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Angry traders protest police harassment, extortion in Onitsha

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By Chukwudum Ebele

The timely interventions of both the Divisional Crime Officer, DCO at Fegge Police Division, Onitsha, Anambra state, Stephen Odok, a Superintendent of Police, SP and the Vice-Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Onitsha branch, Mrs. Margaret Wilcox-Iwuchukwu saved what could have degenerated to another round of #EndSARS protest by some traders at GUO Plaza, Onitsha.

Traders, mainly, in GSM handsets and yesterday, carried placards to the Fegge police station to protest what they described as “incessant arrests, extortion, harassment, intimidation and detention of their members on trump-up charges.” They said that the protest was to drive home their grievances to the higher police authorities against their subordinates in the division and possibly beyond.

On their arrival at the gate of the station, the angry traders, seeing that the entrance gate was locked, were about to embark on violent demonstration when their lawyer, Margaret Wilcox-Iwuchukwu, advised them to remain calm as she met with police authorities.

The traders, in obedience, rather, stood in front of the gate, displaying their placards peacefully, as their lawyer, accompanied by a few traders, met with the DCO inside the station.

According to their leader, Basil Igodo, who is the chief security officer of the plaza, “Enough is enough. How can a notorious criminal who boasted he would implicate every member of the plaza point at one of our executives claiming he was the one that buys stolen phones from him.

“The police will just come and arrest someone claiming he has been implicated. They would end up extorting hundreds of thousands of naira without due investigation. We have an unwritten law in our plaza that no one is allowed to buy phone from individuals or you face sanction”, he alleged.

The divisional police officer, DPO at Fegge Division, Rabiu Garba, a chief superintendent of police, CSP was not on seat at the moment to address the matter by himself as he was said to have travelled out of Onitsha on an official engagement.

After listening to their grievances, which included that some policemen from the division usually come into their market to effect indiscriminate arrests for allegedly receiving stolen phones, without even contacting their union leaders, adding that in most cases, the arrests usually ended up in extortion of huge amount of money from the suspects, the DCO pleaded with them to give him some time to look into the matter.

The traders further alleged that some policemen in uniform usually came down to the Plaza, situated at the bank of the River Niger, to smoke Indian Hemp after which they now turn to tigers and begin to effect massive arrests of the traders, ending up in extorting them.

Responding, the DCO, Odok commended them for their peaceful nature of protest and gave out his phone number to them, asking them to please call him on phone or come straight to his office and lay their complaint whenever such incident occurred in future.

Odok disclosed that he had arrested no fewer than five fake military officers on military uniforms and six fake or dismissed policemen on police uniforms who were going about impersonating the personnel and extorting law-abiding citizens.

In her own reaction, Wilcox-Iwuchukwu told newsmen that she got wind of the demonstration and decided that the matter be addressed forthwith but ensured that the protest did not degenerate to destruction and looting. She counseled the traders expressing the confidence that the matter could be resolved amicably adding that the association was ready to take legal action should the alleged intimidation continue.

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