On the evening of May 13, Emediong Davis climbed on a motorcycle ridden by his friend, Saturday Okon Job. They were heading to a nearby community in Obot Akara from Ikot Ekpene in Akwa Ibom State, to deliver a hyper realistic portrait to Okon’s father who was celebrating his birthday.
But the trip ended at a military checkpoint at Owa Junction at Essien Udim Local Government. They were ordered off the motorcycle, searched and told to sit on the ground. It would be the beginning of the violation of their rights because they were suspected to be members of the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) – a proscribed pro-secessionist group.
“When we saw them, we surrendered and showed them the portrait we were going to deliver,” Davis told FIJ. “They found my phone and torchlight, then they searched us after which we were ordered to walk with them to where they were camping.”
That was the last time families would see them. The next day, Davis and Okon, along with three people, were handed over to the Police as “minor suspects” by the soldiers from Ibawa Barracks manning the checkpoint.
“The Police tagged us criminals and harassed us when they came. They tied us and took pictures. The Army commander prevented them from doing it. He told them that we were minor suspects from different locations and that had it been we were ‘those persons’, we would have been killed.”
Although Davis told FIJ he did not know whom the Commander referred to as ‘those persons’, attacks on security operatives and government facilities in the Southeast and the Southsouth by persons suspected to be members of IPOB have led to increased presence of security checkpoints and human rights violations.
A National Diploma II Electrical Engineering student of the Federal Polytechnic Nekede and a visual artist, Davis insisted he never supported attacks on government facilities and security operatives by criminals.
At the police station, the story changed; from being minor suspects, they were accused of terrorism. For two weeks and one day, Emediong, Okon and three others went through a series of rights violation.
ABDUCTED BY THE POLICE
“At the station, the policemen were rejoicing, saying ‘we have caught IPOB, Biafra’. We were shocked because that’s not what the military told them. They moved us to three stations; one of them where we abducted and kept for 14 days is called IGP Office, Off IBB Way,” Davis said.
Before they were made to write statements and detained, Davis had sent a text message to his sister telling her his location and asking her to find out the meaning of ‘STS’ written on the clothes of one of the police officers.
“When they searched and found my phone, they asked if I had used it to send text. When I admitted that I did, they were annoyed. I told them that I wouldn’t know because I had never been arrested before,” he said.
To confuse his family, a police officer impersonating Davis replied his sister’s text to the phone. The officer lied that her brother was arrested by the IGP’s Squad and had been taken to Abuja.
“My father later told me that he came to look for me at the IGP’s office station, but they told him I was not there. What was their intention for confusing our families?” he asked.
TORTURED, TREATED LIKE PIGS IN A ‘BLACK CELL’
He was taken into one of the cells called ‘Black Cell’. There were six people in the cell in the first week; in the second week, the number rose to 17. The cell had become congested. They could not all lay down to sleep on the concrete floor at the same time. Every hour, they would change positions; while some sat folding their legs, others stood.
“It is called Black Cell because no one sees you until you come out and hold the bar,” Davis said. “There was no space for breathing, there was no space for lying down. They packed all of us inside and we were suffering from heat.”
Feeding by the police was not regular. Their investigating police officer (IPO), identified as Ubong, saw the detainees’ situation as a money-making opportunity.
“He would starve us for two to three days despite giving him money to buy us food. But those who had mercy on us would throw bread into the cell. We would eat as if we were pigs,” Davis said.
“Sometimes, they would not open the cell for us to ease ourselves or take our bath.”
When they were called to write statements and be interrogated, one detainee was tortured and told to confess to being a member of IPOB. Okon became unconscious while he was tortured but was resuscitated, Davis, who was not tortured, told FIJ.
“When Okon nearly died, they were afraid and stopped torturing us,” he said.
‘TO THE POLICE, EVERYONE IS A TERRORIST’
While the military hands over ‘minor suspects’ to the Police for more probes, the latter, without investigating, concludes that it has ‘captured terrorists’ and subjects them to horrifying conditions.
One of them was a seven-month-old pregnant woman accused of being the wife of a herbalist. When security operatives did not find her husband, they arrested her and separated her from her young children. Also, 70-year-old man was taken from his home and put in the black cell.
“We heard her crying and shouting in her cell,” Davis said. “When she was arrested at her house, they asked about her husband, but he had left her and the children for over two months. I don’t think she would remain in that community if she were a criminal.”
As they languished in detention, news reports citing a ‘situation report’ by the Police had begun circulating online. Odiko Ogbeche Macdon, Public Relations Officer, Akwa Police Command, had told FIJ that he was neither aware of the report nor the arrest of anyone.
According to the report, Davis, Okon and four others, including the wife of a herbalist, were arrested at a “notorious IPOB camp in Essien Udim LGA by a joint team of the police and the military”.
“The report is not true. We were not arrested by the Police; we were not arrested at a shrine and we are not IPOB members,” he said. “One of those they arrested is a motorcycle rider who belongs to an association and another is a veterinary doctor.”
MOVE BY POLICE TO PROLONG THEIR DETENTION
After two weeks at the IGP’s Office Station, they were transferred to Ikot Akpan Abia Police Station, where fresh statements were collected and a new date given to suggest that they were newly arrested. While Okon’s bike was left at the military camp, Davis’s painting, which had taken about six month to make, had been destroyed and was left behind.
“At the new station, we had to beg for water and bread buns, as we had not been fed for days and I was dying. The police officer asked which money he would use to get us food,” Davis said.
Assisted by some persons at the station, who helped to phone his father, Davis and Okon were found and efforts to get them released began.
“My father could not believe that I was alive. I could not speak, I just wept when I saw him because I felt like I was dying inside me. We had suffered heat, hunger, sleeplessness and threats of being killed,” Davis said.
Odiko Obeche Macdon, spokesman of the Akwa Ibom State Police Command, did not respond to FIJ’s requests for comment.
With his name out in the public as a member of an outlawed organisation he does not belong to, Davis is concerned that it might affect his future. He also fears that across the state, many who are innocent are arrested and detained by security operatives.
“The Police blackmailed us. They should prove their claims that we are IPOB members or retract the statement,” Davis said.
“For what Okon and I went through at the hands of the Police, to say that they wronged me is an understatement. They abducted us for two weeks and one day and that is a huge injustice.”
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