HOW LAGOS STATE TASK FORCE BRUTALISED ME: TOP JOURNALIST, OBIAJULU AGU WRITES NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION

The Chairman,

Independent Investigative Committee of Enquiry on Police Brutality,

National Human Rights Commission (NHRC),

No 19, Aguiyi-Ironsi Street,

Maitama, Federal Capital Territory (FCT),

Abuja.

Dear Sir,

PETITION FOR REDRESS OVER THE BRUTAL ATROCITIES COMMITTED BY LAGOS STATE TASK FORCE POLICEMEN AGAINST ME WHILE PERFORMING MY LEGITIMATE JOURNALISTIC DUTIES

INTRODUCTION

IGP Adamu

I am a law-abiding Nigerian citizen. I am a practicing journalist.

I wish to take the rare window of  opportunity offered by the setting up of the Independent Investigative Committee of Enquiry on Police Brutality to seek for, and hopefully , at long last, obtain redress in a matter in which a detachment of uniformed and heavily-armed personnel of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) attached to the Lagos State Task Force on Environmental and Special Offences brutalised me in the port city of Apapa, Lagos, for the simple reason that I was legitimately executing my brief as a professional journalist.

I emerged from that incident a veritable cripple, experiencing the quality of my life and my continued survival and existence as an adult male drastically abridged because of the disabilities and terrible pains that have become my lot in life since then till date.

My severe health challenges, arising from that tortuous encounter with the rampaging policemen, have incapacitated me physiologically, psychologically, and socioeconomically.

ROUNDS OF BEATINGS AT APAPA AND BLACK MARIA RIDE TO ALAUSA

On that fateful day, in the vicinity of Eleganza Plaza, along Wharf Road, Apapa, Lagos State, alleging that I had committed an offence by daring to record pictorials of their operations at the location with my mobile phone, several police operatives had pounced on me, pummeling and seizing my BlackBerry Curve. The Officer-in-Charge of the detachment, Superintendent of Police Ajayi (his other name escaped my mind), stood by and watched the spectacle.

I had suffered another round of beating from Ajayi’s men when I refused to abandon my seized phone. Ajayi had been handed my seized cellphone by one of his men, and he proceeded to pocket it and ordered me to depart at once from the scene. My refusal to abandon my precious phone and a most valuable professional working tool in Ajayi’s possession without his issuing me any documentation as a receipt to facilitate the return of my seized property sometime apparently appeared unreasonable to the policemen. I had concluded within me that Ajayi was working on hijacking my phone, rubbing salt on injuries of the public beating I had suffered at the hands of outlaws posing as lawmen. Whatever the cost, I had decided that I would checkmate him. I have never been a troublemaker, but I defend my rights to whatever legitimate extent I can muster in any situation.

After that second round of beating the crazed policemen dealt me, I had been thrown into a dingv Black Maria parked nearby. The smell of diesel was overpowering in that mobile holding cell. Apart from the sizeable plastic kegs either containing diesel of varying quantities or lying empty, spare tyres and motley other items for running the truck, I was the sole occupant of that jail for a long while as dusk set in. I suffered the foul air of my steel cage, even as my mind processed the very real fact that a freak fire outbreak could occur, and, despite diesel’s relatively low combustibility, I could be roasted alive in that Black Maria that the operators had ingeniously converted to serve dual purpose as a single cell mobile jail and fuel dump. I was to be joined later by 12 (twelve) other alleged offenders, all males, before the Black Maria and other operational vehicles of that unit of the Task Force departed Apapa that night for its headquarters at the Lagos State Government Secretariat complex at Alausa, Ikeja, the state capital.

