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Violent protest in Makurdi AIG escapes death, soldiers deployed

Posted by Ibanga Isine and Bukola Ojeme on 2005/03/06 | Views: 473 |

Violent protest in Makurdi AIG escapes death, soldiers deployed


Soldiers have taken over major streets of Makurdi, the Benue State capital, following a rampage by youths protesting the alleged killing of a commuter bus driver by a riot policeman.

Soldiers have taken over major streets of Makurdi, the Benue State capital, following a rampage by youths protesting the alleged killing of a commuter bus driver by a riot policeman.

Assistant Inspector-General of Police in charge of Zone 4, with its headquarters in Makurdi, Mr. Ben Onoghome, narrowly escaped being mobbed by the irate youths.

He, however, had the back-up car in his convoy burnt.

The violence, which flared up on Wednesday, continued early on Thursday until soldiers were drafted in from the 72 Batallion, Makurdi.

By the time calm was restored, many public property, including a police station and one of the major landmarks in the state capital, "The food Basket" monument, had been razed.

The Wurukum police station and the North Bank police post were also torched.

So also were many police and other government vehicles.

The driver killed at the police checkpoint was believed to be a member of the National Union of Road Transport Workers.

Also reported killed by another policeman was a woman, said to be a student of the Benue State University.

The killers of the driver and the student have been dismissed from the Police Force and are to face trial.

Policemen were forced to flee from some areas of Makurdi. The police barracks in the North Bank area were deserted.

The barracks close to the Police Headquarters and the B Division were, however, not affected.

Our correspondents learnt that a policeman, Constable Vincent Achiku, had on Wednesday evening stopped a bus driver at the Low Level roundabout in Makurdi, allegedly demanding a bribe.

One of the passengers in the bus told journalists that the driver did not oblige the policeman's demand, thus infuriating Achiku.

The driver reportedly pleaded with the policeman to leave him, since he was just coming from a mechanic workshop.

He promised to "play ball" on his return trip when he would have made some money.

This, the source said, angered the policeman, who opened fire as soon as the driver moved the vehicle away from the checkpoint.

The vehicle later, rolled down the road, until it rammed into a stationary Peugeot 504 car some metres away.

It was thereafter the passengers discovered that the driver was dead while still clutching the steering wheel.

The trigger-happy policeman was said to have fled immediately he learnt that the driver was dead.

When the news of the killing spread late in the evening, hundreds of bus drivers and youths rallied and marched to the roundabout where they burnt down a police station.

Early on Thursday, the mob regrouped and blocked the major road into the state capital on the North Bank road, while others went round the town, destroying public property.

Later in the day, they marched to the Government House. But they were stopped by riot policemen.

The security personnel were said to have fired several shots into the air to disperse the angry youths, who went there to register their protest with Governor George Akume.

The Security Adviser to the Governor, Col. Godwim Jando, later addressed the youths. He, urged them to calm down.

Reliable sources at the Force Headquarters, Abuja, said AIG Onoghome, on the orders of the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Sunday Ehindero, had led his principal aides out into the street to pacify the protesters.

But an angry mob blocked his convoy and sought to attack him, before his security aides forced them to retreat.

His back-up car was, however, burnt.

A source said, "He would have been mobbed, but for the quick intervention of his security cover. His back- up car was burnt. He was that close to being killed," the source said.

The Force Public Relations Officer, Mr Emmanuel Ighodalo, confirmed the development to The Punch in Abuja on Thursday.

He added that the two trigger-happy policemen, whose action precipitated the crisis have been dismissed from the Force and were due to face trial for murder.

"I think the AIG wanted to calm the situation. But the mob took the opportunity to set his back-up car ablaze, among other vehicles that were burnt," the Force spokesman said.

Ighodalo described the mayhem, as a " situation, whereby a drunk policeman shot somebody and he died. I think members of the public decided to take it upon themselves to stage a vendetta mission."

He gave the names of the policemen as Constable Vincent Achiku, with number 379835, formerly of Mobile Police Squadron 13 in Makurdi; and Inspector John Ugese of "D" Division in the State Police Command.

Constable Achiku, acting under the influence of alcohol, was said to have shot and killed the bus driver.

Inspector Ugese killed the female student for allegedly making love in a car.

Ighodalo regretted the action of the policemen and appealed for calm.

He said, "We don't support such things. We are appealing to the good people of Benue State, especially in the places where those deaths occurred, to be calm. We actually empathise and sympathise with the families and friends of the deceased.

" We are saying that we denounce in clear terms and in totality the actions of those policemen. And we have already taken steps to see that it does not re-occur."

The PUNCH, Friday, March 4, 2005

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