Emeka Ugwuonye went to SARS abattoir on a James Bond- like mission and almost never made it out alive
Friday, July 6, 2018 will remain a memorable day for all those who know Emeka Ugwuonye. In the heat of the dispute between DPA and the Abuja police command over the case of Chacha, the police arrested Emeka in Court in Abuja. They told him that the Commissioner of police wanted to see him in the Commissioner’s office. Emeka told them to go, that he was coming. They insisted he must come with them. So, it was an arrest.
In their office, five police officers, led by James Idachaba, asked Emeka to explain why he called the Nigerian police corrupt and incompetent in a post he made on DPA Forum. Emeka answered that as a matter of fact the police were corrupt and incompetent. Emeka’s boldness greatly annoyed Idachaba, who began to shout at Emeka. At this point, Emeka said to him: “From your behavior right here, can’t you see how incompetent you are?” Idachaba got mad and ordered that Emeka be detained in the notorious police secret prison known as Abattoir.
Barrister Ifeanyi Chukwu, Emeka’s counsel who accompanied him to the police station, was alarmed. He tried to talk Idachaba out of detaining Emeka Ugwuonye. But Emeka took his lawyer aside and whispered to him: “I actually want to go to Abattoir so I can interview the two men accused of killing Chacha, who are detained there. There is no other way for a lawyer to get to them. In fact, I deliberately made the officer angry in the hope they would detain me there”. Barrister Chukwu was not sure this was a good idea. But it was clear Emeka had a plan and his mind was made up.
Emeka was taken to Abattoir. Anybody taken to Abattoir understands he is 60% likely not to come out alive. But Emeka felt very differently when he stepped into one of the most dangerous places in Nigeria. When the gate closed behind him and inmates tried to physically and aggressively subdue him as they do to to every new detainee on arrival, Emeka motioned to them and said in his American accent: “Hold it guys. I’m Emeka Ugwuonye and I’m here to help you”. The inmates looked at themselves in total shock. “Nobody talks like this here”, they seem to saying in their minds.
“Who is the leader among you”?, Emeka said to them. They pointed at a very tough and rough bully, whom Emeka learnt was the General Ptesido of Abattoir inmates, about 1000 men in various state of mind and body in this mad house.
Emeka held the General Presido by hand and move away from the circle of inmates who were all surprised to see this man. For many reasons, the men knew Emeka was an unusual inmate. He was actually still on the suite and tie he was wearing when arrested in Court that morning. Secondly, there was no indication that he had been beaten by the police, which is the basic fate of every arriving detainee. They would arrive disheveled, beaten, and in serious distress. But not Emeka. Third, Emeka seemed not worried about being in Abattoir. If there was anything that displeased him, it was the horrible conditions of the inmates – the dehumanization, the degradation, the stench, the misery.
Once he felt he and the General Presido were as alone as they could be in that meat pack, Emeka said: “Do you know the two men called Paul Jekwu Ezeugwu and Emmanuel Adogah? I need to talk to them”. The General Presido thought briefly. “The boys accused of killing a woman?”, he asked. Emeka nodded. The man looked searchingly and suspiciously at Emeka. Without waiting for him to voice his doubts, Emeka said: “I am a lawyer. The family of Emmanuel wants me to represent him. I couldn’t decide until I’ve spoken with Emmanuel. Unfortunately, this is the only way I could meet these men”.
The General Presido assigned a corner spot to Emeka. And shortly after Emmanuel Adogah, with marks all over his body, was standing in front of him. Emeka recognized him from the parade video shared by the police on YouTube. Emeka interviewed Adogah for two straight hours, that first time. The next day, which was a Saturday, Emeka continued to interrogate Emmanuel. Emmanuel narrated how he was tortured and forced to confess to killing a woman he never met. One part of Emeka’s mission was accomplished – he has been able to confirm that the men confessed under extreme torture.
Emeka used the rest of the weekend to interview over one other inmates to document their stories. (You may see the short documentary titled ABATTOIR to appreciate how much Emeka was able to achieve in one weekend in Abattoir. On Monday, the police charged Emeka to court. And he left Abattoir, but not without the information he needed.
Due Process Advocates (DPA)