Ikoku 5: E Crack Police on the ropes

TRACKING_____It is not a good time for the E Crack team of the Rivers State Police Command. The death of a mechanic, Chima Ikwunado, in their custody, has placed the team in the eyes of the public. Four of their men are in detention over the torture of Chima and four others. EMMANUEL MASHA reports from Port Harcourt on the anger that has trailed the actions of the policemen

And his dream died with him

Late Chima Ikwunado eked out a living as an automobile mechanic, securing spare parts and repairing cars of clients. He always told his colleagues around the Ikoku Spare Parts market in Mile 3, Diobu, that he was always looking forward to the day that his wife, Mrs. Adaugo, would put to bed.

That dream of fatherhood never came through. He died in questionable circumstances in the hands of law enforcement officers, who were supposed to be his friends. They were professionals paid with tax payers’ money who are equally supposed to protect him from danger and do everything within their means to prolong his life.

Adaugo was about eight weeks pregnant on the day that Chima was arrested for alleged armed robbery by the operatives of Eagle Crack Team based at the Mile 1 Police Station. Chima had left the house sound and healthy but didn’t know that he was about to be permanently separated from his family, friends and colleagues.

Also arrested alongside Chima were four others that are now referred to as the Ikoku Four. While Chima succumbed to the tortures that were inflicted on him in detention, the Ikoku Four have a sad tale to tell, an experience that would probably haunt them for the rest of their lives.

The five victims have become victims of wicked and conscienceless Police officers who went beyond their bounds in the context of law enforcement.

They fell into the hands of cops who derived joy in inflicting severe pain on detained suspects; police officers who rather than uncover the truth and act on it, did everything within their means to cover up the truth.

According to a right activist and lawyer, who has been observing the case, the country’s policing system gives room to abuses and the gross violation of human rights. He pointed out that: “Bad cops are hardly sanctioned for violating the codes that define operations as law enforcement agents.”

He added: “What is very troubling is the way that some police officers cook up charges and make a simple matter complex just because they want to extort money from suspects, including those they wrongly arrested.

“No matter the extent we go in reforming the police, without making it clear that officers that act wickedly for selfish reasons and thereby betray public trust will be held accountable, there we will only continue to scratch the surface.”

A maze of lies, contradictions

In the case of Chima, when the owner of the Toyota Camry that Chima allegedly stole got wind of his arrest and dashed to the police station to clear him of the armed robbery and cultism charges that had been slammed on him, the police officers handling the case didn’t listen to him.

The owner of the car, Chinedu Ezenwaliri, said that he got to know that Chima was detained with his car at the E-Crack Unit cell in Mile Division when he could not find the mechanic and his car days after dropping it with him for usual repairs on the 19 December 2019.

Ezenwaliri said: “I refuted the allegations that Chima was anything of such, (armed robber and cultist); that he has been my mechanic for many years and he never stole my car. On a trip out of Port Harcourt, I heard that Chima had died in police cell.”

When the news broke that Chima had died in detention, his family members and colleagues concluded that he was tortured to death for an offence he didn’t commit. But the state police command claimed that he died of excess blood sugar level in his system.

While the cause of Chima’s death became a serious issue, the other four were battling to survive the tortures the E-Crack operatives allegedly subjected them to. The four auto-mechanics – Victor Ogbonna, Osaze Friday, Ifeanyi Osuji and Ifeanyi Onyekwere were arrested on December 19, 2019, while taking a vehicle belonging to their clients on a test drive after repairs.

They knew that Chima had succumbed to torture and neglect and were afraid for their own lives. Also afraid were concerned individuals and rights groups who argued that the continued detention of the Ikoku Four was a ploy to cover up what really happened to Chima.

Relief came eventually when the court discharged and acquitted them because the prosecution submitted a no case on the Ikoku mechanics that were detained and tortured for weeks by the operatives of the Eagle Crack Team. The fifth victim of gruesome police brutality, Chima had succumbed to the physical pains that some cops deliberately inflicted on him.

‘I will cut off your penis’

According to one of the Ikoku Four, Victor Ogbonna, who spoke during a phone- in radio programme, one of the leaders of the police ‘torture team’ was a woman, who took pleasure in torturing detainees.

Ogbonna noted that before Chima died, he was bleeding through his nose and ears from the severe beatings he received from the police officers, noting that during torture sessions, the policemen used hammers, planks, knives, and unknown chemicals on them.

While Chima’s family and the Ikoku Four said he was tortured to death, the Police, however, claimed that he died of high blood sugar.

