By CHIDI NKWOPARA, OWERRI
ACTIVITIES of touts who masquerade as revenue collectors in Imo State has taking a dangerous dimension. In fact, residents of the state are raising alarm that the state is gradually sliding back into the dark days of emblem-chasing touts who harass, intimidate and cajole motorists in the guise of collecting revenue for government.
One of the policy statements of Governor Rochas Okorocha, as soon as he assumed office was that civil servants must work out their pay. He warned that his administration will no longer respect the age-long payment of staff salary from the federation account.
Since he made this statement, government ministries, agencies and parastatals have started looking inwards for revenue. Task forces have been set up by every ministry, with the possible exception of the Ministry of Justice and the Judiciary.
Just years after the sad event that consumed the fragile female frames of students of Girls’ Secondary School, Owerri, touts have again resurfaced in the municipality. Our Correspondent fell victim to one of the groups in Owerri on Wednesday, March 28, 2012. He narrated his unforgettable encounter with the hoodlums.
According to him, “the former Chairman of Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, Imo State Council, Mr. Ferdy Ibecheodo, and I were going to keep a 1pm appointment. Time was 12.45pm. I was driving my KIA Cerato car. On getting into Achike Udenwa Avenue, off Nekede Road, we spotted some club-wielding touts who wore green T-shirts.
The two policemen that were clutching AK 47 rifles positioned themselves strategically on the road. The first policeman flagged me down and I stopped and wound down the glass of the front passenger’s seat where Ibecheodo was sitting. This dialogue ensued:
Vanguard: My brother, can I help you?
Policeman: We are on traffic check.
Vanguard: This is strange. I am not aware that the police now carry arms when on traffic checks and for goodness sake, what are the people wearing green T-shirts doing at a traffic police check point?
Policeman: Your business should begin and end with showing me the vehicle papers?
Vanguard: Please wait for another unfortunate victim. Your business here, I bet my life, is not a police business (and I drove off).
“Soon after this shave with the touts, I put a call across to the Police Public Relations Officer of Imo State Command, Mr. Samuel Oodee, and narrated my experience to him. He promised to investigate the incident, especially the involvement of uniformed and armed policemen among touts.
Three days after this incident, the PPRO sent a text message to me Saturday morning stating that nobody authorized policemen with stick-carrying touts to harass people.
Drivers association protest: While the PPRO was busy defending the Command, Drivers’ Welfare Association, DWA, in the state staged a peaceful protest in Owerri against what they called “the harassment of its members by the task force of Environmental Transformation Committee, ENTRACO.
Speaking to Crime Alert, the Association’s Chairman, Mr. Emeka Ugochukwu, lamented that his members were daily being harassed, hounded and brutalised over procurement of emblems. He expressed regret that one of them, Mr. Augustine Ibe, was brutalised by a policeman attached to the task force.”
Others react: Another member of the association, Kingsley Ike also bared his mind over the issue which is presently raising dust in the sate. “I have my respect for Nigeria Police. I am one of those that complain that successive governments have not been doing enough to provide policemen with the necessary equipment to fight crime and criminals that are getting more sophisticated each day.
On the other hand, our policemen do not help matters. They do all manner of odd jobs for whatever reason(s). Any officer that approves the attachment of armed policemen to emblem -selling touts in whatever guise or shape has done colossal damage to the Nigeria Police.
Female victim narrates encounter, recounts the past: A female accountant who simply identified herself as Comfort told Crime Alert that when she confronted the ‘morbid spectacle of the touts wielding dangerous weapons with armed policemen’, her heart bled because of what residents of Owerri were forced to behold a few years back.
She recounted the ugly incident that happened few years back when female students of Girls’ Secondary School, Owerri who were going home after school were crushed to death by a truck conveying a heavy-duty earth moving machine to an unknown construction site.
“The venue was the ever-busy Control Post, where the beautiful edifice of Maria Assumpta Catholic Cathedral, Owerri, is situated. Club-wielding touts, who were recruited by “faceless people” that wanted to rake in more revenue into the purse of government, virtually held vehicle owners, resident or those passing through the municipality hostage.
On this black day, these red -eyed touts, who were supported and given coverage by armed policemen were on their usual harassment trail in Owerri municipality.
These fierce- looking touts in Owerri started pursuing a low-bed trailer that was conveying a heavy-duty earth- moving machine to an unknown construction site. The trailer driver, who obviously was embarrassed by what he was seeing, refused to stop for the rampaging touts selling motor emblem.
Jumping into moving trailers
Not prepared to let the driver go free and obviously determined to earn that money for the day, some of the touts jumped into the moving trailer and started struggling for control of the vehicle with the driver.
In the end, the driver and the touts lost control of the vehicle and it crashed into the long stream of students of Girls’ Secondary School, Owerri, who were going home after the day’s school activities. Some of the students died on the spot, as the heavy duty truck simply sat on the fragile female students.
“Expectedly, when the accident occurred, policemen who were standing a little distance away from the scene, scampered into safety and into their barracks. They were never identified or punished for doing illegal duty till today. Similarly, when the touts noticed that some students were carelessly buried under the loaded trailer, they also fled the scene and left the driver to his fate,”