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Police Smash Bakassi Torture Centres in Abia

By Juliana Taiwo, This Day (Abuja), 8 August 2002

Abuja—Arrest 33, release 46 detainees

Following complaints of illegal arrest, detention, extortion, kidnapping, extra-judicial killings and forceful seizure of property against the Bakassi Boys in Abia State, the Nigeria Police has smashed five Bakassi torture centres at Umuahia, Ossisioma, Akwete, Ogbor Hill, and Aba-Port Harcourt Road, Aba.

Force Public Relations Officer, Deputy Commissioner of Police Haz Iwendi, said that 46 persons including eight women detained illegally were set free by the men of Operation Fire for Fire, while 33 members of the group were arrested in a clampdown on the group.

Iwendi said 11 policemen were injured and one civilian died in the ensuing exchange of gunfire during the operation.

He reiterated the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Tafa Balogun's warning that the police would maintain the peace and tranquility of the country at all cost.

He said the police's capacity to deal with such lawlessness in line with its statutory and constitutional roles is not in doubt.

Any person or group of persons, who allows himself or themselves to be so used under whatever guise or illusion, will face the full wrath of the law. All such groups parading themselves and arrogating to themselves such unconstitutional powers to perpetrate such illegalities are hereby warned to desist from such ignoble acts in their own interest, he warned.

Iwendi also stressed that the IGP has warned those who harbour offensive weapons and who use such weapons to threaten the peace and security of the nation to desist in their own interest. Anyone caught will be arrested, publicly paraded and prosecuted. The Nigeria Police Force is cut out to provide a conducive and peaceful atmosphere necessary for the sustenance of our nascent democracy.

Recovered from the operational bases of the group are three locally made double barreled guns, one pump action gun, six locally made single barreled shot guns, three locally made single barreled pistols, 68 rounds of live cartridges, 141 expended cartridges and seven swords.

Others include 41 machetes, six kitchen knives, one leg chain, five axes, one 14-seater Mitsubishi bus and two electric generators.

The Bakassi Boys was a Vigilante group which got the backing of Abia State Governor, Orji Kalu, in 1999 when its efforts at combating crime yielded more successes than those of the regular policemen.

Anambra State was to later follow the Abia example when the Bakassi Boys relocated to the state on the invitation of the governor, Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju.

In Anambra members of Bakassi Boys were provided with logistics support like vehicles, arms and ammunition as they metamorphosed into Anambra Vigilante Service (AVS).

Although the objective of the group was to rid the states of the activities of men of the underworld, its operations wore a different toga in Anambra where there were allegations that its members were at the centre of hightened political violence in the state.

When a leader of the All People's Party (APP) in Anambra State was murdered notable citizens of the state accused the AVS of responsibility.

As a result, there were calls for sweeping reforms including the removal of the head of the security outfit.