By Arinze CHIJIOKE
IN this report, Arinze Chijioke tells the story of how the Police in Enugu arrested nine innocent people and charged them with murder, including a 14-year-old boy whose age was changed to 18 so he could be tried and incarcerated.
BY December 9, Chigozie Nebo will be 15 years old, according to a birth certificate obtained from his parents and confirmation from Mother of Christ Specialist Hospital, Ogui-Enugu hospital where he was born on the 9th December, 2006.
But for over 1 month and 13 days, he was held in the clinic inside the Enugu prison (Corrections Facility) after he was arrested on allegation of murder and had his age changed from 14 to 18 years by the Police to enable them charge him to court.
He had earlier spent 3 days inside the cell at the Enugu State criminal Investigation Department, (CID).
Chigozie was one of the nine people arrested on Monday May 31, on allegations that they murdered three police officers and damaged one Hilux Van belonging the Nigeria Police Force.
According to the charge sheet on the matter obtained by The ICIR, Chigozie Nebo, alongside; Gospel Ebitomeren, Odike Somto, Ubong Sunday, Ani Chikwado, Anselem Okoro, Asai John, Chinedu Agbo, Chidubem Eje and others at large, on the 31 day of May at Mbgemene Roundabout, Ogui Enugu within the Enugu North Magisterial District “unlawfully killed inspectors Ibiang Okoi, Sunday Eze and Sergeant Omaiye M and thereby committed an offence punishable under section 274 of the criminal code Cap 30 Vol II Revised law of Enugu State of Nigeria 2004”.
The sheet also had it that the suspects “unlawfully and maliciously damaged one Toyota Hilux van with registration number NPF3755D property of the Nigerian Police Force and thereby committed an offence punishable under section 415 (1) of the criminal code Cap 30 Vol II Revised law of Enugu State of Nigeria 2004”.
However, contrary to allegations by the police that they conspired among themselves and unlawfully killed the officers at Mgbemene Roundabout, Ogui Enugu, investigation shows that the victims were rounded up at a different location- near the Artisan Quarters where one of the police officers was allegedly killed.
While eight of the suspects were finally acquitted and the case dismissed on Friday, July 16 with no case to answer as there was no sufficient evidence to establish that they committed the crime, one of them- Gospel Ebitomeren, was held because he was said to have maliciously damage the Toyota Hilux van belonging to the police. He was later released on bail.
Those who shared their experience with The ICIR describe their journey from the point of arrest to detention in police cell and to the prison as horrible. The victims continue to count their losses.
Chigozie’s Journey from detention to Enugu prison
“It was around 8:00 am on May 31.
I had woken up and was inside my room when a group of boys came and told my wife that my son had been arrested, Mr. Nebo Godfrey, Chigozie’s father told The ICIR inside his compound at No 54 Artisan Quarters, Enugu.
Like other children, 14-year-old Chigozie had woken up that morning and did some house chores, after which he was asked to go and throw waste. It was the day set aside by the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB as sit-at-home.
The sit-at-home was a day designed to remember the over five million Igbo people who died during the three years of civil war between the defunct Biafra and Nigeria.
After throwing the waste, Chigozie walked towards a direction where a group of people were gathered- where the police officer was killed. He wanted to find out what had happened. As soon as he got the location, a group of policemen arrived and bundled him into their van.
“As soon as my wife told me what the boys had said, I went out and saw several police officers gathered at the main road”, a teary Nebo said. “There were more than 10 Hilux Vans”.
When he tried to find out why his son was arrested, one of the officers immediately cocked his gun and threatened to shoot him if he did not move backwards.
“I ran back home. But my mind was troubled. I came out again and most of the officers had left. I saw two other police officers and wanted to find out where they had taken him to,“ he said.
It was at this point that one of the officers asked him to come.
“When I got to him, he asked me what the problem was and I told him that my son was just arrested and that I wanted to know who did and where he was taken to,” Nebo explained.
The officer told Nebo that it was the police that arrested his son and that he should go to the CID to find him. Nebo left the scene and went back home. The next day, he went to the headquarters.
When he got to the CID, he met two officers who led him into the police cell where he saw his son. He said the officers wanted to help get him out because he was only a teenager
“But they did not know how to go about it since it was the Commissioner of Police, CP Ndatsu Aliyu, who led the team that carried out the arrest, “he said.
“They asked me to go and find someone who knows the CP. I did know anybody”.
On Thursday, four days after the arrest, he was summarily tried at the Mobile Court close to the Police Headquarters and had the charges of murder and malicious damage read out to him.
