The Police in Onitsha, the commercial capital of Anambra state, say they have arrested the killer cop responsible for the murder of a bus driver in the city Thursday.
The murder, which happened at midday in the city market, had triggered a riot against people of Northern origin because the alleged killer cop is Hausa from the north.
The bus driver, a member of the Movement of the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), was killed by the police officer after he tried to evade an illegal checkpoint where the officers were demanding money from motorists.
According to an eyewitness account, the bus driver, Edwin, riding in his coaster bus with a passenger, refused to stop at a checkpoint at the ABS junction where the killer cop mounted a roadblock.
The killer cop grabbed a motor bike, pursued the driver a distance where he deflated the bus tires with bullets before lodging a bullet in the driver’s neck, killing him on the spot.
The only passenger in the bus also sustained bullet wounds after the killer cop sprayed bullets randomly before escaping back to his station, on his motor bike.
The conductor of the bus, Samuel Ekwueme, explained that the killer cop was vexed because the slain driver insisted on paying N20 in bribes instead of N50, demanded by the police officers at the check point.
“My oga (boss) said that he had paid in the previous trip and drove off but we did not know that one of them was following us on a motorbike and he intercepted us and shot my oga on the neck and quickly escaped,” Mr. Ekwueme explained.
Emeka Chukwuemeka, the state’s police spokesman, told Premium Times that the officer had been arrested; court-martialed and ready to be dismissed from the force before he is tried for murder in a civil court.
He added that peace had been restored to the city after the police and army were deployed to the streets.
Residents said the streets remained ghostly Thursday evening but pockets of “hoodlums” kept gathering near the Onitsha end of the Niger Bridge, under the close watch of armed security officers.
Country on the edge
The killer cop is allegedly from the Hausa speaking northern Nigeria, bedeviled by the Boko Haram terrorist sect.
The news of his crime sparked a riot directed against the few Northerners living in the predominantly Igbo speaking commercial city of Onitsha. Mobs comprising of drivers and motor cycle riders, went on a rampage with the corpse of the driver, attacking northerners and looting their shops.
The notherners panicked and ran to the Central Police Station, and other police stations within the city for refuge, while others crossed the Niger Bridge, over to neighbouring Delta State.
Similar mobs also showed anger in different parts of the commercial city hunting for and demanding that the city be purged of northerners. Witnesses said the Divisional Police Officer in charge of Central Police Station, Abdul Yusuf, was almost lynched by the mob when he visited the murder scene with his officers.
But nobody was killed in the riots.
“Usually, the police were the direct victims of such retaliatory riots,” Ngozi Okonkwo, a resident of the city said.
“The mob said they are retaliating killings of Igbos in the north.”
The mob attacks on the northerners in the city, rather than the police, whose illegal toll gates dot the city at every kilometre, reveal the fragility of the unity binding Nigeria’s different ethnic groups as a nation, living in mutual distrust.
The animosity between the north and the south was further fuelled by the Boko Haram sect which is seeking total Islamization of the north.
Early in January this year, the terrorist sect ordered southerners living in the north to evacuate the north within three days.
Abdul Qaqa, spokesperson of the sect said the ultimatum was based on information that Muslims would be attacked down south. The sect carried out its threats after the expiration of the ultimatum, bombing and torching churches.
Reacting to the riots, MASSOB leaders advised their followers against being hostile to northerners.
But Rommy Ezeonwuka, the secessionist group’s second in command, described the killer cop as a “Boko Haram member.”
“For a Hausa policeman to kill an Igbo driver here because of mere N20 shows that the policeman is a Boko Haram member,” he said.
“But we have urged MASSOB members to leave Hausa people alone because they are not our problem.”
He urged members to “concentrate on dismantling all police check points within the area.”