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Condemning police brutality of Rivers teachers

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Against all odds, the RiversState government led by Chibuike Rotimi Ameachi, chairman, Nigeria Governors Forum, NGF, scored another first: offering employment to 13,000 teachers at once!

At an envisaged colourful ceremony at the Liberation Stadium, Port Harcourt where the new teachers were to be offered their ‘Letters of Appointment’ on Wednesday, September 25, the police invaded the venue in over 20 Toyota Hilux patrol vans and brutalised the teachers!

They came shooting teargas into the faces and eyes of the harmless and defenceless teachers, flogging, beating and manhandling them – causing a stampede and dispersing them abruptly, with many, including women falling over themselves in their attempt to flee the chaotic scene.

Rather than commend the efforts of the Ameachi-led administration for achieving this no mean feat and contributing meaningfully in reducing unemployment in the country, the police felt otherwise. Coming at a time of immense state and party-sponsored tribulation against Governor Ameachi, this police assault is one too many!

The list of assault could be endless. I therefore write to condemn it and call for the re-deployment of the police Commissioner, Mbu Joseph Mbu from the state.

The last before this latest assault, of course took place on September 20. The police in Rivers State under the control of Commissioner Mbu harassed over 500 youths, aged between 14 and 21, who were on tour of projects in Port Harcourt with Governor Ameachi – an initiative of Rotary International, District 9140 for young future leaders. The armed policemen also trailed the young persons every where they went with the governor.

I consider reasons adduced by the police for their action as porous and hollow – one that cannot hold water. According to the Command’s new spokesman, Ahmed Kidaya Muhammed: “The RiversState government failed to inform the Rivers State Police Command of the event. It was deemed an illegal gathering. Police got an intelligence report that there was going to be a break-down of law and order”.

How can the police deem such activity as the presentation of ‘Appointment Letters’ to newly-recruited teachers “illegal”? The event portrayed nothing sinister as it was neither held in the dead of the night nor at a secret and unaccessible venue. It was held in broad day light at a public venue that is easily accessible; so why acting as if it is a cult meeting or something of sort that is deemed “illegal”?

Talking in terms of seeking police permit or informing police before jobless Nigerians could access their ‘Letters of Appointment’ is as funny as it is astonishing. Which government – federal, state and local – has ever sought police permit to despatch ‘Appointment Letters’ to Nigerians that are being offered jobs?

It is not the first time that the RiversState government would be inviting this set of applicants and they’ve always gathered without police permit or any untoward occurrence like breakdown of law and order. So why is their gathering at the Liberation Stadium different from their earlier gathering at the invitation of the same government?

Come to think of it, the whole exercise was of public knowledge. Radio and TV stations in the state were awash with the announcement, even dailies carried it – nothing clandestine at all! So whatever meaning or colouration the police is giving to it is all balderdash! The so-called ‘intelligence report’ that there was going to be a break-down of law and order, which the police lay claim to, is all balderdash and cannot be substantiated. It is the usual witch-hunting of Governor Ameachi! It is the usual discrediting of anything Ameachi does by the police authorities in RiversState. And this is too bad, too sad!

Even factional chairman of the state PDP, Felix Obuah’s volt-face defence of the police over-zealous action is faulty. Said he:”It’s a ploy by Ameachi to use frustrated youths as protesters against President Jonathan”. Again, this is untrue, nothing could be far from the truth than this.

If anything, the exercise is meant to complement the President’s efforts at reducing unemployment rate in the country. Casting aspersion and throwing stones , like Obuah busied himself doing at any given opportunity is to say the least, flabbergasting. Deliberately misrepresenting facts and misleading the public – which has become the trademark and hallmark of the Obuah-led faction of the PDP in the state tantamount to an invitation to uprising and anarchy in the state.

One wonders when Obuah will refrain from toying with the collective will and destiny of Rivers people. His inflammatory statements are attempt at setting RiversState ablaze so Rivers people should continue to ignore him.

What is even more disturbing in this whole saga is that the police in their quest to disperse the 13,000 teachers, teargassed and humiliated them – including women – and as they ran for their precious lives, many were injured, forcing one of the affected teachers to lament to the Nation newspapers: ”Our forced dispersal is very unfortunate and least expected in a democracy”.

It is interesting though that with all its retrogressive actions against the teachers, the police could not succeed in breaking their spirit, as rather than flee immediately to their houses, they re-grouped directly opposite the stadium’s main gate, discussing their fate and the police brutality on them, up to about 12 noon – from about 8.30 a.m when the police descended on them.

All in all, in whose interest is the police action? Is it in the interest of the teachers, masses, state or nation? Certainly not! Rather it’s in the interest of a few powerful politicians who have become ‘feudal lords’ and who have seen Commissioner Mbu and his men as ready tool of destabilisation in their hands!

No wonder Governor Ameachi described it as “a crude display of federal might, senseless, barbaric, shameful and the height of desperation”. I cannot agree less.

It is therefore condemnable! I condemn it in strong and unequivocal term and urge all well-meaning people and progressive minds to condemn this attempt by the police at sending the teachers back to the labour market, an attempt to send society back to the dark ages when men groped in the dark, in the jungle of life!

Mr. JOHN ENEBELI, a Rivers State Liaison officer, wrote from Abuja.

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