An Open Letter To President Buhari Over Okorocha’s Brutal And Repressive Tactics Against Imo State Workers And People Exercising Their Constitutional Right To Freedom Of Expression
February 8, 2016
The President and Commander- In- Chief
Federal Republic of Nigeria
Aso Rock Villa,
Presidential Advisory Committee on Corruption
GOVERNOR ROCHAS OKOROCHA’S BRUTAL AND REPRESSIVE TACTICS AGAINST IMO STATE WORKERS AND PEOPLE EXERCISING THEIR CONTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION:
AN URGENT CALL ON PRESIDENT MUHAMMADU BUHARI TO DIRECT THE INSPECTOR GENERAL OF POLICE TO PROVIDE EFFECTIVE PROTECTION FOR IMO STATE WORKERS, RESIDENTS AND PEOPLE EXERCISING THEIR RIGHTS TO PROTEST AGAINST OPPRESSIVE RULE AND VIOLENT ATTACKS BY IMO STATE GOVERNOR, MR. ROCHAS OKOROCHA'S PRIVATE HIT SQUAD DISGUISED AS ‘IMO STATE SECURITY NETWORK’ AIDED BY IMO STATE POLICE COMMAND.
Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN) is a network of 49 civil society organizations spread across Nigeria and committed to promoting police accountability and respect for human rights. It was established in 2000 to provide opportunity for civil society input to police reform processes and the enhancement of safety, security and justice.
NOPRIN writes to bring to your attention the disturbing and totally condemnable reign of terror currently pervading Imo State and which manifests in the use of the police and an armed terror squad set up by the Imperial Governor of Imo State, Mr. Rochas Okorocha, to harass, intimidate, and viciously attack groups peacefully protesting against his anti-people government.
On February 3, 2016 police officers from Imo State Command opened fire on a group of protesting Medical Doctors. One of the Doctors, a Consultant Family Physician in the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Owerri, Dr. Bende Azudialo was shot on the head. While it was expected that the Commissioner of Police (CP), Imo State Command would order a prompt and impartial investigation with a view to identifying the officers behind this senseless act brutality and misuse of firearms and bring them to account, the CP, instead, came out to openly defend the police and blamed the dastardly attack on faceless ‘thugs’. It was obvious that the protesting Doctors were all dressed in their professional white over-all attire as they came face to face with armed and uniformed police officers.
It is believed that the motive of this attack on the protesting Medical Doctors was to create a sense of fear and intimidate the NLC and their CSO allies as they prepare to lead peaceful protests in Owerri this week to press home the Imo State workers’ demand that the Governor reverses his callous and illegal mass sack of workers across the state civil service.
Clearly, this indicates how far Mr. Okorocha is determined to go in using force of arms and violence to brutally suppress opposition against his discredited and unpopular government.
In his arrogant conception of his own importance, Mr. Okorocha has placed himself above the collective will of the people whom he purports to govern, and he appears determined to subjugate and silence everyone in the state.
NOPRIN has received further disturbing information from credible sources concerning a further diabolical and nefarious plot by the Imo State Governor, Mr. Okorocha, to deploy and unleash his terror squad, the so-called ‘Imo State Security Network' led by his own younger brother, Okey Okorocha, who is also his Special Assistant on Youth Affairs, to violently disrupt the planned Labour/Civil Society-led peaceful protests against the Governor’s illegal sack of 6,111 workers whom he owes several months of salary arrears. The Governor’s younger brother and other aides are also reported to be mobilising hundreds of misguided youths whom they will pay some money and be deployed to join the ‘Imo Security Network’ to counter and attack peaceful protesters. Going by the event of last week when police officers shot at protesting Doctors, it is clear that the police in Imo will also act on the side of the oppressors of the people, to scuttle the Imo people’s struggle for a responsive and accountable Government, instead discharging their duties to serve and protect the people.
