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The incident which happened in Owerri has been attributed to a rash decision by two police officers and three task force officials who were insisting that the vehicle should have had Imo State emblem on it.
Various states in Nigeria, for the purposes of revenue-generation, require commercial vehicle owners to affix state emblem on their vehicle.
Some owners, especially those whose vehicles travel across several states, however, prefer to get a ‘consolidated’ emblem which allows for easy passage through states and saves them the clumsiness of having to buy emblem from every state.
Tega Silas, the driver of a Toyota Sienna, who transported the day-old chicks – 8,000 of them – from a hatchery in Kaduna State, said he pulled over on the Owerri road on the order of the police officers manning a roadblock.
The driver said he left Kaduna around 9 p.m., travelled through the night – about 687 km – so he could get to Owerri early in the morning to avoid the chicks being affected by harsh weather.
He said he arrived Owerri around 8:50 a.m.
“I was very close to my final destination (in Owerri) where the owners of the chicks were waiting before a policeman stopped me at a checkpoint. I told him, please, I was carrying day-old chicks, and that he should allow me to go,” Mr Silas told PREMIUM TIMES, Saturday.
The officer, armed with a rifle, inspected the chicks packed in several cartons inside the minivan, the driver said.
Shortly, his vehicle was surrounded by three men working for the Imo State task force on vehicle emblem, he said. The men and the police officers demanded the Imo State emblem which the vehicle did not have.
Mr Silas’ vehicle, however, had a ‘consolidated’ emblem on it.
Mr Silas said he explained to the officer that the chicks could die “in the next five minutes” because of the weather if they delayed him any further.
“Is the day-old chicks you are carrying more important than the (police) uniform I am wearing?” the driver said the officer told him.
The driver said the police officer assaulted him at some point.
Sensing that the incident could drag on, Mr Silas said he handed his vehicle key to the police officer and left the scene to get the owners of the chicks to come over and possibly offload them from the vehicle.
“It took about five minutes to get to where the owners of the chicks were staying,” he said. “I tried reaching them on phone, but the calls were not connecting.”
When Mr Silas returned with the poultry farmer, he could not find his vehicle, the police officers, or the task force officials.
Chijioke Nicholas, the chairman, Poultry Association of Nigeria, Imo State, who corroborated Mr Silas’ story, told PREMIUM TIMES that it was through his intervention that they were able to trace the vehicle to a local park that serves as an operational base for the task force.
By the time Messrs Nicholas and Silas got to the park where the vehicle was packed and its tyres deflated, several of the chicks were already dead.
Mr Nicholas, angered by what happened, ordered that the dead chicks should be brought out from the minivan and spread on the ground “for the world to see”.
With his mobile phone, he began filming the scene.
“There are between three to four thousand birds here,” Mr Nicholas voice could be heard in the video as he zoomed in on the dead chicks.
“This is what has been killing enterprise and killing agriculture in Imo State,” he added. “We will relate with the governor and the commissioner for livestock development in Imo State for this to be settled.”
The market value for each of the day-old chicks is N600, Mr Nicholas said.
Mr Nicholas said the task force was negotiating for a settlement with the owners of the dead chicks.
The distributor of the day-old chicks, Abayomi Adio, who contracted the driver of the Toyota Sienna, said harassment of drivers in Imo State has become a constant challenge for poultry farmers.
Mr Adio said over 3,000 chicks died in the incident.
When contacted, the state’s Commissioner for Transport, Rex Anunobi, said he has spoken with his counterpart in the ministry of livestock on the incident.
Mr Anunobi said the incident was “regrettable”. He promised to look into it to see how the matter could be resolved.
“We hope that such a thing will not occur again,” he added.