Trouble for Ugo, an Onitsha, Anambra State-based business tycoon, started in 2013. Indeed, Ugo must have heard stories of Nigerians having altercations with the police, but never in his wildest dreams, did he ever think he would become a pawn on the police chess board. Today, Ugo has joined the growing number of Nigerians, who sneer whenever they hear the mantra: “Police is your friend.” Ugo, a victim of police brutality, torture and extortion, deals in long span aluminium roofing sheets and accessories. Speaking through his lawyer, Executive Director of International Human Rights Defence (I-REF), a non-governmental organisation, Mr. Justus Ijeoma, the businessman said sometime in 2013, in the hey days of kidnapping in Anambra State, he started receiving mysterious and frightening phone calls from an unknown person.
He said: “The caller threatened to visit me and my family with all manner of violent attacks. He threatened to kidnap and assassinate me. He made it clear that my wife, children and I were being trailed. On several occasions, the caller would call, telling me the exact place I was, what I was doing and what I was wearing.” The caller did this, not just to traumatise the family, but to also highlight the fact that they were vulnerable.
The caller told Ugo that any attempt to report the matter to the police would worsen his situation. The caller claimed to be a notorious criminal known to the Special Ant-Robbery Squad (SARS) now Federal Special Ant-Robbery Squad (FSARS). He also claimed that he had gone to robbery with Ugo’s brother living abroad.
The caller told Ugo that he suspected that the money they made from the robbery was given to Ugo by his brother. It was a period of psychological and mental torture for Ugo and his family “He said that he was going to wipe off my entire family if I didn’t pay N50 million,” Ugo said. After brainstorming and discussing with friends, Ugo was advised to pay the caller.
His friends told him that it was better than to lose his life or that of his family. Ugo reluctantly went into negotiation with the caller and finally coughed up N20 million. Ugo thought the matter was buried and forgotten until April 30, 2018, when three men armed with rifles stormed his factory and attempted to bundle him into their Toyota Camry car.
The three men were dressed in plain clothes. They were heavily armed with AK47 rifles. One of them ordered Ugo to hand his phones to them. They told Ugo to quietly enter and that he should act as if they were friends. They threatened to kill him if he made any noise to attract attention. Ugo, thinking they were kidnappers or assassins, raised the alarm, attracting attention of his wife, factory workers and passers-by. He said: “It was at that point they told me that they were policemen from Awka. I asked to see their identity cards and also sought to know why they wanted to abduct me in such a manner.
This infuriated them and they started beating me, trying to force me into their car. They threatened to shoot me.” When Ugo’s wife noticed that the situation was snowballing, she called Ijeoma, unfortunately the lawyer was in Netherlands, attending a function.
The lawyer, however, was finally able to speak with the policemen. When he ascertained that they were truly policemen, he asked Ugo to go with them. The policemen, however, refused to divulge to the lawyer the reason for the businessman’s arrest. They took the victim to their station at Awkuzu, where they allegedly inflicted injuries on him through torture as they attempted to force him to accept and admit being a criminal. He said: “At their station, I was taken to their torture chamber, where I was hanged for close to an hour until I passed out and was later revived. They first brought two blank sheets of papers for taking statement and forced me to sign them before they started torturing me.”
The lawyer said: “The officers claimed that someone reported a case to them against the victim, making reference to the encounter between the victim and the self-acclaimed criminal (caller). The SARS men held the victim in their custody from April 30 to May 5. “Every explanation made by the victim to them that he was a victim in the hands of those criminals fell on deaf ear. The victim even promised to provide them with the bank account details of the criminals, into which he paid part of the ransom money, but the policemen didn’t bother to make any effort at arresting the criminals. Rather, they continued to torture and threaten the victim that they were going to kill him unless he paid them N20 million.
Their only interest was to criminally fleece the victim.” “On the 5th day, they brought me out and told me that my life would end on that day since I refused to cooperate. Four policemen took me in their car (one of the names of the SARS men is Alias). As soon as we were outside the compound, they blindfolded, handcuffed and pushed me inside their car. They drove for about two hours and stopped at a particular spot. They released my blindfold.
I saw that I was beside a burrow inside a bush. I had no idea where we were, but I suspected we were in Edo State. “They told me that my life had come to an end as I would be executed shortly. Their leader told them that they should execute me as soon as he gave the signal. I was crying and pleading but they refused. They all pointed their guns at me.
“The last thing I remembered before I passed out was the loud command and the rapid sound of gunshots. When I regained consciousness, I saw that I was inside their vehicle with my face blindfolded. They took me back, but to a different cell. “The inmates descended on me and started beating me. I was brought out after about an hour. They told me that they will take me back to the ground where I was nearly executed.
