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Monday, April 22, 2024

In Anambra, Man Recounts Ordeal As Police Arrest, Extort People Who Went Out on Sit-at-home Day

 

By Izunna Okafor, Awka

Police officers in Anambra State have been accused of Illegally arresting and extorting some residents of the State who were going about their normal businesses.

The alleged illegality of the officers became known after some posts and publications from some concerned residents of the State and some of the victims of the acts. The alarming publications alleged that the officers were coming out at about 8.pm throughout last week, to hunt for innocent residents, whom they would arrest, after which they would take them to the station and bill every one of them the sum of ₦20,000, to release them, without telling them what their offences were. The reports further alleged that those who paid the demanded amount would be released, while those victims could not pay would be detained in the cell till each of them got someone who would come to bail them.

It was gathered that the act was being perpetrated by the Divisional Police Officer and other junior police officers attached to the B Division, Awka, Anambra capital.

Coincidentally, the officers began and ended this operation in the week that a self-acclaimed Biafra agitator, Simon Ekpa declared a week-long sit-at-home in all the five South-eastern states, thereby making many residents to wonder whether the police were actually helping to enforce Ekpa’s sit-at-home in Anambra State or something else. It is also a known fact that Anambra State Government currently does not have any curfew imposed or any movement restriction in force in the State.

Investigations by this reporter revealed that the officers were also harassing and subjecting some the victims to various forms of inhumane treatments and torture as they arrested them, in the process of which many of them sustained varied degrees of injuries. Many of the victims were also said to have lost some of their belongings in the process of their arrest, torture, and detention. It was also gathered that the victims were all males, and were arrested at some of the ever-busy areas in the Awka Metropolis, including Aroma Junction, Regina Caeli Junction, and UNIZIK Temp. Site Junction.

Recounting his ugly experience in the hands of the officers, one of the victims said he lost his brand new phone in the course of his arrest, and also spent a restless night in the mosquito-infested cell of the B Division on Thursday, July 6, 2023. He also confessed to have received four hot slaps and some heavy punches from the DPO who led the operation —all in one night.

According to him, he was arrested at about 9:20pm that Thursday, where he went to buy some fruits at the UNIZIK Temp. Site. He said his arrest process began with a hot slap he received from behind, courtesy of the DPO, who accosted him where he was standing before the roadside fruit seller.

He said as he turned to see who was slapping him and ask why, he saw a man with gun, pointing him to go to the other side the road and join others to lie down on the grounds.

“I was buying fruit, I didn’t even know that someone was behind me; and the person just slapped me from behind and asked me to go down. At the corner, the officer was pointing that I should go down. I was now asking him what my offence was. Immediately that time, I told him that I would like to contact and speak with my lawyer. Before I could finish saying that, the officer slapped me again, telling me that I was mentioning lawyer in his matter,” he said.

Continuing, he said: “The officer pushed me, and pointed at one angle on the other side of the road. So, when I now looked that side, I saw about about 20 or 30 guys already lying down on the ground there while police officers surrounded them. So, I had to obey him and lie down. And, after about some minutes, they started packing us into their vehicles.”

Mr. Igwenagu said the officers had three Sienna bus fully loaded with Illegally-arrested persons, with whom he was driven to the Divisional Police Headquarters (B Division, Awka) that night. He said the officers also arrested a food seller at the UNIZIK Junction and some of the customers who went to buy food at his shop, and also arrested some tricyclists.

He recounted how he pleaded the officers to allow him lock his car which he didn’t lock when he came down to buy fruits or to drive the car to the station as well; all to know avail, as the officers never gave him a listen ear, let alone granting his request. Hence, his car remained unlocked at the road side where he parked it, while the officers piled them up in the Sienna buses and drove them to the B Division. He, however, said his car usually locked itself automatically when left unlocked for about 15 minutes.

Mr. Igwenagu further narrated how they were offloaded in the police cell at the B Division, and said some of his co-victims were released that night after each of them must have paid certain amount of money for their bail. He said it was there at the station that he eventually got to know that the man who slapped him earlier was the DPO. He said he discovered this after having another encounter with him at the station, as he (the DPO) slapped him two more times and punched him for complaining and making request about his car that was parked unlocked. He said he attempted to evade or defend himself from the DPO’s punches right there at the station.

“After that encounter, he told me that I would remain in the cell till Tuesday. It was then that people started telling me that the man was the DPO, and that I had bought additional trouble for myself by wedging off the punches he threw at me” he said.

The victim, who recalled that he left one of his brand new phones inside his car where he parked it that night, said he never saw the phone again till date. He said it was his mechanic whom he contacted with his other phone that helped him to go and drive home his car the following morning from where he parked it, as the car spent the on road side, while he himself spent ghey night in the police cell with fat mosquitos that feasted sumptuously on them.

On how he eventually came out, the victim who recently finished his National Diploma at the Federal Polytechnic Oko, Anambra State, said he texted his mother that night with his other phone when policemen temporarily gave them their phones they seized, to contact their relatives to bring money for their release. He said his phone went off shortly after texting his mother, and remained off till the following morning when he borrowed power bank from a female police officer to power the phone and re-establish contact from his family members who eventually came and paid for his release. He said was not released immediately after the payment, but was delayed till evening when the DPO came to the office, and before his lawyer could get to the station.

Asked how much his people paid to buy his release, the victim said the bargaining started from ₦30,000 till it finally ended at ₦15,000, in addition to ₦3000 his uncle paid to three other female police officers, as he was requested to do after signing the bail form. He, however, said that his aunty, a powerful politician in Anambra State, had earlier contacted the State Police Headquarters on the matter, which, he said, might be the reason he did not pay higher than what he eventually paid.

Mr. Igwenagu further said that he never ate nor drank throughout the long hours he stayed in the cell; while his sister who was on her way to his house that night for a visit became stranded, as she could no longer communicate him or find where to spend the night.

“The experience was horrible. I had never been arrested before. But thank God I’m finally out shàá,” he said.

When contacted by this reporter, Izunna Okafor, the Public Relations Officer of the Anambra State Police Command, DSP Ikenga Tochukwu, called on the victims to come to his office at Anambra State Police Command headquarters, Awka, so that the Command would better understand what happened.

“Let the victims come forward, please. I want to use this opportunity to invite them to my office, the PPRO office at Anambra State Police Command headquarters, Awka. This will help us to know what transpired,” he said in a message to this reporter.

On her own part, the Zonal Public Relations Officer, Zone 13 Ukpo, SP Josephine Ihunwo, said the Command was investigating the allegation.

“Thank you for this observation. Be rest assured that action will be taken immediately. The Command is investigating this, as fast as possible now, please,” she said.

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