A Police Extortion That Backfired

By Ann Godwin, Port Harcourt   |   16 August 2015   |   5:12 am  

Wife of the deceased

Wife of the deceased

IT had all the trappings of business as usual. Policeman James Imhalu flagged down the commercial vehicle, said the usual words, and anticipated receipt of the usual currency note on his palm. But the driver, David Legbara, was in no mood to play ball.

He had just retrieved his vehicle from an automobile workshop, and was anxious to recover money spent on repairs. One thing led to the other. A shot rang from a reckless muzzle. And a pregnant woman in her 20s becomes a widow.

Coming on the heels of previous cases of extortion and harassment of commercial drivers by policemen, Legbara’s colleagues decided they would not take the matter lying down. They took to the streets in protest, carrying placards, disrupting flow of traffic, and when the heat was high, prompting an address by the state governor, Nyesom Wike.

The policeman would be brought to justice, said Wike, as he addressed thousands of protesters at Mile 4 Market Junction two weeks ago. He stressed that the days of impunity by gun-trotting officers were over, urging the protesters to leave the roads and allow normalcy to return.

Consequently, the erring officer, according to Police Commissioner, Chris Ezike, faced a room trial, was found guilty of indiscipline, misuse of firearms and bad conduct, and has been charged to court.

“The action of Imhalu is clearly unacceptable to the Police Force; it is a clear abuse of the use of firearms. It has nothing to do with any altercation. The driver hit the policeman and wanted to push him down; but that was not enough to warrant use of firearms. It is unacceptable,” said Ezike.

The bitter irony, however, is that while the killer policeman has gone on to receive his punishment, the wife of the deceased also appears to have gone on to receive her pains, unless urgent help comes her way.

“We married only last year. This is my first pregnancy. Since the incident happened, I have been unable to sleep; my life is completely shattered. I am an orphan; I lost my father and mother years ago. My husband had been my only hope; the only person I know. But now, they have killed him. Although I am breathing, I actually am not living,” said the widow, as she broke down in tears.

“What greets me every morning is tears because I realize that I have nobody. My husband who is the breadwinner is gone. Look at my condition. I am eight months pregnant. I have not bought any baby things because my husband’s car was at the mechanic’s place for months. His plan had been to start buying baby items from next week, when the vehicle returns to the road,” the distraught woman added.

Asked what assistance the police may have for Legbara’s widow, the Commissioner said: “We act in accordance with the provisions of the law. The law does not stipulate that this is what you have to give during such incidents. What we are doing need not be unveiled. But we have a human face, and we will do the needful.”

Baring his mind on the culture of extortion by policemen in the state, one bus driver, Emmanuel Friday, said: “This is not the first time the police would kill drivers over money matters. Extortion by the police in this state is too much. A driver picks up five passengers and yet they want you to part with N100, forgetting that you will buy fuel, visit the mechanic, and care for your family. We want justice. The killer must be brought to book. Nothing short of justice will satisfy us.”

In similar vein, a statement signed by Bari-ara Kpalap, Media/Public Affairs Advisor for the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) has called for immediate prosecution of James Imhalu and payment of compensation to the family of the deceased.

“It is our position that the dastardly act has gone far beyond mere condemnation by the police hierarchy. And it must match its public reaction with visible and genuine action. The condition under which Lagbara was killed is reminiscent of past situations when the police have gruesomely murdered a huge number of Ogoni people during attempts at extortion. MOSOP is deeply concerned at the excessive use of force by the officer,” the statement reads in part.

While calling for a reform of the Nigerian police, Kpalap said the Ogoni might take to the streets in 14 days, if their demand is not met.



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