Already, Mr. Okorocha's hit squad, working in collusion with the police, has been harassing, attacking and maiming in a bid to intimidate and gag aggrieved citizens protesting and speaking out against his injustices against them. We call on the President to direct the Inspector General of Police to ensure that the Police are not used to suppress the people’s demands for human rights and justice. It was the struggle of these same Imo people that forced out the immediate past Governor and paved the way for the emergence of this incumbent who today has assumed absolute powers and using State and Federal Government apparati to oppress and intimidate the people. If the police shoot and kill protesting citizens, it may degenerate to anarchy and complicate the already parlous state of insecurity in the country.
We request the President to direct the Inspector General of Police to demobilise the terror squad in Imo State and investigate the activities of its members, order the Imo State Police Commissioner to ensure his officers act impartially and professionally, and guarantee the safety of organised groups and citizens at large. In the alternative, we request the President to direct the Inspector General of Police to dispatch a team of professional, disciplined and impartial officers to monitor or take charge of affairs in the State during the period of the Labour/CSO-led protests to avoid unnecessary clashes and casualties.
The Imo Governor, by his latest insensitive act of mass sack of suffering workers from 19 agencies whom he owes several months of salary, has deepened misery and hardship, not only for the 6,111 workers directly affected, but also for their numerous dependents. This is coming at the same time that Imo State received ‘bailout’ funds from the Federal Government meant to settle outstanding workers’ salaries, yet the Governor went ahead to sack these workers without paying them and without accounting for the funds. Imo people are yet to come to terms with the Governor’s squandermania. The Governor continues to waste the state's resources on frivolous projects that do not add any value to the lives of the toiling Imo people, while important projects, which he merely uses to gain publicity have remained abandoned or uncompleted. For example, what is the justification for the 2015 Christmas Decorations in the State Capital and other major cities with the longest statute of Jesus Christ as well as the touted longest Christmas tree in Africa, which have been put at the cost of five hundred million naira, when workers are still being owed several months of arrears of salary?
Governor Okorocha is known to openly boast of his lack of regard for due process and contempt for the rule of law, hence his habitual neglect and failure to comply with due process in taking sensitive official decisions and actions. He has penchant for disregarding court orders and judgments ordering him to reverse some of his illegal actions. Imo State is the only state in Nigeria where Local Governments have continued to be administered by unelected Sole Administrators, appointed by Mr. Okorocha, in the last 6 years. The Governor has also illegally dissolved town unions that have registered trustees with the Corporate Affairs Commission. Mr. Okorocha’s recent arbitrary and sadistic sack of 6,111 workers from 19 agencies which he purportedly concessioned to private individuals is the height of his highhandedness and lawlessness.
Unfortunately, Imo State House of Assembly- a preponderant of whose members were practically handpicked and sponsored into office by the Emperor-Governor, have totally sold and surrendered their souls to their master and are thus, incapacitated to discharge their statutory oversight functions. They are mere puppets in the hands of the Emperor. Instead of working towards ensuring good governance, majority members of the Imo State House of Assembly are preoccupied with the pursuit and protection of their self-interest and the selfish interest of their master, against the overall interest of members of their various constituencies and the people of the state as a whole.
With the Imo State House of Assembly fully in the Governor’s pocket, and with the State Judiciary reduced to a toothless bulldog, the Governor now enjoys a field day riding roughshod over the people, treating them with disdain, and doing whatever pleases him, without restraint, and without qualms of conscience or fear of any consequences.
Now, left with no other option than to take their own destinies into their own hands, the people have resolved to liberate themselves from the oppressive clutches of the Emperor. But the workers’ decision to resist their purported sack has been met with increasing tyrannical attempts to suppress them. Okorocha has unleashed his armed thugs and members of his terror squad, acting with cover from Imo State Police Command, to harass, attack and brutalise the people peacefully protesting injustice.
