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Ugwuonye Raise Alarm Over Gross Rights Abuse By Police, Attempt To Cover Up Murder

Barrister Ephraim Emeka Ugwuonye has released a solemn damning summary of the story behind his detention and prosecution by the Nigerian Police.

In the summary made available to ElombahNews dated 14th December, 2018, Barrister Ugwuonye alleged “Gross Abuse of Rights and Desperate Effort by the Nigerian Police to Cover up Atrocities and Extra-Judicial Killings”.

Below is a summary of tomorrows case, prepared by one of his lawyers from the Due Process Advocates [DPA] titled “Ephraim Emeka Ugwuonye vs Inspector General of Police and the Nigerian Police Force”:

I’m a lawyer and the Founder and CEO of the Due Process Advocates International Foundation (DPA), a non-profit human rights and humanitarian organization. DPA is registered under the laws of the State of Maryland, United States of America, and the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. DPA operates mainly in Nigeria, but with offices both in Nigeria and Maryland, United States.

As a lawyer, I trained both in Nigeria and at Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Massachusetts. I have worked as a lawyer both in private and public practice for the past 27 years. I have lived in the United States for the past 26 years.

Among other areas of interest, DPA works to prevent domestic violence and to promote the right to equal protection of the law regardless of gender. Also, DPA fights against atrocities by the members of the Nigerian police against the members of the civilian population. By this, DPA helps to provide lawyers for victims of police abuses, either free of charge or on discounted basis. DPA’s membership is over two hundred thousand active members worldwide. DPA is well-known for its work and many victims and relatives or friends of victims of human rights abuse come to DPA to seek help when faced with injustice or abuse.

Around June 13, 2016, while I was at my home in Rockville Maryland, United States, I received what looked like a normal request, asking that DPA should help in searching for a missing lady known as Charity Aiyedegbon, a.k.a. Chacha. The messages requesting for assistance came from friends of Chacha. Also, I received a phone call from a lady who introduced herself as sister-in-law to Chacha because she was married to Chacha’s brother, who happened to be out of Nigeria at the time, as the lady stated.

From interviewing those who contacted me and reading from the abundant social media chatter on Chacha and from painstakingly reading Chacha’s own writings and updates on her two Facebook accounts/pages, I was able to come to the following conclusions within hours of commencing my investigation:

(A)          That Chacha had gone missing for a whole month without any trace or contact with the friends she would ordinarily  have been be in contact with, and the last known date any known person was in contact with her was 9th May, 2016. This date was objectively important because that was the day she made her last status update on her Facebook accounts.

(B)          That whereas Chacha was very active on Facebook to the point of making on the average 10 updates each day on her two Facebook accounts in the three months preceding 9th May, 2016, she did not make a single update between 9th May 2016 (the date she was presumed to have disappeared) and 13th June, 2016 (the date DPA and I became aware of her case).

(C)          Also from Chacha’s own writings on social media, which was extensive, it was clear that Chacha had had numerous marital disputes with her estranged husband, David Aiyedegbon, and there were around the time of her disappearance about 6 lawsuits initiated by Chacha against David Aiyedegbon over family or joint property. Among these cases was an investigation by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) at the instance of Chacha and a divorce petition  filed by Chacha.

(D)          That in the period of over one month, the Abuja police command handling the case had not issued even a single public statement concerning the case or asking for public support in the search for Chacha. Instead, the police officers handling the case seemed focused only on arresting and detaining Chacha’s presumed boyfriends and Chacha’s lawyers. It was clear from the beginning that there was poor and incompetent handling of the investigation by the police.

I commenced investigation into Chacha’s case in my capacity as a lawyer and as the Founder of DPA. By training and experience, an investigation of this nature would involve taking into consideration all available information about the victim and her circumstances and try to reconstruct or estimate what could have gone wrong, including carrying out an analysis of any social media evidence and evidence of motive on people in the victim’s life.

The case, in my assessment, had elements of domestic violence case or extreme marital dispute. There was also evidence that the police investigation of the case was being influenced by the fact that the victim was a woman who was presumed to have had affairs with many men outside her marriage. The fact that the police were targeting solely Chacha’s lawyers and the male friends of Chacha identified by David Aiyedegbon sent an alarm to DPA that we should approach the police work on the case with some degree of skepticism.

Based on my initial assessment of the case, I made announcement on DPA Facebook page requesting for information on Chacha or the case. The request was sent to 65,000 members of DPA (full membership capacity of DPA as of June 2016) and the general public (In 2016, DPA Facebook group page was a public group and posts on DPA wall were accessible to the entire public).

