File Photo: Awkwuzu SARS office
A 23-year-old man has recounted his horrifying encounter with operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), Awkuzu, in Anambra State.
The young man who was moved to Awkuzu SARS around 6:30pm that fateful day. He recalled that immediately he was dragged to SARS office, he was frisked and his money, N15,400, which was in his pocket, was confiscated. The policemen also allegedly collected his wristwatch, necklace and phone.
He recounted: “When the Admin officer saw me, he directed his men to go and hang me. They took me to the back of a hall and tied me with ropes. They tied my hands behind; tied my two legs and then joined the ropes in the hands and that of the legs by the back causing my chest to protrude.
“They had two already prepared iron stands where they used to hang people. They crossed an iron rod through the ropes and then lifted me up by the rod and hung me on the iron stand. They started using all manner of items to beat me, including machete and sticks. They inflicted injuries on me.
“One of the officers, Simeon, used an exhaust pipe to hit my teeth, breaking them. I was left hanging for more than three hours. I shouted until I started vomiting blood. Another officer, Agaba, told them to bring me down; that he didn’t want to hear my cries again. When the officer left, my torturers forced a handkerchief into my mouth and tied it with a rope. I was in that state for more than two hours and then I became semi-conscious.”
According to Chijindu, when Simeon came to check and noticed he had almost lost consciousness, he called their team leader, Aghaogu, who was also the second in command (2ic) of the team. Aghaogu ordered that Chijindu be brought down.
He said: “They dumped me inside the interrogation hall. Simeon brought my phone, and asked me if I was the owner. I told him I bought it with my money. He took out my two SIM cards and destroyed them with his teeth. He then dropped the phone into his drawer. He told me that it was exhibit.
“Aghaogu instructed them to take me to cell five, which is the worst cell in Awkuzu SARS. Those in cell five hardly eat or drink water. The next morning, they brought me out of the cell and took me to Onitsha. They forced me to go and show them where I sold phones and laptops. In Onitsha, at Emeka Offor Plaza, they arrested four persons, alleging that the four guys bought things from me.
“But the truth was that I had never met any of those men in my life. They also took me to my aunt’s house in Onitsha and arrested her son. When we returned from Onitsha, they returned me to the place where they had hung me the previous day.
“They threatened to hang me again since I didn’t want to confess. Another officer, Peter Emiator, took 2×2 wood and started hitting me on my two legs. He said that he would cripple me since I seemed to be stubborn. He gave me several injuries. The scars are still on my body.”
He said that at a point, Aghaogu took Simeon to one corner and had a discussion with him. After the discussion, Simeon returned and without blinking, pulled out his gun and fired Chijindu’s right leg. Another officer, who witnessed the cold blooded shooting, reprimanded Simeon.
“My leg started bleeding. Simeon told him that he shouldn’t worry, that they would treat me. Then they took the singlet of one of their victims and tied the bullet injury and returned me to cell five. The owner of the singlet was terribly tortured and shot in the leg and dumped in the cell without any treatment. He died the following morning as a result of the torture,” Chinjindu recalled.
The following day, the person that allegedly complained that Chijindu stole his laptop, paid a visit to SARS. The suspect was brought and right in his presence, the policemen started quizzing Chijindu about the laptop.
Chijindu said: “I told them that I didn’t know anything about the laptop. The complainant left and I was returned to the cell. That was the last time I heard from the complainant. He didn’t visit again. I was kept in the cell from February 13, 2017 to March 17. We were not given food except some Reverend Sisters or family members of detainees bring food. The Reverend Sister usually bring food on Thursdays and Saturdays.”
On March 17, there was a rumour that the human rights people were coming on emergency inspection of Awkuzu SARS. The policemen brought us out; we were 10 in number. They put us in bus and move us to another of their cell in Neni.”
The Commander at Neni told Chijindu and other suspects to remove their boxers, which was the only garment they had on. The suspects were left naked. The commander instructed his men to take the suspects to cell one. This cell is nicknamed, ‘condemned cell.’
