In the wake of the #EndSARS protest that has continued for close to two weeks in Nigeria and other cities around the world, many people have continued to narrate their gory experiences in the hands of SARS operatives.
These cringy stories explain the reason why SARS detention centres have been tagged ‘abattoirs’, – in this case, human slaughterhouses.
A 33-year-old fuel pump attendant who was detained at SARS Awkazu in 2015 told Amnesty International:
“They brought a plain sheet and asked me to sign. When I signed it, they told me I have signed my death warrant. There were two policemen in the hall. They asked me if I knew how many people died there. They said that if I die, my blood will never be on their hands. They took me to the back of the building and tied my hands to the back. They also connected the rope to my legs, leaving me hanging on a suspended iron rod. They put the iron rod in the middle between my hands and the leg with my head facing the ground. My body ceased to function. I went limp. The IPO (Investigating Police Officer) came at intervals and told me to speak the truth. I lost consciousness. When I was about to die they took me down and poured water on me to revive me. They brought people from the cell to carry me inside the cell. I was detained for two weeks.”
The SARS, a special branch of the Nigeria Police Force was created to fight violent crimes like armed robbery and kidnapping.
A report by Amnesty International revealed that they are responsible for widespread torture and other cruel, inhuman treatment of detainees in their custody.
Both men and women are subjected to various methods of torture and ill-treatment in order to extract information and “confessions”.
Since 2014, two Nigerian human rights organizations, the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN) and the Human Rights Social Development and Environmental Foundation (HURSDEF) have continued to report that “confessions” obtained from suspects through torture by the police are still admissible and used in courts as a basis for conviction.
Many detainees in SARS confinement are being held for unusually long periods without any form of trial or having access to their lawyers.
The SARS Abattoirs in Awkuzu and Enugu
The SARS Awkuzu has been in the limelight for a very long time, especially with the notorious OC SARS, James Nwafor, who retired as a CSP before becoming an SSA (Security) to the governor of Anambra, Willie Obiano.
Prior to Amnesty International’s visit in 2016, a two-week notice was given to all SARS offices in Nigeria.
During that period, a total of 17 detainees in both Awkuzu and Enugu SARS detention centres were seen (six in Enugu and 11 in Awkuzu). The police claimed that almost all of them had been arrested or brought to SARS on the day before. One of the detainees in SARS Awkuzu, who looked gaunt and exhausted, said he had been fed four times between that morning and 3 pm on the day of the visit.
Some of the cells were found to be completely empty. The sleeping mats seemed new. Although there were no separate outside toilets for detainees, as many urinate and defecate in a bucket in their cells. According to the report, no foul smell was noticed.
Later on, Amnesty International discovered that the cells had been cleaned for the visit.
A staff of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) revealed that when they went to visit SARS offices and cells at Enugu in August 2015, they saw detainees being taken to the back of the building, and when they asked to know what goes on behind the building, the officers refused and threatened to shoot them if they failed to leave.
Dr Justin Ogoo Nwankwo who spent 81 days in SARS Awkuzu, on Thursday, October 15, 2020, narrated his experience:
“While I was a young undergraduate, I held close to my heart that the Nigerian system was a failure. Like most men of my generation, we knew, saw and believed that unemployment was a cankerworm eating deeply into the fabric of our society. Post-school days thought was always inundated with memories of our seniors and ex-copers roaming aroma junction, unizik junction, okpuno road, Emma Nnaemeka axis and predominantly Ifite road.
“…On my part, like most other fellows, I believed mine was going to be different. My uncles promised to give me job instanta once I made my 2nd class Upper in an oil firm.
According to Dr Nwankwo, all of these were just promises. Life was tough and while undergoing his PhD, he was able to secure a job a hotel manager at on November 28, 2012, at Upper-Class Hotel Onitsha owned by Chief Bonaventure Mokwe-Dikeh.
He further said:
“I quickly but with panic looked at my Nokia torch phone display time and it was 7.38 am. Who could be disturbing the peace of a hotel by this time? Perhaps one or two of my staff have suddenly decided to taste their brows after some round of bottles I declared for them last night for a job well done in the month of July. Still wriggling with the thought upon a pair of boxers and singlet… I heard heavy footsteps ascending the stairs and in a twinkle, I was face to face with “edom”…policemen numbering twenties with rifles halted me and I promptly introduced myself as the manager with a polished ascent thinking that was a routine police visit.
“They took to me to the Director’s office Chief Bonaventure Mokwe and demanded an immediate search of the hotel. We obliged them but carelessly one of the officers said as we left the Director’s office
” Let’s begin with Room 102″
“How could he have known the numbering pattern of the hotel? Why that haste?