In my post, I indicated the belief that Chacha was probably dead or in captivity given the fact that she had not posted any further update on her Facebook wall since 9th May, 2016 and given the fact that she had indicated on previous posts that someone or some people were after her life. I therefore asked for information of any unexplained death of a woman by accident or other means around the time of Chacha’s disappearance. (This is a standard procedure in homicide or disappearance cases).

I expected that my public request for information would yield result, especially because the police failed or neglected to make similar requests. Indeed, the police had focused solely on every lurid gossip and innuendoes supplied by David Aiyedegbon against Chacha.

As expected, my request for information yielded results instantly.  My office was inundated with information and tips. We heard from several sources that the body of an unidentified woman was found by the police in Bwari area of Abuja three days after Chacha went missing. To pursue these lids, I hastened my return to Nigeria. Around 19th June, 2016, I flew back to Nigeria.

Even before departing from Maryland, I announced that DPA was looking into the case of the unidentified body. I was however initially skeptical about the unidentified body because I had assumed that since the police was aware of the body, it must have ruled it out as Chacha’s body. Indeed, it was much later that I realized that the Abuja police command had no well-established means of communication and information-sharing among its various divisional offices and units.

So, the police unit searching for Chacha was never aware that an unidentified body was found by the police division in Bwari Area Ciuncil. And the division that found the body was not aware that any woman was missing and being looked for by any another unit of the police, and there was no central crime database or system of information-sharing.

With the help of the public and Chacha’s friends, DPA obtained the photographs of the unidentified body, which the police had made. Through the police record, we also obtained information about the disposal of the body. It was a horrible amateurish and incompetent police work. DPA was dismayed by the level of incompetence displayed by the Abuja command of the Nigerian police.

Our first challenge was to try to identify the body to determine whether we could rule it out as Chacha’s body. There was no easily reliable way to do this. The body was already buried by the Sanitation Authority on the directives of the divisional police command. It was buried in an unmarked grave in the public cemetery.

However, the grave could still be identified because according to the Authority staff, it was their last burial as at that time. (It was DPA that requested the Authority to mark the grave to aid any further investigation).

For the purpose of identifying the body, what came to my mind was to show the pictures of the body to Chacha’s friends and her gynecologist to see if they could identify it as Chacha’s. We did not have information on who her gynecologist was.

But we had information on one of the men she dated since she was separated from her husband. The information was contained in Chacha’s social media writings where she admitted that she and her boyfriend (Jo) were planning to have a baby and that she got pregnant for Jo.

I sent the pictures of the body to Jo via Whatsapp. Jo confirmed positively that the body was Chacha’s body. I asked him how he could be so sure. He pointed at a C-section mark on the lower abdomen of the body and for the first time I could see the mark. I also showed the picture to another close friend of Chacha’s known as Kelvin.

(Both Jo and Kelvin were detained and interrogated by the police but were released. Jo was released before DPA got involved in the case, while Kelvin was arrested after DPA was on the case.)

DPA  sent a lawyer to secure the release of Kelvin. Jo was detained for 4 weeks while Kelvin was detained for only 2 days because of DPA intervention). Kelvin was not as firm as Jo in positively identifying the body. But he said it was likely Chacha’s body.

Armed with the outcome of our investigation up to this point, DPA posted information on its Facebook wall stating its belief that the unidentified body was Chacha’s and DPA also clearly indicated how it arrived at such belief or conclusion.

The Abuja command did not react well to DPA publications of its investigation. The police became hostile to DPA and began to threaten to prosecute me for incitement. DPA became more openly critical of the police for its poor and incompetent handling of the investigation. The police arrested me first on 1st July, 2016 accusing me of concealing information about a crime.

Their assumption was that it was DPA that discovered the body and photographed it and buried it as an unidentified body in public cemetery, all without the knowledge or involvement of the police. As bizarre as such assumption was, the police used it as a pretext to arrest me. It became clear that the police simply wanted to be allowed to repackage a wrong narrative of what happened.

DPA refused to back down amidst threats and intimidation by the police. To further pressure DPA into silence, the police charged me with a crime on one count of defaming Chacha’s husband.

As that did not stop DPA, on 6th July, 2018, as I was attending trial on the first charge, the police arrested me again and detained me at their detention center called the Abattoir. They arraigned me on Monday, 9th July 2018 and they did everything to frustrate my bail application.

