Politics and aftermath of Benin killings

INDEPENDENT

LAST UPDATED AT Fri Mar, 18 2011 

Politics and aftermath of Benin killings

By Francis Onoiribholo, Ag. Bureau Chief, Benin

Elections have always posed serious security problems for the populace and the political parties. The do-or-die antics of politicians since 1999 have created the suspicion that the regular security agencies are incapable of providing adequate security or that they seem too easily compromised, therefore, the tendency was for each party, group or even individuals to create private ‘armies’ which gave birth to numerous ‘above the law’ platoons. The current challenges in Edo State are a direct repercussion of proliferation of arms and unbridled political power show with a generous dose of giant ‘untouchable’ mentality. 

When eventually it got to a head the state Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, in a statement issued by his Chief Press Secretary, Peter Okhiria, declared: “I condemn in very strong terms the reported killing of two young men and hospitalisation of another by suspected thugs in Benin City.

“To this effect, I have directed the Commissioner of Police to fish out all those involved in this dastardly act and prosecute them accordingly as deterrence to others. Also, the police have been directed to commence full scale investigation into the immediate and remote causes of the incident with a view to nipping such in the bud in future.”

The governor was obviously echoing the wishes of all well meaning Edo residents as the antics and bare-faced hooliganism had culminated in palpable dread of the capabilities of the likes of Osakpamwan Eriyo all this while. For the records, this anti-social behaviour exhibited with reckless abandon with a clear disregard for law enforcement officers/agencies can be traced to the ‘blank cheque’ seemingly given to some characters in the name of youth leaders during electioneering processes.

Their activities date back to 1999 when the present democratic dispensation was being contemplated. 

Then, the do-or-die syndrome could only be actualised with a ruthless vanguard that ensured no opposition; virtually trained in a special ‘Academy of Violence’ sponsored by the largest party in Africa. 

Having been so trained to consider anyone that does not belong to their group as dispensable, the recent diverse party affiliation necessitated their having to branch out of the main stem and root. 

They are simply “above the law.”

It is therefore, paradoxical that government had to clearly dissociate itself from a well-known position when it declared, “Government will not tolerate the resort to violence by anyone, no matter how highly placed, as government is ready and willing to bring the full weight of the law to bear on anyone caught fomenting trouble in any part of the state,” well said, no doubt but are they just waking up from slumber?

Irked by the fallout of the beating up of the Chairman, Transition Committee of Oredo Local Government Council, Ekpen Erediauwa, large group protesters made up of Ogbe youths, market women, Odua Peoples’ Congress (OPC) and others, dressed in red attires, matched through most major streets of Benin metropolis, carrying placards with various inscriptions like, “Beating Oba’s son is an abomination’; ‘attempt on the prince is an affront on the Benin palace’. They temporarily forced all activities at the local government secretariat to a halt as they attempted to force the council staff to close for the day. That was the beginning.

On his part, Erediauwa revealed that he intends to seek redress in court of justice over the conduct of the former revenue chairman and also the legal interpretations of all relationships between all parties in whatever subsisting agreements with the council.

In spite of that, that the ancient city of Benin was thrown into confusion on Tuesday as youths believed to be loyal to be suspended chairman of Anti-Pipeline Vandalisation Committee, Eriyo unleashed violence on residents and passers-by around the King’s square axis of the town, resulting in the death of at least two persons and leaving several others seriously injured, is no longer news.

Not any less newsworthy is the fact that the state chapter of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), on Monday announced the suspension of Eriyo from the party. 

A press statement signed by the state secretary of the party, Osaro Idah, said the “party has suspended the state youth leader of the party, Osakpamwan Eriyo from the party with immediate effect pending the outcome of the on-going investigation of his recent conduct.”

To further exhibit the displeasure of the government with the entire saga, the governor also relieved Eriyo, who was also a major revenue collection contractor to the council, of the responsibility. However, Eriyo had earlier denied the allegation, stating that, “We had a verbal altercation in the presence of many Action Congress of Nigeria leaders in Oredo Secretariat. I did not beat the chairman; even a mad man cannot do that. Even though he is the Oba’s son, we, the Benin people are children of the Oba and we know the consequence of such misconduct.”

Notwithstanding, the preliminary sanctions pending the result of investigations instituted by various relevant organisations on the issues should have evinced caution, but they hardly impressed Eriyo and his “foot soldiers” for, according to reports, they invaded the markets and popular motor parks following day, to as usual, continue with their intimidation, extortion and outright molestation/dispossession of the traders, drivers and commuters of daily tolls. 

