Ughelli, an industrial and agricultural spot of Delta State is engulfed in a wild cat EndSARS protest following the invasion of the area by policemen searching for the killers of their colleague on Thursday when the protest took a violent turn.
While the state Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, says the reported killing of a policeman and injuring of another during the raging EndSARS protests in Ughelli on Thursday were disheartening, he has advised that citizens should eschew taking laws into their hands.
Ughelli is a town indigenous to the Urhobo ethnic nationality of the big heart oil and gas state though there is a mixture of several other ethnic groups from the country, such as the Igbo of Eastern Nigeria, Edo people among others.
It is also one of the 24 kingdoms that make up the Urhobo nation and serves as the headquarters of Ughelli North Local Government Area.
A police officer was, however, killed during a clash between operatives of the Nigeria Police, Delta State Command, and youth and commercial motorcyclists otherwise known as Okada riders in the troubled Urhobo commercial town.
The youth said they were protesting against intimidation, harassment and extortion by operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and other police officers in the area.
Following the killing, policemen in six trucks created panic in the boiling town on Friday as they searched different areas of the town for persons allegedly behind the killing of a policeman during the anti-SARS protest on Thursday.
Suspected hoodlums had hijacked the EndSARS protest in Otovwodo area of Ughelli, allegedly overpowered two policemen on duty, disarmed one of them and shot him to death with his rifle.
The second policeman was seriously wounded and is receiving treatment at an undisclosed hospital. The suspected hoodlums also destroyed several vehicles.
Apparently enraged, heavily armed policemen stormed the town in search of “Yahoo Boys’’, a pejorative term for financial scammers who allegedly sponsored the protesters, shooting endlessly into the air as people scampered to safety.
Over 11 young men were arrested and bundled into the trucks; some were forced to lay in awkward positions in the trucks as they sped to the Ughelli Police station.
A spokesman for the Nigeria Police, Frank Mba, a Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) in a statement said Police Corporal Etaga Stanley, was killed and his weapon, a rifle and ammunition stolen, in Delta State on Thursday during the EndSARS protest.
Inspector-General of Police, Adamu Muhammed, had recently banned SARS and special units of the law enforcement agency from patrols and mounting roadblocks following a recent clash by men of the Operation Delta Safe and some youths in Ughelli.
The protest which began peacefully, turned violent after protesters protested to the Police Area Command, Ughelli, at Otovwodo area of the town leading to the killing of a police officer.
The aggrieved youths began their protest from Ekiugbo section of Ughelli, drove in a long convoy through the Ughelli Market, Ughelli Area Command, Isoko Road and other adjoining streets before a fight broke out at Otovwodo Junction.
The protesting youths, who were joined by Okada riders, lamented police harassment and extortion, and called for an end to the activities of SARS. The protest caused heavy vehicular traffic on the busy Ughelli-Patani section of East-West Highway and the major roads in the town.
Commercial activities were temporarily grounded due to the protest.
“SARS should comply with the IGP’s prohibition and stop harassing people. After the IGP made the pronouncement, SARS and police officers are still mounting roadblocks and harassing people in Ughelli. We want an end to SARS”, one protester said.
While the Police big boss, Adamu, condemned the development, which also resulted in damage to police operational vehicles, Mba described the violent attack on policemen that led to Stanley’s death as unprovoked.
“The incident which resulted in the unfortunate death of one Police officer, Corporal Etaga Stanley attached to ‘A’ Division, Ughelli, Delta State who was attacked and brutally murdered by the protesters also left another, Sergeant Patrick Okuone with serious body injury sustained from gunshot by the protesters”, he said.
Allegedly, the protesters also carted away one service AK47 rifle with breach no 56-2609008 and 25 rounds of live ammunition that was with the deceased at the time of the incident.
“The IGP, who described the incident as cruel and unwarranted, has warned that the Force will no longer tolerate any attack on its personnel or any member of the law enforcement community by any individual or group protesting under any guise.
“The IGP notes that protest by citizens remain a legitimate means for airing their concerns and views. It must however be carried out with all sense of responsibility and within the confines of the law.
“The IGP, while condoling the family and friends of the late Corporal Etaga Stanley who paid the supreme price in the service of our dear nation, equally commended the officers of the Delta State Police Command for exercising restraint in the face of the immoral and unjustified provocation.”
Mba said his principal has directed the Commissioner of Police, Delta State, to carry out an investigation into the unfortunate incident, root out the perpetrators and bring the killer protesters to book.
There have been several protests across the country calling for the ban of SARS.
In the mean time, Governor Okowa is suing for calm and urging the police authorities to carry out a thorough investigation into the issues and fish out those who turned a peaceful protest into violence.
The plea is coming as the country continues to record protests by citizens against the activities of SARS of the Nigeria Police.
Okowa’s Chief Press Secretary, Olisa Ifeajika, in Asaba, the state capital, said the governor acknowledged that citizens had the right to protest against any case of perceived wrong in the society, but cautioned that such right must be exercised within the ambit of the law.
“On behalf of the government and people of Delta, I commiserate with the Commissioner of Police, the Delta State Police Command and the family of the deceased officer, in the unfortunate incident of Thursday at Ughelli”, he said.
While sympathising with the police, the governor urged the Inspector-General of Police to embark on a reform of the tactical squads of the police force in the best interest of the country.
There was another protest against SARS and police brutality in Enerhen Junction and Refinery Road areas of Uvwie Local Government Area at the weekend.
Though the protest was peaceful at as the time of filling this report, the protesters, comprised mostly of young boys and girls carried placards of different inscriptions condemning police brutality and supporting the prohibition of SARS.
For some residents of the twin local government areas of Uvwie and Warri South who spoke on the issue, there are mixed feelings over the banning of SARS. A driver in one of the commercial inter-state transport companies in Enerhen Junction, Osaro Emasuen, hails Adamu for banning the activities of SARS.
He notes that the activities of SARS were unbecoming as he said that he often mistook men of SARS as arm robbers because of wield style of dressing, adding: “They operate as if they have the license to kill without questioning.”
A commercial tricycle (keke) rider, Philip Okon, who spoke in the same vein, said that the transformation should cut across the entire police force. He alleged that police in both local government areas used commercial road users as their ATM, alleging further that they extort monies at all time in the name of checkpoints, non putting on face masks, overloading, among other baseless excuses.
While alleging that they were often issued numbers of identification after the extortion, he named some of the extortion joints (check points) to include: NNPC-Ekpan Road, NPA Warri-Effurun Bye Pass, Sapele-Effurun Road by Urhobo College, Warri-Sapele Road by Marine Quarters, Warri-Sapele by Ukpokiti Junction to Warri Garage. amongst other areas.
Maxwell Ovo, another respondent, alleges that most police patrol teams in both local government areas were after internet fraudsters otherwise known as yahoo boys, alleged further that the police used POS in exhorting monies from yahoo boys.
For Okpako Ejaife, an elder in Warri, notes that the prohibition of SARS may be counter-productive as he expressed fear that it might give rise to the activities of men of the underworld. “What should be done is reformation in their ways of operation and dressing”, he said.