By Justin Nwankwo
‘I arrived Awkuzu SARS on the 1st day of August 2013. With a weakened body…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 Nazi camp which reads…” Well come to hell fire” I quickly told myself that we are in for the worst. I have heard the tales of this bay and camp from Aschelon and Zeba. I always thought and believed that it was the land of mongrels and that it was absolutely reserved for them until j arrives! No…I was mistaken! Marshalled straight by the almighty O.C SARS to an open rickety hall…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 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 was starring 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 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 …so make you tell me the truth otherwise I go travel you were the words from the officer.
Meanwhile, the O.C torture, 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…gbajisie 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! And the torture started properly… Ropes tied by my two hands…by the two legs, then both leg and hand bended 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 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 but never stopped until finally you start saying that you killed 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.
The gods were wise! Around 8pm 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 except on occasional visit.
A total black cell filled with the stench of rugged criminals caught with locally made rifles. 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 thee next to fire? At the camp, talks of going to court is freedom itself and remanding one in prison custody was answering of prayer s from God. Every day we waited for our turn…singing to the Almighty… Abraham Blessing are mine! He delivered Paul and Silas!!!!!To the government of my country…if the activities of Awkuzu SARS is legitimatized and now acceptable, then let’s close down the prisons and save the expenditure on warders and prison welfare for better ventures.’
– An unedited narrative by Dr Justin Nwankwo, then a PhD student/Researcher at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. He was arrested and detained for 81 days and tortured at SARS Awkuzu in 2013