Worse of all, relatives of most of the people in the cell do not know their whereabouts and nobody comes for them.
The Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC), a civic group, has called on the Inspector-General of Police and the Chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC), to bring to an end, alleged indiscriminate arrests, and extrajudicial killings of countless residents of Imo State by the anti-kidnapping unit, “Tiger Base” of the Imo State Police Command.
RULAAC made the call in a statement signed by its Executive Director, Okechukwu Nwanguma, citing an example of a man who was said to have recounted how on Sunday night, he and three other men with him in his car were intercepted, arrested and labelled members of the Eastern Security Network (ESN) by the police in Imo.
The man was said to have narrated that they were taken to and detained at the Anti-Kidnapping Unit of the Imo State Police Command located at Tiger Base where they were detained till the next morning.
“By the next morning, being Monday, 2 of the persons in the cell had died. By the night of the same Monday, 2 other cell mates had also died. By the next day, Tuesday, 1 person died.
“Worse of all, relatives of most of the people in the cell do not know their whereabouts and nobody comes for them. In few cases where relatives of detained persons find out and come to the base to inquire about them, the operatives would first deny or demand huge sums of money for ‘bail’.
“Before they negotiate bail with the relatives, they would first send the detainee’s name to the government house which will forward the name to the detainee’s local government and then to his community and political ward to ascertain if he’s a member of the APC before they will accept money to release him. This is happening daily in Imo State,” part of the RULAAC statement read.
RULAAC said the man further narrated that “On Monday morning, being the next day after we were arrested and detained, 2 boys arrested in Ehime Mbano were also brought to our cell. The boys narrated to us that they were walking along the road when, suddenly, they saw a police vehicle double cross them and police men alighted and ordered them into their vehicle and drove them straight to the Tiger Base, Owerri. No relatives knew about their arrest or their whereabouts.
“On Tuesday, a member of the Imo State House of Assembly (simply identified as Mola) who is my friend came to bail us. The operatives demanded N500,000 for each of us to be ‘bailed’.
“The member came for us because we were able to make calls before our phones were seized. Many others are languishing in the cell, starving and looking emaciated and dying in turns like infected chickens because their relatives do not know where they are.
“Prior to the visit by the State Assembly member, our relatives said they were expecting phone calls from the people who snatched us, whether they were kidnappers – to demand ransom, or police officers – to ask them to come and let them know what our offense was, if any, and what they intended to do.
“When the Assembly member came, he was asked if we were members of APC and he answered that we were (even though he knew we were not). He only said that to secure our bail because of our relationship. This was how we were released.
“Before we were released, I witnessed when a relative of one of the boys arrested from Ehime Mbano came and inquired about his relative from the operatives and they asked for his name which he gave but they denied having him in their custody even though they were actually with us in the cell.
“The day after we were released, I sent someone to go to Tiger Base and insist that his relation was with them. They eventually owned up and he was eventually released after a rigorous and tortuous process.
“Otherwise, he would have been dumped and abandoned to rot and die in the cell without anybody knowing his whereabouts and fate. This is how people are being killed on a daily basis at the Tiger Base, Owerri, Imo State.
“When we told them, during interrogation, that we were from Ekwerazu, Ahiazu Mbaise, they said ‘Oh, everybody in that area belongs to the ESN! And this explains their attitude and treatment of people who they arrest. They undressed us and searched our bodies for bodily marks which they use as a basis to label people ESN members.”
RULAAC further stated that on October 4, it received information from a woman identified as Chinyerem who said her husband is a borehole installer and a Keke Napep (tricycle) driver.
“She reported about her son whose whereabouts has been unknown after he was arrested by people she suspects are from the Tiger Base.”
RULAAC said it has contacted the Imo State Police PRO but he is yet to respond to its request on him to find out from Tiger Base
Citing many other cases, RULAAC called on the Chairman of Police Service Commission and the Inspector General of Police to “Order an investigation into the operations of the Anti-Kidnapping Unit, Tiger Base, Owerri, Imo State with a view to overhauling the operations of the unit and bringing its operations in line with Professional Policing Standards for responsible and accountable policing
“Investigate the conduct of the Commander and other operatives of the Unit, their involvement in human rights violations, corrupt practices, partisanship and other misconduct as well as the dereliction by the Commissioner of Police in carrying out oversight on the activities of the unit including ignoring complaints sent to him regarding specific misconduct by the Commander and other operatives of the unit
“Take appropriate disciplinary actions against those found responsible for human rights violations, corrupt practice, misconduct and dereliction of duty.”
RULAAC said that “If the Unit is not to be disbanded, ensure periodic inspection of the cells of the Unit to ensure that they do not remain concentration camps where human dignity ae violated and life terminated.”