“ He said that he did not want me to be remanded in custody, else he would have arranged a magistrate that would have remanded me for at least five days in prison to teach me a lesson”
A Port Harcourt-based Lawyer Ozununye G. Nsirim has recounted how policemen tortured and humiliated him in Port Harcourt, Rivers state while representing his client. In a written document he sent to NOHR and also posted on FACEBOOK on 26 August, the lawyer recounted the horrifying experience of how he was detained, tortured, stripped, and paraded in public by the police over a matter relating to the sale of the property of his client.
According to him, “sometime in June 2022, a client called that she was detained at the Choba Division. I got to the office of the DPO that night in the middle of an interview and introduced myself. The case against my client was malicious damage to the property of S. P. Benson, a police officer. It was revealed that Benson bought a property from my client’s husband without her consent and went with a lorry load of police officers to take possession, thereby arresting my client who was found in her property. I suggested to Benson to ask for a refund as a husband cannot sell a property jointly owned with the wife”
“The DPO fixed the next day for a visit to the property in question, which I didn’t attend. A few days later, my client called that the police has called that S.P Benson wants the matter charged to court and that she should come to the station with her lawyer. Unfortunately, Benson never showed up on any of the days fixed for court, instead, a signal was sent from Zone 16, that the case is transferred. I was further informed by my client that on review of the case by the AIG Zone 16, the DPO Choba was instructed to continue with the investigation and nothing was heard from S. P. Benson anymore.
Surprisingly, my client received a call on the 17th of August, 2022, that there was a petition against her at FCID Aluu, for the threat to life and malicious damage and that she was required to report the next day. My client called the police officer to extend the appointment to the 22nd of August 2022, as she had a pressing need to attend to. The office refused an extension, threatening to come after her.
My client became so agitated that I had to visit the FCID Aluu, to speak with the Commander and seek an extension of her invitation. On getting to FCID Aluu, I introduced myself and requested to see the Commander but I was told by one inspector Friday that I was named in that petition and therefore, a suspect. I was shown a petition written by S.P. Benson against my client, whereby one Nsirim was mentioned to have threatened his life and caused malicious damage to his property. I was told that I am now under arrest and will make a statement under caution. I was forced to write a statement. While I was writing my statement, several officers who wore no means of identification walked up to me to say that I am only a charge and bail lawyer who wants to stop their colleague from taking a landed property he bought. Another called me a fake lawyer who doesn’t have a call to the bar number. One of the officers told me that I am the sponsor of cultism in Ikwerre LGA and that they will arrange some cultists that will identify me as their sponsor. Another told me that they will make sure I don’t access any police formation to do any matter as a legal practitioner.
I was brought before the commander after writing my statement, where I was asked to narrate briefly what I know about the petition against me. In the course of stating my side of the story, I was stopped by the commander, who accused me of talking like I was in a court. The commander asked me to leave his office and return with my client on the 22nd of August, 2022 at 2 pm. I pleaded with the police officers that led me out of the commander’s office to fix my invitation after the NBA conference as I will be attending in Lagos. The officers refused and told me to dare them by failing to report to their office on August 22, 2022.
On August 22, 2022, I arrived at the FCID Aluu with my clients at about 1 pm. Our phones were taken away and my client was asked to write her statement. About an hour later, we were taken into the office of the commander for an interview. During the interview, S. P. Benson was asked to narrate his part of the story as well as my client’s husband and me. In course of deliberation, the subject matter appeared only to be the title to the property as the commander requested to see S. P. Benson’s title document over land. At that point, I raised my hand to draw the attention of the commander to the fact that there has not been any mention of my involvement in any act of malicious damage or threat to life. I was shouted down that I was not to dictate the pace at which they carry out their investigation. Immediately I mentioned that it was my advice to S. P. Benson that he is only entitled to a refund of his money for buying from an unauthorized party at the office of DPO Choba that has made me a suspect, and the commander ordered that I should be thrown in the cell for being rude to senior police officers like him and Benson.
I was moved straight to the front of the cell and stripped down and thrown into the cell wearing only pants and a singlet. Inside the cell, I was asked to sit on the floor and show an inscription that read “one thousand five hundred naira “. I read the inscription out and was asked to bring #1500. 00 as my cell show (these men appeared to have been planted in the cell to assault me as they were putting on clothes while I was the only person without clothes). As I attempted to give a reason why I didn’t have #1500, I was forced to do a frog jump carrying a 1.5 liter Eva water bottle, filled with water. Unable to frog jump to their satisfaction, I was hit on my neck with the water bottle and I passed out.
