By KOLA KING
Nigerians have been inured to a slew of tragedies judging by the rampant killings by terrorists, bandits and other freelance criminals who rule the roost without let or hindrance, turning the land to a veritable ‘Blood River,’ such that hapless citizens just shrug their shoulders and move on when something gory or brutal happens to their compatriots. It is as though nothing no longer shocks Nigerians again. Generally, life has become nasty, brutish and short. A quick illustration are the killings on the Plateau and Benue State that have been a recurring decimal with no end in sight to the bloodletting. For instance, in Mangu, Plateau State where the killings have been more pronounced, over three hundred people have been dispatched to their untimely deaths by bandits since the beginning of the year and thousands have been rendered homeless and turned into refugees in their own homeland.
Despite the seeming indifference to tragedy, yet the tragic death of two-year-old Ivan Onose Omhonrina who was allegedly felled by stray bullets of operatives of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA in Okpanam, Delta State has thrown the nation into deep shock and outrage. Really, Ivan or any other person does not deserve to die in such a manner. The senseless killing of the innocent child by security operatives who were chasing suspected drug peddlers has brought to the fore the need to reign in security agents who bear arms in the line of duty. Indeed the death of Ivan is most foul and must be condenmed by all right thinking people for no one prays to lose his child, nay a two year old boy at that. At that tender age children should be given all the protection and tendercare they deserve, and not exposed to the vagaries of life that may eventually lead to such a tragic waste of life.
Naturally Ivan’s parents thoughts would always dwell on him and they would imagine how he would have grown up to become a successful person in society but for the fact that his mission was cut short by a stray bullet from agents of the state. But all that remains in the realm of conjecture. To honour the memory of Ivan it should be our bounden duty and resolve that there’s no recurrence again.
Clearly this is a blot on the image of the NDLEA that has been a shining example of excellence and rectitude among public institutions. That’s why the trigger happy agents must be unmasked and made to pay for their crime. The fact that security agents bear arms should not be a licence to kill innocent citizens.
Much as we admire and applaud the activites of NDLEA under the able leadership of Brigadier General Mohammed Buba Marwa (Retd), the officer or officers behind the killing of this innocent child must be brought to book and justice must be seen to have been served Ivan and his family.
The truth is this unfortunate act is a chink in the amour of the drug agency that has been a byword for efficiency and effectiveness. It is important to state that ever since General Marwa came on board hardly a week passes without which drug peddlers are arrested at the nations airports, borders and various parts of the country. It has been a string of successes exemplified by massive drugs seizures and arrests of drug peddlers and major kingpins in the drug business. The drug Czar has done a yeoman’s job in a bid to curb drug trafficking and the attendant effects that flows from drug usage and abuse by youths and a large number of the population. In fact, the NDLEA Chairman, General Buba Marwa was the poster boy of the Buhari administration due in part to the way and manner in which he rejuvenated and reorganised an otherwise moribund government agency.
However, this sad occurence in Okpanam will not be the first. There have been instances where some operatives of the NDLEA have demonstrated over-zealousness and highhandedness in the course of duty which has resulted in the deaths of suspected drug peddlers. Though the NDLEA has often justified such killings, claiming such deaths were due to attacks on their operatives in the course of arrests of drug traffickers and mostly done in self defence. In light of this, it is clear that some operatives of the agency have paid the supreme price while in the course of duty. Still, this calls for new rules of engagement by operatives of NDLEA such that maximum force should only be applied when it’s absolutely necessary when confronting potential suspects or targets.
Now the death of boy Ivan provides the management of NDLEA the opportunity to reassses their performance and reinvigorate the agency for optimal performance. In short, time has come for General Marwa to put his men and officers on a leash so as to preserve the good works being done by agency, for which the nation owes him and his men a debt of gratitude. As is his wont, the NDLEA Chairman has swung into action and has set up a high-powered panel to investigate the incident and to unravel the circumstsnces that led to the tragic death of Ivan and to also identify the officers responsible for the killing of Ivan. Marwa has promised that the agency will get to the root of the case and take appropriate measures accordingly.
It will be recalled that two-year-old, Ivan Omhonrina was on Thursday, July 13, hit by a stray bullet at his mother’s shop in Okpanam, Delta State while his younger sibling, Eromonsele, who was also shot, is currently receiving treatment at the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Asaba.
According to news reports, the boys were hit by stray bullets when operatives of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) raided a notorious drug joint at Okpanam in Oshimili North Local Government Area of Delta State.
Narrating the circumstances that led to the incident, Ivan’s father, Fidelis Omhonrina said hardly had he dropped his son from school in his wife’s shop than he received a call from his spouse that Ivan had been hit by a stray bullet and that his intestine was already spilling out of his abdomen. At the same time his wife also reported that Ivan’s brother, Eromonsele’s face was grazed by a stray bullet as well. Fidelis Omhonria, told BBC that his second son sustained injury as broken glasses entered his eyes. He said his wife had called to explain how bad the children were affected by the gunshot wounds.