Chijindu narrated: “We passed two passages and then went to a third passage, leading to the cell. After a while, the commander came to address us. He promised to speak with the OC at Awkuzu, to permit them at Neni to give us water to drink.
“We waited for two days without any food or water. Then some of us started shouting from the cell, calling on them to give us water. Some of us started urinating and drinking the urine. One of the officers at Neni, nicknamed ‘Too-much-money,’ admonished us to save our strength. He said that we still had a long way to go. Because of this admonition, we increased our shouts. We screamed that it was better for them to shoot and kill us, than to starve us to death. They replied that they preferred to watch us die one after the other.”
When the suspects continued to cry weakly for water, the exasperated policemen allegedly teargas them into silence. The suspects started crying; they prayed for death, but death refused to come. They were brought out from their cell, and teargas again, but this time with another kind of teargas; this was wrapped. The policemen then locked the suspect inside, with many almost choking to death.
Chijindu said: “It was terrible. All of my fellow inmates collapsed. Some were foaming from the mouth. I was the only conscious person, but the effect of the gas was bending my neck and twisting my two hands. We were in that condition for three days. On the third day, they came to check whether we were still alive.
“They found that we were still breathing, although the teargas had dried almost all the water in our system, making us weaker. They washed the cells and applied some substances after which they returned all suspects to cells.”
All this while, the suspects were yet to be given water. Chijindu said that they continued to beg for water, but there was no succor.
The Station Officer (SO) asked if any of the suspect came to the world with any cloth, they responded no. He then asked them if they would go with any cloth when they died, they also responded no. He then left them without saying another word.
Chijindu noted: “It was then we realised that it was a death sentence. After that week, one of us, Ifeanyi, was bailed, leaving nine of us behind. Before the end of that second week, four, among us died; Okechukwu, Uchenna, Uchechukwu and Chinedu. Their corpses were left with us in the cell until the policemen were ready to evacuate them.”
Chijindu further revealed that on the third week, three persons died; Ngirima, Victor Azubuike and Ojoto. Two among the corpses were moved after a full day in the cell with the suspects, while Ojoto’s corpse was left in the cell with the suspects for three days before it was evacuated. Chijindu said that the corpse Ojoto was already decomposing before it was removed.
“When the policemen were taking Ojoto’s remains away, I heard them saying, “this one has decayed; there is no need to take him to Akwuzu, let’s bury him here”. I managed with the little energy left in me to stretch and peep through our tiny window. I watched and saw how they buried Ojoto beside a soak-away-pit at the back of their office there in Neni,” said Chijindu.
On Easter Sunday, one of the officers came to attend to suspects in the cells. He told the suspects that their commander would celebrate Easter for them. Alas, nothing was given to them.
The following day, which was Easter Monday, while Chidinju was praying, he heard the last breath leaving the body of Tochukwu. The suspects alerted the policemen and Tochukwu’s corpse was moved.
But before Tochukwu died, two new suspects had joined them in the cell. They are Ifeanyi Mba and Ekene Nwoke. They were both transferred from Akwuzu. When Tochukwu died, Ifeanyi and Ekene started crying.
A week after the death of Tochukwu, there were moves to bail one of the new suspects, Chinjidu secretly handed him a piece of paper. The paper contained information on how to locate his sister and the direction to his home in Nnewi.
The young man fulfilled his promise; he located the home and family of Chijindu. He disclosed to them, the horror Nigerians were passing through in SARS detention facilities. Chijindu family contacted Human Right activists. It was discovered that Chijindu family members didn’t know he was in detention. They had been looking for him, almost about to declare him missing. Chijindu family and the activists started making frantic efforts to get him out.
They were further worried after hearing that he had a gunshot wound on his leg, which was festering.
Chijindu said: “The human right people went to Awkuzu and asked after me, the OC SARS called the Station Officer in Neni, who was behind our cell taking his call. The OC reprimanded the commander for allowing us to survive. I overheard their conversation because the SO phone was on speaker. The OC accused them of giving us food.”
***It is, however, important to note that Amnesty International is solidly behind this young man in his quest for justice. For the purpose of this write up, he was called Chijindu.