Many are aghast at the use of force by some persons in Delta State against ordinary people. From the police, government officials to other influential citizens, there appears to be little or no respect for the ordinary man. Dominic Adewole chronicles some of the incidences in this report from Asaba
It is survival of the fittest, jungle justice all the way. Anarchy, strife, famine, kidnapping, armed robbery, arson, cultism, might is right, oppression, nepotism, tribalism, reign supreme. There, life (in a generic sense) is nasty, short and brutish. It is a chaotic state of life.
This can be compared to the incessant cases of dehumanization in Delta State where those in positions of authority deploy their superior strength to reign terror on their subjects, subordinates or those they are called to serve.
The latest in the state is the dehumanization of hotel workers by their employer – a former Minister of Education and business guru, Olorogun Kenneth Gbagi, in the oil city, Warri. Although the ex-minister said he did not take the laws into my hands or condescended to stripping anybody naked, the fact still speaks for itself.
Gbagi, who reacted to the nude photographs of his hotel workers – three women and a young man, in a crowded press briefing held at his Oginibu palatial home, said the photographic show of shame “is a contrived political blackmail by persons seeking to demean his hard earned reputation in a bid to truncate his 2023 gubernatorial ambition of ruling the state”.
In the state, if a police officer does not brutalize a civilian, a highly placed and influential civilian will maltreat his neighbour, staff or next of kin. Between October and November 2019, some persons in the corridors of power in the state used their political and monetary gains to dehumanize those in the lower cadre of the society. They forget in a hurry that ‘no condition is permanent in life.’
In Asaba, the state capital, if a bullion van police escort does not attack a civilian, the convoy of an elected, appointed or contractual politician will assault you. If the orderlies of the Governor will not molest you, a power drunk police officer will order his subordinates to beat you up and thereafter throw you into a waiting van that will dump you in the cell.
In November last year, during the presentation of N389.1 billion budget proposal for 2020 by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa to the state’s House of Assembly, a physically impaired member of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Comrade Godwin Udoh, reporting for the Nigerian Xpress Newspapers, narrowly escaped being shot by an overzealous policeman at the Assembly premises.
He was scampering to record what the Governor was saying, while he was briefing over 60 journalists, who queried him on the performance of the budget of the previous year, when a newly promoted Deputy Superintendent of Police, from Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU), who is said to be the Escort Commander to the Governor, one DSP Victor, descended on him for coming close to the Governor’s exotic car.
He chased the journalist to about 100 metre fundamental unit, before he landed a dirty slap on his face. He was unperturbed that the journalist fell down; he used boot to kick him and threatened to shoot him if he should further provoke him.
The police officer did not worry that his action disrupted the ongoing interview, as sympathizers, especially the supporters of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), including members of the PDP Faithful Youths, popularly known as One-Belle, and Grassroot Support Group, that thronged the venue of the budget presentation to catch a glimpse of the Governor, expressed shock at the inhuman treatment meted out on the journalist because of the Governor’s car.
He actually told the journalist to ‘clear’, meaning ‘shift away’ from the car, but the journalist simply replied “officer, you can see that I’m recording what the Governor is saying”. At this, the police officer attempted to slap him but he ran away from the spot. Meanwhile, the journalist took the position because the loud speaker was placed very close to the car.
“At first, he wanted to use the boot of his rifle to hit me, but I dodged it and tried to run away from the spot, he chased me until I fell down and he started to beat me”, Udoh lamented.
The South-South Focus learnt thereafter that the police officer was in the habit of molesting journalists over his hatred for media practitioners. The then chairman of the Community Newspapers’ Chapel of NUJ in the state, Comrade Barth Ozah, condemned the action of the police officer and urged the governor to call his orderlies to order as they cannot prevent journalists from carrying out their lawful duties. Time had not healed Udoh’s wound when a senior journalist was brutalized within the metropolis.