Hours later, l became conscious and was brought out of the cell by Inspector Friday and asked to come out and identify all the items I came with for record purposes. They paraded me like a criminal before my client and other persons in the station called me names. I was paraded through the major road of Aluu for almost 500 meters, stripped and barefooted from their station to where I parked my car and seized my car and everything in it. I was forced to drive my car into their station. My computer, phone, car, and several other items were taken away. I was thrown back into the cell.
A few hours later, at precisely 5:40 pm, I was brought out of the cell and forced to make a statement of what transpired in the office of the commander. I told the officers I couldn’t make any statement as I was tensed and traumatized. Some of the officers around said that I would be given the CHIMA IKWUNADO treatment if I fail to convince my client to allow S. P. Benson to collect her property. The officer stated that money was not the problem as S. P. Benson is willing to pay any amount for the property. I was threatened to make a statement in my interest or risk my life and that of my family. I was forced to unlock my phone so that they will look for anything incriminating but I refused. I was also told that my car and house have been identified and that I will not be allowed to drive freely by police officers as S. P. Benson is in charge of police monitoring. I was forced until I only agreed to write that I will make a statement later.
I was thrown back into the cell and a few hours later, the commander called me out in the full glare of officers and other people to ask me the university I graduated from to be sure I was even a lawyer. I responded that he has humiliated me enough and should let me be. I was thrown back into the cell.
Back in the cell, someone kept sprinkling some liquid substance that hurt the eyes. I was starved of food and water, denied access to phones, and was not allowed to call my wife and children, family, friends, and colleagues. All through the night in the cell was hell. First thing in the morning the next day, I was paraded by fully armed policemen with not less than 10 magazines attached to their rifles. Forced into a vehicle and driven to a magistrates court Isiokpo division and charged with threatening to beat up S.P. Benson in the FCID station. I was granted bail on self-recognition and the police asked to release all the items confiscated, including my vehicle. The court also directed that I should go back to the station with a reliable surety for the bail of my client who was also detained in their custody. Court further directed that I should be allowed to recover fully from the trauma I complained about before I could make a statement and that should be at least before the next adjourned date of 14/09/2022.
On getting back to FCID Aluu, for the collection of my personal belongings and the bail of my client, we were taken into the office of the commander, present in the commander’s office was Leonard Badumeru Esq. Alison Nsirim, my client, inspector Friday, and I. The commander said to me that I must be humble whenever I come to his office. From my look, I have not made money from the legal profession. The commander stated further that he has made so much money in the police force that he is neither hungry nor looking for money. That the office he is occupying is big and he has held sensitive positions in the police force, at home, and abroad. That he has been issued a diplomatic passport due to his position in the force. He said to us that he made most of his money while in charge of policing at the Bayelsa state government house. That when next I come to his office, I shouldn’t mention that a matter has been before AIG zone 16 as he doesn’t report to the AIG. He further stated that he didn’t want me remanded in custody if not he would have arranged a magistrate that would have reminded me for at least five days in prison to teach me a lesson. On the issue of my statement, he disagrees with the court as it is an offense not to make a statement to the police. That he wouldn’t release my belongings if I didn’t make a statement. The commander asked the inspector Friday to confirm if Choba magistrates court is still sitting so that I can be charged there for refusing to make a statement. Leonard Esq kept pleading with the Commander to allow me to recover and come on a later date for the statement. I stood my grounds that I was sick being without food for over 24 hours, therefore, will not be able to write a statement. It was on the arrival of Uche Okwukwu that I was allowed to go with my client and another interview was fixed for 5th September 2022. I pray no lawyer finds him or herself in a similar situation”.
When NOHR spoke to Mr. Nsirim on Sunday he said the NBA Rivers State branch has waded into the matter and will be meeting with him on Monday. The Rivers state police command has also waded into the matter. He also raised alarm about the threat to his life by the police.
“ I want it on record that my life and that of my family are threatened. Superintendent of Police Benson and his boys said I will lose my life if S.P. Benson is unable to take my client’s property by force. From all indications, SP Benson has no valid claim to my client’s property and would eventually not have it. The implication is that they may come after me for losing the property as earlier threatened. I call on the Nigerian masses and the police hierarchy, to hold SP Benson and his collaborators at the FCID Aluu, Rivers State, responsible” he said.