The Police Stakeholders Partnership Forum (PSPF) in Anambra State and the Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC) have urged Governor Willie Obiano to check the excesses of the State Internal Revenue Service (AIRS), the Operation Clean and Healthy Anambra (OCHA Brigade), the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) and other security agencies involved in enforcement duties in the state.
The call was made in a joint statement signed by the PSPF Chairman, Prince Chris Azor and the RULAAC Executive Director, Okey Nwanguma and made available to TNC on Monday.
According to the groups, this is to guarantee the protection of the rights and wellbeing of Anambra residents struggling to survive during the difficult COVID-19 period.
The call is coming at the instance of a case reported to the groups by a cyber café operator in Awka, Chukwuma Okoye which contained complaint of illegal arrest, detention, assault, unlawful conversion of property and conduct likely to cause a breach of peace against the AIRS, NSCDC and OCHA Brigade.
The statement read thus; “On the 1st day of July 2020, Mr Okoye reported that he was in his office, Zenith Cyber Café situate at Bantu Plaza, Off Aroma Junction, Awka when his neighbours drew his attention to the presence of revenue collectors within their vicinity and that they were harassing shop owners who refused to pay them the levies they were demanding.
“Residents of the neighbourhood were very much displeased because there was no prior demand notice issued to any of them to that effect before the officials came to demand payments and moreover, considering the impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on economic activities in the State, that was the wrong time to use the strong-arm tactic to demand and extract revenue from suffering residents struggling to survive.
“His wife, Mrs. Maureen Okoye stepped out of his office with her phone to take video record of the scene where the revenue officials were terrorizing residents and, as she was doing that, one of the drivers of the vehicles that brought the revenue officials who they later identified as Tony Ekemezie, rushed at his wife in an attempt to forcefully seize her phone and confiscate same from her for daring to take the video records of their activities.
“In the process of the assault, the said driver damaged his wife’s necklace, and he was attracted to the noise and commotion which made him rush out of his office and immediately intervened to stop the assault on his wife who was about being pushed against an electric pole behind her in a desperate bid to take the phone from her.
“At this point, some armed officers of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) together with some officers of Operation Clean and Healthy Anambra (OCHA) Brigade who accompanied the revenue officials rushed to the scene. One NSCDC officer cocked his gun pointing same at him while threatening to shoot him and his wife for taking the video records.
“The officials confiscated his wife’s phone, went into his office and collected his POS machines with bank tokens and then dragged him like a common criminal into one of their vehicles (designed like a Black Maria) and drove off to Revenue House, Awka.
“When they got to their office, the officers locked him up inside the car for more than one hour and went into the office. It was when he started kicking frantically at the door of the vehicle that they brought him out of the vehicle. The NSCDC officers then handcuffed him while one slapped him severally.
“He was eventually released to them after he was forced to pay the sum of N8,000.00 (Eight Thousand Naira) as Levy for Business Premises for Cyber Cafe, and another N5,000.00 (Five Thousand Naira) as penalty/fine and after the said payments, he asked for his items that were confiscated and was asked to wait for Tony Ekemezie who had driven off in another vehicle the moment they reached Revenue House.
“After a long wait, the said Tony Ekemezie came back and returned his POS machines, his wife’s phone and the damaged necklace but denied being in possession of the bank tokens.”
PSPF and RULAAC were of the view that the actions of the revenue officers especially Tony Ekemezie, the NSCDC and OCHA Brigade officials are unlawful, illegal and oppressive, and are in flagrant violation of the fundamental rights of the citizens affected and must be condemned by all well-meaning individuals.
They expressed concern that at these very difficult and challenging times of Covid-19 pandemic, when economic activities have been seriously impeded by measures put in place to contain the pandemic and when citizens’ social and economic wellbeing are negatively affected, it is unconscionable and inhumane for revenue and other officials of government carrying out law enforcement duties to be mistreating suffering citizens using strong-arm tactics and despicable violence in a bid to force scarce resources off them.
The statement appealed to the State Governor, Willie Obiano to call to order, the management of AIRS and the security agencies, and prevail on them to adopt humane, civilized and reasonable approaches in their operations.
“Federal agencies like the NSCDC must remain focused on their mandates rather than offer themselves as tools of oppression. They must refrain from actions that will further impose more economic hardship on hapless citizens. We also appeal to the governor to order an impartial and effective investigation into the reprehensible conducts of AIRS and other officials responsible in the above-stated violations. The victims deserve an unreserved apology and the return of the funds illegally extorted from them,” it read.
Meanwhile, in a reaction, the Chairman of the AIRS, David Nzekwu said the agency had properly served the complainant and other occupants of the said plaza, hence the enforcement drive.
He, however, said the agency will investigate the matter to verify the veracity of the allegations of human rights violation against its staff, assuring that punitive action will be taken against anyone found culpable.