He was remanded in prison custody the same day.
Health threatened, education stalled
For two days, Chigozie- who was asthmatic before his arrest- was held in the confines of the prison till the controller came and saw him asked the workers who had brought him.
“He wanted to get my son out of the centre. But when he looked through the warrant of arrest and saw that the police had changed his age from 14 to 18 years, he became weak,” Nebo explained.
The controller gave order that Chigozie be taken to the Clinic inside the prison where he will remain till the police who had brought him come to take him. With the order, it became easier for Nebo to see his son each time he came to the clinic.
One day when Nebo visited his son, he discovered he was weak. His body was hot. Nebo said they gave him some drugs and he also bought inhaler and other drugs for him.
“I fear for his health inside the clinic “he said.
Before he was arrested, Chigozie had registered to take his Junior School Certificate Examination also known as Basic Education Certification Exam (BECE) at the Government Technical School, GTC Enugu. He was taking classes ahead of the exams.
Chigozie always told his father that he was tired of being held in the clinic inside the facility and that he wanted to go back home and prepare for his exams.
On another occasion when his father went to visit him, Chigozie asked him to go to his school and confirm the date for his examination. He wanted to know how much time he had left to study for his exams.
Before his son was released, Nebo said he paid more N180,000 to the lawyers who handled the case in court. After he was released, Nebo took his son to the hospital at Railway Quarter so he can be given treatment on infection.
“I will also get him Antibiotics to avoid any disease he must have contracted while he was held in detention, he said.
When he gets well, Chigozie will resume lessons again ahead of his exams in August.
In order to verify the details contained in Chigozie’s birth certificate, this reporter visited his birth place, Mother of Christ Specialist Hospital, Enugu.
Together with the hospital management, this reporter checked the medical records and confirmed that Chigozie was born on the December 9, 2006. This means that he is 14 years and will be 15 by December and not 18 as claimed by the police.
Job lost after arrest, detention
Before he was arrested, 31-year-old Ubong Sunday managed a Barbecue business where he earned 20,000 monthly. It was hardly enough to feed his wife, Bright and his 1-year-old son, Destiny, but they managed.
On the morning of May 31, he went out to buy pap (Akamu) for his son. He had gone to work the previous day. On his way out, he saw where people gathered around a police van and went to know what was happening.
“That was when policemen came and started shooting” Ubong said.
“They arrested me and said I committed murder”.
Before he was bundled into the van, Sunday showed the officers the money he had on him and explained to them that he had come out to get food for his child.
“But they did not want to hear whatever he had to say,” he said. “They used their gun to hit my shoulder before they finally tied my hand and put me inside their van,”.
When they got to the CID, Sunday said he, alongside others who were arrested, were put inside the women cell because other cells were packed full already. He said they had to bring the women out and kept them behind the counter for the three days they spent inside the cell.
On the fourth day, after he was tried at the Mobile court, he was remanded in prison where he spent over a month and 13 days.
“At the court, they only read the charges and we were taken to prison,” he explained.
After the arrest, it became difficult for Sunday’s wife to feed herself and her son. She had to depend entirely on contributions from neighbours and friends. She was asked to get a lawyer on one of the occasions when she went to see her husband. But the lawyer she met asked her to pay 50,000 to get his service.
“I didn’t have the money “she said. “I even called his aged mother and told her what happened. But she could not do anything because she does not have the money. I pray for his release”.
After he was released, Sunday went back to the shop where he was working only to learn that the owner of the business had sold everything he was using for the Barbecue business.
“He had travelled and left me with the business and I was managing it alone,” Sunday said.
“When he came back and did not find me working, he decided to close up and now, I don’t have any job”.
The prison experience
Sunday hates to speak about his experience in the prison. From the beatings he received to overcrowding to poor sanitary condition and poor feeding, he said though the experience is etched in his memory, he is never comfortable to talk about it.
Because there was no money, he had to stop his wife from bringing food inside the cell for him.
“All I thought of was my family,” he said. He had to depend on the food other people brought and money from people who visited us.
On the first day he got into N ward, the cell where he was kept, Sunday said he was beaten by other inmates. He said the beating continued till after some days.
Throught the days he spent inside the prison, Sunday hardly slept a wink at night because of the crowd. He said they were more than 150 inside the cell and it was always hot.
“We were packed like animals,” he said “It was hard to breath”.
He said it was common for inmates to take hard drugs such as cocaine inside the prison but that he could not explain how they manage to get the drugs into the cell.
“Before me, two people once slumped after they took some hard drugs,” he said. “Their mouth was foaming”.