Speaking on what transpired in detention, Ogbonna said the female police officer was always hitting at the private part of the late Chima, and threatened to cut off his Penis if he refused to confess that the vehicle they were arrested in was stolen.

According to Ogbonna, the female police officer threatened Chima, saying: “If you refuse to confess that you are an armed robber and a cultist, I will cut off your penis so that you would not be able to impregnate any woman again (touching his Penis)…

“When Chima died, the Policemen asked us to carry out his dead body, which they covered and hid from the public. We don’t know where his corpse was dumped.”

Ogbonna, who explained how they were tortured said: “We were handcuffed and hanged face down on an iron poles behind the E-Crack Cell. There were times they hanged us and left for the day’s patrol until they came back.

“We were 95 persons in a cell. Due to the severe beatings, we even told them to take all the monies the seized from us. But they refused. I can’t even use my two hands now.”

He also lamented that some detainees at the E-Crack Cell pleaded guilty to crimes they didn’t commit, including a man who was dressed up to travel to his village for Christmas in December, but was arrested in front of his house.

Human right groups call for justice

One of the civil society organisations, the International Society for Social Justice and Human Rights, has called for the immediate arrest and prosecution of police officers involved in the alleged torture and killing of Ikwunado.

The Chancellor of International Society for Social Justice and Human Rights, Jackson Omenazu, said it was wrong to torture an innocent person to death, adding that no law permitted the police to take the lives of innocent Nigerians.

He stated: “We are calling for the immediate arrest of the police personnel involved in the torture and death of the mechanic. Again, there should be more inquests into their activities, especially the ones that led to the death of the innocent mechanic.

“Under any circumstance, the police cannot turn the station into a court, where a pronouncement is made against a citizen and the citizen is summarily executed. What that amounts to is extrajudicial killing.

“The police are supposed to prosecute those involved in such act because the police are not supposed to be involved in extrajudicial killing. So, the DPO, the DCO and all the police officers involved in such an extrajudicial killing should be prosecuted in line with the law because they are not above the law.

“If those, who are saddled with the responsibility of protecting the law, become law breakers, then the society is doomed.”

He also decried a situation, where the police collected money for bail, even when the suspect had been declared innocent; adding that the police hierarchy should always visit cells and interact with inmates to ensure that the innocent did not suffer for a crime they knew nothing about.

He added: “It is very unfortunate that innocent Nigerians now stand the risk of being killed in police custody. But we, the civil society organisations, will not keep quiet. We will continue to raise the red flag, while all these are taking place.

“The Mile One Police Station is becoming notorious with some of these incidents. The police commissioner should look into these. The senior police officers should on a weekly basis go around their police stations, interface with the people in the cell and find out what they have done.

“We, the civil society groups, will meet on this matter of extrajudicial killings in police stations and decide on what to do. A lot of those in the cells are innocent.

“Some of them are also in police cells on flimsy excuses, which only needed the police to caution them and allow them to go, but the problem is that for every crime reported to the police, the suspect must part with money. This is very wrong and saddening.”

Other rights activists in the state have vowed not to keep calm until those who killed Chima are prosecuted.

Chairman of the civil society organisations (CSOs) in the state, Enefa George, said the demands of the CSOs remained that the officers be dismissed from the Nigerian Police force and then be tried for murder and inhuman treatment.

They also requested the release of Chima’s body to enable the family conduct independent autopsy as the one conducted by the police was rejected by the group and Chima’s family.

Civil society groups in the state have also demanded to see the faces of the policemen that carried out the torture that claimed Chima’s life. They also want to see the face of the “female police officer that turned Chima’s penis to her personal toy.” They also want the world to see the face of the E-Crack Team, Benson Adetuyi, SP.”

Justice in view?

Meanwhile, the police officers who allegedly tortured Chima to death and injured four others have been arrested and detained at the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID).

According to the lawyer to family of the late Chima, Princess Chinyere, one of the officers was brought to the state CID from the hospital for interrogation on mufti, while three others were still putting on their police uniforms.

“When I visited the State CID with Chima’s family, they showed us the four policemen who tortured Chima and four others. They are currently in detention at the state CID.

“We were assured that the suspected officers would surely be brought to book and that is exactly our expectations and that of the general public that those who perpetuated the act be made to face the full weight of the law,” she stated.

Already, the state Police Commissioner, Mustapha Dandaura, has redeployed the Commander of E-Crack Team, Adetuyi, in order for the investigation of the Ikoku Five to be credible. He has also met the family of Chima and called for an amicable settlement. But the questions people have been asking since he took these steps are: what kind of settlement can bring back Chima from death?

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