PSPF calls for investigation into illegal arrest, detention, prosecution of NOCEN student, Promise Ezeama

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The Police Stakeholders Partnership Forum (PSPF) has called on the Anambra State Commissioner of Police, CP John Abang to order a prompt, impartial and exhaustive investigation alleged arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention, torture, extortion and malicious prosecution of Promise Ezeama, a student of Nwafor Orizu College of Education, Nsugbe (NOCEN), Anambra East Local Government Area.

The Forum in a petition addressed to CP Abang, dated 10th February, 2020 and made available to our correspondent stated that the investigation had become necessary so as to ascertain what happened and ensuring that the accused police officers were appropriately disciplined if found culpable.

PSPF noted that it had received information from the said Promise Ezeama as follows; “That on Saturday, February 2, 2020, at about 2:00 am he and two of his fellow students and hostel mates, were on their way back to their lodge (students’ hostel) after an Orientation Program organized by the college for its year one students, of which they were part;

“That they were close to the entrance gate of their hostel at Abata Nsugbe – a stone’s throw from Ugoo Hotel and Suit, where the Orientation took place, when they saw a flash (light) and he, assuming that the light came from members of the street vigilante group, immediately put on his phone torch-light and directed it to his face to show his face.

“That when the people approached them, it turned out that they were officers of the Special Anti-Cultism Squad (SPACS) of the Inland Town Onitsha Annex Office dressed in Polo shirts with inscription ‘SPACS’ and they asked them ‘who among you is Uche?’ to which they answered that none of them was Uche and told them their own names;

“That one of the officers in the Police van asked their colleagues who had accosted Promise and his colleagues:  ‘Confirmed?’ to which the officers replied ‘Confirmed!’

“That they tried to explain to the policemen where they were coming from, but the policemen told them that they knew where they were coming from because they were the ones they were waiting for;

“That the policemen put them in handcuffs and he – Promise- asked if he could make a call, thereupon the officers immediately confiscated their phones;

“That he asked them if he could call the Caretaker of their hostel, and the officers called the Caretaker Chidubem and asked him if he could identify the boys and he confirmed that they are students and residents of the lodge and he is the Caretaker;

“That the officers told the Caretaker to come the next morning to Inland Town Police Station, Onitsha and take them if they are found not guilty;

“That as they entered the Police Van, they saw three other arrested young men also in handcuffs;

“That from there the policemen drove them around to other areas of Abata Nsugbe and later parked at a place leaving them in the Van with some policemen while others went about hunting for other young people to arrest;

“That the policemen came back few minutes later with one Mr. Israel and as they approached the Police Van with Israel, the ones with them in the vehicle asked again ‘Confirmed?’ and the ones coming with Israel responded ‘Confirmed!

“That as Israel joined them in the Van, handcuffed, he narrated to them how the policemen knocked on his door and on opening his door, he saw some men surrounding his house and his first thought was that they were kidnappers;

“That they were altogether seven (7) in number and were driven to Inland town Police station Onitsha at some minutes to 3 a.m.; and the Police men started to interrogate them,  ordered them to put off their dresses and every other thing they had on before they were put in the cell;

“That the cells were filled with other young people similarly arrested from Nkpor and environs who said they were also simply picked up and falsely labeled ‘cultists’;

“That at about 9 a.m., the ‘Anti-cult’ operatives brought them out and started torturing them; that in his own case they repeatedly asked him the cult group he belonged to, and he insistently denied belonging to any cult group;

“That his interrogators decided that he must ‘confess’ and then handcuffed his hands and legs, joined them together at his back, bending him backwards with his chest protruding, and then hung him on a ceiling hook suspending him like a barbecue, which caused him severe pain and suffering;

“That while he hung in that very unbearably painful position, his ‘interrogators’ used the side of a long cutlass to hit him repeatedly, inflicting injuries all over his body and that at that point, he could no longer bear the pain and had to choose from the list of cult groups presented to him by his torturers because they insisted he must choose the one he belongs to; and he ‘confessed’ that he belongs to the Buccaneers;

“That having ‘confessed’ that he belonged to the Buccaneers, the commander of the Squad ordered his men to untie and bring him down, which they did, leaving him only in handcuff and took him to a room to seat and finish his statement;

“That they asked him who initiated him into the cult and he still told them that he is not a cultist, and that this earned him a ‘thunderous slap’ that made him ‘see stars’ and at this point he was forced to mention his Caretaker- Chidubem, who was the only person that came to his mind at that moment even though he knew that his Caretaker knows nothing about Cultism;

