Barely six months after men of the Nigeria Security and Defence Corps(NSCDC) in Owerri, Imo State, shot and wounded keke operators in the state, men of the Saturday shot and molested some journalists in the state for obstructing extortion being perpetrated by men of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC).
The incident came barely four days after four passengers were feared dead while several others sustained various degrees of injuries in a fatal road crash along Owerri /Aba Express way, close to the Nekede mechanic village, Owerri. The deaths were caused by the officials of Federal Road Safety Commission when they flagged down a commuter bus and that when the driver stopped, and moved, having been permitted to go before one FRSC official allegedly had jumped into driver’s side and struggled with the driver for control of the vehicle, leading to the vehicle skidding off the road and into the median with which the road is divided.
However, the molested journalists are Tope Kuteyi of Channels TV, Nnamdi Ofornya of Silver-bird Television and Obioma Oburuoga of the Africa Independent Television (AIT) in the State.
Trouble began at Owerri- Okigwe road directly opposite the Nigerian Civil Defence Office where men of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) stopped a man, one Paschal Opara whose pregnant wife was bleeding, and wanted to extort money from him before allowing them to leave for hospital.
The man was accused by FRSC officials of having expired papers for his vehicle. While the man was pleading for mercy and understanding from the FRSC officials to show concern for his pregnant wife.
It was during this time that the STV and AIT reporters were passing and tried to intervene. After leaving them, one of the Road Safety officials called the journalists back and demanded to have their phones, for according to the FRSC officials, they were suspecting the journalists of having videoed them while they were demanding money from the man and his pregnant wife.
But, the journalists refused to give them the phones, saying as Ofornya put “we know our rights and we can’t just give you our phones for any reason”.
It was in the ensuing melee that the Road Safety officials invited men of the Nigeria Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), whose office the FRSC uses as its cell for arrested defaulters, and they suddenly invaded the scene.
The melee that ensued attracted the attention of some journalists who were already gathered at the Imo State PDP secretariat located at the same spot to cover the press conference called by PDP stakeholders who wanted to protest the cancellation of the Imo North senatorial re- run polls cancelled by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
According to our reporter who witnessed the incident, Road Safety officials and their Civil Defence counterparts, without question, started beating the journalists and the man whose wife was bleeding and “arrested” the journalists and unleashed inhumane treatment on them as they were harassed and assaulted.
The plea of the journalists who identified themselves as reporters of Channels tv, Silverbird and AIT fell on deaf ears as they were promptly taken to Civil Defence office also located within the vicinity of the incident.
This development forced other journalists within the scene to storm the office of the Civil Defence where they promptly asked for the release of their colleagues. This almost led to a showdown between the journalists and men of the Civil Defence who also shot indiscriminately to scare away the angry journalists.
It would be recalled that just last year, a 26-year-old Okechuku Izuchukwu Iwuchukwu, a tricycle (keke) operator, allegedly died in the hands of some men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) in Orji, Imo state.
Okey, as he was popularly called, was the only child of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Sunday Iwuchukwu.
Okey’s wife, Mrs. Obianuju Iwuchukwu, is expecting the couple’s first child.
Traditional ruler of the community and the Acting Commandant General, Imo State Peace Advocate Corps, Hon. Peter C. Ohagwa were sent by the state governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha, to plead with the people to of the town to maintain peace. Their pleas calmed the people of the community and averted a reprisal.
According to eyewitnesses, Okechukwu, who recently returned from Pakistan where he went in search of greener pastures before going into the keke transport business, was allegedly returning from work when he saw some group of people lying on the ground, so he thought some robbers were operating in the area.
He turned round to escape, but two officers of the NSCDC who were operating an illegal checkpoint in the area reportedly opened fire on him, killing him instantly.