The New “SARS” In Imo

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By Kelechi Mejuobi

Year 2020 will be remarkable in the annals of history. Even as it is yet to clapse with barely one month to go, outstanding developments that shaped it shall remain evergreen in more years to come.
Before the end of the first quarter of this year, came Covid 19 disease. The world got shutdown as the pandemic left enormous impact in the wellbeing of the masses for the six months it reigned.
However, the nightmarish experience of the outrageous  pandemic was succeeded  by ENDSARS protest. It started like one of the regular street demonstrations in the Nigerian society. But the ENDSARS agitation was unique as it was embraced by the general public.  From state to state it spread before suspected hoodlums came in to wreck havoc in some areas that witnessed bloodshed, destruction and looting of property.
A major force that drove the protesting masses to engage in the significant scenes  was the ill manner SARS operatives and to a large extent men of the Nigerian Police Force, NPF, conducted their activities against the people. Tales of heart touching stories concerning police brutality and unconventional acts from the men in black uniform undoubtedly sparked off the bloody protest.
The alleged atrocities committed by the disbanded SARS and other police associates as well as the manner protesters over reacted  in the course of the nationwide anti SARS/Police crusade are not the subject matter of discussion in this piece. Rather, the activities of a particular government agency in Imo State, becoming notorious for anti people approaches known as the Vehicle Inspection Officer, VIOs are resurrecting the sad reminders of the oddities that coloured SARS operations of the past.
Imo State had not witnessed VIO operations on major roads on the state until the tail end of Rochas Okorocha’s administration when the white and black wearing traffic officials appeared on the streets. Successive governments inherited the agency and allowed their activities thrives as a means of generating Internal Revenue.
Ordinarily, no one would have noticed operations of VIO in Imo State but for certain unorthodox manners they are discharging their duties, reminiscent of the disbanded SARS.
The new threat Imolites are experiencing on the roads, especially in the state capital can’t be divorced from the activities of the VIOs. It has been notified that apart from blocking roads with harmful objects they fail to remove after operations which cause road accidents, their activities lead to unprecedented traffic gridlock on the way. Lamentations of how they used dangerous weapons to attack, molest and harass vehicle drivers on the road are abound and space cannot accommodate the details here.
The alleged atrocities committed by the VIO officials in Imo have become resounding with Monday’s alleged holding of a 14year-old boy hostage in Owerri. The victim, a pupil of St Paul’s International School, Owerri was held hostage after the car he was inside was ferried to the ICAPS, Egbu, Owerri office of the VIO.
Father of the abducted child in a message narrated what transpired, thus;
“Only yesterday VIO officers abducted my underaged son coming back from school along Aladinma Hospital-IMSU road. He was held and detained for hours at their Office located at ICAP, Egbu Road. My son was neither driving, nor does he know how to drive.
“He was being taken back from school by his uncle, the VIOs led by one JULIET ANYANWU AKA (MAMA EJIMA) stopped them, the driver showed them his driver’s license captured in his phone, the vehicle papers were all ok, but they said the car has no fire extinguisher.
“I got a call from the driver that the VIO lady called some people who came with a Keke bus, 4 thugs on mufti and one other man on white & black uniform of VIO, pushed him out of my vehicle, took my son and the vehicle away to where the driver doesn’t know.
“When I arrived the scene of incident as the remaining officers were about to go, I met the team leader JULIET ANYANWU, asked her where is my son, she said they have taken him to their office at Egbu road, I asked her why didn’t you people take the driver along with him?  She said nothing. I drove them in my car to VIO office, I saw my son under the scorching sun beside where my car is parked. You won’t believe that my son begged me, “daddy please take me home am stooling and pressed” and I told the man about this, but he snubbed me.
“They now released the innocent boy to me, after he has been traumatized”. The father of the victim summed up while briefing an Owerri based newspaper on the ordeal.  “What a country, what a state we are in. Even toddlers are now being detained by VIO officers”, he lamented further.
Probed on what transpired further, he said “My brother I went and paid the #4000 fine for the fire extinguisher as directed by the VIO officers today. I also went to their office at ICAP Egbu road, to take away my vehicle, I noticed that they have deflected the two back tyres
“The officer (Juliet Anyanwu) insisted that I must pay #2000 gate pass, which I also paid, at the gate. The security boys at the gate said no, that this their oppression must stop, that what I am supposed to pay is #1500. The security boys took us back and threatened that I must be refunded #500, which the officer Juliet Anyanwu shamefully refunded but  with insults on my person. Least I forget, they directed me to a vulcanizer who pumped the two tyres at the cost of #500 each (#1000) inside the ICAP premises.
“The officer, whom officer Juliet Anyanwu called and detailed that abducted my son was officer IFEANYI. I met him and he admitted doing that at the instructions of his boss, officer Juliet Anyanwu.
“I asked him why he forcefully took my under aged son away without his consent, he said my son resisted arrest.
Note my son wasn’t the driver, he doesn’t know how to drive, again was coming back from school.
“I asked him why didn’t he arrest the driver of the vehicle, but rather he abducted a student in school uniform coming back from school who told them he was highly pressed and was stooling. The VIO official boldly replied that he was doing what his team leader, officer Juliet Anyanwu (mama EJIMA) directed him to do.
When my son called me that he doesn’t know where these people were taking him to, he warned him not to make call again, otherwise he will get annoyed with my innocent child.
They so much embarrassed the child, and I must tell you he is still in shock”. The father of the victim has enough video and pictorial evidences to buttress his point in his claims to the medium.
This is a wakeup call to the Imo State government and authorities in charge of the VIO in the State on the need to monitor activities of their operatives in the State before the trigger another anti uniform men protest in Imo. It is on record that while the ENDSARS protests were on, the governor of Imo State showed concern as he came out to address the gathering. Further to that he set up a Judicial panel of Inquiry to hear victims of Police abuses in the State. The panel has since commenced hearing. The governor needs to act fast on the excesses of the VIOs in Imo State to avoid human right abuses and dereliction of duty on the part of the officials.
I come with peace.