There has been controversy surrounding the death of a 10-year-old boy, Somtochukwu Ibeanusi, who was allegedly shot dead by soldiers from the 34 Artillery Brigade, Obinze.
The tragedy reportedly happened during the demolition of the Owerri Main Market, popularly known as Eke-Ukwu Owerri.
Isaiah Ibeanusi, the father of the deceased boy, who was in tears at his No. 9 Oguamanam Street residence, close to the demolished market, told reporters that his son died instantly after a bullet hit him on his head.
According to Premium Times, Mr Ibeanusi further said the tragic incident occurred while he was trying to remove his goods during the demolition exercise, which was supervised by the army, police, State Security Service, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, and the Air Force.
“I told my little son to come and assist me remove my goods from the shop before the people demolishing the market got to the place.
“When we were crossing the road we all raised our hands up but these soldiers just drove by and opened fire and shot my son in the head. The bullet hit him in the eye and came out from the back of his head and he fell and died.
“I want justice. I don’t want the killers of my son to go unpunished. He was just a little boy, he was not armed. I don’t know if I can bear this.”
However, the Army spokesperson for the Brigade, Haruna Tagwai, a lieutenant, denied that it’s soldiers shot anybody.
“Please, don’t go and write what you don’t know. The soldiers deployed to the market did not shoot anybody,” he said when contacted on Saturday, August 26.
Many have condemned the decision of the Governor Rochas Okorocha administration to demolish the market.
There are reports that the governor had asked the traders to move to a new site arguing that the market constitutes a serious traffic and security challenge.
However, the traders and natives of Owerri refused, leading to an impasse. On Friday night, August 25, the government moved several heavy equipment to the area with armed security personnel to provide cover, a situation that heightened tension in the city.
The machines began demolition at midnight, and by dawn the expansive market had been reduced to a pile of rubbles.
When the traders turned up for business in the morning their shops were in rubbles. This sparked a protest.
The soldiers stepped in to quell the protest, allegedly shooting to disperse the protesters.
Mr Onwuemeodo who spoke for the government said no one was killed: “Ekeukwu Market Owerri has finally been moved from its current location at the centre of Owerri, the state capital, to its new location at Ohi near Owerri amid jubilation by patriotic residents.
“The relocation of the market is in line with the Urban Renewal programme of the state government.
“The market was moved Saturday morning and for almost two years the state government has announced its good intention to relocate the market to a more conducive site in the spirit of its Urban Renewal pursuit.
“The government has taken this noble action to equally recover Douglas Road that connects the state with other neighbouring states which has remained a refuse dump for the traders in the market and to deal with once and for all the prevalent criminal activities in the area like robbery, cultism and kidnapping.
“The governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, and the Rescue Mission Government which he heads, commend the traders and the people of the state in general for their cooperation and understanding. By the peaceful conduct of the traders, they have shown that they appreciate government’s intention to make Owerri and enviable state capital.”
Rochas Okorocha, Imo State Governor, earlier denied reports that at least one life was lost when a stray bullet hit a boy during the demolition of a market in Owerri, the state capital on Saturday, August 26.
In a press statement released late on Saturday by Governor Rochas Okorocha’s chief press secretary Sam Onwuemeodo, the state government denied any death.