Victim Of Police Brutality Recounts Ordeal, I Passed Out Severally With Blood Dripping Out Of My Nose

For Justin Nwankwo, a doctoral student of philosophy at the
Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, what he went through inside the
cell at the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), Awka in Anambra State, two years
ago, is better imagined than experienced. The brutality allegedly meted to him
is like hell on earth.
Narrating his ordeal to Crime Guard, the then Manager of
Upper Class Hotel in the commercial city of Onitsha, Anambra State, before it
was demolished by the Peter Obi administration said: “August 1, 2013 is a day I
will never forget in my life, as it marked the beginning of an ugly experience
I passed through for three months. It was the day I was arrested alongside 13
others who worked in the hotel I managed while pursuing my educational career.

“That morning, police officers stormed the hotel shouting:
‘Where is your director?’ I took them to his office and they brought out a
search warrant. In the course of interrogation, I discovered that they already
had a particular room in mind.  One of
the officers kept shouting: ‘Where is room 102?’ The staff in charge of
cleaning the guest rooms had already resumed. Unfortunately, the particular
room which the police officers were asking for was locked by the guest who
lodged the previous night. When we discovered that the guest did not drop the
key at the reception while leaving, the police had to break the door.
“I was there when they forced the door open and discovered
two dark poly bags containing two dried human skulls. But the true story is
that the night before that day, we had a guest who lodged in one of the rooms
in the hotel. He lodged with a name and was given a receipt. It was immediately
the guest checked out that the police stormed the hotel early the next morning
with a search warrant, searched the hotel and discovered two dried human
skulls, two AK-47 rifles and one military cap.”
Crime scene and demolition of hotel
“Ironically, the police did not take photo shots of the
crime scene, the hotel, and the bags containing the items, which is what
obtains in other climes. Rather, what they did was to march all of us out of
the hotel, then whisked us to the Area Command in Onitsha. They took about 13
of us away in a bullion van to the Area Command and then, to the Special
Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) Akwuzu.  When
we got there, they said they have to start with the manager. Surprisingly, the
hotel was demolished by the state government the same day we were arrested. On
the second day, the hotel was in rubble.”
My ordeal
“My ordeal started at Akwuzu Special Anti-Robbery Squad
where I met an entirely different world. As a little boy who grew up in
Onitsha, I heard that anyone who went to Akwuzu SARS never returned, but I had
never been there. When we got there, it was a terrible experience for me. I was
the first to be tortured. We were taken to a rickety hall, tied like Christmas
goats used for barbecue and hung on a stake. I went through this torture
everyday for three months. The torture was in stages. Like other suspects, I
was tortured till I passed out. They poured water on me to revive me each time
I passed out.”
The torture room
“The torture room was a large hall with several operatives
applying different types of techniques in torturing suspects. When I first
entered the torture chamber and saw what was happening, I began to expect mine
immediately. Most times, sounds of gunshots filled the halls, as suspects were
shot by officers. There was a day I was being tortured and bullets were sprayed
on a suspect. I was scared of what will be my fate if any of the bullets hit
me? There were times I was tied to a stake with arms raised up. Blood was
dripping out of my nose. When I passed out, I was taken off the stake for about
an hour or two to recover before the torture continued. From that stage, I was
taken to where my hands were tied with a rope and pulled in different
“Severally, I felt I may not survive the torture because of
the weighty allegations against me. I was tortured for three months.
“The final torture I received was from my investigating
police officer, IPO, who used his hands to pull out the hair on my skin because
I am hairy.  I noticed that each time we
were being tortured, the officers murmured among themselves, asking what would
happen if the suspects died. This shows they knew that the treatment they were
meting out was inhuman.”
Physical and mental torture
“Initially when I got there, 
I was asked to write a statement. Midway, they forced me to stop. After
the physical torture, they took me through the mental torture. This involved
putting you inside a small dark crowded cell with about 26 other suspects, all
naked. We were not fed. We were kept under dehumanising condition. Some
suspects had gunshot wounds which were decaying, septic, with maggots coming
“When tortured beyond unbearable limit, suspects will begin
to confess to crimes they didn’t commit, saying what the officers wanted them
to say just to be freed from torture. The painful aspect is the fact that they
lie to your relatives when they come, that you are not in their custody.
Meanwhile you are wasting away in their cell.
“It was when the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria
(NOPRIN) mounted pressure through media publications that my IPO brought a
statement written by him and forced me to sign. Without being derogatory, my
IPO is less educated than me. So, I had to confront him when I was granted bail
three months later, insisting that the written statement was not mine. Instead of
showing remorse, he quipped that I should be happy I was not wasted.”
“Travel to Aso Rock”
“Goings-on at the SARS, Awkuzu, are very inhuman. They are
degrading human life there. Each time human rights activists and civil society
organizations visit, they give us clothes to wear and depopulate the cells by
taking suspects to other cells. After they leave, they bring the suspects back
into the cells. It was during one of such occasions that some suspects died.
They execute people summarily in Cell 5. The cell is built in such a way that
when you come inside the building, it is the first cell you see but you won’t
know that anything like that goes on there. Whenever they open the cell,
expectations are that many suspects will certainly die and they simply refer to
it as, ‘travelling to Aso Rock’. We saw it, we experienced it and we felt it.
Every night, we feel like it was the last day on earth.”
Disappearance of suspects at night
“Usually in SARS, two words are commonly used. They are: to
‘waste and to travel’. Initially, when I began to hear the phrase, I didn’t
understand what it meant till suspects began to disappear from our cells at
night and never returned. Some of the suspects I met in the cell left and I
rose to become the boss. But I was a very benevolent boss as I fed suspects in
the cell with the money my parents gave me while in cell. I was lucky to have
survived the physical, mental and psychological torture but when I was
released, I had to face the societal stigma as people who were close to me before
my arrest and detention,  stayed away
from me and treated me like I was an ex-convict.”
Back to academics
“I was supposed to have completed my programme but for my
ordeal, I was forcefully taken away from the academic world. I returned this
year.  Hopefully, before the end of July,
I would defend my project. Ironically, the police filed a suit against us at
the magistrate’s court when there was too much pressure from civil right
organisations spear-headed by NOPRIN. The police was forced to take us to court.
On the day we were arraigned in court at about 2:30am, officers came into the
cell, asked us to have our bath. I asked where they were taking us. They said
they were taking us to court. That was the first time in three months that I
took my bath. At the court, we were arraigned on a seven-count charge ranging
from murder to robbery.”
Demolition in error
“While in prison, we made enquiries about Nnabule Okafor,
the man they said we killed in the charges preferred against us. The truth of
the matter is that Anambra State government demolished the hotel in error and
when they discovered that it was an error and the whole incident, a set-up,
they had to file a charge against us so that they could justify the demolition
of the building.
Now that we have been bailed, both the police and the
Department of Public Prosecution (DPP) have refused to take the case to high
court. We have 14 suits in court on violation of fundamental human rights. All
the cases we have in the court are the ones we instituted for the government to
compensate us but nothing has been done. We have served them notice yet they
refused to respond.”
Compensation for the oppressed
“It is all part of the torture that both the police and
Anambra State Governor have erred and still will not accept the fact that there
is need to compensate those whom you have victimized.
“The experience of torture in the Nigerian police if you
have not heard, or seen or felt it, you keep hearing go to court, go to court
but we have been in the court.
“We also want to be in the court of public opinion because
when this thing happened, the Governor of Anambra State did not go to court.
He became the accuser and the judge at the same time. He
demolished the hotel alongside the properties of those who lived and worked in
that place.  I am not scared to discuss
this experience because I still want justice to be done,” he stated.

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