He was left with various degrees of injuries after he could not respond to their rhetoric questions, including, “do you know who I am? Do you know where I work? Do you know whom I am attached to? Do you want me to keep you in the cell or do you want me to kill you; you this bloody civilian!’ It was the State Correspondent of the Champion Newspapers, Comrade Barry Agbanigbi.
He was dragged out of his Black Toyota Matrix car by two policemen attached to the convoy of a ‘big-man’ that could not be identified till date. He was accused of not stopping abruptly for them around 7.30 p.m when they escorted their paymaster to a shopping mall around the ever-busy Nnebisi road, by the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Asaba.
The journalist was quickly rushed to the emergency unit of the nearby FMC by the chairman of the Delta State chapter of the Association of Print Media Sales Executive, Mr Ovire Collins, where he was resuscitated and his wounds were treated.
His left hand was bandaged and hung on his neck for weeks before he recovered. Barely, 48 hours after, precisely on November 12, Barry had not recovered from the shock when pandemonium broke out again.
This time, it was the Chief Security Officer (CSO) to Governor Okowa, a Chief Superintendent of Police, CSP George Efeizomor. He unleashed terror on three artisans that allegedly challenged him within the town.
Trouble started when the driver of the CSO wrongly packed his official cars to block the entrance to a mechanic workshop when he went to eat a local food, called ‘Ofejuju’ and pounded yam, adjacent a popular church, the House on the Rock, along the Delta Broadcasting Service (DBS) road.
An eyewitness said: “When the mechanic, Mr. Ola Coker, who went to test run the car of customer returned and discovered that the entrance to his workshop was blocked, he decided to park outside and waited for the owner of the vehicle that blocked his workshop to come out. “When the CSO returned with his driver after eating and discovered that a car was preventing his own from moving out, he requested to know the owner of the car.
The mechanic came out. He was trying to query his wrong parking but the CSO ordered the junior officer that followed him to give the mechanic man a slap.” Ola’s younger brother, who is a panel beater, Emma, rushed out from the workshop and asked why his brother was being maltreated. For saying it was unfair for the CSO to slap his brother, he ordered the junior officer again to give him two dirty slaps. The blow landed Emma at the Federal Medical Centre (FMC).
A car air-conditioner repairer in the workshop, Mr. Andy Okeibunor, was displeased. He rushed out to intervene but got what he did not bargain for. The CSO pounced on him again. It did not end at that. The CSO mobilized more men from the Government House with his phone. Within a twinkle of an eye, a police van, containing five red beret men arrived the scene and tried to raid the mechanic workshop. People started running for safety, for fear of being beating.
There was sporadic shooting. Some were arrested and bailed thereafter. Andy was manhandled with gun butts before he was sandwiched in their van to the GRA Police Station, where he was dumped in the cell.
He did not come out until he was bailed the following day. “Before the arrival of the red-beret squad, Ola and his younger brother had escaped the scene because they overheard the CSO making calls for more policemen”, another eyewitness, who simply identified herself as Mama Chidi said. Ola, who recounted his ordeal at his younger brother’s hospital bed, said, “Yes, we were beaten in my shop.
I drove out to test-run somebody’s motor. I came back, only to meet two cars parked behind the car I was meant to repair. Not only that. The two vehicles were blocking the common entrance to my workshop. Another customer’s car could not enter. I parked beside the two vehicles I saw blocking the way. I asked the people around about who parked the two cars. Nobody could explain until the owners came out.
The outcome is why we are in the hospital.” Although a right activist, Mr. Victor, who wondered why the state was sliding into a state of nature where anything goes and might is right has become the order of the day, threatened to pursue the matter to a logical conclusion for justice to prevail, the rest is history till today.
The Dein of Agbor kingdom, HRM Benjamin Ikenchuku Keagborekuzi 1, who called on Nigerians to stop painting the Nigerian police in a bad light to avoid discouraging young ones from joining the profession, condemned a situation where uniform men engage innocent citizens in military exercise.