“But he was quickly overruled by the team leader” Search everywhere”
“The search under 5mins landed in the 1st Floor of the 3 storied building and I kept insisting that all the rooms at such hour 7:38 am had guests in it. I insisted further that we have submitted manifest to SCID but I was on another storytelling to what these butchers came to accomplish.
“The next 25mins of stage-managed search and display of dry decaying human skulls and 2 rifles with bullets benumbed me. My active brain froze and travelled on a temporary holiday of tabularaza! The worst has happened and the night has suddenly decided to replace the noonday!
“Hey…hoi…Jesus, Satan rented from the gathering mob! Kill them, kill them, stone them, stone them increased more in volume while the police led us all out staff and lodgers in a single file to an awaiting black maria. Displayed and feasted upon by the journalist…we were locked up in that small black maria…16 of us and that was where our journey to the Nazi Camp began.
“Trapped in that van of 5 seaters, the 16 of us chuckled each other tightly that there was no notice of male and female. We remained there from 9.40 am till 3.50 or so pm when the door was opened at Awkuzu SARS. Meanwhile, our sweat filled half of the van because there no motion except while we were driven to SARS.
“Emeka, Uche and one other customer lodger fainted and resuscitation meant extra more faints… We simply adapted and waited upon the lord! Let me pause and attend to my doorbell…the tales of Awkuzu SARS (The Nigerian Abattoir) shall follow suit.
“81 days, that’s what I spent in that Abattoir!
“I rose from the ranks as we grew from undertakers who carried wounded and butchered inmates from the torture hall to the police van or cell either for corpse disposal or for abandonment in the cell!
“I rose in my days to the rank of Cell 4 Boss! I brought ingenuity to my cell! I introduced rationed Nylons and rationed tissues inside each nylon for defecation which of course was class from the usage of cartons and newspapers. While we awaited our turn for the ” travel” which is the acronym for ” killing” at Awkuzu Sars, we at least held the brotherhood of the cellmates to heart! Those who have nobody visiting them, we joined in the evening ration with buying extra fufu by the close of each day to mix up with the garri and fufu of those who have registered for food. By this, every cellmate will at least have one ration for the night before the midnight movement of inmates resume
“The Night comes with the Question;
“Who will be the next to Fire? You or me!
“I arrived Awkuzu SARS on the 1st day of August 2013 with My boss Chief Bonaventure Mokwe-Dikeh in a weakened body after 6hrs lock up in the black Maria with 12 other staff of Upper-Class Hotel. I have kept my mind alert refusing to faint or collapse in the van. Yet upon arrival, I could read the bold inscriptions on the wall of that Abattoir camp which reads…
” Well come to hellfire”
“I quickly told myself that we are in for the worst.
“I have heard the tales of this abattoir. I always thought and believed that it was the land of mongrels and that it was absolutely reserved for hardened criminals until I arrived!
“But No…I was mistaken! It was a centre for butchering both the innocent and the guilty! A theatre of human death and sale of human parts.
“Remind me, I shall tell you about the doctor always on white flowing agbada in Awkuzu Sars who comes to treat gunshots and his expertise in negotiating human parts!
“Marshalled straight by the almighty O.C SARS to an open rickety hall upon our arrival: all other victims were separated, each to his or her own fate.
“Standing by one end was a police officer with two suspects who were chained together and the tempo of the interrogation was getting higher. Momentarily forgetting my own ordeal…I kept a gaze on all corners of the hall abandoned with an ominous look of a 2nd world war torture camp.
“Ropes were streaming down from ceiling tops, bags of sand were elevated on perimeter wall fence of the hall and all types of rod and metal varying in shape, length and size were staring at you while you hear shouts of people from the back of the hall screaming the name of their late great grandmothers to come and intercede on their behalf.
“Buckets of water are standby in case one faints or opts to die before appending a signature to already written statements. I was still taking the mein of the entire facility when I was jolted back to reality by the sound of a rapid military rifle…tem tem tem!!!!!.
“You no wan talk…you wan follow am go, you wan travel!!! were the words resonating from the other end of the hall. I tried looking but slaps from my I.P.O…Investigating Police Officer reminded me that I was not in this camp for Excursion or Tourism.
“…That guy don travel oooo ..said my IPO.So make you tell me the truth otherwise I go travel you were the words from the officer.
