12 March 2019

Nigeria: Tension As Police Cancel Briefing On Clash With Soldiers in Rivers

The 6 Division of the Nigeria Army based in Rivers State is enduring a simmering situation with the state police command after two soldiers were targeted in brutal attacks allegedly by cops, as well as thugs.

The thugs and policemen reportedly followed Governor Nyesom Wike to his Obio Akpor local government area collation centre on Saturday night, PREMIUM TIMES understands.

The two soldiers, Adams Salami, a captain, and Adeosun Adebayo, a corporal, are currently at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital and the Military Hospital in Port Harcourt, respectively.

The press, led by the police, on Sunday afternoon, gained access to the two men.

The access followed an understanding between the army and the police that the police spokesperson for Rivers State, Omoni Nnamdi, would proceed from the hospital to address the press, stating what had happened the previous night.

Mr Nnamdi had invited journalists for the planned press briefing on the violence in Obio Akpor, before that programme was, however, suspended at the police office on Moscow Road in Port Harcourt. No reason was given.

Unsettling

According to a defence source, a Deputy Inspector General of Police and the police commissioner for the state, Usman Belal, had as early as 8 a.m on Sunday morning visited Bori Camp, the headquarters of the 6 Division of the army for a meeting with the General Officer Commanding there.

At the meeting, an agreement that the police should hold a press conference, lead investigations and accountability process was reached.

"We are the victims," the defence source said. "So, we decided to hand off everything for the police."

But while the police spokesperson started giving effect to the terms of the agreement by leading the press to the hospitals, he called off the press briefing, which now worries the Bori Camp.

"No any statement - are you saying that nothing happened?" Queried the source. "Or nobody is responsible. That's the question begging for an answer."

When interviewed on Monday night, Mr Nnamdi did not deny the said agreement between the police and the army over disclosure.

"We are putting our house together," he said when asked why the press briefing was called off. "We'll call you when we are ready."

He said there was an 'instruction' not to go ahead with the press briefing for which journalists already arrived and that the high command in Abuja would have to give a 'clearance' for it to take place later.

When told about our finding that the CP and the DIG were with the army GOC to agree on the press briefing, he simply said: "that would be resolved at the strategic level."

He confirmed the victims in the hospitals mentioned that they were attacked by police officers attached to Mr Wike. He, however, neither affirmed nor denied their claim.

"Our officers shot soldiers?" He queried, and then said, "Okay" when replied that that was the claim of the soldiers.

He declined to comment on whether any police officer had been arrested for any possible disciplinary action following the incident in Obio Akpor.

"Don't let me preempt our work," he said. "When we are done, we let you know."

The Violence

When visited by journalists, both soldiers receiving treatment at the hospitals, struggled for coherence to say Mr Wike was personally present at the collation centre in Obio Akpor LGA, and that trouble started upon his arrival.

A civilian source who was at the centre would later give a narrative similar to the army's.

Before the governor's arrival, the source, who asked not to be named for security reason, said there had been a heavy presence of armed men wearing police uniforms, which he believes were fake, and a forced removal of people from centre.

It was gathered that situation led to a confrontation involving soldiers who were trying to ensure calm and allow agents of other parties apart from the Peoples Democratic Party enter the collation centre.

But with the governor's arrival, there were shootings by policemen who followed him, further aggravating the tension that had engulfed the centre, this newspaper gathered.

"Then, one officer, Captain Salami, was trying to confront them to stop and he was shot by a security detail of Governor Wike," said the source already briefed about the incident. "It was a point blank shooting. I saw something that was very scary in the hospital. The part of his intestine that was removed and put in a bucket and the part of his body cut during the surgery."

The other soldier, Mr Adebayo, a corporal, was said to have been "macheted by a political thug."

Our civilian source said soldiers were 'humiliated", "one of them was disarmed" and "they were using the butt of the gun to beat them" a point made by the corporal at the hospital.

He also said: "The governor came in with virtually all the policemen in the government house and militants. It was when they came that (they) now pounced on the soldiers."

He said the thugs were more than 150.

He further said Mr Wike had to personally intervene to help three civilians, including Lawrence Chukwu and Alex Wele representing the African Action Congress, avoid fatal consequences after being held and beaten by the thugs.

"They would have been killed if the governor didn't intervene," he said.

"The governor then took all the electoral officers and the materials - I don't know where they took them whether to the government house or wherever," he added.

Backstory

PREMIUM TIMES had on Saturday reported counting and announcement of votes scored by each party did not take place at Mr Wike's unit 7 ward 9 of Obio Akpor LGA in breach of the INEC guideline.

The spokesperson for the police, Mr Nnamdi, confirmed violence at the Obio Akpor collation centre but repeatedly declined to comment on details.

When first asked about the shooting of a soldier on Sunday afternoon, he said that was the basis of the press briefing, which did not hold later.

"As it is, all the officers here, including me and the GOC, are still not able to come to terms with why that press briefing did not hold," said the source.

The spokesperson for the state government, Emma Okah, did not answer calls to have him comment on this report.

He also did not reply a text message sent him. Mr Okah has been speaking for Mr Wike and the state government against the army since both sides started trading accusations, including an allegation the army wanted to assassinate the governor.

Mr Wike has, however, repeatedly accused the army of working for the All Progressives Congress in Rivers. Some electoral officers have also alleged brutality by soldiers in Rivers. On Monday, the British High Commission expressed concern about the role of soldiers in Rivers election.

The electoral process in Rivers State is currently on suspension after INEC headquarters received reports of violence and disruptions at collation centres.

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