Tony John, Port Harcourt
Eight members of Diobu OSPAC, a community vigilance group in the Port Harcourt City Local Government Area of Rivers State, are currently cooling their feet in police cell. This followed their arrest by the state police command for allegedly kidnapping, torturing and violating a 21-year-old lady, one Precious (surname withheld), and her siblings for reason that is now a matter of debate, claim and counter-claim.
Saturday Sun gathered that she and her two younger brothers, Jesse and David, were whisked away from their home in Mile 3, Diobu, Port Harcourt, on Saturday, April 11, 2020, by 8pm.
The lady said initially, they were not told what their offence was, why they were arrested that night by members of the group. But later they claimed that they were acting on the on the strength of a complaint lodged in their office by their father, an allegation that the man denied, washing his hands off the case. The boys reportedly carried out the operation at their office located on Attah Street, Mile 3, Diobu, Port Harcourt.
Narrating their ordeal, Precious who spoke for herself and siblings, disclosed that on that fateful day, at about 8pm, the vigilance members led by one Godstime Ihunwo, stormed their house and took them away without giving any cogent reason for their action. She stated that upon arrival at their office, she was humiliated by being stripped naked and placed in a separate room from her brothers. The young lady who is recuperating from the shock of the torture and dehumanization meted out to them, revealed that the local security outfit also videoed her nakedness and sexually assaulted her. She added that the boys, after beating them thoroughly, shaved her hairs, including her pubic hairs and those of her brothers before releasing them the following day, Sunday, April 12, 2020.
She recounted how they subjected her to severe torture and inserted their fingers into her private part in their bid to ascertain whether she is still a virgin. The story as narrated by her: “On Saturday, April 11, 2020, by 8pm, my two brothers and I were at home. But suddenly some members of the vigilance group came to our house and forcefully took us away to their office on Attah Street. When we got there, they tortured us. I was stripped naked. They recorded video of me. They used rope to tie our hands to our backs and used pipes, machetes and sticks to beat us.
“In the process of the torture, they poured alcohol into my eyes. One of my brothers fainted twice. They used razor blades to shave our hairs and eyebrows while they used cigarettes fire on my brothers. We were flogged and beaten to stupor.”
She explained that as a result of the torture she suffered she was admitted in the hospital for four days after the group released her and her brothers from detention. She spoke of being subjected not only to physical but also psychological torture. “As the boys stripped me naked, they asked if I have a boyfriend.
They used their fingers to enter my body and all that,” she said. Next, they tried to cover up their crime with a subtle threat.”They threatened us that if we report the matter to the police, our lives, including my mother’s and other members of my family, would be at stake,” she said.
She further alleged that they reportedly told her brothers that it was their father who reported them to the group. His father, they said, claimed that they stole his money and were also disrespectful to him. Precious then begged for justice: “I am calling on the human rights societies, the Rivers State Police Command and other relevant groups in the country to come to our aid.”
Arrest and detention of the culprits, by the police
Without much ado, that prayer was promptly granted when eight members of the group who participated in the beastly torture were arrested by the Rivers State Police Command. This followed the lodging of formal complaint on the matter by Precious at the Nkpolu Divisional Police Office. She had alleged she and her siblings were abducted by members of the group and raped in the process of being tortured. The Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of the Nkpolu Station, on receiving the report, invited and detained leaders of the group with a view to thoroughly investigating the complaint against them. Contacted, the State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Nnamdi Omoni, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) confirmed the report.
“I am aware of the incident,” he said. “I just interviewed all the parties including the father who initiated that action. The father had domestic disagreement with the children and went to a vigilance group in Diobu to report.”
But confronted with the allegation, their father who vehemently declined to give his name promptly denied reporting his children to the local security outfit. The PPRO explained that the victims were unlawfully detained and tortured with machetes scars all over their bodies. He said investigation was ongoing on the matter and that the Commissioner of Police had directed that the matter be transferred to the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID).
He then expressed displeasure and disappointment with the vigilance group’s action.”We are investigating the matter,” he said. “In the first place, they (members of the vigilance group) don’t have the right to operate detention facility. At best, they complement the efforts of the police. We have always told them to work with the police, to submit themselves to the whims and caprices of the police and not to initiate action and conclude action on their own. They don’t have the right to detain anybody. At best, they can arrest and hand over to the police.”
Explaining further on the nature of relationship between police and vigilance groups, he said: “We see them as worthy partners. We are not pushing them away or throwing them away with the bath water. The right thing must be done. They cannot constitute themselves into the law and begin to do unlawful things,”
Human Rights group wades into the matter
In the meantime, Civil Rights Council, a human rights organization handling the matter, has condemned the alleged abduction, torture of the children and especially the alleged rape of Precious by the local security personnel. Making their stance known, Kelechi Uzoma, the Secretary of the group, described the alleged rape and torture of Precious’ brothers and detention as “cruel, barbaric, evil and unacceptable.”
She called on the Police to be diligent, thorough and to follow due process in carrying out investigation into the matter and to ensure that all the persons involved are made to face justice to serve as a deterrent to others. She also signified their readiness to follow the case to logical conclusion.