How police have made Imo unsafe with extra-judicial killings of youths – RULAAC

A civil rights group, the Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC) has narrated chilling details of how the police in Imo State are making the state a living hell for youths and young men before sending them to their early grave.

According to RULAAC, the mode of operation of the policemen in Imo State is abduct several people, especially young people, take them to the anti-kidnapping or Tiger Base Units of the state police command in Owerri, where they are detained, tortured and starved until they die based, mostly, on the unsubstantiated allegations of being members of ESN. 

To this effect, RULAAC, in a statement issued by its Executive Director, Okechukwu Nwanguma, has called on the Inspector-General of Police Kayode Egbetokun and chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC), Solomon Arase, to order an investigation into the operations of the Anti-Kidnapping Unit, Tiger Base, Owerri, Imo State with a view to overhauling the operations of the unit and bringing its operations in line with professional policing standards for responsible and accountable policing.

The organisation urged the IGP and PSC chairman to “investigate the conduct of the commander and other operatives of the unit, their involvement in human rights violations, corrupt practices, partisanship and other misconduct as well as the dereliction by the Commissioner of Police in carrying out oversight on the activities of the unit including ignoring complaints sent to him regarding specific misconduct by the Commander and other operatives of the unit.

“Take appropriate disciplinary actions against those found responsible for human rights violations, corrupt practice, misconduct and dereliction of duty

“If the Unit is not to be disbanded, ensure periodic inspection of the cells of the Unit to ensure that they do not remain concentration camps where human dignity ae violated and life terminated.”

Narrating a recent occurrence, the press release summarised the words of a man in a viral voice note, thus: “On Sunday night, he and 3 other men with him in his car were intercepted, labeled Eastern Security Network (ESN) members and arrested. He said that they were smart to have quickly made calls to some people before their phones were seized from them. They were driven to and detained at the Anti-Kidnapping Unit of the Imo State Police Command located at Tiger Base. ‘We were detained in the cell until the next morning’.

“By the next morning, being Monday, 2 of the persons in the cell had died. By the night of the same Monday, 2 other cell mates had also died. By the next day,Tuesday, 1 person died.

“Worse of all, relatives of most of the people in the cell do not know their whereabouts and nobody comes for them. In few cases where relatives of detained persons find out and come to the base to inquire about them, the operatives would first deny or demand huge sums of money for ‘bail’. Before they negotiate bail with the relatives, they would first send the detainee’s name to the government house which will forward the name to the detainee’s local government and then to his community and political ward to ascertain if he’s a member of the APC before they will accept money to release him. This is happening daily in Imo State.

“On Monday morning, being the next day after we were arrested and detained, 2 boys arrested in Ehime Mbano were also brought to our cell. The boys narrated to us that they were walking along the road when, suddenly, they saw a police vehicle double cross them and police men alighted and ordered them into their vehicle and drove them straight to the Tiger Base, Owerri. No relatives knew about their arrest or their whereabouts.

“On Tuesday, a member of the Imo State House of Assembly (simply identified as Mola) who is my friend came to bail us. The operatives demanded 500 thousand Naira for each of us to be ‘bailed’.

“The member came for us because we were able to make calls before our phones were seized. Many others are languishing in the cell, starving and looking emaciated and dying in turns like infected chickens because their relatives do not know where they are.

“Prior to the visit by the State Assembly member, our relatives said they were expecting phone calls from the people who snatched us, whether they were kidnappers – to demand ransom, or police officers – to ask them to come and let them know what our offense was, if any, and what they intended to do.

“When the Assembly member came, he was asked if we were members of APC and he answered that we were (even though he knew we were not). He only said that to secure our bail because of our relationship. This was how we were released.

“Before we were released, I witnessed when a relative of one of the boys arrested from Ehime Mbano came and inquired about his relative from the operatives and they asked for his name which he gave but they denied having him in their custody even though they were actually with us in the cell.

“The day after we were released, I sent someone to go to Tiger Base and insist that his relation was with them. They eventually owned up and he was eventually released after a rigorous and tortuous process. Otherwise, he would have been dumped and abandoned to rot and die in the cell without anybody knowing his whereabouts and fate. This is how people are being killed on a daily basis at the Tiger Base, Owerri, Imo State.

“When we told them, during interrogation, that we were from Ekwerazu, Ahiazu Mbaise, they said ‘Oh, everybody in that area belongs to the ESN! And this explains their attitude and treatment of people who they arrest. They undressed us and searched our bodies for bodily marks which they use as a basis to label people ESN members.

“Several people, especially young people are arrested on a daily basis in Imo State, detained, tortured and starved until they die based, mostly, on unsubstantiated allegations of being members of ESN. But all Imo residents cannot belong to ESN!”

RULAAC said several petitions and reports about the alleged atrocities going on at Tiger Base have been ignored and they go on unchecked.

The centre further said that on October 4, 2023 it received information from a woman simply named Chinyerem who said her husband was a borehole installer and a tricycle driver.

Quoting the woman, the centre said: “‘My husband went to Owerri , Imo State for a Borehole job. He went with one of his worker. On their way back, at seven and half junction, they met police officers that were stopping and searching everyone. This is how they stopped them. After searching them, they asked the guy he went with, to remove his clothes which he did. They saw marks on his chest and asked him to turn his back. The same mark was also found on his back.

“This is how they carried him inside their own police car and zoomed off. Since that day, being 19th September, 2023, we have been going from one police station in owerri to another and searching for him, yet no answer. My poor husband has been crying and practically losing his mind. The boy’s relatives don’t even want to listen to us. We heard it is Tiger Base police officers that carried him. Please help me. I am devastated and confused.”

Asked if she has confirmed that those who arrested her son came from Tiger Base, she responded, “Sir, we heavily suspect Tiger base. This because we pleaded with a police man we know to please check if he is in State CID Owerri. He said he did not see him. He was in fact, the one that referred us to Tiger Base. He said they are notorious for arresting persons with dreadlocks and marks on their bodies.”

RULAAC said it contacted the Imo State Police PRO but he was yet to respond to requests for information on Tiger Base.

It further said, “Glory Okorie was detained for weeks at Tiger Base and used turned to a slave girl. Her family members did not know where she was and were going from one Police Station to another (including the Tiger Base) in search of her. All the stations denied having her until a detainee released from the Tiger Base went to inform her family. Rather than release her, they transferred her to the Abuja Headquarters of the IRT where she was further detained for several months in disregard of court orders for her release. She was eventually arraigned and granted bail after over 100 days in custody.

“Operatives from Tiger Base arrested 2 young men at a bank ATM in Owerri where they went to withdraw money one evening. Without informing them what offense they may have committed or other reason for their arrest, they searched them and found nothing incriminating and took them to the Tiger Base where they detained them without obtaining their statements until the next morning when they brought them out and tortured them to admit that they were members of as secret cult. They subjected them to duress in a bid to compel them to sign a pre-written statement admiting to a crime they knew nothing about.

“They were saved when RULAAC received the information about their detention and immediately contacted the Officer in Charge (O/C) at Tiger Base who checked and found out that the young men were ‘arrested in error’ in his own words. Yet, the operatives extorted huge sums of money before releasing them. They warned them not to reveal to anyone that they paid money and threatened to re-arrest them and charge them to court if they did.”

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