Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Ariaria market invasion, killings by NDLEA operatives: Traders still on warpath

It was a Friday like any other business day for traders at the Bakassi Line which houses shoe makers and dealers in allied products at the Ariaria International Market, Aba, Abia State. As usual, the shoemakers came to the market with high expectations. 

But they had barely settled for the day’s business when the market erupted in confusion as gunshots rent the air. The day has since come to be known as black Friday in Ariaria following the death of three traders and 10 others who sustained injuries.
It all began when nine gun-wielding operatives of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, allegedly sneaked into the Ariaria International Market around 9am on the trail of a suspected drug baron who had escaped previous arrests. Vanguard Features, VF, gathered that on entering the crowded market, the well-armed NDLEA operatives went into combat mode and started shooting in all directions. At the end of the shooting spree said to be directed at fleeing drug dealers from a nearby hideout, three traders had died; one whose name was given as John Chukwudi aka John 3:16, died instantly while two others later gave up the ghost. Over 20 traders who sustained varying degrees of injury were admitted at Horstman Orthopedic and Holy Wound Christian Hospitals in the area.

Having seemingly accomplished their mission, the NDLEA operatives dashed into their vehicle and zoomed off, leaving behind wailing and gnashing of teeth. Pandemonium reigned supreme in all the sections and lines of the market as commercial activities came to a halt. A trader told VF that two of his colleagues were hit in their shops by stray bullets.
Traders protest
Irked that the NDLEA operatives fled the market without arresting the suspected drug baron, the traders, accompanied by a crowd numbering over 2,000, took the corpse of one of their dead colleagues to the Ariaria Police Station near the market. The police moved to stop the surging crowd from entering its premises, but to no avail.  However, eyewitnesses told VF that efforts by the traders to gain entry into the police station were eventually foiled when a combined team of soldiers and policemen from neighbouring Divisions were drafted to secure the station from being burnt down.

The situation worsened when another group of traders brought the lifeless body of one of those hit by bullets and dropped it in front of the police station in the area.
Commercial banks and shop owners along the adjoining Faulks Road, A Line, Power Line gates I and 2, Samek, and Bakassi Lines amongst others, were forced to close for business as the situation went out of control.
As at about 6p.m., staff and customers of various commercial banks within the vicinity were still trapped in banks premises even as soldiers and other security personnel restricted movement within the area.
Lawmaker wades in
Reacting to the development, the member representing Aba North and Aba South in the House of Representatives, Ossy Prestige, stormed the Ariaria market the following day, Saturday, August 1, to get first hand information on the incident. He equally visited the injured at the two hospitals where they were receiving medical attention.

Addressing the traders, the legislator vowed to ensure that the NDLEA operatives involved in the killings are found and made to face the law. He said he was at a loss on how armed officials of NDLEA could raid the market and without any threat to their lives, open fire on defenceless traders who were going about their legitimate businesses.
“This is very sad. I cancelled the official function I was billed to attend in Kano and came down to Aba this morning (Saturday) to get a first hand information and what I have seen is, to say the least, horrible. We are not in a war situation; why will law enforcement agencies come into the market with guns and start shooting indiscriminately at defenceless civilians? I am taking this matter up and all those involved in this dastardly act will not go unpunished,” he vowed.

Doctors give update on victims
Consoling the injured traders at the hospitals where they are receiving treatment, Prestige promised to offset their medical bills. At the Holy Wounds Christian Hospital where four of the injured identified as Omeje Odinaka, Maduabuchi Iwuala, Anthony Chinedu and Emeka Obasi were receiving treatment, the medical director, Dr. Anyawu Uchenna, told the lawmaker that six injured traders were brought to his hospital.
According to him, the case of one of them was so bad that he had to give a referral letter to transfer him to another hospital.
Of the four persons admitted in the hospital, Dr. Uchenna said one had one of his legs amputated because it was shattered by bullets beyond what was medically possible to handle. He confirmed that three traders died in the ugly incident and many more could still die because hospitals in the city were rejecting the injured due to a police order which forbids hospitals from treating patients with bullet wounds without clearance from them (police).

At Horstman Orthopaedic Hospital on Okigwe Road, the doctor, Dr. Emelife Emmanuel gave a brief of what happened to the lawmaker. “One person was brought yesterday (Friday), he was shot on the leg and bled a lot and we had to contend with the blood before we commenced actual treatment. Because he lost a lot of blood, he had to be transfused and if need be, the affected leg could be amputated. Another man was brought this morning (Saturday), he was shot on the hand and he is responding to treatment.”
Victim recounts ordeal
One of the wounded traders, Maduabuchi Friday whose wife put to bed the previous day through Caesarean Operation, said he was working in front of his shop that fateful Friday when he heard gun shots and the next thing was that he found himself in the hospital.

The legislator thanked the doctors for their efforts in saving the lives of the wounded traders and promised to offset their medical bills and that of two other patients who had remained in hospital for over six months because nobody could settle their medical bills.
He assured that the matter will not be swept under the carpet until the nine NDLEA operatives involved in the shooting at the market were brought to justice and the Agency made to compensate the families of the dead traders and the injured ones.

Police exonerates its personnel
Reacting to the incident, Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Abia State Command, DSP Ezekiel Udeviotu Onyeke, who represented the State Commissioner of Police, Habila Joshak, dismissed reports that the police shot and killed the traders. He told newsmen that it was “one of our sister agencies who had gone to the area to carry out their official duty.”
Onyeke who hinted that the Inspector General of Police, IGP, Solomon Arase had ordered full investigation into the incident, added that it took police re-enforcement from other divisions from Aba and Umuahia and the assistance of the Army to bring the situation under control.

The police spokesman disclosed that the Divisional Crime Officer, D.C.O in charge of Ariaria Police Division, sustained injuries while trying to stop the surging crowd from gaining access to the station. The DCO was alleged to have also lost his AK47 rifle to the crowd. VF learnt that the rifle has however been recovered by the police.
VF recalls that there have been conflicting reports about what had become of the NDLEA operatives involved in the shooting. While one report had it that they have been handed over to the police for investigation and possible prosecution, another said that NDLEA authorities claimed they were still searching for their trigger- happy officials.

We’re still investigating incident–NDLEA
Abia State Commandant of NDLEA, Dele Akingbade, told journalists that that the command was investigating its men to know who killed the shoemakers.
Akimgbade said his men, who took part in the operation, had gone to the police to record their statements, adding that the command was willing to find out what happened in order to stop future occurrences.
“We do not know who killed the man whose body was reportedly taken to the police station.  That is why the investigation is ongoing. We are collaborating with the police and the officers that went for the operation so that we can find out when exactly the person was shot and with what type of gun and which type of bullet.”
However, a cross section of traders at the market told VF that the security agencies should fish out the killers of the innocent traders and prosecute them to serve as a deterrent to others.

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