Rivers, a state that prides itself as the Treasure Base of the nation, has been battling flood disasters in three local government areas before it received with shock the news of the grisly murder of four students of the University of Port Harcourt by a lynch mob.
The people of Omuokiri Aluu in Ikwerre Local Government Area, one of the host communities of the tertiary institution, ohave been on the defensive since then about the circumstances that led to the lynching of the undergraduates.
The four students – Chidiaka Biringa, Kelechi Ugonna, Lloyd Toku and Tekena Erikena- were branded thieves, brutalised and set ablaze by some members of the community for allegedly stealing a laptop computer and a BlackBerry phone.
The incident, which occurred on Oct. 5, 2012, has attracted condemnation from the international community. Not a few believe that the jungle justice meted to the UNIPORT Four gave out those behind the act as uncivilised, barbaric, cruel, inconsiderate and heartless.
Though many stories have been peddled about the circumstances that led to the killing of the students, the one that appears to be logical was that the students were forcibly held by some indigenes of Omuokiri Aluu community, after a student purportedly owing one of the slain students raised a false alarm that sent community members coming for Erikena, Ugonna, Toku and Biringa’s jugular.
For over two hours, the lynch mob stripped the students and beat them with cudgels, while a huge crowd urged them on.
The gory episode went on even as one bloodthirsty man was seen in a video tape taking it upon himself to hit the obviously defenceless and almost motionless undergraduates until they began to gasp for breath.
Not satisfied, the man gave the students the final blows before mobilising his fellow executioners to set them ablaze.
Surprisingly, a group of policemen that came from Isiokpo could not save the situation. By the time operatives of the Joint Task Force and some parents of the students came to the scene of what many termed a disgraceful act by a community, three of the undergraduates had died. The remaining one that was gasping for breath died before the JTF could get him to the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital.
Satisfied that the students were dead, people of Omuokiri Aluu community went about their normal business, giving the impression that they did nothing wrong. Last Sunday, the State Police Command swung into action and arrested 13, including a community leader, who allegedly endorsed the killing of the four students.
It was at that point that the people of Aluu realised that they goofed by lynching the UNIPORT Four. Since the arrest, community members have been leaving their houses in droves in order to avoid being arrested by the police.
Again, the rumour of a possible reprisal by UNIPORT students to avenge the slaying of their colleagues, sent shivers down the spines of the hitherto fearless people. Ultimately, Omuokiri Aluu was deserted by its inhabitants, whose burden of guilt was not difficult to notice. The saying that a clear conscience fears no accusation came to the fore. In this situation, the conscience was not clear and there was no need to be stubborn about leaving the area to avoid being arrested.
But those who agreed to stay waited and got a large dose of UNIPORT students’ anger. The students, who were mobilised by the National Association of Nigerian Students, blocked the busy East-West Road for many hours on Tuesday. They later stormed the community to vent their spleen on the people of Omuokiri Aluu. Houses, cars and other valuables were set ablaze within 30 minutes of the raid in the area, which is 3km from the institution.
Sensing that they were now on the defensive, the inhabitants of the area insisted that they were not involved in the killing of the undergraduates. Not even one of them (Omuokiri Aluu people) could point at one man or woman that was among the killers of the slain students. But those whose properties were damaged lamented their loss and sought government assistance to restore whatever amount their burnt property would cost.
Some indigenes of the community have been seen in a pensive mood over the loss of their valuables. One of the leaders of the community, Elder Sunday Ahanonu, said that he lost all he laboured for to the reprisals by students of the university. Ahanonu, whose house was torched by students on Tuesday, expressed shock that security agents could not stop the rampaging students from their destructive mission.
Explaining that he worked with UNIPORT for 35 years before retiring, Ahanonu said he had lost everything he achieved in the past to the rage of the students of the university. He appealed to the state government and the management of the university to compensate him for the destruction of his property, adding that he and members of his family were not involved in the killing of the four UNIPORT students.
“I am a retired civil servant. I worked with UNIPORT for 35 years. But all I have achieved for many years have been destroyed by students from the university. I don’t know where my family and I will lay our heads when my only house has been burnt. I lost the sum of N850,000 cash, which I kept in my house to the students. I could not take the money to the bank because I was not feeling okay and went to the hospital. It was at the hospital that I learnt that my house was burnt by students,” the 65 year-old father of 15 children lamented.
A woman, Pauline Nwankwo, revealed that she left the village when she learnt that security agents had embarked on the mass arrest of residents, but came back to notice that her beer parlour had been burgled. Nwankwo stated that the rampaging students forced their way into the beer parlour and carried away her freezer and drinks.
“As a woman, I had to run away when we noticed that the police were embarking on a mass arrest of people. The students broke the door to my beer parlour and took away a freezer I bought for N66,000. I want the government to pay me back all I have lost. The students were killed far from here at the Borough pit. We don’t know anything about the killing of the students,” she said.
Members of the community were also seen leaving their homes in droves to other places in order to avoid being attacked by angry students of the university. One of them, Comfort, told our correspondent that she was taking her children to Elele and would only come back whenever normalcy returned to Omuokiri Aluu. An artisan, Mr. Wisdom Ajuwon, who deals in repairing home appliances along the Omuokiri Aluu Road, said he lost property worth N500,000 to the rioting students. Showing our correspondent a list of what he lost to the fire ignited by students, Ajuwon appealed to the state government to come to his aid. A cleric in the area, Pastor John Paul, described the situation in the community as terrible. Paul observed that people were running out of their fathers’ land like refugees.
While the heavy presence of security agents in Aluu to forestall further breakdown of law and order is appreciated, many are of the view that the mere refutation of the crime was not enough to give the people of the area a clean bill of health. A Port Harcourt-based social commentator, Mr. Ben Amachree, said the killing of the UNIPORT Four would forever haunt the people of the community. Amachree pointed out that those involved in the killing of the students could forever suffer the burden of guilt if nothing was done to address the injustice against the slain undergraduates
Though, the university has been shut down indefinitely to prevent any further ugly incident, it is the prayer of every discerning mind, especially the grieving parents of the deceased, that those responsible for the killing of the young undergraduates are brought to book.