Bent on apprehending the culprits, Mr Omhonrina sped to the scene of the incident, instead of heading to the FMC where his sons were receiving treatment for their injuries. When he got to his wife’s shop eyewitnesses told him a stray bullet must have hit his sons. Thereafter he caught up with the NDLEA team who informed him they were chasing suspected drug peddlers when the stray bullet missed its target and inadvertently hit Ivan. Afterwards the NDLEA operatives followed him to hospital where Ivan and his younger brother were undergoing treatment. Sadly, Ivan later died from the injuries sustained from gunshot wounds after undergoing six hours of surgery, but his brother Eromosele survived the ordeal and is still recuperating.
According to Mr Omhonrina, “immediately they told me what happened, I then saw some vehicles with the inscription NDLEA on the vehicles.”
”As I approached one Hilux vehicle belonging to the NDLEA, I told one officer that stray bullet from their gunshot has killed my son.”
”The officer cocked his gun and demand I give him my phone which I used to record them, but I resisted them and they quickly zoomed off and I followed them and started to call for help.”
Fidelis Omhonrina added that after driving for some time, the operatives stopped and began to beg him, saying they were trying to shoot at suspected drug traffickers and inadvertently the bullet must have hit his son, and “they said it was a mistake.”
”Ivan was still carrying his school bag when the bullet hit him,” Mr Fidelis Omhonrina lamented.
”The bullet affected his kidney, intenstine, and everything there shattered,” he added.
Fidelis Omhonrina says ”all i want is justice for my son.”
In a statement spokesman of NDLEA, Femi Babafemi, said the initial incident report of the Agency shows that:
“A team of NDLEA operatives carried out one intelligence-based raid of a joint of one notorious drug dealer in Okpanam area of Asaba at about 1600 hours on Thursday 13th July and during the process of operation, one Toyota Camry 2008 model, light blue colour at the scene suddenly zoom off and hit one of our officers who is currently in a critical condition, undergoing treatment in the hospital.”
Expatiating on this report, the Delta State Commandant of the NDLEA, Mr John Tunde, who confirmed the incident, however, insisted that his men did not open fire on the boys. Tunde explained that when the operatives of the command stormed the notorious drug joint to raid and dislodge the place, there was a Toyota Camry parked within the precincts.
According to him, while the operatives were surrounding the place, a Camry car “ran over one of our men while escaping. And in attempts to demobilise the car, our men shot.”
“What we cannot tell now is whether the children were inside the car at the time of the shooting. Our men did not open fire at any shop. As we speak now, our man, who the car ran over is at the Central Hospital in Ogwashi-Uku.
“Our attempt to stop the car was not successful as he escaped. So I can confirm that it happened but this is the true account that I have told you, we can’t be that unprofessional to open fire on a shop. I was at the hospital in the night with the father of the child. We are investigating it.”
However, an eyewitness said the victims were in their mother’s shop after school hours when they were hit by stray bullets. The witness said a stray bullet brushed Eromonsele on the eye while Ivan was hit on his abdomen. He added that the victims were rushed to the FMC for surgery.
All this claims and counterclaims notwithstanding, the investigative panel set up by NDLEA should unravel the truth about how the incident occured and make appropriate recommendations as well.
Shocked by the tragic incident, the House of Representatives has called on the Inspector General of Police, Mr Kayode Egbetokun to take over the investigations and ensure that the culprits are brought to book.
Also, it is apt in the circumstances that President Bola Tinubu has ordered an investigation into the killing of the two-year-old boy, Ivan Omhonrina, during a raid by the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) operatives in Okpanam, Delta State, last week.
The Special Adviser to the President on Special Duties, Communications and Strategy, Dele Alake, in a statement last Saturday, noted that Tinubu had directed the NDLEA management to quickly conclude the investigation.
“Ivan did not deserve to die that way. We must ensure the incident did not end like that and that what happened to Ivan does not happen to any other person again,” Tinubu was quoted as saying.
The President described the incident as unacceptable, adding that those behind must be unravelled and brought to justice.
While the NDLEA boss has continually advocated mental evaluation for politicians, it is also important that those who bear arms should also undergo periodic mental evaluations as well. More importantly they should be upheld to rigorous standards at all times. That said, this case should not be swept under the carpet as Ivan must not die in vain. All the same, security operatives should endeavour to err on the side of caution while undertaking raids in public places to prevent the loss of innocent lives. It is better for a suspect to escape than for innocent lives be lost in the pursuit of drug traffickers and sundry criminals. Going forward, it is incumbent on the NDLEA management to impress it upon their operatives the need to apply reasonable care and caution in the discharge of their duties.