A CHAIRMAN’S KANGAROO COURT RULING AT ALAUSA

Only just two other detainees and I were delivered to the high command when the Black Maria finally arrived the Task Force Headquarters. The other 10 (ten) of our cellmates had left us as the convoy had made intermittent stops along the way. The then Task Force Chairman, then Superintendent of Police Bayo Sulaiman (easily-recognisable from his long stretch in that post and the attendant press focus attracted), and a couple of other men I could not recognise, all in mufti, formed our welcoming party where they waited at the porch of the building immediately to the right on entering the gates. Without preamble, Sulaiman had demanded to know who the journalist was of the three detainees that had been shepherded before him by our Black Maria driver. On disembarking from the parked Black Maria outside the gates of the Task Force Headquarters, the driver had marshaled the trio’s short queue for the short walk into the compound, the one holding point for the trio walked with his arms stiff at his sides, as had been ordered by their captors, while a second man his arms stretched out and hands laid on the points-man’s shoulders marched along. The third man and the rear had both arms stretched out and hands resting on the shoulders of the man in the middle that he and the points-man sandwiched. I was that third man. I had deliberately chosen to bring up the rear of our pathetic band of marching captives in order to secure my fully-laden backpack from possible prying fingers. I also sought that prime observation post to keep keen perspective on unfolding events. I had a fleeting thought that there might be very little worth protecting anymore in the backpack which had remained fastened on my back throughout my ordeal. Some hours ago, it had received and cushioned some of the blows aimed at my captive body by my assailants from assault rifle butts, and assorted cudgels, as well as lashes from braided electric cable whips and koboko (dried animal hide whips).

I quickly reined in my raging thoughts and promptly informed the Task Force Chairman that I was a journalist. None of my two co-captives made a similar claim. While the one kept mute and seemed resigned to whatever fate might throw his way in the clutches of the Task Force, the other appeared totally distraught. Ignoring the hands restraining him, he faced Sulaiman and appealed passionately in Hausa for the intercession of the Task Force Chairman in rescuing him from a matter that clearly confounded him. It was heartrending watching his unrelenting supplication for assistance, albeit misplaced, rewarded not by even the tiniest bit of compassion by a any member of the Task Force high command. Rather, the troubled young man’s inability to communicate in English turned him into the butt of cruel jokes and laughter by the top brass and their underlings.

The brief scenario instigated by the distraught captive had provided me valuable insights into the mindset of the Task Force leadership, particularly that of the Chairman. That episode had exposed his easy similes as not reflecting a genuinely amiable nature. His quick mirth, as he had demonstrated with that particular captive was reflective of a sadistic nature. It needs no expert psychoanalyst to deduce that taking delight in or deriving any pleasure from mocking a captive, especially one as confused as that captive was, is sadistic, particularly of a commissioned police officer.

I was, therefore, at my wariest after my two co-captives were marched off to what I presumed were holding cells within the premises and I because the sole focus of Sulaiman and his lieutenants. Grinning, Suilaman explained that he could have authorised that I be released without being brought to the Task Force Headquarters, but had not given that order because he was curious to behold that man on whose behalf he had been bombarded by phone calls and messages from several quarters seeking that mystery man’s prompt release soon after the Task Force arrested him.

I informed him that there was no mystery about those flurry of calls and messages he got from my well-wishers, because, while alone in the Black Maria, I had deployed my other cellphone to alert them about my torture and arrest by the Task Force at Apapa. Those good peoples’ calls were what Sulaiman placed premium on talking about. He did not consider any word of apology to me as being relevant from him. He never apologised to me over the beatings I endured in Apapa.

Strangely, while he could not bring himself to acknowledge the terrible actions of his men against me and render the apology that I expected from him as their overall boss, he went religious to preach why it was important that I forgive whatever wrong I might feel his men did me. He said that, going by my name, I was presumably Igbo and would most likely be a Christian. He went on to say that, if I was truly a believer in God and a follower of Christ, it was binding on me to forgive his men if they had wronged me.

The Task Force Chairman had been unequivocally dismissive of my efforts to narrate my very bitter experience at the hands of his men. His trademark smiles pasted on his face, Sulaiman went into a long lecture on how to cover police operations properly in order not to incur the wrath of the personnel.

It was getting late in the night, and, Sulaiman, I had concluded was a self-righteous monologist. In his element holding court at his base, he could keep his audience there all night, for all I know. I politely interjected. My words were firm, drawing surprised looks from him and his lieutenants. I told him that his men had been beastly to me; that I had expected him as the ranking officer of the Task Force, in keeping with the axiom “an officer and a gentleman”, not to endorse such abhorrent behavior.

