24 November 2012

Nigeria: Sights and Sounds of Aluu


Aluu, a community in Rivers State, was in the news recently for the killing of four students of the University of Port Harcourt. Anayo onukwugha writes on the present situation in the town

Although the community counts among its glitterati the famous novelist, Elechi Amadi, very few Nigerians knew of the existence of Aluu until October 5, this year when a mob took justice to its hands and killed four University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) students.

The victims -Ugona Kelechi Obuzor, a year two geology student, Biringa Chiadika Lordson, year two theatre arts student, Mike Lloyd Toku, year two civil engineering student, and Tekena Erikena-were mobbed on what has since turned out to be a false armed robbery allegation.

Made up of nine clans, Aluu is in Ikwerre Local Council of Rivers state. According to sources, over 70 percent of Aluu residents are non-indigenes mainly lecturers and students of UNIPORT, federal and state civil servants, traders and artisans.

Unlike Alakahia and Choba communities, which are in Obio/Akpor Local Council, Aluu is the only host community of UNIPORT not affected by the ban placed on commercial motorcycle operators in the state capital and its environs.

Many residents of Aluu Community are also commercial motorcycle operators.

On a typical day, most residents of Aluu Community would get out of beds as early as 5.00 am preparatory for the day's business. The civil servants usually rush to work at 6.00 am in order to beat the traffic jam on the Airport Road leading to the state capital.

These days, activities at the Aluu Motor Park located at Umuigwe village, start at about 6.00 am. Before the killing of the four students, activities at the park started at about 5.00am. The park is patronised by travellers going to Rumuekini, Rumuosi, Choba, Alakahia and other neighbouring communities.

Like any sub-urban community, Aluu has its good and bad spots. Umuokiri village is the most dangerous clan in Aluu. Largely dominated by students, it was here the Aluu Four met their gruesome end.

Another dangerous area in Aluu is the Upset Brothel, popularly called 'Girls' House' located at Umuike Village. Apart from being the abode of commercial sex workers, Upset Brothel also serves as a hide-out for most of the hardened criminal elements terrorising several parts of the state and beyond.

Although, all seems normal in Aluu now, residents, especially women, say they cannot forget the October 5 murder of the four students.

A housewife, who gave her name as Nneoma told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND that as a mother, she found it difficult to forget that fateful day.

She said: "I am a woman and a mother. Although, I was not at Umuokiri that day when the boys were killed, but I put myself in the shoes of their mothers. Right now, I have two sons and how do you think I will feel if I hear that one of them was mobbed for robbery? I still feel pained by their death. I am also not happy with the villagers for taking the law into their hands. They should have handed them over to the police first."

Since the incident, Umuokiri village remains a ghost town with only security operatives, especially men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), patrolling the nooks and crannies of the village.

Several hostels and estates previously occupied by UNIPORT students are now empty in Umuokiri. Although, UNIPORT students are now back in school after the reopening of the institution following the murder and their equally violent reaction to it, students hitherto living in Umuokiri have relocated elsewhere.

The few people still in the village said they were only there because of the security agents patrolling the area and that they would not hesitate to leave if the policemen were withdrawn.

An elderly woman, who did not want her name in print told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND; "My son, I am even afraid as I am talking to you now. We only came back to this village last week. We came back because we heard that there are policemen near our house. I am staying because they are still around. Any day they leave, we will also leave."

The Crime wave Hits Higher Notch In Aluu

The SARS operatives' presence, LEADERSHIP WEEKEND learnt, was not just because of the students' murder and the violent reactions of their colleagues.Startlingly, security was beefed up in Aluu after the October 5 murder due to a spree of armed robbery incidents in the entire community.

But according to Sir Ben Wali, a transporter in Aluu, "since the incident, every part of Aluu has been peaceful; it only at night we have some armed robbers terrorising the entire community. Apart from that, life is normal here.

