The Network of Police Reform in Nigeria has petitioned President Muhammadu Buhari over an alleged use of the police by Rochas Okorocha, the governor of Imo State, to attack peaceful protesters in the state.
The petition, dated February 8, accused Mr. Okorocha of establishing an ‘Imo Security Network’ to harass and intimidate his critics.
“Imo State citizens and residents will hold the federal government and the Nigeria Police responsible if they allow the governor to use his illegally armed Imo Security Network, or the police which is controlled by the federal government, to harm workers and Imo citizens and their allies,” said Okechukwu Nwanguma, National Coordinator, NOPRIN.
Last week, armed police officers opened fire on protesting medical doctors in the state angry over the government’s plans to privatize hospitals – a Consultant Family Physician, Bede Azudialo, allegedly sustained bullet wounds on his head.
The commissioner of police in the state, however, absolved his men of any blame, attributing the attack to faceless thugs.
“It is believed that the motive of this attack on the protesting medical doctors was to create a sense of fear and intimidate the NLC and their CSO allies as they prepare to lead peaceful protests in Owerri this week to press home the Imo State workers’ demand that tthe governor reverses his callous and illegal mass sack of workers across the state civil service,” NOPRIN stated.
“Clearly, this indicates how far Mr. Okorocha is determined to go in using force of arms and violence to brutally suppress opposition against his discredited and unpopular government.”
Mr. Okorocha had announced in January the sacking of over 3,000 civil servants in 19 government parastatals, agencies, and departments, despite several months of unpaid salary.
In response, the workers planned a march to protest the decision.
Mr. Nwanguma said his group, a network of 49 civil society organizations spread across Nigeria, received information that the governor intended to unleash terror on the workers by mobilizing youths to counter their protest.
“Going by the event of last week when police officers shot at protesting doctors, it is clear that the police in Imo will also act on the side of the oppressors of the people, to scuttle the Imo people’s struggle for a responsive and accountable government, instead of discharging their duties to serve and protect the people.”
Mr. Nwanguma urged the president to direct the police Inspector General to demobilize the Imo Security Network which he described as the governor’s “terror squad.”
He said the squad recently beat up the Medical Director of Ihitte Uboma General Hospital, and dumped him, while still unconscious, at the state Police Command.
“These recent activities of the Imo State Security Network have confirmed the long-held suspicion by Imo citizens and residents that the Imo Governor set up the Security Network as a tool to harass, intimidate, and suppress citizens whenever they protest against his inhumane actions such as the recent sack of workers,” Mr. Nwanguma said.
“The outfit is now out to do what it was originally contemplated and set up to do – terrorize the people and silence them into submission.
“In the case of the doctor who was mercilessly beaten up at Ihitte Uboma, Imo State Police did not intervene while he was being brutalised. Instead, they later took the already battered doctor into custody before he was later granted bail without being informed of any offence he may have committed.
“It was also members of Imo Security Network who, sometime last week, under the close watch of police officers from Imo State Command, bullied and chased away workers of Umuguma General Hospital and locked up the offices against them.”