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Living with ghosts (I) : Life after encounter with police brutality in Bayelsa state

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Following the report of the Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Police Brutality and other Related Matters, set up in Bayelsa state in 2020,  Godson Etete takes an in-depth look at the aftermath of incidents of Police and Military brutality with special reference to Amassoma Community in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area where multiples persons were shot during a Niger Delta University, NDU protest.


 Loss of sight and memory due to police brutality

On November 12 2015, a 55-year-old trader, Ebimiere Evans, went to Agudama-Epie Market in Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa State and lost her sight after a police officer identified as Faustina of the Akenfa Police Division attacked her.

“I was not actually fighting with her. But she came from behind and flogged me with her belt. It was the buckle at the head of the belt that pierced into my eye bulb”, Evans told The ICIR.

Evans explains that N100 crayfish was the cause of the disagreement.

Mrs. Ebimiere Evans lost her sight to Police Brutality
Mrs. Ebimiere Evans lost her sight to Police Brutality

Evans was admitted and treated at Tobis Clinic, Akenfa. As she was discharged, with only one functional eye, she was placed on medication; however, the situation worsened as she experienced chronic headaches, loss of vision, and lack of balance whenever she tried to walk.

Eventually, she had surgery on the damaged left eye, which seemed to alleviate the pains, albeit temporarily, because by 2018, she became blind.

By then, there was no business,  no husband, or assistance from the Nigerian police; she sold landed properties to sort for medical care.

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In 2019, she was taken to Aback Eye Clinic, Akwa Ibom state where the right eye was fixed.

Evans now has to religiously take prescribed medication as well as stick to certain guidelines like not being in sun without protective glasses or going close to smoke.

***

Momebo Love-God Ignite was victorious at the Bayelsa State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Police brutality and other Related Matters. She was also a victim.

But when asked, how much was awarded to her as compensation?

Momebo could not respond because she couldn’t recall.

This occasional expression of “I cannot remember”, or “I cannot recall”, started on September 9, 2019, when she was hit on the head with a stick by a policeman.

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Ever since the young woman now experiences occasional memory loss.

On the day of the incident, Mobemo holding her two-month-old child had gone to visit her sister.

She notes that on the way, she was confronted by policemen who were looking for a suspect.

After the officers gave a description of the suspect they were looking for, with the age, the startled Momebo responded that at her age she couldn’t have given birth to a child who is a youth.

The response made one of the policemen hit her on the head with a stick, this made the baby she was holding to fall down.

While trying to pick up the now wailing child, another officer sprayed teargas, Momebo told The ICIR.

The policemen ran away.

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Momebo works as a thrift collector, the occasional memory loss means she could no longer keep a good record, and eventually, it started telling on her business, she ran into loss which her husband had to pay almost N500,000 to clear.

“People took advantage of my loss of memory and exploited me financially, even the officer that was handling my case at the police station, she recalls.

The chaos and the scattered graves

There are several graves scattered across communities in Bayelsa covering the body of individuals that died as a result of police brutality and or extra-judicial killings. One such community is Amassoma, in  Southern Ijaw Local Government Area.

Although a special anti-robbery squad – a police department has been disbanded in Nigeria, but in Amassoma, its ghost still looms. Police highhandedness has created early widowhood of young women and made children fatherless.

On May 22, 2018, a protest against what was considered by the people as “unlawful” retrenchment of workers of the Niger Delta University NDU, Wilberforce Island, Amassoma degenerated into chaos and blood bath after SARS opened fire on the protesters.

Mrs. Felagha Ayibakro loss her son, master Eze Amadi to Police Brutality
Felagha Ayibakro lost her son, Eze Amadi, to Police Brutality.

Community sources claimed that five persons were killed, and several persons sustained serious gunshot injuries.

Felagha Ayibakro from Okolobama compound in Amassoma lost her job as Head of the Cleaners and her son during the NDU protest.

She recounts that her son Eze Amadi was a final year student at the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, NDU.