Trouble was bound to erupt and surely it did; on Tuesday, when the ticket boys of Eriyo allegedly attempted to forcefully compel bus drivers plying Ring Road to Ugbowo to buy their tickets.

The bus drivers were said to have vehemently resisted them, claiming that selling Eriyo’s ticket was illegal since he has been suspended as the contractor, and the refusal of the bus drivers to buy the ticket resulted in serious fighting that soon spread to Lagos, Ibiwe, Oreoghene Streets and other adjourning roads around the Kings Square.

The ensuing fracas resulted in the death of two young men; Raphael Oke and Osamuyi Obaze, both drivers in the Ring Road/Ugbowo route, and another whose name could not be ascertained but was said to have suffered a broken neck, while five commercial buses were badly damaged. 

When news spread of the bloody altercation, and quite contrary to the expected tendency of the people to preserve themselves and avoid the vicinity because of the shootings, about a hundred boys were sighted coming from the direction of the palace of the Benin monarch, heading towards the troubled zone.

Perhaps more casualties may have been recorded but for the timely arrival of over 100 anti-riot policemen who took position in and around the square and apparently succeeded in curtailing the spread of the fighting.

Reacting on the development, Thomas Okosun, chairman of ACN in the state said, “it is unbelievable, we abhor that, again that is a criminal activity by an individual, if he is the one who committed that offence or whoever that committed it, because to take the life of an innocent one is against the plan and purpose of God for mankind and the constitution and the various laws on criminality are also very clear on it. 

“Whoever committed that crime; the police must fish them out and prosecute them to its logical conclusion.

“The issue of Osakpamwan has generated a lot of controversy particularly as it affects our party and its government, I want to make it abundantly clear that our party stands by what it preaches, which is, any of our party member that is involved in hooliganism, criminality or thuggery, will not only be expelled and sent away from this our party but that the party and the government that we belong to will join in prosecuting that individual to its logical conclusion. In other words, we do not and will never support any act of hooliganism in this party, “ Okosun said. 

When contacted on phone, the state Police Command spokesman, Peter Ogboi, confirmed the death of only one man, which he said resulted from shootings during the fighting and for which 10 persons were arrested. 

Meanwhile, the family house of Eriyo on Ekpenede Street, Ogbe Quarters, Benin City was allegedly set ablaze by yet to be identified arsonists who stormed the compound the same day that the lives of two young men were brutally cut short by bullets.

Osakpamwan on Wednesday issued a statement thus: “I wish to categorically deny the allegation that I had a hand in the killing of anyone including Raphael Oke and Osamuyi Obaze or that I shot one Prince Ebo Eweka or anyone whosoever in ‘the residence of the Arala of Benin Kingdom, Chief Omoalayan Osula’ or any other location. For the avoidance of doubt, I was not anywhere close to the alleged place of shooting. On March 15, 2011 when the shooting allegedly took place, I was at the Edo State Government House as early as 8.00am on the invitation of government. I was in Government House till about 3.30pm. On getting to my office at No.169, Ekehuan Road, Benin City, I was informed by union officers that some of our personnel had been critically shoot (sic) by Mr. Tony Kabaka Adun.”

Continuing, Osakpamwan further said, “according to the information, at about 11.00am on Tuesday, March 15, 2011, Tony Kabaka led many others numbering about 150-200 to rob our union personnel of union dues in their possession at gun point. After successfully carrying out the robbery they began to beat them up in the course of which Tony Kabaka pointed a gun at one of them. Unfortunately, the gun exploded killing two of his boys who had held the union personnel in the process of their being assaulted.”

In apparent response to the dissolution of all ticketing activities by the state government pending the total review of the policies as announced by Oshiomhole, Osapkamwan stated thus, “I wish to emphatically state that the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) is a nationally recognised union, which exist by virtue of an enabling Act of the National Assembly. It is not an agency of Edo State Government. 

“The union has the sole and exclusive statutory mandate to manage and administer motor parks across the country. On the day of the unfortunate incident, the authentic report reaching me is that the union personnel were doing their normal union duties in the motor park within the Lagos Street axis and not in the market place. “Therefore, they could not have been collecting government revenue as alleged in the report.” 

This perhaps explains why the business of ticketing continued on Tuesday in negation of the ban instituted on Monday by the government, which eventually sparked off the clash.

However, in what could be termed government’s ‘ultra vires’ action, according to Osakpamwan’s statement, Oshiomhole repeated the ban on Wednesday when he paid a condolence visit to the family of Arala Osula to commiserate with them over the sad loss of their family members and to reiterated that all those implicated in the brutal murder would be brought to book. He also requested Osapkamwan to come out of hiding and submit himself to the authorities.

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