Emmanuel Ugwu in Umuahia
The Abia State Police Command wednesday arraigned 10 commercial tricycle operators who were arrested for clashing with soldiers following their refusal to part with some amount of money demanded by the soldiers.
But when the arrested men appeared before Chief magistrate Linda Ugbaja, the police preferred four count charge against the keke operators bothering on riotous assembly, malicious damage of property, taking part in riotous act and attempt to resist lawful arrest.
According to the charges, the offence committed by the arrested keke operators whose age ranges between 24 and 45 years and others still at large was â€œan offence punishable under Section 332 of the criminal Code law cap 80, vol 3, Laws of Abia State.
The matter was adjourned to September 18, 2017, while the accused persons were granted bail in the sum of N400, 000 each and sureties with evidence of three years of tax payment.
Counsel to the defendants, Godwin Chionye, told journalists that the soldiers had come to Umuahia to â€œextort money from the keke operatorsâ€ hence the clash ensued when the people resisted parting with their money on that particular occasion.
However, the Army Public Relations Officer of 14 brigade Ohafia, Major Gbadamosi Oyegoke, denied that the soldiers were engaged in extortion but did not explain the cause of the of the clash. He said that three soldiers were wounded and a patrol van damaged.
The (PPRO) Mr. Geoffrey Ogbonna, also corroborated the Armyâ€™s but in the court, the police named two soldiers that sustained injuries.
In a statement he issued shortly after they were arraigned in court, the police spokesman said that the clash was between soldiers attached to 14 Brigade Command Ohafia and tricycle operatorsâ€ contrary to the erroneous reports that members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) were involved in the clash.
Ogbonna said that the crisis was promptly brought under control after â€œthe police waded into the situation with other military deploymentsâ€.
Meanwhile, keke operators staged a protest yesterday at Umuahia denouncing the extortion by security agencies, saying that they would no longer â€œcooperate with oppressorsâ€.