WARPATH: BUS DRIVERS TACKLE POLICE OVER SHOOTING OF MEMBERS
In Abuja, the nation's centre of unity, the once warm relationship that existed between the police and commercial drivers has collapsed. For them, things have indeed fallen apart and the centre can no longer hold.
The police are alleged to have sowed the ugly seed of discord when, penultimate week, one from their fold opened fire on a bus conductor and inflicted injuries on the bus driver along Gwagwa-Karmo settlement area of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Since that incident which has been widely condemned by the public, the once chummy relationship between the two has since given way to bitterness and hatred that has culminated into a wide spread protest by the Bus drivers over the shooting.
From the look of things, there seems to be no end in sight given the official position of the FCT Police Command. While justifying the action of the guntotting officer as squarely in line with the Police Act, Commissioner of Police, (CP) John Haruna, said it would no longer be business as usual in dealing with commercial drivers.
Haruna, while speaking with Daily Sun through his spokesperson, Jimoh Moshood, a Superintendent of Police (SP) said that 'the policemen acted in line with the Police Force Order 237 and Nigeria Constitution section 33 subsection (1) A, B, C.' This was even as he instituted a thorough investigation into the matter headed by the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Criminal Investigation Department (CID).
But the victim of the gun shot, Francis Oku, 20, from Okpoku Local Government Area of Benue State, who is now on admission at the National Hospital, Abuja, said the trigger happy cop shot him because he demanded for the N50 transport fare on reaching his destination. But police authorities insisted that the conductor and the driver were criminals.
Giving account of what transpired, the injured conductor said: 'On Wednesday morning at about 6.00, we loaded passengers including two Mobile Policemen (one in uniform and the other in civil dress), from Gwagwa-Karmo to Wuse. When it was time for them to alight from the vehicle at Life Camp junction, the one who was in uniform paid his N50 fare. But the one who was not in uniform refused to pay.
'I know him because he did that the previous day and I reminded him of it.
He asked if I didn't know him as a police officer? I said and so what about that? As he attempted to walk away, I blocked him and demanded my money. He started beating me and his colleague in uniform was trying to make peace. Other policemen who were on guard duty at a construction company site carrying arms came and joined in beating me. When I saw that the beating was much, I wanted to run but one of the armed policemen shot me on the head.'
Oku further disclosed that since his hospitalization, he has not seen any of the policemen or their representatives. He, however, expressed happiness with the members of Self-Employed Commercial Drivers Association (SECDA) who stood by him and were taking responsibility for his medical bills and feeding,. The injured transporter appealed to on well meaning individuals to assist in ensuring justice in this incident.
Driver of the bus, Dennis Ugwu, 28, from Nsukka Local Government of Enugu State, added that when his conductor and the policemen were fighting, he tried to make peace but before he could know what happened. He discovered that one of the policemen that came from the nearby construction site had shot his conductor on the leg. In an effort to confront him on his action, he also descended on him and hit him with the gun on the head, inflicting serious injuries on him.
According to Ugwu: 'When they shot my conductor I shouted 'why?' The policeman turned back and hit me with the butt of his gun on the head. As blood gushed out, I asked them why they shot my conductor. He said I should keep quite. I kept quiet and people rushed to confront them and both of them left. Few minutes later, policemen from Life Camp Police Station arrived and took us to the station where they asked us to take my conductor to hospital before anything.
'We took my conductor to the hospital and they referred us to the National Hospital so that doctors could remove the bullet in his leg. After that, the police called me to their station and started saying another thing. They later took me to see the FCT Commissioner and he called our transport union leaders and others and asked me to explain what happened. I explained just as I said above but he said it is a lie that we were trying to attack and collect gun from the policemen, which is not true'.
President of SECDA, Eze Kenneth said: 'What the police is claiming in this issue is not true. On that day, one of my branch chairmen called me on phone and said police shot one of our conductors and injured the driver of the vehicle with gun on his head. He said other drivers who witnessed what happened, were protesting. I told him to proceed immediately to the scene of the incident and find out the true situation.
He called me back on getting to the scene informing me that it was true that police shot and injured our members. 'I directed him to report the matter immediately to the nearest police station. He left for Life Camp Police Station while I joined later. They made me to understand that the bus driver picked two mobile policemen one in uniform and other was not in uniform.
That they picked them around Mabuchi junction. On getting to their destination at Life Camp junction, one of the mobile policemen paid his fare of N50 but the one in civil dress refused. The conductor insisted that he must pay because he took him the previous day and did not pay. That as they were dragging, two other armed mobile policemen nearby came and joined their colleagues a situation that later resulted in the shooting and injuring the driver and conductor.'
Eze said before he could get to the police station, many of their members plying the root had gathered at the scene of the incident, protesting the shooting, vowing that they would not work until police stop victimizing them:
'When I got to the scene, I tried to persuade them to calm down but the drivers insisted that enough is enough of police victimization. They said they are taking their grievance to the Minister of FCT to prevail on the police in Abuja to exercise restraint in their dealings with transporters in the capital city. They said they were also going to the Police Force Headquarters to register their grievance with the Inspector General of Police.'
A commercial transport consultant with the Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC), Mr. Issa M. Ozioko, told Daily Sun that he was called upon to look into the matter and had found out that what the policemen did was unprofessional and bad. He claimed to have been responsible for the medical bills of both the conductor and the driver. He claimed he has spent over N60,000 so far out of the over N120,000 initial bills demanded on arrival at the hospital for the removal of the bullet in the conductor's leg.
He also lamented the indifferent attitude of the police towards the treatment of the victims, and called on government and well-meaning individuals to come to the aid of the hapless citizen.