A Soldier’s Bullet Shatters a Family’s Joy

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Recently, the life of a young mother of four was brutally cut short by a bullet from an overzealous soldier who fired indiscriminately into a tricycle which was conveying her to her daughter’s wedding in Effurun, Delta State. Omon-Julius Onabu, who has been following the story, reports

At times like this when the problem of transportation has been aggravated not only by the exorbitant cost of fuel but by the coming of heavy rains in the Niger Delta, it should not appear abnormal for the excited mother of a bride to hop into a tricycle on her daughter’s wedding day. However, it was not because of the heavy downpour in Warri/Effurun area the previous evening or the flooded roads that forced Mrs. Alice Orobogha Akparobi to hire a tricycle to convey her to the venue of her daughter’s church wedding. It was the last Saturday of the month and a day observed across Delta State as environmental sanitation day. Government places restrictions on movement of citizens, except those on certain essential duties, to encourage greater participation in the exercise by residents, such restrictions usually lasting between 7a.m. and 10a.m.

A joyful journey that was not to be
So, when she realised on that fateful day that many things would not be fixed and made ready for the church wedding and the reception that would follow on account of the restrictions, Mrs. Akparobi opted for the option of hiring a commercial tricycle to take her in time to the wedding venue. This appeared the most reasonable thing to do as the option of a motorbike, popularly called ‘okada’, was ruled out with the banning of motorcycle operation in Warri/Effurun metropolis and Asaba since 2012.

Then tragedy struck. Her movement was short-lived as did her journey to celebrate her daughter’s happy wedding day. At Jakpa Junction, Effurun, near Warri, an edgy soldier reportedly opened fire on the tricycle she was traveling in, resulting in the instant killing of the mother of four and a state civil servant who worked in Oleh, the administrative headquarters of Isoko South Local Government Area of the state. The soldiers had reportedly flagged down the tricycle at Jakpa Junction, claiming it was not yet 10a.m., the official time for ending the environmental sanitation exercise across the state, and because the rider disobeyed, one of the soldiers aimed his rifle at the tricycle and pulled the trigger severally.

In his statement denouncing the brutal killing of the 53-year-old woman, Oghenejabor Ikimi Esq., the executive director of a human rights group, the Centre for the Vulnerable and the Underprivileged (CentreP), alleged that the soldiers also refused to help the innocent woman and as well prevented sympathisers from doing so. As she fell off the tricycle and groaned in pain in the pool of her own blood, the soldiers allegedly fired shots to scare off people who tried to help the dying woman. Thus, she gave up the ghost while, unmoved by the poor woman’s agony, the soldiers looked on and angry but scared sympathisers watched helplessly. At the ensuing confusion the tricyclist had managed to flee the scene with his life.

“Citizen Alice Akparobi was abandoned by the said soldiers in the pool of her blood and after 20 minutes of the deceased wailing in the pool of her blood she gave up the ghost as the soldiers refused to help,” Ikimi lamented in the statement of protest e-mailed to THISDAY.

The incident occurred at about 8.30a.m. though the body of the deceased woman was brought to the Ekpan Police Station later, before being taken to the morgue by the police at about 10:10 a.m. First daughter of the deceased, Alero, who narrated the family’s ordeal to newsmen in Warri, confirmed that the soldier fired a bullet straight at her mother hitting her in the chest just under her left breast (as pictures from the Central Hospital Warri morgue show). Alero expressed regrets that the soldier who killed her mother had not been arrested but was rather whisked away by a reinforcement of soldiers.

Alero further revealed that her mother was in very high spirit on the fateful day because not only was her second daughter getting married, Mrs. Akparobi had just been promoted to the next level in the Delta State civil service. Thus, it was double celebration of sorts for her and her happiness knew no bounds.

The cry for justice
Several issues bordering on the legality of the action of security personnel have also been raised in several quarters. Several youth and socio-cultural bodies as well as individuals have been quite emotive about their objection to the callous killing. For instance, the CentreP director said, “We condemn the above incident as barbaric and we call on the Nigerian Army authorities to apprehend the said soldier and hand him over to the police for a murder trial as there is no law that restricts the movement of Nigerians on a sanitation day nor is there a law that gives a soldier the power to shoot at commuters at an army checkpoint if the vehicle or tricycle they board refuse to stop.

“We believe that what the erring soldier should have done was to jot down the registration number of the said tricycle or its codification number boldly written on the said tricycle instead of resorting to killing an innocent commuter. Eye witnesses interviewed by CentreP were able to identify one of the soldiers at the scene with the name tag of E. K. Christian and an Army Truck with the inscription of Nigerian Army–008. Eyewitnesses interviewed also informed CentreP that the aforesaid soldiers fled the scene of the shooting after they allowed the victim to bleed to death as the said soldiers refused to help the victim or allow passersby to render assistance to the said victim.”

