Men and officers of the Imo State police command on Thursday savagely assaulted demonstrators protesting against the anti-labour policies and alleged incompetence of Roche Group of Companies (managers of the Imo Palm Plantation), Ohaji/ Egbema council area of the state.
The protesters, members of the Imo(Ada) Palm Landlords Association, had come in two factions with one group calling for the reopening of the plantation shut down since last seven months and bring back Roche, while the other faction was calling for the state government to sack Roche for its incompetence.
While a few leaders of the pro-Roche faction of the landlords were allowed into the state government house for an interface with the state government, the anti-Roche members of the association stood one side chanting “Roche-Must-Go” songs.
As the two groups were in front of the state government house chanting songs with placards, several police vans conveying anti-riot policemen suddenly appeared and started beating the protesters and arresting them.
There were no fewer than eighty men arrested by the police, while several protesters were injured, including three woman who were hit in the eye and head.
Not done yet, the policemen flattened the tyres of more than 15 buses in which the protesters came and cramped the protesters in the police vans.
Speaking with journalists, the chairman of the Imo Palm Plantation Landlords Association, Barr. Ikechukwu Ezekwe described the arrest of his men as an act of brigandage and a show of shame.
According to him, it was very difficult for him to place “such an act of terror on Nigerian citizens who were expressing their fundamental human rights with a peaceful demonstration”.
He said they carried out the demonstration to persuade Governor Rochas Okorocha not to allow Roche return back to manage the company as according to him, the Irish company had mismanaged the plantation to its knees.
Ezekwe stated that before the takeover of the plantation by Roche Group, the place was moving at snail speed and that trouble started when Roche Group said they were not going to work with the existing staff and as a result, workers started demanding for payment of severance allowance.
He accused Roche of having an ulterior motive in the take over of the plantation, as according to him, the company had since then borrowed N1.5billion from Diamond and FCMB banks, and which according to him, was not put to any use in the plantation.
The state Police Public Relations Officer, Andrew Enwerem, was not available for comments as his phone line was not reachable.