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- ‘We drank our urine to quench thirst in SARS cell’ – SARS Victim
- Suspects were murdered daily in execution-style killings
This is going to be unusually lengthy for my piece but, it is necessary to enable a comprehensive understanding of the modus operandi of Awkuzu Sars under CSP James Nwafor. I will try as much as possible to narrow it down to the essential points.
My coming in contact with the outfit started on August 1st 2013, when my Upper class hotel was demolished. One the very date, I drove into my hotel from my residence at around 7.30 in the morning. Minutes after that, a truck load of Police men arrived and surrendered my hotel. It did not take long before the crowd started gathering outside of the hotel as I looked through my office window.
It took sometime before some of the police officers walked into my office with Dr Justin Nwankwo. My other hotel staff has already been beaten to a pulp down stairs. I introduced myself and they said that they wanted to search the whole of the hotel premises and I said no problem.
We started from the last floor of the hotel, room after room and most of the rooms were occupied by guests that are mostly traders from Cameron. We finally got to the first floor but before then, one of the officers had demanded that we show them room 102.
When we got to room 102, the door was locked and I turned and asked Dr Nwankwo Justin whether a guest paid for the room the day before and he said yes. I asked about the manifest of the hotel lodging and he said that he had submitted the police copy to SCIB at the Central Police station Onitsha which every hotel is obligated to do before 7A.M. every day. I instructed him to bring our own copy which he hurriedly did and we showed it to the police. The guest gave his name as John Obi.
The officers insisted on breaking the door and I pleaded with them to wait for the guest for some time. the customers of Upper class hotel are predominantly traders from Cameron and Niger republic and that they carry a lot of cash with them. That has been the case since 1974 the hotel was built because of its nearness to main market Onitsha.
Before I could finish, they broke the door and entered the room. We saw black polyethylene bags ( waterproof) all over the room with an open suitcase. The officers then opened the wardrobe and brought out a bag. Inside the bag was two human skulls with sand all over them and two rusted and unservicable AK47 guns.
I was promptly leg chained on both legs and Dr Justin Nwankwo was handcuffed. I was taken to the outside corridor of the hotel and made to kneel down while holding the exhibits and they took pictures. At that point, from the faces I saw amongst the crowd with axes and matchet, I then knew where the whole incident came from, Hazzard of land business along with motor park duel.
By the time I was led downstairs, practically most of the police officers has all headed back to the station with the exception of the ones that accompanied me. The crowd were surging to clearly mob me. Luckily for me, I came to the office with my Q56 infinity SUV and the leg chain gave me some space to drive.
As I entered my SUV and started the Engine and pushed down the vehicle auxiliary, I turned around to the police officers and told them that I already know what happens and that if the crowd rushes at me, I will fill up the MORTUARY at the general hospital Onitsha including myself. As I surged on, one of the police officers opened the vehicle door and started firing rapidly in the air. That pretty well saved me and some of those people.
From the Area command Onitsha, we headed to Awkuzu Sars with Csp James Nwafor and his team. Dr Justin Nwankwo and the staff were packed in one vehicle while I myself, Csp James Nwafor and three other Sars officers were in another vehicle .
When we got to the present ROAD SAFETY office along the Enugu/Onitsha, before you get to Awkuzu Sars, James Nwafor turned around and said to me:
1. You will never see that hotel again.
2. He will kill me whether I am innocent or
or not and that, if I am innocent,
may my blood be on him and his
When we then entered Awkuzu proper, Dr Justin Nwankwo was kept in their torture hall while I was taken behind the torture hall where James Nwafor mostly does his killing. Behind the very torture hall , I was chained to a local weight lifting device . After some period James Nwafor came back with some officers along with one other officer I latter discovered to be his deputy by name Csp Sunday Okpe.
Sunday Okpe inspected the exhibits for some time and asked me the following questions:
1. Where the exhibits recovered in my office and I said no, it was recovered in a guest room.
2. Do we have hotel manifest and I answered yes that we submitted the police copy early in the morning but that my manager has a duplicate copy.
He inspected the exhibits yet again and said that the skulls looks old and that the guns has not been in use for a long time, why all in one bag he asked while the rest looks on. As a turned to leave, he muttered; this looks like mago mago.
His observation did not stop James Nwafor. Not long after that, one of the officers came back with an already written statement and I was asked to sign. I refused saying that I am quite capable of writing my own statement.
My torture commenced immediately. I was overpowered and my shirt was removed from me. They then wrapped my neck with the shirt and then followed it will a green rope and they started pulling from both ends. Gentlemen I was gone. They then appended my thumprint on the prepared statement that substantiated the allegations against me. Meanwhile Dr Justin Nwankwo was seeing hell in the torture hall.
When I eventually regained consciousness, I found myself in their death chamber called cell 5. It is the cell that is reserved for those James Nwafor will kill. Congested and extremely dirty. Food is not allowed in the very Cell unless periodic loafs of bread which is shared in slices. One bucket of water every day for drinking.