“Meanwhile, the O.C Sars, the 2aice (2nd in command) and about 4 other police officers started asking me questions ranging from personal to family to academic background questions
“…when I got to the level that I was a PhD student, the questions ceased and the O.C shouted …Mr. Tell us what happened or in his Abakaliki ascent…ma agbajisie gu ukpa la abo (shoot your two legs). I started my story of what happened but that was not what they wanted to hear. The questions were already made and I must be categorical in my answers
“…Your director kills people…No Sir I retorted!
“And the torture started properly… Make him talk( ordered the OC James Nwafor) before he went to supervise the torture of Chief Bonaventure Mokwe at the back of the hall).
“Ropes were tied by my two hands…by the two legs, then both leg and hand bent and tied together with a rod passing through in between them and then elevated to a perimeter wall.
“In fact, if you have watched a goat prepared for a barbecue of suya night then you are close to the picture.
“At the turn of each question and non-compliance, a bag of sand is added at my back to add extra pain. Cries upon wails until you pass out. Ooh, you want to die…common Justin death is far removed! A cold bucket of water quickly spoils your trance and brings you back to reality.
“From minutes to hours, the torture lasted ontop of the beam. In the cell, we call it ” Hanging” The boss of the cell will always differentiate ” ndi agbara”hanging with others because you will be laid flat at the cell for at least 3 days before your joints start to heal.
“The ” hanging” never stops until finally, you start saying that you killed Ibrahim Babangida so that you can be brought down meanwhile Babangida is alive.
“From hanging on the beam, tying of rope in a strangulation mode around the neck, Inserting of pin and rope inside the penis to shooting of bullets in a circular fashion around increasing the tempo of the questions at each turn, one is immersed into a theatre of pain and your pre-written statements a product of individual pain threshold. In the midst of my torture, I opted to set forth at dawn…dragging myself to crossover the thresholds of deaths but they were Anthills in the Savannah.
“On his part, Bonaventure Mokwe was undergoing his own routine hanging and strangulation and his shouts of nne mooo, nne moooo, nne moooo !!!!! was re-vibrating from the back of the hall!
“I will kill you and nothing will happen…were consistently echoing from the Chief Butcher James Nwafor! But at this point, everybody was carrying his own cross… nothing I could do to help the old man but to soak my own pain without giving up the ghosts!
“The gods were wise! Around 8 pm that night, I was unconsciously taken into Cell 5. I came to know the real essence of that cell days later.
“Cursed with five cells at that Bay…some are better than the others. Cell 5 is the worst because it is tagged “Condemned cell”. If you happen to be there, then you are not in Awkuzu SARS because that cell for them does not exist.
“High profile criminals caught with military rifles are kept there awaiting execution and because our case had all the above element…I smelled the cell for 6hrs and was transferred out in the morning of next day while the director remained there till the 5th of August. From cell 5 I moved to Cell1 and to cell 4 where I rotted away without taking bath or brush, defecting in a nylon polythene and not seeing the light of day for 81days!
“Cell 4 and Cell 3 in Awkuzu Sara are dark cell! No light, no ventilation and no windows! Completely dark from morning to evening! People who are tortured return back with ambulance services performed by inmates since you can neither walk, move or shift any part of your body ….the demand for water is the case consistently but no one gives you!
“Your Cell boss knows the implications of giving you water and so brotherhood of men is preserved for it transcends the sovereignty of nations!
Cellmates die from suffocations!
Cellmates die from torture effect!
Cellmates die from gunshot wounds unattended!
Cellmates die from trauma!
Cellmates are summarily pulled out and executed in the middle of the night!!!
Akwuzu Sars was a theater of death! An abattoir!
“Dying in the cell is a normal occurrence and the ambulance duty each morning is to take them to the back yard for the diabolic looking doctor to confirm!
“Cell 4 and 3 were total blackout cells filled with the stench of inmates purportedly caught with locally and kidnapping cases.
“In my days at Guantanamo Bay…I rekindled my pastoral skills and led the two twin cell of 3 &4 in morning, afternoon and night devotions. Sleeping was with one eye open because gunshots fill the air at all times and people are summarily judged through the barrel of a gun. Answering your name at odd hours is risky and mention of your name reminds of the ambulance job we do each day for fallen comrades.
“A room of not more than 2 Square size packed up by 29 to 31 suspect
…heat kills, hunger kills, mental switch on and off kills
…and police bullets does the rest.
“Who will be the next to be fired?
“At the abattoir, talks of going to court is freedom itself and remanding one in prison custody was answering of prayers from God.
“Every day we waited for our turn…singing to the Almighty… Abraham Blessings are mine!
“He delivered Paul and Silas!!!!!To the government of my country…
“Awkuzu SARS activity was legitimatized and was accepted by the Government of the Day!
instruction of the officer-in-charge.