'I met school kids still in their uniforms in police cell in Lagos'
They arrested them to extort money from their parents
Lagos businessman recounts his torture and that of the students
His James Bond escape from cell
Samuel Nwankwo, 40, is a Lagos based business man with office at the popular Alaba International market, Ojo area. He is into furniture and interior decoration and lives at Bode Thomas in Surulere. Last Friday, he went to a popular hotel around his residence to unwind. Unfortunately, after the night out around 2am, he jumped into his car to go home but it developed a fault. He then decided to trek home, a distance of two poles, leaving his car in the hotel. As soon as he entered his street, he was accosted by four gun-totting men dressed in mufti. They emerged from a silver-coloured bus. They asked after his identity and he surrendered his card. He went further to point at his residence, explaining that he was coming from the nearby hotel where his car broke down. But his explanations fell on deaf ears as the men not only harassed, cajoled but also intimidated him after which he was bundled into the bus. What happened next is better experienced than imagined. He narrated his heart-rending encounter thus:
How it started
My name is Engineer Samuel Nwankwo, Chairman/ CEO, World Ben Associates Limited. I deal on furniture and Interiors. My office is at Alaba International Market and my cooperate office is at Adelabu, Surulere and I live at Chief Natufe street, off Bode Thomas also in Surulere. On Friday night while I was coming from a night club at Ritaroly Hotel and Suites, very close to my house, I noticed a mini silver-coloured bus carrying about five men at about 2 am. The men stopped me. Though the men were not in police uniform and there were no signs that they were security agents, I obliged and stopped quietly as a responsible Nigerian. When they came down with their guns I was scared thinking that they could be armed robbers or kidnappers because they were looking casual. Three of the men came down while two remained inside the car with their driver.
Encounter with armed men on mufti
They asked for my identity and where I was coming from. I showed them my identification card, they collected it. I was expecting them to give it back to me but the next thing they did was to ask me to get into their vehicle. Before I realised what was happening, they slapped and pushed me inside the vehicle and then told me that they were policemen. I told them that I live in the area and thinking that they were from the nearby Bode Thomas Police station, I boldly told them that most of the policemen there know me very well. To my surprise, they headed towards another place that had nothing to do with Bode Thomas police station. I became scared and started asking where they were taking me to. They gave me another two slaps and out of fear, I kept quiet because I didn't know what would happen next. My mind was telling me that they must be kidnappers or armed robbers because they were heading towards Badagry express road. I prayed and said 'God I put my trust in your hands.'
Trailed by a neighbour
Suddenly, my phone rang, it was a neighbour that lives on that same street, Mr Chibuzor. He said ''Are you not the one that those people pushed inside that vehicle? I said, yes. He told me not to worry that he was following us behind in his own private car. When I turned back, he flashed his light and at that point, I began to feel relieved. As they were progressing along Badagry express way, my neighbour double crossed them at Orile bus stop, he came down and they also followed. He boldly accosted them by explaining that I am his brother and neighbour and that we live on the same street where they arrested me. He insisted on knowing where they were taking me to. It was at that point that they mentioned Orile Police station. At that stage, I advised my brave neighbour to just calm down and follow us to that Orile Police station. when I realised that they were actually going to the police station, I felt a bit relieved.
At Orile Police station
As soon as we got to the station, I was anxious to know the crime I committed. But, to my utmost chagrin, they took me to a hidden place inside the station where nobody could see what was going on. The next thing they asked was that I should bring money. I said for what? They said, 'ok, if you don't bring money, we are going to keep you here till Monday.' I insisted on knowing my offence but they kept quiet. My neighbour said he had some money and he was ready to give me so that we would go home but I refused, advising him to go that I will take care of myself so long as we are in the police station. I kept on telling them that I did not commit any offence and there was no curfew in Lagos. At that stage, they realised that they could not get anything from me, they then pushed me inside the cell.
Inside the cell
As soon as they dumped me inside the cell, I was very calm. But what surprised me was that the cell was congested. I saw young men and women all lying down, with some standing like slaves. I saw about six children wearing school uniforms, the boys were wearing check blue and white. I then approached them and asked what were they doing here? They said, 'Oga, they came and carried us all the way from school, we did not do anything.' I then asked of their ages. One said twelve years while the other said thirteen. The oldest person said he is fourteen years old. I screamed and asked them how long were they here? Some said, 'Sir, we've been here for the past two days, others said three.' I asked if their parents knew that they were in police custody they said yes that their parent have been running around to get money for their bail. Some said they were told to bring N10,000 while others said N20,000. They told me that they did nothing, that it was just a normal school play and the police came and picked them up. The other one said they were fighting so the police came and picked them but the most annoying thing was that these children are minors and they had been here for the past two three days in their school uniforms while their parents were still looking for means to release them.
Ordeal of parents I believe that these children are children of the low class citizens attending public schools which we also attended during our time. You can imagine what their parents were passing through realising that their children were held in the cell for three four days and they were unable to do something about it. These parent had no means to bail their children. I told them to calm down that as soon as I get out of here, I must surely do something but at that point I couldn't keep their names in my memory.
Pathetic stories Other inmates of the cell saw me as their messiah so they started opening up to me. One of them said he did nothing, that he sells things in Orile bus stop. That the police normally collect money from them, at times, they give them one or two thousand naira depending on sales for the day. But on that particular day, they had low sales within these four days and they couldn't get enough money to pay to them. They then locked him up in the cell and nobody was aware of the incident. The other one said he was walking along his street around 11pm after closing from work, that he had no transport fare because of the scarcity of fuel. As he was trekking very close to his home, the police just came from no where and arrested him and now asked him to call his people to bail him with N10,000.
Escape from Golgotha
Then I asked myself how I could come out of this situation? I then told them that I was pressed. One of them accompanied me to their toilet. I used that opportunity to study the place. It was just a straight building with three stair case, one close to their canteen. I then told them that I was having running stomach. I asked if I could use their toilet. I collected water and then used the bucket of water to hold the toilet door in order to convince them that I was still in the toilet. I then climbed the first stair case to the toilet. From there I came down to the extreme of the toilet near the counter and quietly walked outside. The moment I came out, one of them saw me and asked but I pretended as if I had paid and then told him; 'una don chop my 10k' and then escaped. When I turned, I saw him rushing to the station so, I quickly ran to my house.
After my return, it was a terrible thing, my wife was down. She said this is her first time of experiencing such. I was down. I had to go to hospital. I must sincerely tell you that the way the police men treated me that day was so unfortunate. But the incident gave me an opportunity to know what some people are going through in the cell. The incident was traumatic, that in a country where we practice democracy and human rights exist, people still go through tough situations like this? Police men who took the oath of office to protect their citizens are the once tormenting the lives of these innocent children?
I want a proper legal action to be taken to curtail further menace of this sort. I am certain that I can recognise them. Throughout my stay there, none of these children were released. I realised that a good number of people who pass through such a situation don't speak out. They don't share this experience. I believe that if they know their rights and disclose same to the media, it will curtail this nightmare that people suffer.
Police react The Police Public Relations Officer in Lagos Dolapo reacted this way: 'Right now, I will say this is still an allegation. I don't want to believe it happened and if investigation reveals that it happened, be rest assured that the leadership of the police will not take it lightly. Such a person will be sanctioned but I want to believe that it is still an allegation. Vanguard