The shock of my life happened on the second or the third day of being in the very cell 5. There is this small boy of between the age of 19 and 22, a second year Engineering student of FUTO. He calls me uncle. He told me that he is an only son of the mother and that his supremely rich uncle, based in lagos wanted to annex his own father’s portion of family land and that his father is late. His resistance against the uncle landed him at Sars as a kidnapper and armed robber.
Then, it was either in the second or third night of my staying in the condemned cell, the door of the cell opened late one night. What I saw was a touch light. Names were being called one after the other, 17 names in all including the small boy and they were ordered out and the door closed back.
It did not take more than 15 minutes, gunshots filled the air, nne moh nne moh is all I could hear. The 17 young men were slaughtered cold blood.
I lost it that night. My system just shut down.
It was either the 4th or 5th day that the door opened one morning and it was the same Sunday Okpe that called my name and told me to come out. No energy was left in me because I have not eaten real food except periodic slices of bread. He bought me something to eat along with a malt drink.
I was subsequently transferred to cell 1. After some days, I was called into James Nwafor’s office to see my wife and my lawyer professor Umenweke Nnama Meshach. I tried to get Dr. Justin Nwankwo to join me but they refused.
As time went on, I discovered that the case has hanged because there was no complainant. Even James Nwafor voiced out some frustration when he said, the hotel demolition was too fast. This is the same person that told me that I will never see the hotel again.
He became unusually friendly towards me but I knew it was a damage control .The latitude then allowed me to study what truly obtains at the AWKUZU Sars. I witnessed some of the tortures and I became aware of some their cases along with what really happens in the place.
1. I witnessed an incident when a young trading apprentice was arrested by Sars on behalf of the master over a missing 250,000 or thereabout . He broke his spinal cord and died when he was subjected to what they call HANGING TORTURE. He was written off as an armed robber.
2. I witnessed an incident during what they call verification excise or something like that. All the inmates will be brought out in the open yard and all will be seated on the ground. When your name is called, you will stand up and answer some questions. There is this boy that was called up and James Nwafor asked him; Are you from Ogidi ? before the boy could finish saying no, James shot him with a silver coloured pistol which is always with him. The boy bled to death right there.
3. I also witnessed the practice of shifting inmates in the middle of the night to Nneni for the purposes of dodging official inspection of the place. Nneni Sars annex is another abattoir. Starvation of inmates and outright shooting is the rule their. If the government undertakes the excavation of the perimeter of the Nneni anex, The Ezu river will be a joke compared to what will be discovered.
I saw other killings at the very place. Every morning, the inmates of CELL 1 will be called to carry a dead body or two behind the torture hall. Any individual that has been detained by Sars for an extended period of time will tell you exactly that.
Let me clarify an issue here. Csp James Nwafor does not release proven kidnappers or armed robbers, he kills them but, with a negotiated huge amount of money, James will at most, charge the person to court. Outright release of the person is off as far as I know.
What I also know is that, he can be bought to do a particular job, death inclusive, if the price is right.
Let me stop here but there are more details. If the government of the day is desirous of appeasing the victims of Sars, the government should offer immunity to some officers that served under James Nwafor and they will lead investigators to the exact location of corpse dump in the vicinity of Nneni. Some of the Sars victims can at least recover the body of their loved ones for burial.
Under the Anambra state government modus of public bidding for motor parks, James Nwafor participated in the process while on active duty.
There is a motor park at the Upper Iweka of Onitsha called the Ogbaru park. James Nwafor, in partnership with another private individual ( I do not want to mention his name) secured the management of the very motor park. One man named Darlington from the same town as James Nwafor that resides at Asaba, represented the interest of James Nwafor.
Now, within the very period, the Ogbaru youths resented the contracting of the park to a non indigen and hence, regular disturbance in the park was the norm. What James Nwafor did was to dispatch a team of his officers to the park and a number of the Ogbaru youths were killed in the confrontation and they were labelled armed robbers and kidnappers. This incident happened some years back.
There is this case of one Chukwudi Enebeli , an Onitsha native . Him and some other people were brought into the AWKUZU sars one late night. One of the people was shot dead the very night by Csp James Nwafor. Chukwudi Enebeli is one huge black individual but he became practically a cripple after 3 days of extensive torture and was unable to eat for days. His hands were gone, the legs gone. It usually takes 4 inmates to lift and move him from one point to the other .
I was so touched by his state that I requested and got approval from Csp Sunday Okpe, the deputy to James Nwafor and a doctor was brought in to be treating him and I paid for the whole expenses until he became reasonably better. I doubt if he will ever recover fully. The problem I had with Chukwudi is that, he finishes the food my wife brings for me because of his size. Before I know it he will finish the whole food.
