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ONITSHA'S DAY OF RAGE

By NBF News
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The Electronics Market in the commercial city of Onitsha, Anambra State was thrown into pandemonium recently. On Wednesday, August 17, traders invaded the major streets within the city as they violently protested the death of a colleague. The traders, it was gathered, were protesting the killing of a fellow trader, a man popularly known as Okija who was allegedly shot dead by some officers of the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) from the Delta State Police Command.

The deceased, who hailed from Okija in Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State, was reported to have lost his life during an encounter with the policemen. More painful was that Okija had just lost his father few weeks earlier.

The traders could, however, not control the crisis that engulfed the market following the man's killing. The situation later resulted in total breakdown of law and order as market urchins took advantage of the confusion to unleash mayhem on innocent traders.

Daily Sun gathered that trouble started when some members of Ndi-Oso-Ahia, a group of market urchins at the Onitsha market, were arrested by policemen. While they were being conveyed to the station, one of those arrested jumped out of the vehicle transporting them. A policeman immediately fired at him, and the young man died.

According to the Chairman of the Electronics Dealers Association, Chief Okechukwu Okoli, (GOZAK) a task force had been constituted by the leadership of the market to checkmate the illegal activities of the so called Ndi-Oso-Ahia whose members had reportedly been involved in different types of crimes within and outside the market.

He said the task force, led by a renowned security expert named Baruwa, had arrested three members of the group who he said had literally held traders and customers hostage. He said the task force later handed them over to the police, adding that one of them made an attempt to escape and was shot by a police officer.

Chief Okoli, who lost property worth millions of naira in the mayhem after his shops were broken into, said the market authorities decided to check the activities of Ndi-Oso-Ahia after it was discovered that the group was carrying out heinous activities in the market.

'What we did was to constitute a task force to checkmate the excesses of these people called Ndi-Oso-Ahia. It is not that we don't want them to survive, but we told them, look, since you don't have any shop in this market, your operation at times have brought untold hardship to the genuine traders and their customers,' he stated.

'So the task force being led by Baruwa started working because these people have been the ones giving information to armed robbers and kidnappers about the movement of traders and their goods. The three persons who persisted in the act were arrested. One of them jumped out of a moving vehicle to escape and he was shot.'

Chief Okoli called on the federal and state governments to come to his aid, adding that all his goods were carted away while the remaining ones were destroyed by the rampaging youths during the violent protests.

Daily Sun also gathered that apart from his two shops that were broken into in which all his goods, including electronic gadgets, were destroyed, Chief Okoli's vehicle was also burnt during the protest.

The protest also led to the closure of some financial institutions, including banks and petrol stations around the market, as customers and staff of such institutions scampered to safety while the mayhem lasted.

But the story took another dimension when one of the market executives invited by the Police Area Commander, Mr. Larry Osita, said those who shot Okija were actually men of the Anti-Terrorist Squad from the Delta State Police Command.

He narrated that the deceased was one of the suspects earlier arrested by the task force team in the market and that he was to be transferred to the Okpoko Police Division when the incident occurred.

The man, whose name is being withheld by this newspaper, also told the police that the cops had gone to the market to visit one of their friends when they were accosted by the task force team who allegedly prevailed on them to help drop the suspect at the police station.

The leader of the ATS men who allegedly shot the deceased said, however, that his men were in the electronics market to buy some products.

He said the market leaders pleaded with them to drop the deceased at the police station. But he said the suspect jumped out of the moving vehicle and was promptly shot by one of the policemen.

A visit to the closed market by our reporter showed the heavy presence of security men, including members of the local vigilance group that were drafted to the area to forestall further carnage.

Speaking to Daily Sun, a leader of the security agency who pleaded anonymity blamed the violence on the leadership of the market. He said the market authorities had earlier been adopting jungle justice to prosecute their suspects.

'What I understood in the incident is that, maybe, the boy thought that he was going to be killed somewhere, so what he did was to try to escape. Even when he heard warning shots being fired, the boy kept on running. He probably believed that it would be better for him to be killed where his corpse would be found than inside the bush,' he said.

One of the traders who spoke to Daily Sun on the condition of anonymity also said that the market had been held hostage by market urchins, adding that the hoodlums had taken buying and selling away from the genuine traders within the market.

'One of their activities was to intercept customers who entered into the market along the road. They would keep you somewhere, pretend to be genuine traders and then they would go and get sub-standard goods for you from anywhere. And you would buy it cheaper from them.

'These boys have held us hostage. Some of them who are real criminals would pretend to be traders in the daytime while they would go out and rob in the night. Some of them had been caught giving information to armed robbers and kidnappers. We are begging Governor Peter Obi to save our souls from these miscreants.'

But one of the suspected Ndi-Oso-Ahia members who gave his name as Kingsley spoke on phone from his hideout. He said the market executives had been using force against them.

Kingsley accused the chairman of the task force of conniving with the police at the Okpoko Police Division to extort money from traders and the market urchins through unwarranted arrests.

He said the attack on the stores of the chairman of the market was triggered off by the series of complaints against the chairman of the task force which he said had been pending before the chairman.

'Well, I can' tell you everything because I don't know who you are. But as you can see, we are all traders, no matter how the market authorities look at it. The violent attack in the market was caused by Gozak (chairman of the market) and Baruwa (chairman of the task force). If Gozak had acted on our complaints against Baruwa on how he has been collaborating with the police in Okpoko to arrest and extort money from innocent traders, the protest would not have occurred,' he said and immediately switched off his mobile phone.

The body of the deceased had been recovered from the rampaging traders who carried the corpse from the scene of the incident to the market square in a wheel barrow, chanting war songs.

A source told Daily Sun that the corpse was deposited in an undisclosed mortuary within the commercial city from where it would be taken to the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID) for further autopsy.

Meanwhile, when the tension heightened in the market with the traders blocking and making bonfires on the Asaba-Onitsha Expressway, the Onitsha Area Commander, Mr. Larry Osita drafted a detachment of mobile policemen to the scene.

The Area Commander who was at the scene of the incident did not speak to journalists. But when contacted, the Anambra State Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Emeka Chukwuemeka, an Assistant Superintendent of Police, said the command was aware of the incident, but he didn't comment on the number of arrests made so far.

The police spokesman did not also say if the policeman who shot the deceased had been arrested. He said since the officer was from Delta State Police Command, the appropriate punitive action would be meted out to him by that command.