I was crying and pleading with them. They agreed to reduce the money to N10 million. I pleaded that they should allow me to pay N5 million but they refused. One of them told me that his salary was N2.5 million per month, that N5 million was too small. Before I was released, the leader of the SARS team told me that I should thank my stars. He said: ‘Your native doctor must be very powerful. If we had picked you the way we planned it, this nonsense would not be happening now. We would have cleared everything you ever acquired in life, all your properties, including your beautiful wife and you would never get out alive,’” Ugo recalled.
Ijeoma said that the SARS men, aided by their leader, a Superintendent of Police (SP) Sunday Okpe, arrested Ugo and kept him incommunicado from his wife and family for over two weeks, plunging the family into unimaginable worries and anxieties. In the course of trying to get justice for the victim, Ijeoma discovered that Okpe and some of his men jointly demanded N5 million from Ugo, while Okpe separately demanded another N1 million for his personal pocket.
Thus, although he shared from the N5 million, he still pocketed another N1 million for himself. He threatened to wipe out the victim’s family if he so much as whisper about his arrest, detention, and torture and N6 million extortion to any soul. Okpe’s bulletproof plans shattered after Ijeoma, relentlessly pursued the matter and uncovered several unsavoury details about the arrest of the victim, who the policemen perceived to be a business tycoon. Ijeoma said that the SARS men tortured and threatened to kill the victim unless he paid them N20 million. The activist added: “On May 14, they carried out a mock execution of the victim.
They blindfolded him, put him into their vehicle and drove for a period of two hours. At a particular location, which the victim suspected was somewhere around Edo State, they brought out the victim and removed the blindfold. They told him that was the end of his journey.
“They showed him a burrow which, they told him, was where they would waste his life like they had wasted others in the past. The leader of that particular group on that fateful day, ‘Onye Army’ as he is called, directed his men to point their guns at the victim and to unanimously fire at him when he issued the command. He ordered the victim to keep walking towards the burrow. “As the victim got to the edge of the pit, Onye Army, shouted fire! The guns of his men went off.
They fired into the air and the victim fell to the ground and almost passed out. You can imagine how traumatic this must have been.” After the mock execution, the victim was blindfolded again and returned to the station. At the station, the men told him that his life was spared in order to give him time to rethink. They told him that he had been given less than 24 hours to comply with their demands. The victim, petrified after his experience, went into negotiations and accepted to pay N5 million.
Ijeoma said: “The Commander, SP Sunday Okpe, called the victim into his office and told him that the only condition he would approve the N5 million was for the victim to give him N1 million separately. The victim agreed. Okpe personally threatened the victim that should he tell anyone what transpired, he and his men would kill and wipe out the victim’s family.” When the victim asked for the account number to transfer the money, the SARS men declined. They demanded cash. Meanwhile, this was playing out on a Saturday. The victim promised to bring the money on Monday, but they also refused. Ugo was asked to transfer the money into the account of Mr. Andrew Onwurah Mordili’s, a stranger to the victim. They ordered Mordili to withdraw the money and bring the cash to them. The SARS operatives didn’t want to leave any trace.
They further insisted that Mordili should be the victim’s surety. Okpe asked the victim to bring his own N1 million himself in cash on Monday. When the victim brought the money, Okpe once again, warned him to never, on any account, divulge the events and transactions to anyone or Ugo’s family would be killed. It was after Ijeoma returned from Netherlands that he started demanding for justice for Ugo. He petitioned the Inspector- General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris. When Idris received the petition, he ordered the immediate arrest and detention of Okpe and some of his men. Okpe and men were picked up in Anambra State by detectives from Force Headquarters. They were taken to Abuja. Incidentally, Awkuzu SARS was notorious for extrajudicial killings of suspects and torture for years. Before Okpe took over the leadership of Awkuzu SARS, many rights fighters and Amnesty International had written tons of petitions drawing attention to the extrajudicial killings and torture of suspects going on at the unit. When the then OC SARS, Mr. James Nwafor, was transferred out of the unit, there had been wild jubilations among human rights fighters. There was hope that a new OC would sanitise the unit but that hope was dashed. Okpe took over Awkuzu SARS in 2016. Asked what exactly Ugo’s offence was, Ijeoma said:
“The SARS men claimed Ugo gave some people N20 million in 2013. They said he should have reported the case to the police. But the truth is that my client was trying to save his life and that of his family. I asked what crime my client committed in paying ransom in order to save his life and that of his family. I told the OC to go and check the bank account numbers where my client paid the N20 million and ensure he arrests the criminals. “The OC SARS didn’t do that, rather, he started threatening the wife of my client, asking why she involved me in the matter. It was because of their threats that the woman isolated me from the matter, giving them opportunity to keep the victim in their custody and in isolation. While I was in Netherlands, I sent a lawyer and another colleague working in my office to the SARS, but the OC refused to attend to them.”