Residents and youths in Owerri, Imo State, have raised concerns over their safety following a rise in harassment and highhandedness by policemen in the city.
The youth say policemen often dressed in T-shirts and ripped jeans have made it a custom to now accost young people in sleek cars and those in commercial vehicles before intimidating them with guns and batons.
The police falsely accused those accosted to be internet fraudsters or members of cult gangs in order to forcefully extort money from them, it was gathered.
In a video of one of such incidents that took place on Saturday around Rapour Junction, a popular section of the city, some policemen wielding AK-47 rifles could be seen assaulting and rough-handling a bunch of young men in a salon car they had chased to the spot.
Firing several shots into the air to scare away onlookers, the policemen brutalised some of the youths in the vehicle when they dared to ask what their offences were.
As the beating and gunshots went on, one of the guys could be heard crying for help on top of his voice.
The team of policemen later led the young men away in their vehicle to an unknown destination as the crowd of onlookers grew around the scene of the assault.
The incident, the latest of such in recent times, has sent many of the city’s residents in panic mode ahead of the Yuletide.
Speaking with SaharaReporters, some of them said they were afraid to move around the city as a result of police harassment.
“Attacks on young people by policemen in Owerri are becoming too many. The moment they see you in a fine car and looking good, they will accost you and look for a way to extort money from you by falsely accusing you of being a Yahoo boy (Internet fraudster).
“There is not a day in Owerri that this incident doesn't happen. If it continues, many of our brothers may not come home for Christmas and New Year celebrations,” Nwabueze Fidelis, a resident, said.
Chux Oguzie, another resident of Owerri, said, “There is serious police brutality going on in Imo State, Owerri precisely.”
Earlier in October this year, SaharaReporters revealed how some young men were arrested and subsequently harassed by police officers in Owerri.
Okechukwu Nwanguma, the Executive Director of Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Center, a non-profit group, had in a statement revealed that policemen accosted one Victor, who had travelled from Lagos to Owerri en route Mbaise for a burial and forcefully collected N60,000 from him for no offence.
He disclosed that Victor and one of his cousins, who had come to pick up from the airport in Owerri, were arrested at Enyiogugu and thown into a police van.
The young men were taken to a Point of Sale operator were they were forced to withdraw the money and settle them.
Victor identified their vehicle number as NPF4605D.
The disturbing trend of police harassment had become so worrisome that young people across the country in October 2020 poured out to the streets to demand an end to police brutality.
In response, the police authorities dissolved the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad whose personnel were majorly responsible for such atrocities.
But a little over a year after the disbandment of SARS and the police authorities promised reforms and more respect for the rights of citizens, nothing has changed as ordinary Nigerians especially young people remain at the mercy of rogue policemen desperate to maim, kill and extort.