It might have been viewed as a normal occurrence when it first happened, but the killing of three Igbo traders in various locations in the last one month in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State Capital, has left several conspiracy theorists speculating over the motive of the attackers on some Igbo businessmen based in the town.
Known for their itinerant nature, Igbo traders are everywhere in Yenagoa, where they have literally taken over every space in the town, and controlling almost the entire economic hub with various goods and services.
Many of them, it was gathered, have become so successful that they have built houses in the town and relocated their families from their various states to stay with them in the state capital.
But recently, what has been described as a strange trend has started taking place in the city, with the serial felling of many of the successful traders by suspected gunmen, who have started targeting the ones whose endeavours are flourishing among the lot.
THISDAY learnt that three of such victims are currently lying lifeless in separate mortuaries in Yenagoa, having been killed in the last one month.
The situation has also generated anger among Igbo youths in the town, who, obviously fed up with the incessant killings staged a protest around the town, culminating at the state police headquarters in the state last week.
Almost many of those spoken with on the recent killings, believe that there are certain interests in the state who see the Igbo businessmen as a threat to their own economic survival.
They contend that the attackers are not happy that the economic opportunities that should have been available solely for the indigenes, especially youths of the town, are being enjoyed by those they regard as strangers.
Shocked by the third death in less than a month, several Igbo traders in Yenagoa, last Monday took their protest to the police headquarters in the state capital, complaining that their safety was no longer guaranteed by authorities in the state.
The angry youths were miffed by the killing that morning of an Igbo businessman identified as Martins Agodo, by unknown gunmen at his residence around Punch Road, Ingbi, in the early hours of Monday.
The armed gang reportedly broke into the house of the deceased, who owns a popular boutique called Omars Fashion Plaza at the Ompadec area of the Yenagoa-Mbiama Road, killing him instantly in front of his wife.
Eyewitnesses told THISDAY that his house located on Punch Road, was particularly targeted and burgled after the marauders demanded money from their victim, who told them he had no money in the house.
He reportedly told his assailants that there was no cash at home because shops in the capital city were shut down for about four days in honour of the late Governor of the state, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, who was buried last Saturday.
For several days, the traders were not allowed to open their shops while the funeral rites were going on. Those who attempted to defy the order were harassed by youths in the town.
After ransacking Agodo’s house, the gunmen were said to have shot and killed him in cold blood in the presence of his young wife, whom he just got married to.
Agodo, in his early forties, would not be the first victim of the brutal murder. It was learnt that Ugochukwu, another Igbo trader in the town was killed along the Azikoro village on his way home after the business of that day while his corpse was discovered the next day at the Azikoro cemetery with his hands and legs tied together.
“He (Ugochukwu) was close to his house in company of his wife when gunmen operating in commercial tricycles blocked his car. They dragged him out of the car and forced him into the tricycle.
“His corpse was discovered the next day at the Azikoro cemetery with his hands and legs tied up. He was a successful businessman who built a big house at the Azikoro village. We are scared”, one of the protesters who wouldn’t give his name for fear of being attacked said.
Another trader who also related how yet another businessman was gruesomely murdered at the Tombia area in the same month, expressed anger over the incessant harassment of Igbo businessmen by arms-bearing youths in Yenagoa.
He noted that they are either being intimidated by the youths in their various business centres or being maimed or murdered in the streets, a development he described as unacceptable.
Chief Chinedu Arthur-Ugwa, President, Ohaneze Youth Council (OYC), who led the protest, lamented that Agodo was killed a few days after gunmen suspected to be assassins murdered another successful Igbo businessman, Ugochukwu, popularly called Ugo Best.
‘’The Igbos are no longer safe in Bayelsa. We are being killed by gunmen. One was killed at Azikoro, the other one was killed at Tombia and today another one who just got married was killed in cold blood.
“We are not happy and we have closed down our businesses to come to the police headquarters to complain that we are not safe. If you cannot guarantee our safety, we will relocate our business and families out of the state’’, the leader said.
He added, ’’this is bad news. We do not know who is next. We have decided not to be violent, but we want assurance that our safety will no longer be taken for granted. We can no longer continue like this; they are killing us as if we are rats.’’
According to the OYC President in Yenagoa, it was no longer a matter of conjecture that someone or a group somewhere was making the Igbo businessmen a target in their dastardly deeds.
Trekking in the scorching sun, the Igbo youths fumed that it was becoming unbearable that even in their own country, they were being alienated and killed one by one.
While receiving the protesters, the Commissioner of Police in the state, Mr. Peter Ogunyawo, in his response, perhaps inauspiciously, first regaled the crowd as to how their protest could not have been tolerated under a military regime.
He told them that if not for democracy and the grace of the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase, their protest would have been resisted, rebuffed and halted.
He, thereafter told the agitated crowd that death was inevitable and a “debt everyone must pay’’, noting that when or how one would die, was only determined by God.
‘’You know, during the military regime, you couldn’t do this,’’, he started, adding that ‘’this is a democracy and the Inspector General of Police has asked us to listen to every complaint.’’
Ogunyawo continued, ‘’Whatever has happened is unfortunate. No violence is targeted at any tribe. Crime happens everywhere. Rather than complain, you need to tell us once there’s a feeling that a crime is about to happen. Our patrol team doesn’t sleep’’.
Pointing to a corpse, which was lying in a police van inside the compound, the CP added, ‘’You can see that corpse there. It’s a robbery case and our men went into the bush to get them and we recovered several arms.
‘’Death is a debt we all have to pay and nobody knows when and how they will pay theirs. It’s not targeted. We can’t be effective if you don’t partner with us.’’
At the time of putting this report together, THISDAY got information that the killers of Agodo may have been apprehended, but when contacted, the State Police Public Relations Officer, Asinim Butswatt said the police were still investigating the link between the different robberies that took place that particular night and the killing of the Igbo businessman.
But as the security operatives in the state continue their probe of the separate killings, the question on the lips of many remains whether anybody is targeting the Igbo traders in the state for annihilation or it’s just another conspiracy theory by those mostly affected by the premature deaths. (Thisday)