“That they asked him where he was initiated and he told them at their lodge; they asked him the date he was initiated and he simply told them that it was in September when he newly came to the school;

“That later, when the Caretaker came to see him and possibly take him on bail, the commander called him and told him that “the show don cast” and immediately, ordered his men to torture him as well;

“That the policemen asked the Caretaker why he initiated him into the cult and this terribly shocked the Caretaker because he’s innocent; they told the Caretaker many other terrible things they falsely claimed that he (Promise) said about him, to his (Caretaker’s) bewilderment;

“That when his Caretaker asked him in the presence of the policemen  if he actually told them that he initiated him into Cultism, he answered in tears that he had to say that out of pains and fear that he may die if he didn’t accept all that the policemen were asking him to confess to under intense torture. He stated again that he is not a cultist and that his Caretaker couldn’t have initiated him;

“That the Policemen claimed that he was lying against them insisting that he made all the confessions voluntarily- without any one of them touching him;

“That they ordered him and his Caretaker to lie down and they started to flog them ‘mercilessly’ with machetes until the Commander ordered them again to take all of them back into the cell;

“That later at night, his landlady sent some people who came with the sum of N100,000 demanded by the policemen as a condition to release the Caretaker;

“That he and the others were not allowed to contact any one until two days later when they handed them back their seized phones and asked them to call their people to come and ‘bail’ them;

“That he first made a post on his WhatsApp status about his current situation and location and also posted in his village WhatsApp group, and some other groups he belongs to and then called some of his people to inform them of his ordeal and whereabouts;

“That his sister came on the evening of the next day, but the policemen asked her to go and come back the next day which she did and they told her that her brother had confessed being a ‘cultist’ which she vehemently disputed but they told her not to vouch for him;

“That the officers demanded the sum of N200,000 to release him but her sister pleaded and they came down to N100,000 as the least they would accept to release him;

“That it was in the process of looking for who to borrow money from to give to the policemen to free her brother that she met a friend who directed her to a human rights lawyer based in Onitsha, Justus Ijeoma who told her not to pay any dime to the Police for bail and then undertook to step in to secure his freedom;

“That owing to his sister’s failure to come up with the money demanded by the policemen to grant him bail, and following the lawyer’s calls inquiring about the case from both the IPO and the OC, they decided to charge him to court on the 4th of February, 2020;

“That very early around 7:30 they eventually took only three of them- excluding his Caretaker who supposedly initiated him into Cultism and others who paid money to be released –   and headed to Court without giving them notice and opportunity to contact their lawyers;

“That on their way to the Court, he asked the Police officers, how they could contact their lawyers to come and stand for them in court, and one of the officers, Jegede said to him that they can ‘buy any lawyer in the Court once we get there’.

“That another one of the ‘Anti-cultism’ policemen simply known as ‘Ala Owerri’ told him inside the Court that he ‘will see hell in the prison where they will take us to if this court did not hold as he is wishing’.

“That, fortunately, before their case was called up, his lawyer, Justus Ijeoma arrived in Court and at his instance, the Magistrate first called the parties to interview them in chambers and after the interview, ‘Ala Owerri’, again told him that if he knew that a good lawyer would appear for them, ‘he would have shot me on the leg and used that as evidence”.

“That operatives of the Anti-Cultism Squad are like predators, regularly hunting for young boys like preys every day arresting, labeling them cultists, detaining and torturing them to ‘confess’ and pay money for bail or they are charged to court, if they fail to pay.

“That all the female police officers at the station ‘really treated us like their own sons…. They showed kindness to us and always pray for our safe realise’ (sic).”

PSPF however observed that it was aware that the CP Anambra State Command, Mr. John Abang had often expressed zero tolerance for corruption and human rights violations by police officers in the state and had seized every opportunity to caution and admonish officers under the command to always conduct themselves professionally, shun corruption and respect the rights of citizens.

It also recalled that the CP recently commissioned a statement taking room at SARS Awkuzu as one of the measures to monitor and check torture of suspects in custody during interrogation by police officers.

It therefore noted that the alleged actions of the OC Anti Cultism and his men, if found to be true, would be at variance with the CP’s stance on police conduct adding that the alleged conducts generally undermined police discipline and professional code of conduct as they brought the Police into utter disrepute, create public resentment and deepen negative public perception, trust and cooperation.

“PSPF respectfully calls on the CP Anambra to order a prompt, impartial and exhaustive investigation with a view to ascertaining what happened and ensuring that the accused police officers are appropriately disciplined if found culpable”, it concluded.

Photo: Anambra State Commissioner of Police, CP John Abang.

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