Yenagoa - Yenagoa residents, in Bayelsa, have decried what they described as harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrest of innocent citizens by workers of the state Environmental Sanitation Authority.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the Bayelsa sanitation authority was recently charged by Gov. Seriake Dickson to clean up Yenagoa, the capital city.
The charge came as refuse heaps continued to litter all parts of the state capital, and Dickson said the poor sanitary condition was unacceptable to his administration.
However, some Yenagoa residents told NAN they wanted the government to take urgent steps to call the officials of the agency to order as "they are going beyond their limits’’.
NAN reports that more than 100 Yenagoa residents, including children, were on Friday arrested between 8 p.m and 10 p.m by officials of the authority’s Waste Disposal Unit.
According to a source, those arrested were handed over to the police with the instruction that they should only be released after the payment of N5,000 each.
"Those who could not pay the sum slept at the police station until their relatives or guardians or friends located them and still paid the sum of N5,000 before they were released,’’ the source said.
NAN reports that the authority had recently announced that all waste materials should only be taken to the designated refuse dumps on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
This was to be between the hours of 7 p.m and 10 p.m, while such waste materials should be bagged with black polythene bags only sold by the authority .
While it appears the residents have been obeying the policy, the inability to get the recommended bags has however led them into using their own bags to package the waste materials.
Jeff Yeigba, who claimed to be a victim of the harassment, said: "The manner with which these sanitation boys have been going about the work is very wrong.
"They will not listen to anything, their impunity is despicable. It is rather unfortunate that Gov. Dickson is allowing these touts to embarrass people.
"Some of them even boasted that the job has been given to them for their exploits in Dickson’s election and that no power in the state can stop them.
"I just came out to dump my refuse bag and I was told that I should buy their bag to package the waste.
"I then told them that I had no money on me as I am not aware of the new policy, but they should let me call my brother to bring money for me from the house so that I can buy.
"I then called my brother, and while I was waiting for him, the boys came with a bus and ordered me to go inside their vehicle without allowing me to explain anything.
"I was then arrested from the Okaka refuse dump to the police station where I and others were ordered to go inside the station and we were sent behind the counter.
"We were asked to pay N5,000 each, before any of us could regain freedom.
"My brother could not come to the station that night, and I had to sleep in the station until the following morning when my brother came and paid the amount and I was released,’’ Yeigba said.
Another victim, Godwin Yibowei who narrated his ordeal, said he was arrested at the Ebis bus stop at Amarata in Yenagoa by the officials.
He said this was even when he had not reached the dump site to buy the bag.
Yibowei urged the Bayelsa government to halt the trend as the officials were out to line their pockets as no receipts were issued for the N5,000 levy being charged per head
When contacted, the Bayelsa Police Public Relations Officer, Alex Akhigbe, confirmed the development.
He condemned the actions of the boys, saying the command had received various complaints on the matter.
Akhigbe however said the environmental sanitation authority has no business arresting people and bringing them to the police.
"The work of environmental sanitation is very different from that of the police,’’ he said, promising to meet with the sanitation authority on the matter.
The Police PRO however did not comment on the alleged complicity of the police in the alleged extortion of money from members of the public
All efforts to get the reaction of the Chairman of the authority, Chief Abel Ebifemowei, were unsuccessful as he declined commenting on the development when contacted.