On a fateful Friday in April 2020, Friday Ifeanyi Arunsi was shot and killed by a drunk police officer, sending an entire town into mourning and chaos.
It still does not make sense to many community members. Friday Arunsi was no troublemaker. So how did the police find him worthy of targeting?
What did he do wrong?
During the coronavirus lockdown announced by the Abia State Government, people selling groceries and food were allowed to operate because they were classified under essential services.
Friday worked at a big supermarket, so he worked during the lockdown.
On April 17, he was on supervising duty at the supermarket. Around 8pm that night, he was busy with inventory work as some 15 young men offloaded goods from a truck into the supermarket.
From nowhere, there was a loud bang at the back of the truck. Apparently, a Toyota Camry sedan carrying some police officers had rammed into the truck.
The driver of the Camry came out, staggering as he walked. Eyewitnesses said he looked drunk. Well, from what he did next, he certainly must have been drunk – he pulled out a machete and struck Friday with it. Fortunately, Friday was not badly injured.
Onlookers – including supermarket workers and some okada riders stationed nearby – confronted the policemen. An argument ensued.
After some time, calmness reigned. The police officers left, and the workers returned to work.
Shortly afterwards, around 10 pm, Friday was still taking inventory as workers offloaded the goods, when gunshots rang out at the supermarket, scattering everybody.
It was later discovered that the man doing the shooting was the allegedly drunk officer; the driver of the Camry. He had apparently gone back to his station to pick a rifle.
Eyewitnesses say the officer shot sporadically, creating a war-front sound effect. While everyone ran for cover, Friday got hit by a bullet, which tore open one of his arteries.
He was later rushed to a health facility, more than 50 kilometers away. He received three pints of blood, underwent a surgery and was later placed on oxygen.
Friday Ifeanyi Arunsi died around 4am on April 18, 2020. He was 19.
His uncle, Kingsheart Ubani Ukpai, a 64-year-old from Ohafia town in Abia state says Friday was not only his nephew, but he was everyone’s favourite in Ebem Ohafia town.
He remembers Friday as a young man who loved to help people, and would give to anyone in need. He was very skillful with serving people at the supermarket, and was always showered with tips.
The day his corpse arrived from the hospital, there was mayhem in town. There was mass crying and cursing. Shops shut down. Some angry youth hijacked the corpse and, while crying, swore that the police would pay for his death. Some old women marched to the police station to register their anger over his death. Young men carrying his corpse pelted stones at the police, while some others set a few buildings and a police vehicle ablaze. An angry mob invaded the police station, unlocked cells and broke prisoners free.
Later, the police organized an orderly room trial on Friday’s killing, inviting some eyewitnesses to testify. However, Friday’s family members are yet to receive any substantial update from the police concerning the outcome of the trial.
Leaders in the community have also written to police about the case, but there hasn’t been feedback.
The Abia State Governor, though, sent a representative that paid a condolence visit to the family. The Commissioner of Police also visited. After these visits, the family had thought they would receive compensation, like both visitors promised, but nothing has happened yet.
The late Friday’s family have written a petition to the Inspector General of Police. The police claim that the policeman who shot Friday is in detention. But this is just their word; there is no evidence of it, so the family does not believe it.
“Besides,” says Kingsheart, “these soft punishments of detention and demotion and redeployments are insulting, when considered against the crime committed. There should be capital punishment for officers who attack and murder civilians that heartlessly. This way, it would serve as a deterrence.”
Friday’s case has been heard at the Judicial Panel established by Abia State to deal with issues concerning police killings and brutalities.
According to his uncle Kingsheart, Friday’s family, who attended sessions together, are still waiting for the state government to pay them compensation after the panel submitted its recommendations.
When Kingsheart wrote to the panel, he requested that Friday’s family be paid a compensation of 100 million naira.
In addition, he asked for the police force to be reformed so officers become more human and less brutal in their relations with the same citizens they are supposed to protect. He thought: what is the point of compensation if measures are not taken to prevent such a tragedy from happening again?
The practice of policemen shooting at the least provocation is careless and costly. Most times, they give excuses of ‘accidental discharge’. But that does not cut it, Kingsheart says. A reformation needs to happen. Citizens need to feel safe around the police again. The loss of trust in the police is not healthy.
Friday was a promising young man. Even as a teenager, he contributed immensely in taking care of his family – especially his grandmother and his siblings. His parents were counting on him to mature into becoming the provider of the family.
He had just finished secondary school and was working diligently towards building his future. He had big ambitions. Kingsheart remembers how Friday once told him he would build a house for his family. They had all hoped that it would get to the point when he would assist his family. But he was wasted just like that.
“It is true that no amount of compensation money would be enough to fill the void left by Friday. So beyond compensation, justice and reform need to prevail, because letting things hang would give other wicked policemen the impetus to kill people at will. Inaction on this case will breed impunity,” Kingsheart believes.
“This has to stop. Police brutality HAS to stop,” Kingsheart says.