I said that I had expected him to be less patronising about the awful deed of those of his men who beat me, and the ranking officer at the scene, who showed himself to be a poor example of “an officer and a gentleman” by failing to get them to heel. I did not fail to acknowledge a certain senior non-commissioned officer, who risked life and limbs to rescue me from further punishment. This exemplary officer ensured that I had safe passage to the Black Maria, and that no oppressor followed me into my refuge.   

I had informed Sulaiman that I had a rich experience covering beats too numerous to mention, including the trio of Crime, Defence, and Transportation under which all of Nigeria’s military and paramilitary organisations fall. I further told him that if he were not being utterly biased, he had no basis questioning my professional capacity. I requested him to tell where he had been in the NPF system as at the period then Deputy Commissioner Frank Odita had been Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO) and was subsequently succeeded by then Assistant Commissioner Tunji Alapini; a period I was already entrenched in covering the Crime Beat and under military regime and was never faulted by the authorities.

I explained that I had grown in the journalism profession into a competent and responsible reporter, writer, and editor. I stressed that I did not need journalism tutorials from any non-professional.

At this point, I was feeling quite feverish and faint from my extensive injuries. The fact of Sulaiman having, callously dismissed my claims of brutalisation by his men added to my grief.  I requested that I be released to go and get my injuries treated, and, hopefully, return home safely for welcome rest after an arduous day. Also, I requested that my seized phone be returned to me.

I was wobbly on my feet, and, perhaps, finally noticing my already battered and further deteriorating condition, Sulaiman announced that he had no cause to detain me further, and that I was free to go on home as soon as my seized phone’s files of the Task Force’s operations in Apapa earlier that day are copied into the organisation’s system for “record” purposes. Although I considered Sulaiman’s directive presumptuous, I kept this opinion to myself. My phone was still in Ajayi’s possession and he handed it over to Sulaiman who in turn passed it on to another man. This man left the porch and went into the bungalow.

The man returned shortly and informed Sulainman that he had copied the required files, handing over my phone to the Task Force Chairman who in turn finally returned my precious property to my hands after several hours away from my tender care.

It was the next day that I discovered that the extensive treasure trove of irreplaceably-valuable files of still pictures, videos, and texts stored in that BlackBerry Curve phone over the years had been deleted by that Task Force operative in one fell swoop, most probably after making copies. Even as my battered body reeled from the effects of the previous day’s ordeal, I also mourned the annihilation of all the electronic/electrical working tools in my backpack when I discovered that the policemen’s blows had totally destroyed bag and its contents. Not even the paper notebooks and ballpoint pens escaped without some form of damage or the other.

The fatalities turned out to be two laptops (one HP unit and an acer); two digital cameras (an AIPTEK Trio PenCam I-C and a SONY); and a digital audio recorder (a SONY ICD-BX140) that were all rendered unserviceable scraps. The backpack itself had also been rendered unusable by series of deep slashes that crisscrossed its shell from some blade(s) wielded by some police hand(s).

When I thanked Suliaman and bade him and his crew goodbye, he told me to hold on a minute and exchange phone numbers with Ajayi. Suliaman disclosed that, owing to what he alleged was the notorious nature of Apapa and environs, he had split the operations of the Task Force in the zone into two units. He explained that one of the units was commanded by Ajayi, and the other was under a certain Deputy Superintendent of Police, whose name he did not give.

Suleiman said that this was part of a strategy for a more efficient policing of Lagos State by the Task Force. Ajayi and I, according to him, therefore, needed to have each other’s contact phone numbers in order to key into that strategy for our mutual benefits. I could not resist responding that inasmuch as Ajayi had been unable to check his men pummeling me right under his nose, I was of the firm mind that phone contact between us would be a fruitless endeavour for me.

I further said that inasmuch as Ajayi had been constrained by whatever reasons to not to check men under his direct physical command from savaging me, I was not hopeful of counting on him to serve as a reliable news source or to help in preventing my suffering another beating by uncouth policemen, or to help in rescuing someone else seeking his intercession through me in some case of police harassment.

I did not push my position further when Suliaman insisted, because I was utterly weary and feeling very sick. Ajayi and I exchanged numbers as the Task Force Chairman had decreed. We have never called each other till date.

I finally departed the Task Force Headquarters, limping badly as I trekked the lonely roads within the Lagos State Government Secretariat complex out to Awolowo Way to secure a taxi home for much-needed first aid. I could not visit my personal general practitioner’s clinic in Surulere that night. Of course, in my very poor state, retrieving my car from the park in Apapa that night, was the farthest thing on my mind.

