Inside Abuja

A dark day for newspaper vendors

The Newspaper Vendors Association, Abuja, was thrown into mourning last week as it lost one of its members who was shot dead by a security operative riding on a convoy. CALEB ONWE reports

 

 

 

Thursday November 19, 2020, began like any other day but ended on a sad note for members of the Newspaper Vendors Association, Abuja.

 

The vendors, who normally ply their trade around the Federal Secretariat were as usual, at their duty post, dashing across the road and selling their newspapers and magazines. But unknown to them, evil was lurking at the corner of the road.

 

The Federal Secretariat Complex, which is strategically located within the Three Arms Zone is a very busy place because it is the route to many government offices in Abuja. Apart from the ministers, permanent secretaries and directors of the various ministries, members of the Na-tional Assembly and other Very Important Personalities (VIPs) pass through this route every day.

 

Whenever they passed in their long convoys of exotic cars, the vendors hail and cheer while praying that the traffic lights would turn red to stop them from moving away so quickly. In that interval of a compulsory traffic halt, the vendors seize the opportunity to market their wares to the “big men” who would wind down the tinted glasses of their cars to pick up the newspapers of their choice. On a lucky day, the vendors get tips from generous customers.

 

It is usually a brisk business because once the traffic lights turn green, it is all over and the convoy continues its journey. However, on this fateful Thursday, the newspaper vendors got more than the usual tip from a friendly dignitary, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, who gave them Nine Thousand Naira. While they rejoiced and hailed him for his kind gesture, a gun shot came from one of the security details on the convoy, hitting one of the vendors, Ifeanyichukwu Elechi Okereke.

 

It happened so quickly that no one understood the gravity of the incident when the convoy left the scene. The young man simply slumped and was left in a pool of his blood. One of his colleagues, Emmanuel Onyebuchi, who was with the slain vendor at the scene of the incident, said the “evil bullet was a messenger from the pit of hell” orchestrated to prevent his colleague from actualising his dreams on earth.

 

According to Onyebuchi, they were already rejoicing and praise-singing the Speaker and going back to their selling point, when the killer operative alighted from one of the back-up vehicles and directly shot the deceased on the head. He stated that he died shortly after being rushed to the National Hospital, Abuja.

 

“The late Elechi and I were greeting the Speaker (Gbajabiamila) even though the traffic light had passed him but he parked and called us to come. Elechi and I crossed to meet him and he gave us N9, 000.

 

The DSS officer came down from the SUV, pulled his gun and shot Elechi double while we were crossing the road to go back. “I turned back and followed the officer, shouting, you’ve killed my brother. The officer also shot again into the air. But the bullet missed me because I quickly fell on the ground. “Elechi’s wife has a new born baby whose naming ceremony was supposed to be today, Friday,” he narrated.

 

Inside Abuja learnt that apart from the fact that the deceased had scheduled a naming ceremony for his new born baby a day before his death, he had also other good plans that were at the verge of actualisation. It was also gathered that the slain vendor had been offered a Federal Government employment by one of the Ministers and that he had perfected all required documentations before the sad incident that claimed his life.

 

Onyebuchi, who struggled without success to save the deceased, confirmed that the late Elechi had planned to relocate to Ebonyi State, where he was deployed to for the new civil service job. Inside Abuja learnt that the opportunity for the new job, actually came through the contacts he made while selling newspapers along the road. Solidarity protest

The following day (Friday), members of the Newspaper Vendors Association, Abuja shut down the Newspaper Distribution Centre, Area 1, Garki, to protest and mourn their slain member. As a mark of respect and honour for their fallen colleague, the distribution of newspapers and magazines to the public was suspended for about six hours on Friday.

 

Inside Abuja gathered that newspaper distribution that was usually concluded before 7am every day, was put in abeyance until about noon. It was indeed a day of tears and anguish as the vendors gathered at the Newspaper Distribution Centre, as early as 5 .00am to commence their daily business.

 

The whole arena suddenly became cold and moody as soon as the news of Elechi’s death was broken.. Many of the vendors broke down in tears when a photograph of their colleague lying dead in a pool of blood started circulating on their mobile phones.

 

Some of them, who are religiously inclined, did not waste any time in giving some spiritual interpretation to the unfortunate incident. As they cried their eyes out,  they also cursed the “evil forces” which, according to them, stopped the slain vendor from enjoying his moment of “glory” after many years of suffering in abject poverty.

 

Chairman of the association, Etim Iwara, who addressed the vendors in tears, said the deceased member, Ifeanyichukwu Elechi Okereke, did not commit any offence, but was gunned down by an over-zealous security aide to the Speaker.

 

Iwara vowed that the association will take every necessary action to get justice for their slain member. Legal Adviser to the Newspapers Vendors Association, Barrister Wilfred Okoi, who condemned the action of the security operative, also said that the association would exploit all legal means to ensure that justice was done. President of the Abuja Newspaper Distributors Association ( ANDA), Comrade Benji Obute, who also condemned the killing, called on media houses to cooperate and stand with them at this trying moment.

 

“We must join hands to get justice for the fallen vendor,” he assured. Speaker’s reaction Meanwhile, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, has identified the killer security operative as Abdullahi M. Hassan, and has equally suspended him from his convoy.

 

A statement signed by the Speaker himself, gave an account of the incident thus: “The unfortunate death of Mr. Ifeanyi Okereke at the hands of one of my security aide has left me deeply shaken.

 

“Mr. Okereke was a citizen going about his business, trying to make a living for himself and his family. There is no reason for his life to have ended the way it did. “This morning, I have handed over the security operative, Abdullahi M. Hassan, to the Department of State Security (DSS) for investigation and appropriate administrative and judicial action.

 

In the interim, he has been suspended from the convoy. “I expect and I will see to it that the family of Mr Ifeanyi Okereke receives the full measure of justice, so that their bereavement is not compounded by any actions that can cause them further pain and suffering.

 

“I have expressed my personal condolence to his family and have arranged to meet with them when the parents of Mr. Okereke, who are already on their way, arrive in Abuja.

 

“Additionally, I have committed to them that I will support his wife and the immediate family he has left behind. “I commiserate with the family of Mr. Ifeanyi Okereke and ask all Nigerians to join me at this time to pray for the peaceful repose of his soul”.

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