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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

My ordeal in the hands of my abductor-policemen, by Madu Onuorah

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Mr Madu Onuorah, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Global-upfront Newspapers (GUN) has been in the news in the last few days ago after he was abducted from his residence in Abuja by gun-wielding police officers. In this interview with GUN after his release (on bail), he narrates the nasty experience he and his family went through at the hands of policemen.

Above: Madu (right) with colleague, Ike Abonyi. Below: Being welcomed by son, Makuachukwu.

Below are excerpts:

Q. It is good you are back and have rejoined your family. Can you tell us exactly what happened and how it all began?

A. I came back early from the office and I was working at home. I was working on my laptop on some stories and I heard a knock on the gate of my house and later noise. The people who came in, a man and a woman in mufti met my ten-year-old daughter who opened the gate. I then started hearing my wife’s voice and the voice was becoming louder, so I came to the balcony to look I said what was happening and they said I was the one they were looking for. I came down, I was wearing my boxer and my singlet. On my coming down, I said let me pick my long gown. The moment I came, I now saw about 10 heavily armed policemen in mufti, none of them were in uniform, just that they were wearing anti-kidnapping shirts and they were shouting, “We are policemen, we are policemen, follow us, follow us”. I said, “Follow you to where?” “We are going to the police station,” they responded rather harshly.

I asked, “Can I go and change my dress”. They flatly refused, “You are going nowhere, you are not changing anything.” They even refused that I even change from the bathroom slippers I was wearing. I said I needed to take my medical kits and the small medication I usually use. Again they retorted: “You are not going anywhere.”

“Can I get toiletries, how long are we staying,”

“You are not taking anything, you are going the way you are.”

“Can I go and get my phones?”

“No! You are not taking any phone! Let us go, let us go! Now they were getting agitated. As I was arguing with them, they were cocking guns on me. It was a real abduction!

The first time I experienced this kind of thing was on the 6th of March, 1998 after the reinstatement of Tijan Kabba (former President) in Sierra Leone. As a Defence correspondent, General Sani Abacha came in then, we moved into Liberia in our hotel because Charles Taylor was anti-Tijan Kabba, his forces invaded our hotel and surrounded us and kidnapped two of my colleagues, that was the same thing that happened in my house last Wednesday. That was what was going on in my head and I remembered what then Defence Spokesperson, General Godwin Ukpo told us: “When in such situations, go down, calm down, don’t react” and it was ringing in my head. At that moment I remembered that, that day, they kidnapped Chris Agbambu and the late Francis Aigbe. Because of that incident, they had to relocate us to the officers’ mess, way inside the town in a secured area so that our aircraft would come before we go. So, that was the kind of thing that happened in my house, like a war front and in front of my children, in front of my wife. They didn’t check the delicate nature of family background, that it is not certain things you exhibit before a man’s family. They exhibited the highest level of unprofessionalism in my house and I quietly followed them. But I insisted that I would have my phone, we were already inside the car, almost before moving when my wife brought my phone. They now seized the phone from my wife and I never saw the phone again until the next day.

They took me to Lugbe Police Station, and dumped me there, the head of that unit that came, insisted that I must be put inside the cell. I was inside the cell with common criminals, yahoo-yahoo people. Later, the DPO (Divisional Police Officer) came and said they should bring me out to the reception area and that was where they left me, and took my slippers, I never wore anything all night. I was awake all night because I never trusted anybody.

At some minutes to 5 a.m., their headhunter, who was the one cocking gun on me anyhow, came in and said, “Onuorah, Oya, come let us go, you are wasting our time. I said, where are you taking me; he said you will know when we get there.

“I remind you that you didn’t tell me why you kept me here,” I ventured.

“We don’t have time for such questions, let’s go, let’s go,” he replied rather arrogantly.

So, I followed them, entered the vehicle, and kept asking them, where are we going; they said, we will tell you when we get there and they never told me anything until we passed Lokoja and they started getting calls. That was when they now gave me my phone so that I could call my wife. The moment I finished calling my wife and spoke to people inside my house, they said, we asked you to speak with only your wife and you spoke with people in your house. That is not what we want you to do. It was in the process of our going that they now realized that I was a journalist and the accusation they were telling me that my case was very serious.

By the way, now, we were inside a Toyota Sienna. Of course, they came to my house with two Sienna buses, loaded with about ten of them.

When we got to the Lugbe Police Station, only one of them, I learnt, was from Abakaliki (Ebonyi State) that went in.

Q. What was it like driving in the same vehicle with your abductors?

A. When we moved in the morning, of course, it wasn’t an easy ride, riding among enemies because that was what they termed me and that was what I saw them as and of course, I would not take any food or anything from them and that is how we arrived in Ebonyi. We arrived in Ebonyi and they kept me somewhere because the commander was not around. It was when the Commander came in and was asking me questions, in the presence of all manner of people that I told him that I wanted to speak with him alone, that we went to his office. I spoke to him and he explained that he is not the one that wants me, trying to do PR, he is naturally a good man because he insisted that I must bath in his office, he went and bought toiletries, that I must bath in his office, freshen up. He asked if he could buy me any other thing and I said, buy nothing, let’s move to Enugu.

When we got to Enugu, it was the OC (officer in charge) of monitoring that we went to his office. The IPO (Investigating Police Officer) started taking statements.

