A 35-year-old man, Ogbona Stephen, was almost burnt to death yesterday morning when policemen in Abuja reportedly shot at his vehicle in an attempt to arrest him for plying the wrong route.
The tricycle burst into flames and Mr. Stephen ran out of the vehicle, his whole body ablaze eye witnesses report. Many people took to their heels at the sight, but a few stripped leaves from trees which they used to smother the driver’s flaming body. According to the witnesses, the good samaritans then apparently laid him on the side of the road near the fence of the Anglican Girls Grammar School, Abdulsalami Abubakar way and covered his naked body with more leaves. Many people taught he was dead hurried past, but one man apparently took the trouble of checking and confirmed that he was still breathing and therefore alive.
Shortly afterwards, a vehicle came from the National Hospital to convey the horribly burnt man to the hospital where he was placed in the intensive care unit. Colleagues of Mr Stephen from the Keke Napep Forum retrieved one of the heels of his shoe which had fallen off while his body was on fire and placed it on a rod and proceeded to protest on Abdulsalami way, causing a serious traffic jam. It took dozens of heavily armed policemen about half an hour to dislodge the protesters.
Moshood Jimoh, spokesman of the FCT police command has denied that the police shot at Mr. Stephen. “Nobody shot at anybody,’’ he said. ‘‘ There is an order that Keke Napep should not ply on any highways or ring road in Abuja. The guy was running away from law enforcement agents when his vehicle somersaulted and caught fire,” Mr. Jomoh insisted.
The divisional police officer of Garki Police Station where the tricyle is being kept, Tony Olofu also denied guns were involved.
However, many witnesses claimed to have heard at least two gun shots around 10am that morning near the Apo legislators quarters where the incident took place.
One of the protesters, who gave his name as Malachy Anorue, said the police shot at both the front and back tires of Mr Stephen’s vehicle, leading to the fire.
“We insist that the police take full responsibility for the man and his family until he is well enough to resume work,” he said. Mr Stephen, whose wife recently gave birth to their fourth child, reportedly began his transport business two years ago.
Members of Keke Napep union who spoke to NEXT insisted that this tragedy is the culmination of months of harassment of tricycle drivers by policemen.
One of them, Obinna (he refused to give his last name), said he was recently pursued by policemen through two of the suburbs of the FCT, Gudu and Durumi.
“I ran into a mechanic workshop and parked my vehicle and ran to hide. When I returned, they had broken my battery carriage and removed the battery. They also destroyed my keyhole,” he said.
Mr Anorue said since January, the police have been harassing drivers of Keke Napep no end and blamed the executives of his union for incompetence.
“Police came in large numbers with VIO officials last Thursday around 3pm to harass us. Their disturbance, which began at the beginning of the year, stopped in March. But they said our officials met with them and they were told about the routes which we should now take. But our own officials never told us anything about that meeting,” he said.Meanwhile, Mr Stephens remains in a critical condition at the national hospital in Abuja. Mr Jimoh says the police has decided to foot all of Mr. Stephens’ medical bills but this is only for ‘ humanitarian purposes.’