By Gladys Nweke
Nigeria’s human rights community declared today, Wednesday, January 29, 2020, as Black Wednesday, to raise global awareness on the continued incarceration of four mechanic apprentices arrested along with Chima Ikwunado who died in police custody under alleged extreme torture, but the Rivers State judiciary stepped in.
A magistrate court sitting in Port-Harcourt, capital of oil-rich Rivers State, has discharged and acquitted the popular Ikokwu-Four who had been detained at the Port-Harcourt Correctional Centre (Port-Harcourt Prisons) since December 19, 2019.
Chief Magistrate Amadi Nnah discharged the quartet today following an advice by the State Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
The quartet who are automobile mechanics and their boss, Chima Ikwunado, were arrested by operatives of the E-Crack Team attached to the Diobu Divisional Police Headquarters on December 19,2019 along the Agip- School of Nursing axis for allegedly driving against traffic.
They were detained by the E-Crack Team after the operatives allegedly dispossessed them of the cash on them.
Ikwunado allegedly died of torture in police cell. Faced with a possible backlash, the Police hurriedly slammed robbery and cultism charges on the quartet who also hung precariously to life and arraigned them in court.
The death of Ikwunado and subsequent arraignment of the apprentices in the court by the Police had drawn wide condemnation and outrage across the country.
The Civil Society groups also petitioned the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Governor Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, and the State Attorney General, chronicling the alleged atrocities committed by operatives of the E- Crack Team , popularly known as the Commissioner’s Squad.
Their colleagues at the Ikokwu Mechanic Village equally took to the streets in solidarity with them. The protesters barricaded adjourning streets in the neighborhood and made bonfires.
Tension was also heightened in Ikokwu today following an ultimatum given by
Ohaneze Ndigbo – a Social Cultural Organization in the country – calling for the unconditional release of the surviving four.
That attracted scores of security operatives from the State Police Command which includes: Operation Sting, Eagle-Crack, Anti- Cultism Squads, amongst others in dozens of vehicles stationed at Mile 2, Ikokwu, and Mile 3 areas of Port-Harcourt to stave off possible attacks and a breakdown of law and order.
A Civil Society source who spoke with with the journalists in Port Harcourt, described the acquittal as a step in the right direction, but vowed that the security operatives who allegedly killed Chima Ikwunado would be brought to book.
He said; “We welcome the acquittal of the Ikokwu-Four by the court today. It is a step in the right direction. We will leave no stone unturned in seeking justice for the late Ikunando. The prosecution of his killers will serve as deterrence to other heartless policemen.”
In the meantime, the image-maker of the State Police Command, Nnamdi Omoni, said the Command would soon make public its investigations on the matter soonest. It is not thus clear on what investigation the court based its action to acquit the accused persons. The police report may be overtaken by events or may even provoke members of the public further.