As the political crisis in Nigeria gains the attention of the world, the Nigerian-based Civil Liberties Organisation reveals a catalogue of human rights abuses by a police force who put themselves
Above The Law
Mr Justine Jonny Eshiet, 36, was until his death, a driver with Guinness Nigeria PLC, a brewing company based in Lagos. His was a case of heartless police torture occasioning death. He was taken into custody on September 13, 1992, at the Ikeja Police Station in Lagos the commercial capital of Nigeria in connection with the loss of his duty vehicle to armed robbers. The police, suspecting him of complicity in the theft, tortured him so badly that he had to be admitted to hospital where he died on September 18, 1992 of multiple tissue injuries.
The physical torture that led to Mr Eshiet's death started on the second day of his "interrogation". He was taken to the statement room by five Policemen and asked to confess that he arranged with the armed robbers to snatch the missing car. His ordeal began when he denied this allegation. He was tied, hand and leg, hung with a rope tied to the roof of the "statement room" and flogged with metal wires by three policemen. Two other policemen used pliers to pull at his finger nails. This treatment was suspended intermittently to ask him whether he was ready to confess in writing. On each occasion, he denied the charge. The torture continued until he became unconscious, bleeding profusely from injuries to his nails, legs and numerous lacerations on his body.
Although the police denied torturing Eshiet, eye witness accounts confirm that he was in good health when taken into custody and that the injuries which caused his death were inflicted while he was in detention. Mr Saturday Eboghime, a colleague of Eshiet's also detained at the station in connection with the missing vehicle told the CLO that he saw Justine lying in a pool of blood in front of one of the detention cells on September 14, 1992. In his words:
As I was going into my cell, I saw Justine. He was in a pool of blood with bruises all over his body. He could not even talk to me.
Others who spoke to the CLO about the incident were Eshiet's boss, Mr Brian Farrel, the Deputy Managing Director of Guinness Nigeria PLC, his cousin, Alphonsus Eshiet, and his wife, Mrs Eno Eshiet. Mr Farrel told the CLO that he saw a half-conscious Eshiet at the Ikeja police station, lying in a pool of blood. Mr Alphonsus Eshiet's account was more harrowing:
When I saw my brother ... he could not identify me. I called his name, he could only wink at me.
Despite the police's denial of responsibility for Justine's death, a post-mortem examination carried out at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital on September 24 1992 diagnosed the cause of his death as "cardiorespiratory failure due to multiple soft tissue injury and bilateral confluent bronchopneumonia". This is consistent with the injuries inflicted on him during the torture and exposure to the deplorable environment of his detention cell.
The CLO had to discontinue a law suit in the matter when the Eshiet's family hurriedly left Lagos for their home town in Akwa Ibom without a forwarding address or any indication of further interest in the matter.
The death of Jimoh Balogun as a result of physical torture at the hands of the police in Lagos was very similar to Justine Eshiet's, the only difference being that Mr Balogun died in the cell while Eshiet died in a hospital.
As in the case of Eshiet, Jimoh's troubles started when his duty vehicle was stolen. The matter was reported at the same station, the Ikeja Area F police station. Policemen at the station insisted on detaining Balogun since to them, in such matters, the driver is always the prime suspect.
When Jimoh's wife visited him the following day, she discovered that he had died in custody. The full story as excerpted from an affidavit of urgency filed before an Ikeja high court, Lagos, in the matter of an application for leave for the enforcement of fundamental rights goes thus:
Until his death, Mr Balogun was a driver with the Lagos State Public Works Corporation. He got to work on Monday 9th December 1991, to discover that his duty vehicle was not where he had parked it the previous day. He immediately alerted his boss who accompanied him to report the matter to the General manager of the Corporation. Later the three men went to report the matter at the Ikeja Police Station.
At the aforementioned police station, the police officer on duty detained the deceased, insisting that on such matters the driver was the first suspect. On the second day, Tuesday, when his wife and some of his relatives came to see him at the police station, they were alarmed at his condition. He had been badly tortured. His hands and limbs were badly bruised and swollen. His face was severely battered, eyes swollen and reddish. There were fresh sores, consistent with cigarette burns, all over his body.
All entreaties to the duty officer to grant bail to the deceased for urgent medical attention fell on deaf ears. It was not until the deceased fainted in the evening of the second day in custody that the police were persuaded to grant him bail. Even then they demanded a bribe of N1,000.
Five days later, Mr Balogun returned to the police station as he was asked to. He was re-arrested and subjected to another round of torture. Tragically, he did not survive this time. On or around December 23 1991, he died in the police station and was deposited at the mortuary of Ikeja Hospital, Lagos.
In its ruling on the application for the enforcement of fundamental rights filed on behalf of the deceased's wife by the CLO, the Ikeja high court on February 10 1992 made an order for an interim injunction restraining the police from removing the corpse from the General Hospital morgue. The court also restrained the police from tampering with the corpse of the deceased and further ordered the Chief Consultant pathologist to file before it a copy of the autopsy report on the body. But when a CLO staff lawyer, in the company of the deceased's wife, got to the hospital's morgue on February 24, 1992, they could not find the corpse of the deceased. All they found was his tag number, but on another corpse! Further legal application on the matter was dismissed on the basis that the deceased had been buried by "unknown persons".
Anthony Mbilitem Nnaemeka, 22, was until his death an apprentice electrician with an electrical firm in Ojodu, Lagos. On January 22, 1992, he was arrested by some policemen at the Isheri police station on unsubstantiated allegations of theft. Before his parents could trace him, he had been tortured to death and dumped at the Ikeja General Hospital mortuary as an "unknown robber" killed in a police shoot out.
An investigation by the CLO revealed that Anthony was stripped naked and beaten, before being hanged by his left hand to an iron rod. He was left in that position until he died. Witnesses said that Anthony walked into the Isheri Police station, healthy, and died as a result of severe physical torture during interrogation by police officers who were trying to make him confess to the alleged theft.
In a petition to the then Lagos state Commissioner of Police, Mr Yemi Odubela, the CLO called for an investigation into his death. The appeal was disregarded.
Miss Uzoma Okorie, a stenographer with a private company in Marina, Lagos was on February 3, 1993, arrested and taken into custody by policemen at Adeniji-Adele Police station, Lagos on an allegation of theft. There she was tortured and humiliated.
Two male police officers, John Okon - the investigating officer - and a Sergeant John, stripped her naked, forced her to embrace a concrete pillar supporting the roof of the station and handcuffed her in this position. They then proceeded to flog her bare back, thighs and buttocks until she bled profusely. As if this was not enough to make her "confess", they inserted the neck of a bottle of lager into her private part and left it there while the torture lasted.
Okorie's co-suspect and first cousin, Godson Erugo was subjected to similar treatment. This was conducted in the presence and to the encouragement of the their accuser, one Chief Pius Okegbe Ozoulagba. The Chief alleged that they stole $12,000 from him. Miss Okorie fainted in the course of being tortured and was admitted, unconscious, to the police hospital, Falomo, Lagos until February 5, 1993 when she was conditionally released at the instance of the Assistant Commissioner of police in charge of the hospital. In an interview with the CLO, Miss Okorie traced the beginning of her ordeal to January 23 1993 when she secured a job as a typist with Chief Ozoulagba. Four days later and subsequently thereafter, her boss made several sexual advances to her, which she turned down.
The above cases are some of the many listed in the CLO report produced last year. Although the organisation gives recommendations for the improvement of the police force, it is certain that the solution goes much beyond a re-organisation of the force. The problem is a deep-rooted societal one, of which the rot in of the police force is merely a symptom.