"The robbers have made this place their home, so we are calling on government to send security agents to flush them out. If only government can stop these incessant armed robbery incidents in the community, I think life would be normal here."

Wali, who hails from Aluu, alleged that some disgruntled indigenes of the community were conniving with the robbers in order to give the embattled community a bad image before the world.

He said: "I am suspecting that those robbers terrorising Aluu have some indigenes working with them. No armed robber can operate successfully in a community without an insider. That is why we are crying seriously to government to come and assist us flush out these people who are disturbing us, people who are giving us bad names."

Consequently, most residents of the community are calling for the upgrade of the Aluu Police Post into a divisional police headquarters.

Comrade Benson Okpara, a businessman and a resident of Umuchiorlu-Aluu village, has fallen victim to the criminal elements in Aluu. He said: "In my office at Umuchiawa-Aluu, the burglars came through the ceiling and ransacked the place. I reported the matter to Isiokpo Police Division. I am appealing to the Inspector-General of Police to upgrade the Aluu Police Station to a division. Isiokpo Police Division is too far for us."

Also, a politician, Mr. Elvis Ogbegbe, said upgrading the police post to a divisional headquarters would benefit the community.

Ogbegbe said: "The inability of the police to handle rising crime cases in Aluu is a very big challenge to the Nigeria Police. I know that in 2008, the Ogbakor Aluu and the Aluu Council of Chiefs wrote a letter to the Inspector-General of Police to upgrade the Police Post in Aluu to a divisional headquarters.

"Upon receiving the letter, the then Inspector-General of Police wrote to the then Rivers State Commissioner of Police.Then, the deputy commissioner of police came to Aluu for verification and finally, they agreed the police post would be upgraded.But up till now nothing has happened. So for the benefit of the people of Aluu, the police post should be upgraded."

Chief Ken Wobunwo, Secretary, Aluu Council of Chiefs, said: "Upgrading the Aluu Police Post to a divisional headquarters has been our request for the past five years. We are a community hosting a university and in such environment you can't rule out rascally behaviour from students. So, every catchment community within a university environment must beef up its security. It is Aluu today; it may be another community tomorrow."

However, Chief Wobunwo said despite the October 5 "ugly incident, the people of Aluu will continue to maintain a very close and cordial relationship with the management, lecturers, and students of the University of Port Harcourt.

"We have a very cordial relationship with the students of UNIPORT. Aluu is made up of nine villages and students are living in almost all the villages. Those living in my village were there while the school was closed down and they are still there. After the incidents, the school authority visited Aluu and we assured them of our readiness to sustain the relationship that had existed between us and the school.

"Most of the lecturers and other retired staff of the university own properties in this community. We have not been hostile to them.Why should we be?"

Umuokiri: The 'Gangstar Paradise' Of Aluu Land

A former Chairman of Omuahunwo-Aluu Community Development Committee (CDC), Mr. Morgan Johnson, who described Umuokiri as the "smallest village in Aluu community" said over 2,000 houses, including hostels and estates are presently unoccupied due to the high level of crime and cult-related activities going on in the area.

Johnson said: "Before now, there was a period when women do not pass through that village as from 4.00pm due to the presence of rapist, cultists, and other criminal element. We see Umuokiri as a satellite village because over 70 per cent of its residents are non-indigenes and it happens to be the smallest in the entire Aluu.

"All the robbery incidents occur in the satellite villages like Umuokiri. The robbers do not enter the main community. Few weeks back before the October 5 killings, they robbed a man in his house and forced him to hold a torchlight for them while they raped his wife in turns in his presence.

"Some time ago, the robbers invaded a house in the village, robbed all the occupants and abducted an 11-year old girl, who they raped and dumped, half dead, near Obiri-Ikwerre, along the East-West Road.

"It is only in Umuokiri that ugly things like that happen. Because of the incidents, a lot of people have relocated from the village.

There are over 2,000 houses in Umuokiri that are not presently occupied because people are afraid to live there."