He explained that the prison warders always came to inform inmates about the presence of visitors and the need for them to hide whatever they had on them.
Each time he wanted to come outside and walk around, Sunday parted with N200. But when he had visitors, he did not have to pay.
When he returned home, he discovered he had been infected as a result of the poor sanitary condition inside the prison. But with no job now, he no money to treat himself. He said he was even more worried about how to care for his family.
Eye lost to torture
17-year-old Chikwado Ani can barely see with his right eye after he was arrested, had his hands tied behind his back and beaten by a police officer.
A day before his arrest, Chikwado went to where his father works as a security man. On his way back, he saw residents inside the Artisan Quarters scampering. When he got close to the main entrance to the Quarters, he discovered it was locked.
“I saw a police van packed close to the entrance and policemen around. I did not know what the problem was,” he said.
As he turned back to enter through another location, one of the police officers threatened to shoot him. Quietly, he ran into a compound close to the gate to hide. Inside the compound, he saw others who had run for their lives.
After sometime, when Chikwado thought that the policemen had left, they came into the compound and asked the landlord to bring out those who had ran into his compound.
“That was how they brought me out and started beating me even though I told them that I was only returning from work that morning,” he said. “They tied my hand behind my back and one of them used his boot to hit my eyes”.
Chikwado was dragged into a waiting van and when they got the state CID, he and others were told to pay 100,000 if they wanted to be released. He was asked what crime he committed, insisting on his innocence.
“But they [the police] wrote whatever they wanted in the statement” he said.
As soon as he was brought into Ward D, after he was tried and remanded, the inmates started beating him and searched to see if he had any money or other valuables.
Inside the prison, Chikwado said it was always difficult to sleep at night because everywhere was crammed. He said it was one of the inmates that had to create a space for him, having seen his leg injury.
Each time he complained about chest pain or his leg, they gave him Paracetamol and Ampliclox. It was as though that was the only medication, they had to give anybody who was sick inside the prison.
When she heard that her son had been arrested, Chidinma Ani became sick. The mother of four, including three girls, said she only got to know about her son’s arrest on Sunday, July 4 when she came down from Anambra where she hawks groundnut.
“One day, I called his number and his friend picked up the call and told me that he had not seen him in a while. I became worried, “she said.
Immediately, she took a bus and came to Enugu and when she got to where Chikwado and his father live- in a shop at Old Artisan market- she was told that he had been in prison for the past one month.
Two years ago, in September, 2019, Chikwado had an accident that badly affected one of his legs. He was returning from his secondary school In Porthacourt one day when the tricycle he was in had an accident and his leg was badly injured.
“He was still recovering when he was arrested for a crime he did not commit,” she said.
Chidinma was asked to get a lawyer when she went to see her son. But she could not get one because she had spent her money trying to treat his wounds. She continued to hope that he would be released.
Chikwado’s father, 67- year-old Ani John, said his son left their workplace before him that day and that he would have been arrested too if he did not stay back.
John said it was when he got close to the house that he was told that his son had been arrested, adding that those who killed the police officer had fled the scene when the police came and started arresting people.
When Chidinma went to court on the Friday her son was acquitted, she could not hide her joy. “I don’t know what I would have done,”she said. “I am happy he is finally out”.
Ebitomeren cried everyday inside the cell
Gospel Ebitomeren, 42, went out that Monday morning with his Tricycle (Keke) to check if there was movement and if he would see people to carry to their destinations. He gave daily account to the owner of the Tricycle he had collected on hire purchase.
When he got to the road, he discovered there was no movement. He decided to return home and, on his way back, he saw another keke rider who told him he wanted to go and try to see if he would find passengers to carry.
“I decided to go out again through a different rout because I have to pay the owner of the Tricycle, “ he said. “When I got the junction, I saw a group of people gathered by the corner of the road and I decided to move closer and know what was happening”.
As he drew closer, he saw several police vans coming towards the same direction. Immediately, Ebitomeren with those who were gathered earlier, took to their heels. They ran into a compound close to where they were gathered because the gate leading into the quarters was locked.
“While inside the compound, police officers came in arrested all of us who had ran away. They tied my hand and put me into their van and took me to the state CID.”
Ebitomeren was not told the crime he committed till they got to the station and they were told they had killed police officers. He was asked to pay 100,000 if he wants to be set free. But he did not have the money.
They were taken to court and subsequently remanded in prison custody, Ebitomeren said he heard their investigating Police Officer, IPO saying that they saw a video of the scene of the murder.
