Ernest Chinwo and Damilola Oyedele
Moved by the bestial and barbaric manner in which some four persons suspected to be students of the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), Port Harcourt, were hacked to death by some natives over the weekend, the men of the Rivers State Police Command Sunday embarked on a mass arrest of people in Omuokiri Community, Aluu, where the killing took place.
THISDAY gathered that among those arrested was the traditional ruler of Omuokiri village of Aluu, Alhaji Hassan Welewa.
The arrests came just as the Rivers State Government and other stakeholders have expressed outrage over the mindless killing. The four male undergraduate students were killed last Friday by a mob in a community adjoining the university for alleged armed robbery.
Another version had it that the students were cult members who had gone on a failed ‘hit.’
The incident attracted wild outrage given how the students were crudely debased, beaten, and eventually hacked to death by the villagers, many of whom gleefully posted the video clips of the beating and killing on the internet. Watching it on the social media, enraged many.
The state Police Public Relations Officer, Ben Ugwuegbulam, did not take his calls or respond to text messages to confirm the arrest.
However, the state Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, while speaking on a radio programme monitored in Port Harcourt yesterday, confirmed the arrest of the traditional ruler and others suspected to be involved in the murder.
She said the state Governor, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi, found the incident unacceptable and reprehensible. She said the government was alarmed at the gruesome killings and had ordered a full-scale investigation into the incident.
“This crime will not go unpunished,” she said, adding that the traditional ruler and other suspects had been arrested by the police for interrogation.
Listeners who phoned in during the radio programme widely condemned the incident, saying it was absurd that people would stand by and watch while four persons were being killed, only to post the video online.
The spokesman of the university, Mr. Williams Wodi, however said the institution was yet to confirm if the people killed were actually students of the university. Wodi said in a text message, “Right now, I am not in a position to confirm to you that the alleged victims are bona fide students of UNIPORT as is being widely speculated.
“The alleged incident took place at Aluu village about two kilometres outside our main campus. We do not have responsibility for security in Aluu communities, which are beyond our jurisdiction.
“The relevant security outfits are working with our security department to establish the true identities of the victims and what actually transpired on the day of the incident.
However, THISDAY gathered that students of the university who were to march on Aluu community Sunday were prevailed upon to allow the security agencies carry out their duties.
The immediate past President of the Student Union Government (SUG) of the university, Mr. Rhino Owhorkire, told THISDAY that students had already gathered but they had to cancel the protest for fear that it could be hijacked by hoodlums to cause more problems.
He said they were certain that the victims were students of the university as some of their course mates had identified them.
He dismissed claims in some quarters that the victims were robbers. “We do not believe they were robbers. If actually they were robbers, what and where are the items they stole, and who had come up to state that the victims stole from them?” he queried.
Owhorkire, who is also a native of Aluu, said: “We totally condemn the act by this Aluu community. It is a shame that we can kill ourselves in such a brutal manner.”
He, however, said students of the institution were satisfied with the response of the Rivers State Government, which had ordered a full-scale investigation into the incident.
He said the students were aware of the mass arrest of people, including the traditional ruler of the village, adding that some students were among those arrested as they also lived in the community.
A former Minister of Education, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, also expressed outrage over the killing of the UNIPORT students as well as the killing of about 46 students from three tertiary institutions in Mubi, Adamawa State last Tuesday.
She said the Federal Government must prove it is in charge of the Nigerian situation by ensuring that it brings to justice the murderers of the students.
Anything short of this, she added, would make impunity the norm in the country and precipitate Nigeria’s descent into anarchy.
Ezekwesili, who spoke over the weekend in Abuja in a reaction to the killing of the students, said the Ministry of Justice and the police must pursue these cases to a logical conclusion as soon as possible.
“We have to watch it. A lot of countries that have had genocidal experience started like this. We have too many problems to descend into a state of anarchy again. How can we all sit and watch impunity becomes the order of the day? The government has to re-establish itself. The killing of these innocent students must not go off the news” she said.
She wondered what had happened to the society that human lives have no value again and people have no qualms killing others.
“When people know that the rule of law is predictable, they do not behave recklessly as we are seeing now. But when you have a society and people believe the consequences are profitable, it suggests a breakdown of the rule of law.
“Is this not the same country where it is emotionally difficult when you see a corpse on the street? The killings were barbaric, mere savagery and very devastating. Some people are acting or behaving as if there are no people in charge of the government. Something is fundamentally wrong with our society. To see the dastardly mob killing of four misguided youths who stole sank my optimism. No! Even in death, these four must get justice. My voice shall be heard on this. What have we become?
“We used to be better than this. What has psychologically traumatised our people? There is a fundamental problem; there is a breakdown in something that is proudly Nigeria. I cannot believe that our society has gotten to this level. We are broken, we need to be mended and nobody will mend it other than ourselves.