The Killings...In The Eye Of Students

Maduabuchi Clinton Egba, Electrical and Electronics Department, UNIPORT

"The extra-judicial killing of those students was the worst thing the people of Aluu did to the entire students of the University of Port Harcourt and humanity in general. Even the police or any other law enforcement agent do not have the right to kill any human being without due process. For you to kill someone, the court must give an order to that effect.

"Those involved in the killing of the four students must not go scot-free because it is very wrong for them to take other peoples' lives. The so-called vigilante boys who arrested them claiming that they were armed robbers or cult boys should have handled the issue maturely by taking them first to the police before any other thing. It is left for the police to take them to court. It is the court that will give the final judgment.

"Aluu people have spoilt the name of their community. They acted wrongly. The killing of those boys is very painful and I believe the issue has gone beyond Nigeria. Other countries may be looking at Nigeria as a country where people take laws into their hands.

"Even if I am given money today to go and leave in Aluu, I will not because of what happened and what I saw. Please, I won't."

Gift Godson Pedro, Year Two, Sociology

"I was not around then, but when I came back, I heard that the people of Aluu killed four students of the university. They said they were accused of stealing laptops. Although, I don't know the students involved, I believe what the people of Aluu did was very wrong.

"But, one thing I understand is that the killing happened at Umuokiri, close to the campus and most of the people living there are students who are not indigenes of Aluu. So, it is not correct to say that the people of Aluu killed the students.

"For me, if I have the opportunity of having a two-bedroom flat free of charge in Aluu, I will move in. Some students said they will never set their foot in Aluu but I am ready to live there. I have lived in another violent part of Rivers state and survived it, why won't I survive in Aluu?

Frank Chibueze, Diploma Student of Marketing

"There is no problem. After the incident, we have been living without any problem since security agencies have taken over the community. We have been going out on our daily business without any problem. I live at Umuchiorlu-Aluu, near Umuokiri where the incident happened.

"I am not leaving Aluu because they have not done anything to me. People say that those who killed the students were members of a vigilante team, but there are no vigilante teams in the entire Aluu community. At least, I have lived here for close to two years and had not heard about the existence of a vigilante group in the community until that fateful day."

Joy Clement, Final Year, Linguistics

"I would have loved to continue to live in Umuokiri village until I graduate in 2014 because it is closer to school. But, I am a non-indigene, just like several other students and here, we are seeing the indigenes abandoning their houses and estates to run away from their own community. Do you expect me to stay?

"Presently, I am squatting in one of my course-mates' house at Ozuoba. Although, it is a bit far for me, but I will continue to manage until we finish our examinations. Then, I will look for a better accommodation. Return to Aluu? No way!"

Tanka Samuel Baridum, Final Year, History

"Left for me, the entire Aluu community should be wiped out from the surface of the earth. They claimed that it was non-indigenes that killed the students.

Aluu: A Reporter's Diary

Alighting from a taxi at Aluu Junction, along Rukpokwu axis of the Airport Road, the special check-point at that spot readily told this reporter that he was heading for a troubled territory. I also ran into another special police check-point before I got into the community.

While in the community, I visited the Aluu Central Motor Park, some restaurants and drinking bars. Although, some of the residents, especially men, were willing to respond to my questions, many women, and school children were afraid to discuss anything linked to the gruesome murder of the four students.

During my stay in the community, I saw security men on motorcycles patrolling the streets while others in patrol vans were stationed at strategic places, especially at Umuokiri village, where the students were killed.

I observed that patronage at relaxations spots in the community was poor following the incident, although some owners of the bars blamed the low patronage on the on-going examinations at UNIPORT.

One of them, Mr. Chima Amadi, said: "Although, the number of students who come in to patronise us has reduced since the incident, for now, we don't know if there will be changes because the school just resumed about a week ago and students are writing their exams, hence they do not have the time to visit our shops because they are busy."

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