He was at the scene of the protest that had lingered for three days by his school gate. Unfortunately, it was the day SARS would shoot at the protesters.

When this happened,  Eze noticed Jacob – a popular man in the community had been hit by bullet.

He went to help him and while trying to move Jacob out of the chaotic scene, he himself was shot.

 Eze Amadi Art Work
one of  Eze Amadi Art Work displayed at Dept. Fine & Applied Art, Niger Delta University, Amassoma

Eze would eventually die in Amatolo community in Southern Ijaw without receiving proper medical attention.

He has been buried since 2018, but his mother is yet to recover from the grief and the trauma.

She recalls that he always tells her he would repay all her sacrifices in sponsoring his education in the double fold once he graduates and starts working.

This is now impossible, the bereaved mother states.

The burden of widowhood and tears of the fatherless children

On May 22 2018, when her husband left the house in the morning, 38-year-old Amaitari had no reason to think her husband of 14 years and father to her five children – Joseph Gboun would not return.

Joseph also 38,  a bricklayer had other children. A source in the village said they were 11. This was however not independently verified.

When her husband did not return when he was expected, she called repeatedly to inquire what was keeping him out but got no response. She would later receive his corpse that evening in the front of her house. He was shot by SARS. He was at the protest ground.

Mrs. Amaitari and daughter
Amaitari and daughter, Miss Angelica Joseph

Oyeinkenumuworime Jacob is another Amassoma woman battling the ghost of police brutality. She was 42 when her husband, Eyigha Jacob, a vigilante commander from Amassoma was killed by SARS during the protest.

Oyeinkenumuworine was sacked from NDU as a gardener, her husband was there to lend his voice to their plight when he was shot. Before they could travel from Amassoma to Yenagoa to access the hospital, the man died inside the boat. He was age 42.

Oyeinkenumuworine is now a widow left to fend for her two now teenage daughters – Princess and Ebimi.

Mrs Oyeinkenumuworime Jacob
Oyeinkenumuworime Jacob and her daughters, she lost her husband to police brutality.

Princess now 16, like her mother, is yet to recover from the trauma caused by her father’s tragic death. She was 13 at the time.

Due to her academic performance, her father had promised to make all the sacrifices needed for her to study law, but with his death and her mother’s sack from NDU, that dream is now almost impossible out of her grasp.

Princess narrated that two of her father’s children, from another woman, Sunny and eight-year-old  Emmanuella Jacob are also battling for survival with their mother.

The story is similar to that of other women and children in Amassoma.

Ebimobowei Gagede was a final year student of NDU and a staff of the school. He was among those persons shot dead during the protest.  The 49-year-old Ebimobowei left behind two wives and eight children.

While the first wife, Roseline has been struggling to fend for her children in widowhood, the other wife, Diyepreye was fortunate to get another husband.

Some of the children are now under the care of their paternal grandparents.

Mrs. Roseline Gagede and children
Roseline Gagede and children, She lost her husband to police brutality.

Oyeintombra, Gagede’s first child was 15 when her father was killed.

She lamented to The ICIR that  ever since their father died, miseries have plagued his children.

According to her, “we are facing challenges that I cannot explain, no money to forward our education anymore. Some of us have dropped out of school because of no money to pay our school fees. And there is also no money to pay for senior certificate exams and even for us to feed has been a problem… ever since we lost our father”.

She now works at a restaurant to supplement the family’s income.

From self-reliance to dependency; voices of incapacitated men

There is a group of people who survived the shootings but at a great cost to them and their families.

Dorgu Dorpere turned 56 on the eve of the protest. He was a few metres away from the protest ground, when he heard the shootings from the chaos, he attempted to move further away from the scene.

Mr. Dorgu Dorpere
Dorgu Dorpere.

A bullet hit him on the leg – the right foot. He was first treated at a nearby pharmacy; he went to Bayelsa Specialist Hospital (BSH) when it got worse.