EVIDENCE OF POLICE ATROCITIES:

While in  Abattoir from Friday 6th July 2018 to Monday 9th July, 2018, I saw nearly a 1000 inmates being detained by the police in extremely inhumane conditions, worse than what was reported to be occurring in Libya with the abuse of immigrants. As I asked questions of the inmates, I was shocked and horrified by what I found.

According to them, inmates were starved, beaten, tortured, and randomly executed by police officers. Inmates were forced to pay at least N200,000 in order for their cases to be taken to court. Many inmates have been detained for over two years without any plans to charge them to court. Instead, the police would turn the relatives of the inmates into their ATM and milk them for cash.

The first thing the policemen do when they arrest a person is to take him to an ATM to withdraw money, which the officers would pocket there and then. The following day, the officers would go to the arrested person’s house with a truck to pack everything in the house, which the officers would share among themselves.

There have been cases where the police would loot the properties of a suspect right in the presence of the wife and children of the suspect, leaving the man’s family with an empty house.  Inmates reported to me that they see the officers putting on the shirts and shoes those officers stole from their houses.

An inmate whom I met in Abattoir pointed at an officer in the cell and said to me: “Sir, that shirt he is wearing is my shirt. And the shoe he is wearing is mine too”. I asked him how the officer got those items. He informed me that the officers took away even the utensils in his apartment and shared it among themselves.

Many other inmates reported the same to me. The phone being used by the officers, the watches on their hands, etc were stolen from arrested suspects. It is clear to me that part of the reasons for long detentions and executions is to permanently conceal these crimes by the police officers.

When I arrived in Abattoir on 6th July, 2018, I met for the first time Jekwu Ezeugwu and Emmanuel Adogah. The two had been arrested in June of 2018 and paraded by the police as the confessed killers of Chacha. DPA had questioned the voluntariness of their  confession and again accused the police of incompetence. That was the immediate cause of my arrest on 6th July 2018.

I left the Abattoir on 10th July 2018. Before leaving the Abattoir, I collected the names of several inmates who had been in detention for more than 7 months without ever being to court. Those inmates had requested DPA to help fight for their rights.

One of those was Emmanuel Adogah. Emmanuel Adogah informed me that he and Jekwu Ezeugwu were severely tortured and forced to confess to a crime they did not commit. Emmanuel Adogah informed me that he never knew what Chacha looked like until the police handed him her picture at the parade ground and told him “that’s the woman you killed”.

Adogah informed me of how he and Ezeugwu were tortured by police officers and the staff of David Aiyedegbon. Among those who tortured Ezeugwu and Adogah were one Daniel Obiora, David Aiyedegbon’s agent, and another man who worked as personal driver to David Aiyedegbon.  Daniel Obiora and David Aiyedegbon’s personal driver are not members of the police force.

Yet they participated in the interrogation and torture of the suspects. Even David Aiyedegbon’s children participated in the interrogation of the two men. Such shoddy and unprofessional police practice was rampant during the arrest, interrogation and processing of the two suspects.

After coming out of the Abattoir, I knew I was duty-bound to disclose the horrific secrets of the Abattoir. It is mind-boggling –

  1. That the Nigerian police are running illegal prisons that have more inmates than the inmates in the Nigerian prisons. In other words, Nigerian policemen have usurped the functions of the courts and the prison service and are holding more people on custody than the prison service.
  2. That the Nigerian police are carrying out wholesale torture and maiming and executions of suspects often after many months in secret detentions.
  3. That the Nigerian policemen are selling access to court for at least N200,000 to each inmate. In other words, an arrested person is forced to pay money to the police in order for him to be charged to court. Otherwise, he will be left in police cell for years.

Based on analysis by DPA, about 10,000 inmates pass through the Abattoir every year. Total average amount of money extorted from an inmate is N500,000. (This is an average of the N5 million extorted from rich suspects and N50,000 extorted from the poor ones).

It is estimated that the Abattoir is a N5 billion annual revenue business, controlled by the Nigerian police in Abuja alone. If you add the properties of suspects stolen by the police officers, the Abattoir may become a N30 billion annual revenue business.

THE MAKING OF THE ABATTOIR DOCUMENTARY

When I became aware of the atrocities in Abattoir, I knew I must let the world know about it. I immediately began to explore how to get a video or pictures of the inside of Abattoir. My stay from 6th July to 20th July 2018 was too short for me to obtain any pictures. But some inmates understood that DPA would need such pictures to tell a credible story about Abattoir. Unfortunately, I left without any picture.