A COMMISSIONER’S LAMENT AND OFFER OF RESTITUTION

The day after my beating by the Task Force policemen, I got through on the phone to the Lagos State Commissioner for the Environment, Mr. Tunji Bello, to complain about my bitter experience at the hands of the Task Force ostensibly overseen by his Ministry. Bello and I have known each other since the early 1990s during the days of the now defunct Concord Press of Nigeria Limited (CPN). Our relationship had been cordial. We had lost contact over the ensuring years after I resigned from the CPN in 1999, and only re-established this some months before the devastating attack on me by the Task Force operatives. We had met again after those Concord Press days when a joint team of top Federal and Lagos State governments officials, including Bello, toured the Lagos ports in Apapa and the access roads. I had covered that tour as a maritime journalist.

Sounding very disturbed on learning of the havoc wrought on my person and properties, Bello profusely apologised for the bad behaviour of the Task Force operatives. He lamented that my harassment by the Task Force policemen was one of the numerous other complaints about the excesses of the organisation under Suliaman’s watch. Bello assured me that he would see to it that I get restitution for my injuries.

I REJECTED A GREEK GIFT

I never took up Bello’s magnanimous offer because it failed to treat the critical issue of calling to heel the Task Force policemen who had gone feral and rabid, transforming from their expected roles as law officers into serial lawbreakers. I had quietly asked myself the following questions: What if I had not known Bello personally, would I have gotten the least chance of his offer of restitution? If the State Government had all long been aware of the barbarity of the Suliaman-ted Task Force, why were remedial actions not taken to call him and his rampaging men to order? What if I had died in the course of the beating by the Task Force policemen? And, what would have been the fate of my corpse?

The answers I gave myself informed my not taking up Bello’s offer. It is noteworthy that I had also voiced out just the last two questions during the session with Suliaman and his lieutenants at the Task Force Headquarters. I had promptly answered my own question before Suliaman or any other person among my audience would respond. I had told them that if the beating had resulted in my death at the scene, the Task Force would either have dumped my corpse in some obscure section of the Lagos Lagoon, or planted weapons and other items beside my corpse at a press briefing that would be hurriedly arranged to falsely label me a notorious criminal allegedly killed during a particularly dangerous environmental cleansing operation by the “brave and dedicated operatives”. I added that, for full effect, the displayed corpse would have been discreetly blasted with gunshots prior to the public spectacle. And gullible elated officials of the Lagos State Government and the Lagos State Security Trust Fund (LSSFF) would shower the Task Force members with commendation and cash awards. And none but the Task Force would be the wiser that I had been killed extra-judicially.

MY MANY YEARS OF SUFFERING DAMAGED SPINE AND BATTLING BAD HEALTH

But for the grace of God, I could have been killed by the police-led Lagos state Task Force on Environmental and Special Offences that fateful day in Apapa. Only the grace of God has kept me alive and continues to sustain me, in spite of the unimaginably terrible pains and disabilities of the ensuring years from that nightmarish day till date. Only but by the grace of God do I harbour hopes of some measure of normalcy in the future for me, in spite of the inexplicable grief that terrible day endowed my days thereon and to the present day, signposting same for the coming days, weeks, months, and years of my life.

I am forever appreciative of God for the gift of not being easily discouraged both as a person and a professional, living and engaging in a career thus far in a society that consistently offers the majority overdose of the “shortish and brutish” life. Yet, I am only but human and despite the years, subject to frequent flashbacks and lamentations over the callous actions of those sadistic policemen that have cost me so much losses already, is still costing me awfully, and offer no end in sight.

Many are the days that I live that mean self-mourning days for my living-death existence since those devilish policemen tortured me simply for being a journalist, taking away substantially from my life and leaving me with crippling spine injuries and severe health challenges. Those injuries, in spite of my strict adherence to prescribed regular physiotherapy sessions and a regime of potent pain killers and other medications, have turned, hitherto, simple acts such as sitting, standing or walking, yawning, sneezing, coughing, hiccoughing, belching or laughing, among others, into very painful events that painfully clutch and squeeze my chest, ribs, spine and other vitals, inducing bouts of muscle spasms. These spells of muscle spasms have caused me frequent falls, some of which have been near-fatal in the bathroom.