A medical report –  No: 021820  from the BSH, dated 2020, shows that Dorgu was admitted to the Accident & Emergency unit on  June 12 2018, “on account of deep septic ulcer on right foot secondary to gunshot injury. He claimed to have been shot in Amassoma during the NDU crises.  The bullet pierced through a part of the foot to the other side of the foot”, the report reads in part.

On December 18, 2018, Dorgu was discharged from the hospital after six months. He was instructed to undergo treatment at home. But he defaulted due to financial constraints. At the time of this interview, he has yet to regain his leg use.

Mr. Dorgu Dorpere with gunshot injury
Dorgu Dorpere with a gunshot injury

Oyinbowogha Famous Ogbe describes himself as a walking corpse. He claimed the doctors told him there is a bullet stuck around his waist, which cannot be removed.

He also adds that he was told one of two things would happen if it’s removed; he gets crippled, or he dies.

His BSH medical report seen by The ICIR did not reflect this.

Mr. Oyinbowogha Famous Ogbe
Oyinbowogha Famous Ogbe

His report with NO: 021445 states that he was admitted on May 22, 2018 “and was managed as a case of multiple gunshot injuries. He had significant blood loss following deep laceration on the (L) upper eyebrow, (Right) lateral pelvic region, soft tissue, and tender injury to the middle third of the right forearm.”

Due to the incident, the young man currently finds it difficult to fend for his wife and child.

 

Ayeni Commissioner 46, with five children, was alarmed by the sound of the sporadic shootings.

He went out to search for his children. When he realised the route he took was in the direction of the chaos, he made to turn, but not before being hit by two bullets at his right leg, the other at his left hand. He was also treated at BSH and had the report to show for it.

Mr. Ayeni Commissioner
Ayeni Commissioner, a victim of police brutality

The reality of police brutality in Bayelsa state

A member of the Civil Liberty Organisation in the State, David West, stressed that Bayelsans like members of every other state across the country have suffered from security forces’ brutality.

Out of the 50 cases handled by the panel in the state on extra-judicial killings, brutality, and human rights abuses, among other related matters, 44 were by the Nigerian Police Force.

Interestingly, the National Human Rights Commission Bayelsa has only 7 of such in their records from 2019.

The commission’s state coordinator Eugene Barikpeg Baadom noted that this is because victims rarely report such cases despite efforts they have made to enlighten the communities.

In January, when the ICIR reached out to the State Police Command Headquarters in Yenagoa on the multiple allegations and the cases handled by the panel, the command maintained the matter was beyond their jurisdiction.

A dim ray at the end of the tunnel

In October 2020, the state governor, Douye Diri, inaugurated the Bayelsa State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on police brutality and other Related Matters.

At the inauguration, the commencement of the hearing of cases and consequently, victims and relations of police brutalities, extra-judicial killings, and those whose rights have been violated by the various security agencies were hopeful that they would get justice and compensation for these losses suffered instantly.

From far and near, even when it was not convenient due to their medical conditions, victims or relations of the victims made financial expenses coming from the different local governments to the state capital to attend the panel hearing.

For some of them, these paid off, as they got awarded compensation, especially those that needed urgent medical attention.

But it’s nine months after, they are yet to get the money.

Some of the widows from Amassoma were hopeful that the compensation would help reduce their burden.

Evans, the market woman who has lost her sight, says the process should be hastened. She still suffers pains and needs urgent medical attention.

Momebo, the woman battling with loss of memory, is hopeful the compensation awarded to her would go into her treatment and find a solution.

Oyinbowogha, Commissioner and Dorgu also got some financial awards, but they feel it’s an exercise in futility.

To them, it seemed like the state Government that instituted the panel made them spend money travelling to Yenogoa for nothing.

In July 2021, the panel had awarded N21 billion to victims and handed the report to the state government. But currently, the hope of immediate compensation for these victims of police brutalities in the state is bleak as some of the Panel members are also lamenting that the state government was (is) yet to pay up their seating allowances.

All efforts to get the government’s response and clarification on the issues from the Bayelsa State Ministry of Information, Orientation and Strategy, Yenagoa, proved abortive.

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