THE Nigerian football world immediately became distraught when, on October 16, news filtered through that ace central midfielder of the Shooting Stars Sports Club (3SC) of Ibadan, Mr. Izu Joseph, had been killed in Okaki, Ahoada West area of Rivers State. He was reportedly shot at close range by soldiers attached to the Joint Task Force (JTF), an outfit ostensibly devoted to instilling sanity in the chaotic riverine oil fields of the South South.
Izu’s death is raising concerns among Nigerians because of its gruesome nature. The late footballer was reported to have gone to his home state to see his family when the unfortunate incident occurred. He had visited Okaki to see his daughter and wife when the JTF operatives, in search of a cultist, raided the area and, in the ensuing melee, shot him in the leg. His plea to the operatives that he was a footballer, even handing over his identity card to them for authentication, was brushed aside by the soldiers who reportedly shot him a second time, in cold blood.
In the words of his father, Reuben Izu, the 24-year old footballer was a victim of brutality in military uniform. He said: “He was in Okaki with his wife before he died. He had planned to come to Port Harcourt where I live with his daughter. He went to the jetty area where we usually swim to have a quick shower on Sunday. It was while he was there that the men of the JTF raided the place and everybody ran helter-skelter, including Joseph. When the soldiers saw them running, they began shooting sporadically and one of the bullets hit Joseph in the leg. As he was groaning in pain, one of the JTF men walked up to him and shot him a second time at a close range despite Joseph’s plea that he was a footballer on holiday in Okaki. His mobile phone and identity card were seized from him.”
The defence of the Nigerian Army against culpability in the downing of such a budding star was indeed damning. In a release it issued, the Army said that Izu was killed near a cultists’ shrine. According to the Commander, 2 Brigade of the Nigerian Army, Port Harcourt, Brig. Gen. Hamisu Hassan, the Army was conducting investigations with the aim of determining what the late Izu was doing at the shrine. According to him, the killing occurred when troops were on a “confidence building patrol” at a cultists’ hideout in Okaki village. The Army maintained that the late 3SC footballer “was found in an isolated place,” coercing the rest of Nigeria into the peremptory illogic inherent in the claim that anyone found in an isolated place is a criminal.
The Army Commander further said: “Information available to the patrolling troops indicated the presence of suspected cultists in Okaki village. The troops moved in and raided the suspected criminal hideout. One person lost his life at the hideout while several others fled. Later, it was confirmed that the person who lost his life was a Nigerian footballer, identified as Mr. Izu Joseph. Nevertheless, investigation is ongoing to determine what he (Izu) was doing at the cultist’s shrine at that time.” The Army’s statement simultaneously claimed that Izu was killed near a shrine, and at a shrine. Where exactly was he killed?
Rather than invalidate earlier claims that the JTF merely wasted the young player’s life in a brutish and clearly callous way, the statement merely reinforces them. To say that the Army would investigate what Izu was doing at a place which it claimed was (near) a cultists’ shrine could be likened to the proverbial cliché of medicine after death. The Army could have arrested the 24-year-old footballer and later treat him of the wounds he sustained. Thereafter, it could have squeezed from him the reason he was found close to the alleged cultists’ shrine.
In the Army command’s statement, there was nowhere reference was made to any weapon found on the late Izu or how he could have put the lives of the rampaging JTF troops in danger. From all accounts on his killing, it could be ascertained that he even managed to show his identity card to his murderers in JTF uniform, indicating that he was a footballer in a national league. The logic of criminals’ modus operandi should indicate that seldom would a criminal do this, a reason to naturally come to the conclusion that he was a wrong target. Shooting him the second time is thus a premeditated act.
We call on the Federal Government to perform its responsibility of keeping every citizen secure in their fatherland and ensuring that no life is unreasonably taken by anyone, no matter their position. Izu’s death must not be consigned under the heaps of rubbish. Government must investigate the events leading to his death and mete out appropriate sanctions on the culprits. Granted that the oil-producing areas have become a bedlam as all manner of imaginable and unimaginable felony and criminal activities go on there everyday, it would be a fallacy of hasty generalisation to conclude that every young man in that environment is a potential felon who deserves to be brutally hacked to death. Even in the case of proven cultists, the Army is not constitutionally empowered to mete out judgement. It is not a court of law.
Investigating Izu’s killing may also open the lid on a cesspit of other JTF human rights violations. Peradventure if the late 3SC footballer had not been a star, his death would have been swallowed by the stillness of the creeks. This is an investigation that government must conduct in the interest of the nation at large. It is Izu today, it could be anybody else tomorrow.