EZIOMUME SOLOMON, Nnewi
Talk of man’s inhumanity to man, this is perhaps the very height of it. A woman is blessed with three promising sons that she hoped would take good care of her in her old age. While they lived and conducted their daily affairs, while she set eyes on them everyday she had this hope that one day her situation in life will change. She hoped that they would take over the baton from her and her husband and begin to care and cater for their needs as they did for them while they were in diapers. All parents worth their name and responsibility nurse that hope deep within.
That is the same for Mrs. Ukamaka Obasi, a native of Onueke in Ezza South Local Government Area of Ebonyi State. But alas it was not to be as her three sons were murdered in cold blood within a space of three years, by operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), Anambra State Headquarters, Awkuzu. With tears streaming down her cheeks she recounted in an interview with Saturday Sun how the operatives rendered her childless following their extra-judicial killing between 2012 and 2014.
First son accused of MASSOB membership, murdered
According to the thoroughly devastated woman who was later abandoned by her husband after the misfortunes, her ordeals started when one night in July, 2012, she returned to their residence at Umenweke Street, Okpoko, Ogbaru Local Government Area of Anambra State, and was greeted with the news of her first son, Ebuka, being picked up by SARS operatives at his clothing shop located at Sokoto Road, Fegge, Onitsha. He was accused of being a member of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB).
“By the time we received the information it was already late,” she said. “So the following morning, I and his father, Thomas Obasi, went to SARS headquarters at Awkuzu. They confirmed to us that he was in their custody. They told us to continue to bring food to him until they finish their investigations so that we could take him on bail. We continued to do so. We did this for about one week. Each time, I visited him, I would be made to pay N2000 at the counter before I could be allowed to give him food.
“But on one of the days when I brought food for him, one of the female officers there told me to stop bringing food because he had been executed. His father and I wept uncontrollably before we left SARS office. We made several efforts to confront the authorities of the anti-robbery unit to tell us the offence our son committed that led to his execution. But our efforts yielded no fruits. Yet we’ve not been able to see his dead body till date. Honestly, it was very difficult to convince people in our village that our son who was 20-years-old then and was planning for his traditional marriage in three months time was arrested and killed by SARS based on the allegation that he was a member of MASSOB.
Second son similarly framed up, killed
“As if they were not done with their evil deeds, in August, 2013, about one year after the murder of our first son, the same SARS operatives in Awkuzu, arrested our second son, Obiora on the same false allegation of being a MASSOB member. Before then, he had taken over his brother’s shop, after his demise in the hands of SARS. But it happened that one fateful day as he was returning from the market, SARS operatives on routine patrol arrested him at Fegge area of Onitsha and took him to their Awkuzu headquarters. We learnt that a good number of boys returning from market that fateful evening were also arrested. Again, my husband and I went to their headquarters at Awkuzu. They confirmed to us that his name was among those arrested for allegedly belonging to MASSOB. They told us to bring him food so that he would not starve. We kept bringing food to him for a period of two weeks. Each time we went there, we would be asked to bring money at the entrance gate, and also at the counter, before my son could be allowed to receive the food. I had to pay dearly for the two weeks I took food to him at the place.”
But she was again devastated when after going there for weeks, she was informed like in the first case, to stop bringing food to the place because her son is dead. Her account: “On one of those days, after two weeks of detaining my second son at the SARS headquarters, Awkuzu, I was told by one of the officers to stop coming. He told me that they had confirmed that my son was a MASSOB member and because of that he had been killed. It happened that my husband accompanied me that very day. When the information was broken to us that our second son had been killed, my husband collapsed. Thereafter, medical doctors at the popular Ndeli Hospital at Awkuzu where he was rushed to after the collapse, fought tirelessly before they could revive him. From that very day, my husband started developing different health problems but that is a story for another day.”
Third son accused of being an armed robber, strangled
The last stroke that broke the camel’s back for the poor woman and made her childless was when her third son was framed for armed robbery and sent to his early grave in the hand of SARS operatives. She told Saturday Sun how it happened. “In October, 2014, I and my husband were alerted that our last son, Chibuike, who was about 18-years-old then was arrested by SARS operatives attached to Okpoko police station. The information was that he was riding on a motorcycle with one of his friends to go and buy condemned iron materials popularly known as scraps when they were arrested by SARS operatives at the Upper-Iweka area of Onitsha and taken to Okpoko police station.
“When we got to the station, we were told to come back the following day. But when we did, the SARS commander at Okpoko told us that he had been transferred to their headquarters at Awkuzu. When we got to Awkuzu, SARS operatives there confirmed to us that his name was among those in their cell. My husband was permitted to see him and speak with him before we left that day. So I kept bringing food for him for a period of three weeks. On one of the days, one of the officers, a woman, told me to stop spending my money and time coming to the station. The officer was positioned at the entrance gate. It happened that when I was talking with my husband, she overheard us. That was how we got to know that she was from our area in Ebonyi State. She told us frankly that our son died about four days after he was brought to SARS office and that officers in charge of the cell were the people eating the food I was bringing to him. She told us that our son was accused of being an armed robber who had been on the wanted list of SARS. We insisted that we must enter SARS office because we were not convinced about the information.