James Nwafor at some period, had more than 30 private vehicles which he parked in his Abakiliki village. If James Nwafor kills a suspect, and the suspect has a vehicle, James Nwafor automatically converts the vehicle to his. Some of the vehicles may still be at his village.
Efforts should also be made to trace the hotel he built at Owerri under the proceed of crime recovery. The Sars officer under him , that gave me the information then lost contact with me and hence I was unable to effectively trace the hotel.
Gentlemen let it all be a lesson that, Onitsha residents are not all the derogatory traders that we are labelled. Some are quite capable of making you to look like the derogatory trader. Just do not run into any of them.
- ‘We drank our urine to quench thirst in SARS cell’ – SARS Victim
As the ‘EndSARS’ campaign continues to sweep across the nation, a 23-year-old man has recounted his horrifying encounter with operatives of the Special Anti- Robbery Squad (SARS), Awkuzu, in Anambra State. It was learnt that some SARS operatives had been threatening the young man and because of this, his real name is concealed.
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 would be called “Chijindu”. Chijindu was arrested on February 13, 2017, in Anambra State, after he was accused of stealing a laptop. He 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 further 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.
Chijindu 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 a 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 moved 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 shouted the more. 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 teargassed again, but this time with another kind of teargas; this one was wrapped. The policemen then locked the suspects 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 realized that it was a death sentence.’
He continued: “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 don rotten; no need to carry go Akwuzu, make we bury am for 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 Tochukwu give up his last breath . 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 non-inked written information on how to locate his sister and the direction to his home in Nnewi which he had managed to scribble with a piece of broken broom stick. The young man fulfilled his promise; he located the home and family of Chijindu. He disclosed to them, the horror the young men were passing through in SARS detention facilities. Chijindu family contacted some 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 Rights 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’s phone was on speaker. The OC accused them of giving us food, an accusation which the SO denied. Then the SO and his men brought all of us out and started flogging us. They were mad at me. They searched everywhere, looking for writing materials or phone, with which I communicated to the outside world. They couldn’t find anything. They threatened to bring me out and “finish” me. On April 24, 2017, around 9:30pm, some policemen came to Neni and took me to Awkuzu.
The following day, which was a Tuesday, policemen brought me out to the see the OC SARS. The OC asked me if I was Chijindu, I said yes. He openly expressed shock that I survived Neni. The OC then asked me whether I had eaten anything, I said no. He asked me what I wanted to eat, I told him that I wanted liquid as I found it very difficult to swallow. He asked them to go and get me tea with bread. The following day they took me to Magistrate’s Court at Nteje.” When Chijindu was arraigned, it was discovered that there was no complainant, no witness. He also didn’t have legal representation. The police charged him for armed robbery.
The Magistrate referred the case to High court. The New Telegraph Newspaper, had earlier chronicled an award-winning piece on the killings of suspects and other atrocities committed by SARS men across Nigeria. The chronicle was recognized and applauded by the Wole Soyinka Centre of Investigative Journalism. The atrocities in SARS had spanned many Inspectors-Generals of Police, but it is on record, that former IGP, Solomon Arase rose against such horrendous activities. It was also during his administration that some SARS men were dismissed for killing detainees and other shocking acts. Immediately Arase left office, the Force went back to its old ways of flagrant impunity. An Amnesty International Nigeria spokesperson, Mr Damian Ugwu, reacting to those support SARS activities, said: ‘It was disheartening to see pictures of young man and women in Port Harcourt and Abuja, carrying banners in support of SARS. I often wonder how far some Nigerians are willing to go to survive. Most worrisome is that some people who claimed to represent Anambra State were also part of the charade. For the record Anambra State is the home of SARS Awkuzu.’ According to Amnesty International, detainees were subjected to ‘horrific torture methods, including hanging, starvation, beatings, shootings and mock executions, at the hands of corrupt SARS officers.’
Ugwu, said: ‘A police unit created to protect the people has instead become a danger to society, torturing its victims with complete impunity while fomenting a toxic climate of fear and corruption. Our research has uncovered a pattern of ruthless human rights violations where victims are arrested and tortured until they either make a ‘confession’ or pay officers a bribe to be released. Most of the time, huge amounts ranging from ₦100,000 to even ₦500,000 was paid to secure the release of some of those detained. Failure to meet such huge financial demands meant imminent death while in detention. The SARS officers are getting rich through their brutality because as you can see, it seems that torture has become a lucrative business.’
Amnesty International said it found 130 detainees living in overcrowded cells at a SARS detention in Abuja known as the ‘Abattoir’. Investigation has showed that people detained by SARS, are often not allowed access to a lawyer, a doctor or family members while in incarceration. Yet in various cases where victims of police torture or other ill-treatment attempted to seek justice, the authorities took no action. ‘It is time for the authorities to ensure that officers responsible for such human rights violations are finally held accountable. There is also an urgent need for robust legislation that ensures all acts of torture are offences under Nigeria’s criminal law,’ said Ugwu.
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