From George Onyejiuwa, Owerri
A 47-year-old cripple, Chima Asor, from Owutu Edda, Afikpo South Local Government, Ebonyi State, recently breathed air of freedom after years of incarceration in detention.
He was among the 19 Igbo youths who rotted away in jail for over 15 years for allegedly belonging to the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) or sponsoring the activities of the group.
However, fortune smiled on him and 18 others on November 24, 2021. They regained their freedom having been discharged and acquitted by the Federal High Court, Awka, Anambra State. No tangible evidence was produced by government to justify their arrest and detention in the first place.
The trial judge, Justice Nicholas Oweibo, said the prosecutors failed to establish proof for treason and terrorism charges levelled against the 19 accused.
Asor lamented that his 15 years detention on trumped up charges by the Federal Government has ruined his life and destroyed his electronic appliances repair business. He asked our reporter rhetorically:
“Do you know what it is to spend 15 years of your life in detention for no offence other than that you were falsely branded a terrorist by a Federal Government, which refused to come to court to prove the allegation against you and others arrested along with you by military operatives?”
He said he was tortured severally while in the custody of the military both in their cantonment in Abakiliki and the 82 Division, Enugu, in spite of his physical condition. He thanked God that he survived the ordeal mentally and physically.
His story: “I was planning to marry when on 26 July, 2006, heavily armed military personnel arrested me in my village, Owutu Edda, Afikpo South Council, Ebonyi State, for being a member of MASSOB.
“I was first taken to Abakiliki Army Barracks where I was detained for three weeks before they took me to the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army where I spent three months. The lady I was planning to marry had to marry someone else after she got tired waiting for my release from detention.
“Immediately they arrived in their Hilux vans, they destroyed everything in the shop including the electronic appliances brought by my customers for repairs. Even the new ones for sale were also destroyed. The army personnel destroyed everything before arresting me. And before this trouble came, I had already enrolled as a pre-degree Computer Science student at the Ebonyi State University.
“I was 32 years at the time of my unjustified arrest. By the time I was released on November 24, 2021, I have become 47 years. That means the Federal Government ruined 15 years of my life for nothing. It was the detention that led to the death of my father because he developed hypertension. He could not bear it because my late father loved me so much in spite of my physical condition. My eldest brother also died while I was in detention.”
Asor said his father’s death was a personal tragedy because he and the entire family showed him love and concern during his ordeal, including securing the services of a legal practitioner throughout the illegal detention and trial:
“I lost my love, my father, my elder brother and my source of livelihood while in detention for 15 years. Since I was discharged and acquitted by the Federal High Court 2, Awka, it is my siblings who are catering for my welfare.
“I want to appeal to Ndigbo to assist in re-establishing my business. I don’t have anything with which to sustain myself and lessen the burden on my siblings who were also responsible for paying my legal fees.
“I also want compensation from the Federal Government. You cannot lock somebody up for 15 years and could not prove the allegation. The Federal Government never sent any legal representation.”
He showered praises on those who contributed in securing his freedom especially Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe and MASSOB leader, Uchenna Madu, as well as Innocent Amadi of the Billie Human Rights Initiatives.