The human rights lawyer assured that his organisation had contacted the relevant military authorities and was prepared to pursue the case to its logical conclusion. “CentreP has formally written a letter to the Commanding Officer of the ‘3’ Battalion, Effurun where the said erring soldiers are attached, and the Chief of Army Staff on the above issue, and we shall not hesitate to commence legal action against the Army authorities in the event of a cover-up”, Ikimi said.

Similarly, director of United Kingdom-based ‘Women of Afrika’, Mrs. Alice Ukoko, expressed displeasure at the frequency of human rights abuses of citizens and particularly women in the Niger Delta and Nigeria in general. The flagrant disregard for the sanctity of the human life, according to the lawyer and one-time governorship aspirant in Delta State, remains a sad commentary on the level of democratic development in Nigeria. Ukoko warned that the killing of the woman by the soldiers should not swept under the carpet but fully investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice to serve as deterrent.

Meanwhile, son of the deceased, Shedrack Akparobi, has sent an SOS to the Delta State and Federal Governments to wade into the matter to ensure that justice is done. This followed an alleged attempt to stave off a looming legal battle by army with an offer of paltry N200,000 for burial of their deceased mother. The monetary offer made by Major M. Anzaku, Commanding Officer, 3 Battalion Effurun Division of the Nigerian Army, at a meeting in a hotel in Effurun early this month, was rejected by the deceased family who described it as “an insult.”

Victim of stray bullet
An intervening but disturbing fallout from the fatal shooting of the bride’s mother by the soldiers at Jakpa Junction, Effurun is a lad now battling for his life in a hospital in Warri after being hit in the stomach by a stray bullet during the incident. The 18-year-old Shedrack Saduwa was, like Mrs. Alice Akparobi, allegedly abandoned by the soldiers after being hit and seriously injured by the bullet. The fact that his intestines were pushed out as he fell to the ground from the impact of the bullet indicated the seriousness of the wound.

However, he was eventually rescued and taken to a nearby hospital by sympathisers where he is still under intensive care unit. The Ikimi-led organisation, CentreP is also spearheading the campaign to get the military authorities in Delta State to do the needful in order to save the life of the young carpenter. “We condemn the above incidents as barbaric and we call on the army authorities to apprehend the said soldier and hand him over to the police for the offence of attempted murder and murder as there is no law that restricts the movement of Nigerians on a sanitation day nor is there a law that gives a soldier the power to shoot at commuters at an army checkpoint if the vehicle or tricycle they board refuse to stop”, Ikimi maintained.

The Delta State Police Command spokeswoman, Mrs. Celestina Kalu (DSP), had, however, assured that police operatives were investigating the incident but dismissed insinuation that the soldier responsible for the killing might escape justice. “Police would follow standard procedure for arresting an erring soldier where the army authorities failed to voluntarily hand him over,” Kalu told THISDAY.

In Nigeria, indiscriminate use of firearms by those charged with the responsibility of protecting lives and property and maintaining law and order in the society is commonplace. For refusing or even delaying to part with a little as N20 or N50 the lives of many conductors and commercial bus drivers and their passengers have been terminated by security personnel including the police and the army. Unfortunately, rarely are the culprits in many of such cases brought to book. The case of Mrs. Alice Akparobi is yet another sad commentary on the low level of regard for the sanctity of the human life in the society today.

Worse still, since the communal crises in Warri and environs in the 1990s, the area has continued to wear the image of an occupied territory somewhere in war-torn Middle East. Thus, despite the conspicuously displayed signage at practically all the army checkpoints in Warri/Effurun metropolis and environs that offering of bribe to security personnel is a crime, harassment and extortion at these points is carried out with such reckless abandon that the security personnel probably believe it is their right to make drivers cough out something. As a matter of fact, most residents seem to have resigned to faith, believing the appropriate authorities have given tacit approval to these acts of intimidation and extortion of the ordinary citizens, hence the people have to obey the security personnel with their heads bent low in total submission.

Were a genuinely convivial atmosphere to exist between the soldiers and the residents and civilian road users in Warri/Effurun and other parts of Delta State, perhaps all that late Alice Akparobi needed to do was to stop the tricyclist, explain the urgency of her mission to the soldiers without any fear of arousing their fiery anger agains the tricyclist. The question now is, will justice ever be done in this case? Will the culprits ever be brought to book for the purpose of deterrence?