Coronavirus: Lai Mohammed, Abia government disagree over alleged police killing

The information arms of Nigeria’s federal government and that of Abia State are in a war of facts on the events that culminated in the death of a petrol attendant.

Whereas information minister Lai Mohammed absolves the police of blame in the demise of Chibuisi Okameme, Abia information commissioner John Okiyi Kalu insists the security agency must bear responsibility for the tragedy.

On April 7, a diabetic patient, according to Punch, “was on his way to the hospital for treatment when some policemen attached to the Ohuru Isimiri Police Division, who were enforcing the lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, intercepted his vehicle opposite the filling station.

“Okameme was said to have intervened on behalf of the patient, who was a regular customer at the filling station, but (one Inspector Stanley) Atsu allegedly shot the 26-year-old around 1pm.

“The bullet penetrated Okameme’s pelvis and he was soaked in a pool of his own blood.

“His co-workers and the security guards at the filling station apprehended the inspector, while the victim was rushed to the Abia University Teaching Hospital for treatment.”

After the tragedy, Abia State police spokesperson Geoffrey Ogbonna said, “it was an accidental discharge; it was not intentional and we sincerely condemn that carelessness on the side of the policeman. Definitely, the family of the deceased will get justice. The case is under investigation.”

Okameme and his alleged killer.

Mohammed, in apparent defence of the police, on Thursday said that was not the case; and effectively contradicted the police account of the tragedy.

“What happened was that the policeman hit a keke and while the people were protesting, another oncoming vehicle hit the petrol attendant leading to his death,” the information minister, according to the News Agency of Nigeria, said.

But Kalu has come out to say Mohammed’s recount of the tragedy “could not be further from the truth”.

“We wish to state categorically that information available to us suggests that one Inspector Osas (Stanley) Atsu allegedly shot and killed the late petrol attendant by aiming and firing live bullets at him in broad daylight and in the presence of many shocked eyewitnesses,” Kalu said in a press statement on Friday.

“The police authorities in the state are currently detaining the suspect in preparation for prosecution after due orderly room trial,” Kalu said.

The commissioner expressed concerns that the information minister may have been given a false account of the tragedy and urged him to correct course.

John Oyiki Kalu.

“We also wish to call on the minister to cross-check facts of the matter with the police authorities and immediately issue the necessary corrigendum to avoid being seen as part of a potential plot to cover up a matter that is certainly of public interest and which also involves the painful loss of human life through obvious abuse of firearms,” Kalu advised.

He said the state government would not rest till justice is served.

As Nigerian authorities implement lockdowns in bids to battle the coronavirus pandemic, the Nigerian police have accused of extortion, brutality and highhandedness in enforcing the guidelines.

In 2020, the police have allegedly killed more innocent Nigerians in Abia State where the virus is yet to claim a soul. In 2019 alone, Nigeria’s security forces allegedly killed over 1400 unarmed civilians.

While Mohammed defended the security agency over the alleged killing of Okameme, the minister urged the police to improve its human rights record.

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