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April 16, 2021

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A petitioner, Timothy Ogbeye, on Wednesday, told an investigative panel probing acts of police brutality in Abuja, how he was allegedly “dehumanised” by police officers attached to the Awkuzu division of the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in Anambra State.

Mr Ogbeye, who was continuing his part-heard testimony before the 11-man panel led by a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Suleiman Galadima, said “he was tortured, made to bark like a dog, crawl like a snake, and lick the bare floor of his cell” during his alleged unlawful detention for four months at the detention facility last year.

Trauma

Ending his testimony in an emotion-laden voice, Mr Ogbeye, said in pidgin English, “my lord, I see pepper for that place,” adding that his hands had been partially stiff due to the torture he received during his detention.

The Awkuzu facility run by the defunct SARS is notorious for extra-judicial killings and inhumane conducts of its men.

During last year’s #EndSARS protest, the police division drew the anger of Nigerians many of whom had heard of or experienced horrible treatments in the hands of police officers manning the detention facility.

Police authorities announced the disbandment of SARS following #EndSARS protests that broke out in many Nigerian major cities in October last year.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) set up the Mr Galadima-led panel in response to the #EndSARS protests to probe complaints about various acts of rights violations committed by the operatives of SARS and other police units in different parts of the country.

‘How Ogbeye was arrested’

A statement by the NHRC’s press unit stated that Mr Ogbeye, a car dealer, recalled on Wednesday, that he was arrested at his car stand at Mpape, Abuja, on January 22, 2020.

He said Andrew James who had led eight policemen to effect the arrest accused him of buying a stolen Toyota Corolla car from Micheal Obinna.

Mr Ogbeye he was moved to Kwali Police Station, where he met the said Mr Obinna.

The petitioner testified that he pleaded with the investigative police officer, Oriyomi Aregbelo, and Mr James to charge him to court to enable him to defend himself, but they refused.

He added that his family was denied access to him.

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According to the petitioner, he was eventually taken to Awkuzu SARS office in Anambra State, where he claimed he was severely tortured by Mr James and others.

He said the torture continued despite his insistence on his innocence.

‘My ordeal in Awkuzu SARS custody’

Mr Ogbeye told the panel he was made to mimic the sound of animals and their behaviours at the Awkuzu detention facility.

He said he was detained with other inmates in Cell 4 in Awkuzu with no window, water and toilet.

He said he was at some points hung upside down from the ceiling, with blood dripping from his nose.

He said he was beaten with iron and ‘two-by-two’ wood, adding that in-between the series of torture, Mr James, allegedly kept demanding N5 million for him to be released.

‘Vindicated’

Mr Ogbeye told the panel that his lawyer, Olochukwu Udemezue, later instituted a fundamental rights enforcement suit at the High Court of Anambra State to seek an order for his release.

The petitioner said the court granted his prayers, but the police refused to release him.

He said his lawyer then wrote the Commissioner of Police, Anambra State Command, whom he said eventually ordered the ‘X Squad’ to investigate the allegations against him.

He said the investigations proved him to be innocent and he was immediately released after spending four months in “unlawful detention and dehumanised condition”.

Cross-examination

While cross-examining the petitioner, police lawyer, Monday Jonathan, suggested to him that he indeed bought a stolen accidented vehicle from Obinna Michael, whom the police alleged to be a notorious armed robber.

But the panel reminded the lawyer that it was not set up to hear theft cases.

The panel adjourned till May 3 for the witnesses of the complainant and police respondents to testify.

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