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Crisis averted as COVID-19 ‘task force’ extort bereaved family in Anambra

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Crisis was averted at the weekend in Eziowelle community, Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State after a group of men who claimed to be COVID-19 task force invaded a funeral ceremony and started extorting money from the bereaved family.

However, the police, in a swift reaction, ordered an immediate clampdown on the task force and promised to prosecute persons involved in extortion, harassment or intimidation of people under the guise of COVID-19 task force.

The illegal task force, which claimed they were authorised by administrators of the community, chased away sympathisers and stopped mourners from burying a 65-year-old woman who died after a protracted illness.

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The group, accompanied by armed policemen, reportedly succeeded in extorting about N90,000 from relations of the deceased before angry youths in the community confronted them, resulting in a free-for-all.

It was gathered that elders in the community quickly intervened and stopped what could have resulted in a bloodbath.

Chairman of the aggrieved youths, Chief Ugochukwu Asikwo, told newsmen that they were pushed to the wall because of the illegal activities of administrators of the community, whom he alleged connived with the illegal task force and police to extort money from the bereaved family.

According to him, “they claimed they were after security and development levies, but there is no such thing in our community because we have since rejected administrators of our community because of the atrocities they have been committing.”

Another leader in the community, Chief Anthony Ojemba Chigbo, alleged that the administrators in the town had been using the illegal task force to extort huge sums of money from members of the community under one guise or the other, and called on both the police and the government to intervene without delay. He added that the government’s gazette stipulates only N1,500 for burial ceremonies, but the illegal team collects more, with threats, harassment and intimidation.

A statement from the police spokesman in Anambra, SP Haruna Mohammed, on behalf of the Commissioner of Police, John Abang, stated that the clampdown was against all persons involved in incessant extortions, harassment, assault and wearing of masks, claiming to be enforcing COVID-19 measures.

It further stated that the hoodlums wore reflective jackets and operated in shuttle buses/Keke NAPEP with stickers bearing COVID-19 Task Force, insisting that no such task force was constituted to operate in the state.

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