He said: “We should not fold our arms and continue to watch those engaged to protect us turn around to become our enemies. Police should not protect politicians to the detriment of those who voted them into power to serve.” The monarch, who spoke generally on Police Public Relations, urged the Police Service Commission (PSC) to fish out the bad eggs among the rank and file of the profession.
He said: “We should not always paint the police in bad side. We know there are bad eggs among them but we should learn to appreciate, so as to encourage our children to join the force,” even as he called on the general public to bring useful information to the police.’ Victor also said, “Journalists have become engendered species in the state.
When politicians are seeking for elective positions, they run to them for publicity but as soon as they (politicians) get there, they (journalists) become used and dumped. They ask their retinue of police guards to keep them and members of their constituency at arm’s length.
This should not get to the extent of assaulting them and other law abiding citizens. The situation at hand where three assaults were recorded within two weeks in the state, suggest a season of brutality”, the activist said.
The embattled minister clarified that not only are the alleged victims freelancers working in the hotel, they are not known to him and not legally staff of the hotel, maintaining that “they connived and converted his hotel into their private business for shady deals that went sour and the bubble bursted and exposed their pranks”.
Gbagi, who fingered Governor Okowa’s Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Peter Mrakpor, as the brain behind the blackmail and political shenanigans because he has a gubernatorial ambition come 2023, insisted that “it is not in my character to do such ignoble act” just as maintained that “he will not succumb to any kind of extortion by any persons” emphasizing that he will contest the governorship election come 2023 by God’s Grace. He was elated that the victims made statement to the Heads of Department of the hotel before being taken to police. He revealed that both statement are the same and that they are all in a conspiracy of theft and being used by some political neophytes.
He vowed that in the current state of affairs “I will certainly seek legal redress to put a stop to this nonsense”. He said he would graciously honour any invitation by the police and dismiss claim that any of his children were involved in the videoing of the nude victims and expressed deep agony on the capacity of some Deltans to blackmail hard working persons and businesses into bankruptcy that eventually crippled a very popular hotel in Warri some years back with all the workers suffering till date. Gbagi, a criminologist and former Chairman of the Nigerian Legal Aid Council, called for a forensic test on the bodies of the said victims to confirm if his finger ever touched any of them even as he requested God to “punish him” if he ever did. He charged them to go to court to pursue their case, if any, instead of deploying the services of social media platforms to ventilate their grievances.
He therefore charged the mainstream media to be very thorough, objective and see through the charade, pointing out that “not only are the victims well lined up for photo shoots, the only male among them have his manhood very erect in an alleged situation of dehumanization”. In the viral video shots, one of the female victims is visibly seen playing with her handset.
Gbagi requested that the hotel staffers present during the alleged ordeal be mentioned by the victims just as he claimed further that some of them have confessed to him already that they were being sponsored while some others are on the run.
Gbagi, who disclosed that there are more devious and devilish plots to undo him in the heady days ahead of the 2023 gubernatorial election, said he has tasked his security details to be very vigilant both in the day and night to forestall the evil plot just as he is not disturbed by these distractions being perpetrated by people with demented minds.
Prior to this, the victims had employed the service of an activist lawyer and threatened a N1 billion damage for their battered image. Also, right activists in the state have condemned the alleged dehumanization of the workers over a missing N5,000 at the Hotel located around the Petroleum Training Institute (PTI) junction in Effurun, near Warri. They protested in Asaba with placards of different headlines, including “Human right under attack in Delta State, “We say no to bad justice in Nigeria,” “This is jungle justice,”. They called on the Federal Government, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and other meaning individuals to get justice for the victims.
The Leader of the protesters, the Director of Young Nigerian Right Organization, Comrade Victor Ojei, alleged that the owner of the hotel, who was former Minister of State for Education, Olorogun Kenneth Gbagi, allegedly stripped them naked before ordering their arrest. He said: “We are here today (Tuesday) to protest the dehumanization of four staff of Signatious hotel in Warri, over missing of N5,000. We are saying no to bad justice in Nigeria.”