Angry Ogoni youths on Monday blocked the Elelenwo Juction area of the East-West Road in Port Harcourt, Rivers State as they protested the shooting by the police of their kinsman and lawmaker representing Rivers South-East Senatorial District, Senator Magnus Abe.
Their action caused heavy traffic for about two hours before the police dispersed them.
Abe was on Sunday shot with rubber bullets by operatives of the Rivers State Police Command at the venue of a rally in the Obio/Akpor Local Government Area.
The lawmaker, who was flown to London for further treatment, was hit on the chest and leg by the bullets when he, in company with the Chief of Staff, Government House, Port Harcourt, Chief Tony Okocha, arrived at the venue of the rally organised by the Save Rivers Movement, a mobilisation group of the All Progressives Congress.
The leader of the youth, Mr. Friday Needam, told journalists shortly after they were dispersed that the police were on a dangerous mission in the state.
Needam said the Ogoni would never allow any of their sons or daughters to be killed the way their kinsman and environmental activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, was killed by the Sani Abacha junta on November 10. 1995.
He condemned their dispersal but vowed that they would still regroup to express their dissatisfaction over Abe’s shooting.
Needam said, “Police have been chasing us since morning (on Monday) but we will continue to run for safety and regroup in another area where they (police) would find it difficult to mobilise.
“The police in Rivers State are on a dangerous mission. We want people of this country to pray that nothing happens to Senator Abe because the Ogoni will not allow any of their sons or daughters to be killed again like Saro-Wiwa and others by the Federal government and its agents.
“We are warning politicians not to use the blood of any Ogoni to cleanse Rivers State or Nigeria. Nigeria cannot continue to use the blood of the Ogoni as a sacrifice in political temple to redeem the past. It can no longer happen.”
One of the protesters, Johnson Lekien, said some of them were injured when the policemen came to disperse them.
Lekien stated that many of them were ready to face the same treatment given to Abe by the Police.
He said, “We are ready to face the same treatment given to our senator. We are here on a peaceful protest, but the police did not allow us to peacefully express our feelings.
“What the police should know is that the Ogoni are not afraid of death and we are ready to defend our senator. We are watching his health and the police should pray that nothing happens to him.”
But the Public Relations Officer of the state Police Command, Mr. Ahmad Mohammad, told The PUNCH in a telephone interview, that policemen had to disperse the protesting youths to prevent them from unleashing mayhem on innocent people.
Mohammad said the police would not fold their arms and watch the youth create tension in the state.
He explained that blocking the East-West Road could have an adverse effect on the economy of the South-South.
Mohammed said, “We cannot fold our arms and allow the protesters to block the East-West Road. What we (police) have done is within the confines of the law. How can people go and block the East-West Road?
“You know what damage the blocking of the East-West Road for one hour can do to the economy of the South-South. The police must carry out their duty by dispersing them and that was exactly what we did.”
Also, the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People expressed dismay over the highhandedness and excessive use of force by the police.
It however sued for calm among Ogoni youths as it called for a thorough investigation into the incident.
The MOSOP President, Mr.Legborsi Pyagbara, said, “We had hoped that politics in this dispensation will be played with civility, decency and devoid of political violence. The current level of political intolerance in the country and in Rivers State in particular, is deeply troubling and condemnable.
“Recognising that the Ogoni had made so much sacrifice for democracy, which is being enjoyed in the country today and for which we have not benefited commensurably, we deplore the situation where any Ogoni man would be sacrificed on the altar of political acrimony or political violence in Rivers State.
“Even if Senator Abe or members of his group had committed any offence, there are civilised and lawful options available that the police would have adopted in dealing with the situation instead of the resort to violence and shooting.
“In the present circumstances, we consider the action of the police as unprofessional, insensitive and an unfortunate demonstration of the growing regime of impunity in the country, which we must all rise up to tame if democracy must survive.
“No matter what may have happened, the group or Senator Abe did not merit such a level of cruelty. As MOSOP had warned recently on Ogoni Day, never again shall we allow the blood of any Ogoni irrespective of political persuasions, political parties or affiliations to be spilled needlessly in the name of politics.”
In Abuja, the Senate deplored the incident that led to the shooting of Abe.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Information, Media and Public Affairs, Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe, in a statement, urged the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, to personally investigate the incident.
He said, “The Senate associates itself with the admonition of President Goodluck Jonathan on his pronouncements to mark the armed forces remembrance day, where he warned that ‘no Nigerian blood is worth spilling in the name of politics.’
“The Senate urges the IG to investigate the latest incident and ensure that it never recurs.
“In the same vein, the Senate advises politicians and their supporters to exercise greater restraint and avoid acts that will not only overheat the polity but may harm the country’s democracy.”
Abaribe’s counterpart in the House of Representatives, Mr. Zakari Mohammed, demanded the prosecution of the policemen who shot the senator.
He told National Assembly correspondents in Abuja that “the attacks have shown that the Nigerian security operatives lack proper training and expertise to handle such situations.”
“It is very sad. We call on the Federal Government to unveil and prosecute the perpetrators of the dastardly act,” he said.
Mohammed added that the latest development had underscored the need for state police in the country.
The lawmaker said, “With the event of the recent past, and because of the security challenges that we are facing now, state police would not be out of place.
“The implication of the current central arrangement in the police force is that if something is happening in my village, a Divisional Police Officer or a Commissioner of Police will need to get order from Abuja before he could act.
“We therefore need to localise the police. Nigeria is too vast for a federal police to manage.”
He also said that the House had shifted its resumption date to Tuesday next week because of Tuesday’s (today) public holiday declared by the Federal Government.