As part of Okorocha's repressive counter measure against the planned labour and civil society mass protest in Imo State, he is seriously mobilizing and arming thugs together with members of his illegally armed ‘Imo Security Network’ to unleash maximum terror on the citizens and to violently disrupt the peaceful protests being planned by NLC and CSOs in Imo state fromFebruary 10, 2016 to force his hands to reverse his ill-motivated mass sack of workers.
Governor Okorocha has already demonstrated his propensities for violence and his real intention to use the terror squad disguised as Imo Security Network to achieve his self-serving objectives.
Recently he has been using armed members of his 'Imo Security Network' to lock out the illegally sacked workers from the 19 agencies. Since the day the governor announced his purported mass sack of the workers, he has consistently used members of this terror network to intimidate the workers. They have besieged and taken over the premises of the offices of the sacked workers, shooting sporadically into the air to scare workers from coming to resume work in compliance with directives by their leaders to defy the Governor’s purported sack order.
Unfortunately, Imo State Police Command has been actively conniving with the Governor’s terror squad, always standing by and watching as the armed thugs unleash mayhem on innocent and defenceless people.
Members of the Imo security Network beat up the Medical Director of Ihitte Uboma General Hospital, and dumped him at Imo State Police Command, while still unconscious.
These recent activities of the Imo State Security Network have confirmed the long-held suspicion by Imo citizens and residents that the Imo Governor set up the Security Network as a tool to harass, intimidate and suppress citizens whenever they protest against his inhumane actions such as the recent sack of workers. The outfit is now out to do what it was originally contemplated and set up to do- to terrorise the people and silence them into submission.
In the case of the Doctor who was mercilessly beaten up at Ihitte Uboma, Imo State Police did not intervene while he was being brutalised. Instead, they later took the already battered Doctor into custody before he was later granted bail without being informed of any offence he may have committed.
It was also members of Imo Security Network who, sometime last week, under the close watch of Police Officers from Imo State Command, bullied and chased away workers of Umuguma General Hospital and locked up the offices against them.
We recall that during the January 2012 nationwide anti subsidy removal protests, tagged ‘Occupy Nigeria’, it was also in Owerri, at Okigwe Road Roundabout, that thugs dispatched by Imo State Government, unleashed mayhem on peaceful protesters, destroying their musical equipment. Nowhere else in Nigeria was this type of repressive attack recorded! That dastardly attack was later confirmed to have been coordinated from the office of the Special Assistant to Governor Okorocha on Youth, his self-same younger brother, who also coordinates the ‘Imo Security Network’.
Now that the State Government is planning to launch another unprovoked attack on peaceful protesters as they peacefully protest against the injustice of the mass sack of workers, and to assert their rights to livelihood, we consider it pertinent at this time to request the President to urgently direct the IGP to ensure adequate and effective security for the protesters. Imo citizens have no confidence in Imo State Police Command to provide them security as they are already compromised and beholden to the oppressor-Governor and acting according to his dictates against the collective will of the citizens whom they are supposed to serve and protect.
As NLC national leadership has exhausted all legal avenues and processes to resolve the contending issues with the state government, to no avail, in particular, to impress it on the Governor to reverse his unjustified and inexplicable decision to sack the workers, the NLC and its civil society allies have resolved to lead peaceful protests this week to drive home the workers demands that the governor reverses his illegal actions and to henceforth acts within the law.
We request you to direct the IGP to ensure that the Imo State Command acts impartially and professionally and ensures that protesters are not subjected to harassment and brutality but should be provided adequate security as they exercise their rights to freedom of expression, including protesting peacefully against injustice.
Imo State citizens and residents will hold the Federal Government and the Nigeria Police responsible, if they allow the governor to use his illegally armed Imo Security Network, or the Police which is controlled by the federal government, to harm workers and Imo citizens and their allies.
In this era of change, Imo people deserve the right to know how their resources cannot pay their workers while other states, including non-oil bearing states, are paying their own workers.
We also believe that the President should take interest in what is going on in Imo, as an APC state.