“He was telling some police women over the counter that we did not kill anybody but that the court would have to decide, he said. We were taken to court and the charges were read and were taken to prison”.
The Ward G experience
As soon as Ebitomeren got into the G ward, older inmates started beating him up. He was taken to the provost- the man in charge of the cell- who told him that he would have to respect laws inside the cell.
He was also told that he had lost his rights the moment he was brought into the ward.
For two weeks, Ebitomeren said he could not sleep because everywhere was crammed. He described the G Ward as the most horrible of all the wards inside the prison.
In the number of times he slept, it was on one side of his body.
For one week, he could not take his bathe. He could not brush his teeth. And when he eventually bathe, he only used a bowl of water and always had another inmate standing behind and heating his head and asking him to be fast.
What they usually had as meals were poorly prepared beans in the morning, Rice in the afternoon hours and Garri and soup in the evening. Ebitomeren said he cried daily because of the pains he was passing through.
Every Saturday, inmates were brought out to listen to the prison rules and regulations read out by one of the leaders of the cell.
“There are over 200 laws, “he said. While the first law says you must obey before you complain, the last one says order of the provost is final”.
For any law broken, Ebitomeren said there was a monetary fine which could be 4,000, 5,000 or 6,000. If the lawbreaker cannot afford to pay the fine, the cell leadership selects an inmate who beats him up.
“They flog people like animals inside the cell,” he said.
Once every week, the prison authority comes to open the cells for inmates to come out and receive air. After three hours, they are sent back into the cell.
Before he was arrested, Ebitomeren had the responsibility of taken care of his niece, Jennifer. He had brought her down to Enugu after her father, who had 5 children, died and left her mother with the duty of taking of the children.
But while he was away in detention, thieves broke into his shop where he sold provisions and carted many of them away, making it difficult for Jennifer to sell and even feed herself.
Before he got out of prison, the owner of the Tricycle he was using for business came and took it away. “She could not wait any longer, “he said. But when she saw that the new person was not performing well, she had to call me back again to continue”.
While the murder charge against the nine suspects was dismissed, only eight of them were acquitted while Gospel Ebitomeren was released on bail because he was said to have maliciously damaged a Toyota Hilux Van belonging to the police.
He said the police told court that it was one of the nine suspects that said him (Ebitomeren) blocking the road with wood on that Monday morning. “But I have asked the said person and he said he did not tell the police anything and that they wrote the statement themselves”.
Ebitomeren trial is set to continue on the 23rd of August.
I was helpless after my husband’s arrest
Amaka John, 26, was still recovering from the loss of her child, through a major operation when her husband, John Asai was arrested by the police on allegation of murder.
She said her husband had woken up that morning and went out to repair his Tricycle tire. But rather than come back home after he was done with the repair, he saw a group of people gathered around the Hilux Van and went to know what was happening.
“That was how they arrested him, with his Tricycle tire and key” she said. “But one of his friends who went to see him and others in the facility brought back the tire days later”.
After John was arrested, life became difficult for Amaka who was only beginning to regain strength to work. She said he had been the one helping out with most of the duties at home.
Amaka has gone to the facility severally to see her husband after he was arrested. On one of the occasions when she went to visit him, he complained that he was sick. Yet, they didn’t want to let him go.
“I bought drugs for him. But they did not allow me to give it to him. I don’t know if they have given him any medication” she said.
Police Public Relations officer, Enugu State Police Command, ASP Daniel Ndukwe was contacted by this reporter for his reaction on the matter on Saturday, July 17. He responded on Wednesday, July 21 asking to know the department where the suspects were taken to when they were arrested.
When the reporter told him that it was the Commissioner of Police that handled the matter and that the nine suspects-who have been released- were locked up inside the female cell at the State CID, he asked the reporter to provide the names of the suspects.
Legal provisions about juvenile offenders
Section 2 of the 1946 Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA), which Nigeria is a signatory to, classifies Chigozie under the young people category since he Is aged 14 and is under 17 years.
The legal implication of this is that he should have been dealt with in special juvenile courts, according to the provision of S. 6 of the CYPA as cited above until the age of 17.
Proceedings for young people shall be held in rooms different from the ordinary court room. It also implies that the public are shot out from the proceedings as opposed to other civil or criminal trials.
The legal implications equally make to prohibit the identity of the child or young person. Section 16 of the CYP Act, says the words “conviction” and “sentence” are not to be used whereas S. 14 provides that provides that the courts should be staffed with people experienced in dealing with children and young persons.
It continues that no child or young person shall be ordered to be imprisoned if they can be suitably dealt with in any less serious way.