I was hoping that somehow somebody would send to DPA a picture of Abattoir. But August and September went by without the pictures. DPA was forced to make the planned documentary without insider picture of Abattoir. An introductory part of the video was released on 15th October, 2018.

The police arrested me again on the 16th of October 2018 in an effort to suppress further release of the documentary video. I was detained now in another cell. The police used the period of this detention to suppress the video and the police public relations officer denied the existence of Abattoir.

Even though the portion of the documentary released showed the names of 35 inmates in long detentions in Abbatoir and the phone numbers of their relatives, the police still denied the existence of Abattoir.

When I was arrested on the 16th of October 2018, some of the police officers made it clear to me that they would kill me if I continued to criticize the police. Some others told me that I could be roped into murder if I did not shut up.

Mr. James Idachaba, the officer in charge of the Legal Department at the Abuja Command, told me point blank on 18th October 2018 that he would charge me with the murder of Chacha to ensure I would be locked up in prison for a long time without bail.

Comfortable that they had successfully escaped public outrage over the Abattoir, the Commissioner of Police for Abuja, Mr. Bala Ciroma, the Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Jimoh Moshood, and Mr. James Idachaba conspired to charge me with murder and armed robbery, just as Mr. Idachaba had threatened. On 26th November 2018, Mr. Ciroma ordered his men to arrest and detain me.

MY RETURN TO ABATTOIR

I was detained again in Abattoir from 26th November 2018 to 14th December 2018. While in Abattoir, I continued DPA investigation into police atrocities and extra-judicial killings. It turned out that these atrocities were more rampant than I had thought. It was during my second detention that I learned of the execution of 8 inmates within a week of the release of the Abattoir documentary.

According to inmates who spoke with me, some inmates attempted to take pictures of the inside of the Abattoir with their phones. The police became aware of their plan. Those boys (8 in number) were taken out of the cell and presumed killed.

The appropriate government authorities should conduct a simple investigation. Let the IG provide an explanation of these boys’ whereabouts. Where are these suspects that were in detention? What happened to them? According to some  long-term inmates I interviewed, between January 2017 and November 2018, about 198 Abattoir inmates died from torture or executions.

The killings in Abattoir are so rampant that rumor is rife among inmates that the police are involved in human body parts trade or human organs trade. Some believe that some senior police officers are involved in ritualistic practices that involve human blood sacrifice. And they believe the extra judicial killings are in response to ritualistic demands for human blood.

Apart from the yet to be substantiated stories of organs trade and ritualistic practices, there is verifiable evidence of widespread use of torture, extortion, running of illegal prison, racketeering, and extra-judicial killings by the police. We have previously provided names and numbers of victims. Even a minimum investigation will confirm these allegations against the police.

NOTE: DPA now has pictures and videos of what goes on inside Abattoir detention center.

POLICE RETALIATION AND VENGEANCE

The police has responded to DPA criticisms with unlawful arrests, intimidation and now by fabricating a bogus murder indictment against me. Before this level of escalated attacks against me, the police has been spreading false rumor against me claiming that I was disbarred from practice of law in Nigeria.

Thank God that the Chief Justice of Nigeria is among those to receive this report. The Office of the Chief Justice can confirm that my appeal is pending before the Supreme Court without any hearing date set yet, and so I could not have been disbarred. (Refer to Ephraim Emeka Ugwuonye  and Nigeria Bar Association; Appeal No. SC/986/17).

Despite this, the office of Police Public Relations Officer  has been doing nothing else other than lying to the world that I was barred from the practice of law in Nigeria.

CONCLUSION

The appropriate Nigerian authorities should investigate the Abattoir atrocities and hold the officers involved accountable. Also, the United States Government, Britain, the European Union and the rest of international community should hold Nigeria police commanders responsible for gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity.

What happened in Libya that attracted serious measures from the international community is quite small when compared to what is happening in Abattoir.

Ephraim Emeka Ugwuonye, Esquire, Founder of DPA.

Copies to:

  1. The Attorney General of the Federation, Nigeria.
  2. The President of the Senate, Nigeria.
  3. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nigeria.
  4. The Chief Justice of the Federation, Nigeria.
  5. The Ambassador of the United States.
  6. The British High Commissioner.
  7. The Representative of the European Union.
  8. The Human Rights Commission, Nigeria
  9. The Nigerian Bar Association.
  10. CNN.
  11. Al Jazeera News Newswork.
  12. The National Chairman, APC (the ruling political party)
  13. The National Chairman, PDP (the main opposition political party).

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