unknown destination.

But that was not to be, and unfortunately for the killers of the young man, it didn’t  rain that night as was usually the case in that  community .

To the chagrin of all the friends, relatives and associates of the late trader, his lifeless body was discovered in a gully where he was allegedly shot and dumped by the gang who allegedly overran the police post and mauled him down like a common criminal.

The Igbo Traders Association, ITA, laments that  “till date, nothing concrete has come out of police investigation into the matter as no culprit has been made to face the law on the matter”.

According to the petition to the police, the ITA drew the attention of the police to calculated attempts by some faceless persons to conceal the truth  by tagging the slain trader a kidnapper who had gone to the Vaase market to kidnap the young girl at the centre of the saga.

The traders maintained that the deceased was a well known trader in Wukari and at Vaase market and lamented  that all his goods and all the sales he made on that fateful day were looted by the hoodlums.

Hear them, “even if an allegation of kidnapping had been made against Innocent Okorie and he was duly arrested, kept in leg cuffs and detained in a police cell, how come his corpse was picked up in a gully the next day?”, the ITA queried.

The traders who are alleging foul play in the death of  their own said, “the question on everybody’s lips is, who released Innocent Okorie from police custody to be murdered and how can the police claim  they were overpowered by a group?”

The traders further intimated the police that they have been a subject of harassment in Logo and Ukum local government areas of Benue state long before the death of their colleague, alleging  that the death of Innocent was a direct fall-out of inordinate treatment meted out to them by their host communities.

They therefore demanded dispassionate investigation into the matter in order to apprehend the real culprits responsible for the gruesome murder of their kinsman who they are insisting was unjustifiably slaughtered in cold blood.

When contacted, the Benue State Police Commissioner Alhaji Ibrahim Mohammed confirmed the incident and acknowledged the receipt of the petition by the Igbo Traders Association of Ukum and Logo Local Government Councils of Benue state routed through Barrister Rowland Ndefo.

Alhaji  Ibramin regretted that the Vaase police post was actually overrun by the bandits who stormed the post at night and took out the detainee and murdered him in cold blood.

He disclosed that three arrests have been made by the command in respect of the matter adding that the police officer in charge of the post at the time of the incident and the men with him  has been relieved of that positions and are facing orderly room trial.

He said  that a thorough investigation into the matter has already commenced and assured  that all those who played roles in the heinous killing would be brought to book.

Meanwhile, the question many are asking is whether Innocent was actually innocent of the allegation of kidnap slammed against him by the Vaase bandits before his brutal murder.

This is a poser the Benue police Command must unravel during their investigation.

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