A motorist, identified as Joseph Pessu, was shot dead in Warri, Delta State, on Thursday, by a soldier for allegedly flouting the state government’s sit-at-home order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Eyewitnesses said the middle-aged motorist, who was cruising in a black Toyota Camry car without number plate, failed to stop at a military checkpoint on the NPA Road when the soldiers ordered him to halt.
Our correspondents gathered that rather than stop, Pessu allegedly accelerated the car in a bid to beat the security personnel.
But a soldier in the security team, who was apparently infuriated by the motorist’s effrontery, fired at the right rear tyre of the car in order to force the driver to a halt.
Pessu was alleged to have continued driving for several metres until he got to a location and abruptly parked the vehicle in the middle of the road.
He was said to have jumped out of the car to escape into the nearby bush, but a bullet from the gun of one of the soldiers pursuing him hit him.
His corpse was taken to the Police Area Command, from where it was transferred to the Warri Central Hospital’s morgue.
Meanwhile, two naval personnel, who were riding on a motorcycle in the area, were attacked by an angry mob few hours after the incident.
The angry mob, who had earlier made bonfires on the road to prevent vehicular movement, poured petrol on the motorcycle and set it ablaze to the astonishment of onlookers.
When contacted, the state Commissioner of Police, Hafiz Inuwa, confirmed the killing.
“Yes, a motorist was killed, but I have not got the details of the incident,” he simply told our correspondent on the telephone.
Commenting on the incident, the Warri Area Commander, ACP Mohammed Garba, stated that the soldier, who pulled the trigger and killed Pessu, had been identified and gave an assurance that justice would be served.
Garba also advised residents of the state to strictly obey the government’s stay-at-home directive.
He assured residents of Warri and its environs of adequate protection of their lives and property.
The state Commissioner for Information, Mr Charles Aniagwu, said in a statement that the government was worried by Pessu’s killing.
He stated that the government had sent a delegation to the deceased’s family to condole with them over the loss of their son.
Aniagwu added, “The military authorities have been contacted to carry out an investigation into what led to the killing of Pessu.
“We, however, call on the people to remain calm and not to take the law into their own hands, while the government conducts an investigation into the killing.”
Reacting to the incident, the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo (SAN), condemned Pessu’s killing.
Keyamo described the incident as barbaric in a statement posted on his official Twitter handle.
The minister promised to petition the relevant authorities to investigate the matter.
The statement read, “I condemn the killing of innocent person(s) in Warri by soldiers enforcing the COVID-19 lockdown.
“I have received disturbing reports and images of the high-handedness and shooting of innocent citizens by men of the armed forces deployed to enforce the COVID-19 lockdown in my state, Delta.
“Specifically, I have received reports of the killing of an innocent young man, Mr Joseph Pessu, in Warri. I unreservedly condemn this barbaric act by men of the armed forces, who should exercise restraint when dealing with the civilian populace.
“I am appealing to the youth and Deltans in general to obey the sit-at-home order by the state government in a bid to contain the spread of the pandemic coronavirus.
“I will be forwarding a petition to the relevant authorities to thoroughly investigate this murder and bring the officer(s) to justice. In the interim, let us not take the law into our own hands, please.
“I will also use this medium to sincerely appeal to my brothers and sisters in Delta State to be law-abiding and obey the orders of restriction imposed by both the Delta State Government and the Federal Government. They are lawful orders and they are for our own good.
“Images and reports of attacks on law enforcement agents by the civilian populace do not help our cause. I call on all and sundry in the entire country too to exercise utmost restraint at this point.”
Meanwhile, the Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, has condemned Pessu’s killing.
Omo-Agege called for the arrest and prosecution of the trigger-happy soldiers, noting that the authorities must ensure that the law took its course.
A statement on Thursday said Omo-Agege spoke directly with the army and police authorities in the state, while calling on residents of the state not to take the law into their own hands.
He was quoted to have said, “I condemn in strong terms the extrajudicial killing of Joseph Pessu by men of the Nigerian Army. I call on the army authorities to fish out the culprit or culprits and hand them over to the police for prosecution.
“Those who are authorised to bear arms in defence of the nation ought to understand that this comes with responsibility, especially as human life is sacrosanct. The killing in Warri today (Thursday) is one too many as the issue shouldn’t have led to what, in my opinion, amounted to extrajudicial killing of yet another future hope of this country.
“I have heard that the army arrested the soldier that shot the deceased. It is my belief that thorough investigations will be carried out and adequate punishment will be meted out to those involved in the heinous crime.
“Yes, we are in strange times and nerves are high with all the issues surrounding the coronavirus lockdown in the country. Be that as it may, there are better ways of making Nigerians obey the government’s directives without the resort to violence or extrajudicial killings by law enforcement agents.”