By Joseph Obari
As the world prepared for Christmas last year, five young men in Port Harcourt, Rivers State fell into the snares of a Nigeria Police squad, called the E-Crack Team operating from Mile 1 Police Station. What seemed like a ‘normal’ encounter with law enforcement was to set in motion a horrendous chain of events that would shock the world.
All through the Christmas and New Year festivities, the families of the five Igbo traders and artisans were in palpable fear over the lives of their loved ones when they were informed of their arrest and detention on the allegation of snatching two cars.
Curiously, on December 30, 2019, the police released the two “snatched” cars to their owners without more. When one of the owners of the allegedly stolen cars went on social media to tell the world that the mechanic to whom he gave his car for repair was being framed by the police for armed robbery, pressure was mounted on the police and they went into bizarre frenzy to cover up their lousy arses.
Fearing the worst, the families contacted a lawyer who swung into action to secure the release of the five men. His interactions with the police confirmed the fears of the families: the young men had been severely tortured, subjected to terrible inhuman treatments and were in poor state of health.
Then the bombshell! One of them, Chima Ikwunado could not be accounted for as the police rushed on January 9 to create information charging them with cultism and armed robbery. The charge sheet which is dated January 9, claimed that they were arraigned on January 6. The Information presented to the Chief Magistrates court alluded to “others at large”. The police were taciturn on the fate of Chima. Then news filtered in that Chima was dead and all hell broke loose.
All of Rivers State rose in condemnation of the police. People called radio stations to narrate similar ordeals in the hands of the police and how they paid huge amounts of money to escape the fate of the five men who became know as the Ikoku 5. Ikoku is an expansive area of Diobu, in Port Harcourt famous for vehicle spares. The dealers and technicians that support the market are mainly Igbos.
Of course, the Chief Magistrates Court lacked jurisdiction to try the suspects and remanded them in E-Crack cell in the so called Port Harcourt Correctional Centre. With strident calls and scathing criticisms from the public, the police was forced to admit the death of Chima and went for a last ditch attempt at coverup, saying that the young man died of, wait for it: HIGH BLOOD SUGAR! It was the outcome of an autopsy procured by the police and the police alone.
If they thought that the statement would douse agitations, it only succeeded in infuriating the already angry residents. Colleagues of the victims at Ikoku marched out in protest, but the police went after them. Their protest was frustrated and 29 of them were arrested and locked up. They are yet to be released. To add salt to the injury, the Rivers State government issued a statement warning of dire consequences should anyone disturb the peace and urged all law abiding residents to go about their usual businesses.
Tension was in the red zone Fahrenheit. Ohaneze Ndi Igbo leaders in Rivers State, civil society organizations, the NBA and others rose to the occasion demanding justice for the dead and the incarcerated, specifically, the release of Chima’s body to the family for independent autopsy and the release of any person detained in connection with the E-Crack adventure. The pregnant wife of the deceased mechanic came out to debunk the insinuation that her late husband was diabetic.
In the ensuing melee, the gentleman who blew the lead on police coverup, owner of one of the ‘snatched’ cars, informed the world that he was being threatened by some persons.
Then on Wednesday, January 29, the Port Harcourt Chief Magistrates Court discharged and acquitted the four surviving persons. It was acting on the advice from the DPP which revealed that the suspects had no case to answer; the charges against them by the police were unfounded and should not have come up in the first place, because they were mere speculations.
“We discovered that the allegations against the boys were mere speculations and unfounded and it is not a matter we could be able to prosecute”, Rivers State Director of Public Prosecution, Ibiene Mbano said.
When eventually the surviving four men were released, the sores and scars on their bodies told the gory tales of what they went through in the hands of the monsters that call themselves policemen. One of them came on air to narrate how they were hung on crossbars behind the police station and systmatically tortured to confess to being criminals. Their repeated denials only incensed the fiendish squad which included a woman. They maimed and brutalised them until Chima’s body could not take it no more and he was dragged way never to be seen till now.
The question is: how did we get here? How did we recruit beasts and gave them the powers to cage us? How did our police personnel lose their humanity? How are policemen able to disobey the law with impunity; frame up people on barefaced lies and get away with it? What really is wrong with us? What kind of leaders do we have? What kind of society are we leaving our children? The answers to all these questions are frightening. We are in a society where values are fast being eroded; a sick society!
The Ikoku 4 have regained their freedom, but it doesn’t end there. It should NOT end there. They deserve compensation. They are in urgent need of proper medical attention, especially one of them whose wounds are looking gangrenous. And most importantly, we await the police authorities who have been dead silent on assurances to uphold justice in the midst of all this. No criminal in or out of uniform should violate other citizens and escape justice! WE ARE WATCHING. It is one abuse too many