Four years after being arrested, Joel Nnaemka Ugwuoke has not returned from the station – neither has he been seen.
JOEL Nnaemeka Ugwuoke, who was arrested at 21, was an aspiring musician and a Hip-hop fan.
He also loved football and played the beautiful game with friends and neighbours.
Joel worked at construction sites – mixing sand and cement, and moulding cement blocks. He had also started learning how to paint houses.
An indigene of the southeastern town of Nsukka, Jude was a Political Science freshman at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN).
People in his family and neighbourhood say he was a respectful and hardworking young man.
On January 12, 2017, three days after his matriculation into the university, a group of local security men, in the company of officers of the Anti-Kidnapping Unit of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), came to the Joel’s parents’ house, located behind Bishop Shanahan Hospital, a Catholic Church-owned hospital in the southeastern town.
The officers knocked on the door of the house at 3 am.
They said they worked at the hospital and demanded to know the whereabouts of Joel. Nkechi Ugwuoke, one of Joel’s sisters, told the officers where her brother was: at the house of another of their sisters in the neighbouring community of Nru Nsukka.
Uzoamaka Ugwuoke, Joel’s other sister, says she was angry that Nkechi Ugwuoke revealed their brother’s whereabouts, although she acknowledges that her sister had spoken out of fear. Uzoamaka joined the local security men and the Anti-Kidnapping officers, who she remembers numbered up to 15, in their Hilux and directed them to Nru Nsukka, which was 20 minutes away.
At Nru Nsukka, the security men arrested Joel. Visibly shocked, he demanded to know why he was being arrested. “They [the officers] told him that he was an armed robber and a cultist,” Uzoamaka recalls. The Anti-Kidnapping Unit took Joel to their headquarters at the capital city, Enugu.
Uzoamaka discovered that the unit had already arrested two other men. The story goes that Joel had bought a phone and sold it to the first man, who then sold the phone to the second man. The phone, believed to have been stolen initially, had been traced by the unit and found in the hands of the second man, who then led the unit to the first man. The first man in turn gave the unit Joel’s address.
Four years later, Uzoamaka and her family have neither seen Joel nor been able to secure his release from police custody. The police unit keeps denying that Joel is in their custody.
Uzoamaka and her family at one point engaged the services of a lawyer, whom the police intimidated into abandoning the case.
“We have been begging that the case be taken to court so the law can decide his [Joel’s] fate. But they [Anti-Kidnapping Unit] have refused,” Uzoamaka says.
On one of her numerous visits to the police station, a man who sold cars close to the station confided in Uzoamaka about being sure that Joel was in the custody of the police. The man said that he feared Joel’s life was at risk.
Months after the arrest, the police released the other two men, but no one has seen or heard from Joel since.
Uzoamaka is emotional when remembers her missing brother, who she says loved to sing and had written many songs which he never got to record.
According to Uzoamaka, a member of the Anti-Kidnapping Unit, who identified himself as Abugu, had told her family to give him 500,000 naira to arrange for Joel’s release. The family could not come up with the money because they had exhausted all their resources.
“We have spent more than 700,000 on the case,” a distressed Uzoamaka says.
She reveals that the uncertainty shrouding her brother’s case has plunged her family into dark times. While their grandmother has died out of worry, their parents seem to be heading down the same path with their mental health in dire condition.
In October 2020, as a response to the nationwide #ENDSARS protests, Enugu State’s governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi set up a panel to investigate cases of extrajudicial killings and police brutality in the state. Uzoamaka’s family submitted a petition to the panel. The panel, before rounding up hearing, asked Uzoamaka to go and serve letters to the officers said to have carried out Joel’s arrest.
This story is part of a multimedia project by Tiger Eye Foundation and media partners across Nigeria, documenting police brutality in Nigeria, and advocating for police reform.