“When we got to the counter, the cell officer came to take the food but we told him that we want to see Chibuike and speak with him. It was during the ensuing argument that we came to realize that our son was no more in their cell. When my husband and I begged them to show us the bodies of our children nobody spoke to us. Rather, we were pushed out of the station after the officers called us all sorts of names including ‘corrupt parents,’ ‘parents of criminals,’ and so on. It was based on these developments that my husband left me. He went back to Ebonyi State some years back and refused to come back to Onitsha till date. I am alone here managing my own life.”
Saddled with mounting debts from incarcerations
But it is a life shackled by debts incurred from the incarceration and death of her sons. She explained: “During those years of persecution, we spent a lot of money. Friends and family members contributed money to assist us. We also borrowed a lot of money while trying to secure their bail. We spent over N900, 000 in the hands of the SARS operatives because on each occasion they would ask us to bring, say, N150, 000 or N200, 000 promising that they would release our son. But at the end they would kill them. That situation coupled with indebtedness made my husband to leave Anambra State because he could not pay what we borrowed and creditors were disturbing us.”
Human rights activist corroborates story, calls for justice
A human rights activist, Comrade Nweke Nweke, Coordinator of the Oppressed Voice International (OVI), described the story of Mrs. Ukamaka Obasi and her family as a pathetic one.
According to the man who corroborated Mrs Obasi’s story, the maltreatment meted out to the woman’s family made him to fell out with Awkuzu SARS in his bid to secure the release of their sons as well as justice for them. He explained: “When her first son was arrested in 2012, the family consulted me as an activist. I insisted that SARS must tell us what the boy did that warranted his arrest and detention. But the only offence they told me the boy committed was that he was one of the MASSOB members they were looking for. I challenged them that the boy in question was not arrested with any arm, and that nothing incriminating was found on him and that they should either take him to court or release him on bail. But the then SARS commander, James Nwafor, who, incidentally, comes from the same village with me threatened that if I dared him further he would rope me into the boy’s case.
“In order to make SARS release the boy, I took to the social media to publish the boy’s ordeal in the hands of Awkuzu SARS. Yet they did not hearken to our cries. They went ahead to murder the boy extra-judicially inside SARS office at Awkuzu. In 2013, the same woman had the same problem when her second son was arrested. These boys in question were doing well in their businesses. They were the hope of the family. Because of their family background, they couldn’t go further in education. The first son finished secondary school and set up a business. He took the second son who managed to finish primary six and they were hustling to assist their parents because their mother was hawking petty items while their father, Thomas, was a vulcanizer.
“When the second son was arrested in 2013, we mounted the same pressure. Before we could know what was happening, SARS officers told us that the boy fell sick in the cell and died. We requested for the corpse but they could not provide it. Again in 2014, the last one was picked by SARS. The family also beckoned on me for assistance. He was arrested and taken to Okpoko SARS in Ogbaru LGA.
“Then the SARS commander in Okpoko station was one Mr. Anthony from Edo State, now retired. We approached him, discussed with him, and he told us to come the following day. When we went back, he told us that the boy had been transferred to Awkuzu. His parents went to Awkuzu the following day but I had to delay my going there. About three or four days later, I decided to go there to discuss conditions for his bail.
“Unfortunately immediately I got to the premises of Awkuzu SARS, I saw two SARS officers upstairs while the boy in question was downstairs, naked. They hung a long rope on his neck and were dragging him up as if they were fetching water from a well. And before they could release him, the boy forcefully passed stool and died. The third son of Mrs. Obasi, my client, was strangled to death in my very presence. When I got home that day, I could not control my emotion; but as a man, I only told Mr. and Mrs. Obasi that SARS said we should come back later.”
That scene never left his mind and further hardened his resolve to see perpetrators of the heinous and evil deeds are brought to book. He was not surprised therefore when youths felt that enough was enough and staged nationwide protests to call for an end to their bestial brutalities. He said: “People always tell me that I antagonize SARS. Yes, I did because I witnessed some of their extra-judicial killings in Awkuzu.
The time of James Nwafor and the time of Mr. Abang as SARS commanders in Awkuzu were the periods Awkuzu SARS office was turned into an abattoir. When James Nwafor was at Nnewi as unit commander of SARS in the industrial city, he was also known for extra-judicial killings. Anybody in Nnewi will tell you this. I followed the activities of James Nwafor right from his days in Nnewi to his days in Awkuzu before he retired. I cried constantly to the relevant authorities that Nwafor should be removed as SARS commander, that he was only there to kill. But nobody listened to me. People said I was saying so because I wanted to blackmail him. The blood of innocent citizens murdered in Awkuzu SARS was responsible for the recent uprising in different parts of Nigeria in the form of #EndSARS. The innocent blood shed by SARS sparked the protests. The youths demonstrating all over Nigeria were actually mourning their colleagues whose innocent blood was shed in Awkuzu SARS.
“In any civilized society, a crime suspect is presumed innocent until he is proven otherwise by a court of competent jurisdiction. It was not so in SARS. It is an open secret that in the defunct Awkuzu SARS, youths were killed extra-judicially and their kidneys and other relevant body parts harvested and sold to rich men. Nigerian government must ensure that such thing never happened again in the country. Government should see the recent uprising in the country as a big lesson. There are people who were Commissioners of Police during James Nwafor’s reign of terror. Those people should also be invited for questioning because they never supervised the SARS. Or, probably, they earned from the proceeds of corruption in the unit. If urgent step was not taken, what happened in SARS will continue to happen in any other units of the Nigeria Police Force.”