Of course, there was already a surety on the ground and a lawyer. You know I asked for my glasses as they were taking me away from my house but they refused, so it was the lawyer that had to read the petition against me to me. I couldn’t read it. Even to write my statement, I couldn’t write it because I didn’t have my reading glasses. I told them, and they said I should dictate for the lawyer to write it. That was how we did it. And in between them, the OC Monitoring and the CP (Commissioner of Police), Mr Kanayo Uzuegbu were communicating and in the end, they released me, almost about 10.30 p.m. Our brother there took me to a hotel and that was where I slept because the CP requested for us to come in the morning, we were at the OC Monitoring Unit before 7.30 a.m.

We saw the Police Commissioner, Mr Uzuegbu later in the day about 10 a.m.

What transpired there shows that what those people who came to my house did is becoming a new normal in the police force because the Police Commissioner told me point blank when I was explaining the way I was treated, he said, “It is not important how you were treated, what is important is that you were brought here and you should be brought here.”

He added that I was too arrogant when I started explaining to him that if this woman (the nun) who wrote this petition is not being influenced wrongly or advised wrongly, the best thing to do and which the police should have advised her to do is to go and file a case of defamation against me.

Q. Did you get any invitation from the Enugu State Police Command or any Police command to come and answer a petition against you?

A. Of course, we didn’t get any notice from them, written or verbal from the petitioner or the police. The police never invited me. The police never called me. The police never sent the Abuja police to call me before they decided to mobilize policemen from the Eastern Region of Nigeria to the Federal Capital Territory to treat me like a common criminal. I was like an object to them. So, that was what happened and the Police Commissioner was not mincing words. He said that I deliberately and maliciously defamed the said reverend sister, making himself a court of competent jurisdiction which he is not. And he was telling me that if I go and write anything, he would squeeze me and bring me back here and squeeze me and threatened my surety that if he didn’t bring me, he would also lock him up.

Why would a senior police officer, a whole Commissioner of Police, of that rank, talk like that?

I think there is a gap between either the teaching of fundamental human rights or the ability of some of the police officers to comprehend human rights and I think policemen must understand that they are agents of the Nigerian State and that Nigeria exists because the citizens are, and the police should serve Nigeria and Nigerians. By what they did in my house and how they treated me up to the time we got to Abakaliki (capital of Ebonyi State), they made themselves above the law because if you are arresting me, you either show me a warrant of arrest or you explain to me what I did or where you are taking me or read my rights to me. Nothing was done. It was commando style, it was like Charles Taylor boys (rebels), invading my house.

In my 22 years of covering the Defence and Security sectors in Nigeria, I have never seen a thing like this. I think there is a gap, Nigerian policemen need to learn about human rights. They do not understand human rights, they have no respect for human rights and some of their officers treat human beings as objects of ridicule, like expendable people. It is a very ugly experience.

Q. So, they said a reverend sister wrote to Enugu Police. What did she complain about in the petition?

A. She was alleging that the facts of the publication were wrong. I told the OC Monitoring Unit and even the IPO, I also told the Police Commissioner before he stopped me, that if the reverend’s sister felt that what I did was wrong, she should have taken me to court for libel or defamation and come to the court and prove that there was no fighting in the Mamah family. She should have come to the court to disprove the facts of my story, that they never visited any police station, or that there was no court session or that a reverend father did not come to take the case to settle it out of court or that at the other instance, she was not sacked from the Order of Sisters she belonged to. Those were the facts of the story. She never disputed those. Instead, she was saying that I defamed her which was the point the Police Commissioner kept hammering on.

Q. What do you say about the reaction of people to your abduction?

A. When this drama started, this dangerous drama started, my first worry was about my wife and my children who were so traumatized by the experience of seeing an invasion. The whole front of my family compound was filled with policemen, armed with cocked rifles, ready to shoot. They have never seen a thing like that. I don’t know the example they are setting for children. My children were here, even the smallest ones and they were behaving as if they have no respect for family sanctity, respect for anybody. But I think that my happiness is the total condemnation of this action by Nigerians, professional groups, my colleagues, and even some policemen themselves, even though they would not want to be on record. Everybody knows that what they did in my house is uncalled for. It was unnecessary. If they had invited me that I had a case in Enugu, I would have come. I covered Defence for 22 years and nothing would have made me not go and honour their invitation. But they deliberately lied that they were looking for me, calling my number, but my number was not going through, sending texts, texts refused to go, WhatsApp messages refused to go. They cannot even be intelligent in cooking up an alibi. I think they had an intention of humiliating me as a person and the Nigerian media as a group because the Police Commissioner kept insisting that no journalist is above the law, that journalists are behaving as if they are a trade union, that they are not supposed to react in a group.

So, Nigerians rallied around from all walks of life, family members, professional colleagues, my associates, and even those who didn’t know me, from far and near and ensured that their plan failed. Even international agencies got involved.

The initial plan they had was to dump me in Ebonyi. If there was no outcry, they would have dumped me in Ebonyi because there was no record that I went to Ebonyi State or that Ebonyi people were looking for me. It was in the process when the alarm was raised, the outcry over the abduction that they now decided to call Enugu people to come and pick me up from Abakaliki. So the solidarity was massive and total and I am so grateful to God and so grateful to everybody.

Q. Now that you are on bail, the case continues?

A. The police Commissioner was insisting that the two lawyers, that I should go with the two lawyers and agree and make peace including my surety. I told them that I was not party to their case and the Police Commissioner was insisting that the next time he would call them to come and brief him on the outcome, I must be here that my surety must bring me. The major thing is that I am not a party to their family case. If they have an issue with me as a journalist who published the story, they should go straight to court and file a defamation suit against me.

Q. You are out, what next?

A. The Management of Globalupfront Newspapers will consult our team of lawyers and decide on what will be our next line of action.

● Report by Global-upfront Newspaper Online.

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