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Aba tragedy: Police probe death of 23 worshippers •Arrest leader of Bakassi Boys

Posted by JAYNE UCHE UKONNE, Aba on 2005/08/07 | Views: 541 |

Aba tragedy: Police probe death of 23 worshippers •Arrest leader of Bakassi Boys


POLICE authorities in Abia State have commenced detailed investigation into the circumstances that led to the death of at least twenty- three Christian faithfuls in Aba, the commercial nerve centre of the state last Friday.

POLICE authorities in Abia State have commenced detailed investigation into the circumstances that led to the death of at least twenty- three Christian faithfuls in Aba, the commercial nerve centre of the state last Friday.

Tragedy had struck when the Christians reportedly heading for a night vigil were detained by vigilante group known as Bakassi Boys in a cell purportedly built in a market along Aba-Port Harcourt Expressway, last Thursday night.

The victims were mostly women and young ladies searching for an uplift in their lives. Confirming the probe to Sunday Champion yesterday, the police area commander in Aba, Mr Sale Tanko, said his men have arrested the leaders of the Bakassi Boys. He said those arrested in connection with the deaths of the Christians worshippers have given useful information which will assist in the investigation.

He also confirmed that the corpses have been deposited at a mortuary in the state capital, Umuahia. He said everything has been put in place to unravel the real cause of the deaths. Meanwhile, many sympathisers participated in a riot to protest the deaths.

Tragedy struck in Aba, the commercial hub of Abia State at the weekend when 23 christian faithfuls on a night vigil were found dead in a cell reportedly built by the outlawed Bakassi boys, a vigilante group operating in the city.

The victims are mostly women and young girls who were searching for an uplift in their lives at a church located on Aba/Port Harcourt Expressway last Thursday.

They were allegedly stopped and detained by the Bakassi boys who were employed as securitymen by the authorities of Orie Ohabiam Electronic Market located on the same expressway.

Hot argument was said to have ensued between the worshippers and the Bakassi boys, resulting in their being hauled into a cell inside the market. Eye witness told Sunday Champion that trouble started when the Bakassi boys allegedly demanded money from the worshippers who bluntly refused.

Even though Bakassi groups have been banned by the Federal Government, Sunday Champion gathered that Abia State government was maintaining vigilante groups that go with the name Bakassi.

It was also gathered that the group were stationed at all the major markets in Aba to monitor activities and also pass information to the government.

Although nobody could give a detailed account of what transpired between the arrested persons and the Bakassi group, it was said that the people were bundled into one of the empty stalls inside the market and locked up. Their deaths became public knowledge when their relatives who were expecting them back early last Friday morning could not see them. Consequently, they started to make enquiries which eventually took them to where the victims were locked up before their untimely death.

By then, traders in the market had started arriving and were preparing for the business of the day when relatives of the arrested persons threatened to burn down the one-storey building that housed the "cell."

With the help of the traders, members of the Bakassi group were forced to open the locked stalls turned into "cell." On opening of the stall, eye witnesses said, they began to perceive chemical odour coming out from the "cell."

They said when they got closer, most of those locked in the empty stall were lying on the floor, and on closer look it was discovered that 23 out of the 29 persons that were locked in the empty stall the previous night were stone dead.

The story had it that there was spontaneous reaction from relatives of the dead persons and some traders, who wanted to mob some members of the Bakassi group found around.

Sensing that danger was ahead, members of the Bakassi group reportedly began to shoot indiscriminately into the air and created a state of confusion that gave them the opportunity to escape. At that point, a serious rioting started.

The corpses of the victims were still at the market when Sunday Champion arrived the scene last Friday.

Some policemen were also seen making efforts to evacuate the corpses to a mortuary. As the policemen left with some of the corpses, the rioters who were chased away by the police regrouped and started to break open other stalls close to the one where the locked up persons died.

The leader of the rioting group told Sunday Champion that they were breaking the stalls open to make sure nobody was left inside.

However, a double barrel gun was found in one of the stalls.

A trader at the market, who spoke to Sunday Champion on condition of anonymity, said the chairman of the traders association popularly called "M. C.," had on many occasions complained to the state government that the traders were fed up with activities of the Bakassi boys in the market.

The chairman was said to have at the last meeting between the traders and officials of the government requested that the Bakassi boys be withdrawn from the market following an agreement entered into by the traders with a security outfit based in Aba.

He said the "cell" where the 23 persons died was one of the unoccupied stalls in the market and was wide open at the close of business last Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Abia State Police Command has confirmed the death of some men who were detained by the Bakassi group at the Orie Ohabiam Electronics Market in Aba.

Aba Area Commander, Mr. Sale Tanko, who spoke to Sunday Champion, said police do not know, as at time of filing this report, the number of persons that died, but he said a good number of dead bodies were picked up by police.

He said the persons died as a result of suffocation as all of them were locked up in a 7ft x 6ft space stall, even as he confirmed that Bakassi groups were operating an illegal detention camps in major markets in Aba.

Mr. Tanko also told Sunday Champion that the corpses picked by police have been transferred to State Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Umuahia, the state capital.

He called on members of the public who do not know the whereabout of any of their relatives to check the mortuary for identification of the corpses.

He said "traders at the market and Aba residents were not happy. The traders, stalls were parallel to the detention camp but they refused to inform the police.

"The incident happened because nobody gave police information on the existence of Bakassi group in the market.

"In view of this development, I am pleading with Aba citizens to be calm and law abiding. They should not take laws into their hands.

"I know they are fighting a common cause, but police are still the custodian of the laws of the land. We are prepared to investigate this matter to its logical conclusion.

"The Bakassi group that carried out this act was operating under the guise of vigilante groups.

"I want to remind everybody that the Federal Government’s ban on the Bakassi group is still in force. I am warning traders in all the markets in Aba not to allow vigilante groups to be operating parallel with them in the market," Tanko said.

Mr. Tanko confirmed that they have made some arrests which were already yielding results. According to him, the arrest made will lead to the arrest of more persons vital to their investigation.

When Sunday Champion visited the office of the Area Commander Friday afternoon, a man of about 36 years was being interrogated by senior officers of the Area Command.

The Area Commander told Sunday Champion that the man was one of the leaders of the Bakassi group that operated at the Orie Ohabiam market that he had given the police names of other leaders of Bakassi in that market and also in other markets in Aba.

He said that police were able to control the rioting that broke out in the morning due to the prompt action of men and officers from the Area Command.

He added that the presence of the State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Adanaya Gaya, who rushed down to Aba on hearing the news, helped to boost public confidence on police ability to handle the matter.

The Federal Government in 2003 banned the dreaded Bakassi Vigilante Groups that were operating in all the South-Eastern States of the country.

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Fay(Katy, Texas, US)says...

Actually translates to bravehearted.