Embarrassingly, during the phase of what ought to be the prime of my life, I often need to be assisted in dressing because of the difficulties I experience in sticking my feet into briefs, boxers, other shorts and trousers, and hitching up same to my waist. Donning my footwear is no less an arduous task for me to perform solely. My shedding the aforementioned items of clothing each time also demands assistance from another person.

Prior to the incident, I could claim unequivocally that I had no known phobias whatsoever. Since sustaining the spine injuries, however, flying and road vehicles trips scare me thoroughly. I now dread flying because those moments of the aircraft’s take-off and landing shoot intense and paralysing pains up and down my distressed spine. The same agony for me replicates itself each time the vehicle I am riding in hits a hump or hole in the road, or experiences abrupt application of the brakes. Out of consideration for my passion for promoting road safety, I refrain from driving.

The back of both hands as well as my right wrist bear the scars from that horrific encounter with policemen. Those healed wounds that pockmark my two hands and right wrist are, however, in my eyes, minor issues in comparison to my damaged spine that is a source of so much severe health challenges for me. Part of those health challenges are the legions of unpleasant side effects of the slew of prescription drugs I have had to consume and continues to imbibe, in order to survive and maintain some semblance of living life.

JUSTICE AT LAST?

I am praying that I finally find justice and closure in my case before my health challenges overwhelm me, leading to my untimely death.

I have great doubts that the justice I have been craving for will be granted me by the Lagos State Government Judicial Panel of Enquiry and Restitution for Victims of SARS-Related Abuses and Lekki Toll Gate Incident, which by its very nomenclature, seemingly has foreclosed treating cases such as mine.

It is safe to conclude that the Lagos State Government is not keen in investigating and resolving cases of aberrant behavior by members of other police units or detachment in the state besides those of the operatives of the new disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).

Sadly, the Lagos State Task Force on Environmental and Special Offences, which has become synonymous with dispensing terror liberally to the average person resident in or transiting Lagos, will simply escape under the radar during the enquiry.

Meanwhile, the Task Force will persist in dishing out pains in the lives of the hapless citizenry. The Task Force has institutionalised harassment, brutality and sundry human rights violations. The Task Force is the very reason that Lagos State is The Police State.

I will not fail to note that after his tenures as the Lagos State Environment Commissioner and the Secretary to the State Government, respectively, in that order, Mr. Tunji Bello has returned to head the Lagos State Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources. Hopefully, during his second tour of duty as the Commissioner for the Environment, Bello might just push through the reforms that are long overdue to sanitise the Lagos State Task Force on Environmental and Special Offences.

I also note that Mr. Bayo Suliaman, formerly of the Lagos State Task Force fame and now an Assistant Commissioner, is presently top brass in the Presidential Task Team for the Restoration of Law and Order in Apapa. Suliaman reportedly was based lately in Taraba State before his return to Lagos, his old haunt and favourite stomping ground.

Like the Task Force, heavy-handedness is the Task Team’s modus operandi and modus vivendi. Until his appointment as incumbent Lagos State Police Commissioner, Mr. Hakeem Odumosu, Suliaman’s immediate predecessor as Chairman of the Lagos State Task Force was the ranking police officer of the Presidential Task Team.

MY PRAYERS

I constantly relive the events of that terrible day in living colour, but my traumatised mind, perhaps to sustain my sanity, fiendishly denies me the exact date of my most horrible day in life. I do, however, recollect that it occurred during the latter part of Bayo Sulaiman’s tenure of almost a decade as Lagos State Task Force Chairman. 

I passionately appeal that the NHRC Independent Investigative Committee of Enquiry on Police Brutality turns out to be that catalyst that facilitates the long-delayed justice for me in my case against the policemen of the Lagos State Task Force on Environmental and Special Offences.

I, therefore, humbly request as follows:

1. That I be subjected to all comprehensive medical assessment by an independent team of experts to prove my dire state of health arising from the wrecked spine Lagos State Task Force policemen left me with in the wake of their brutalising me for performing my legitimate journalistic duties;

2. That I be provided definitive cures for my injured spine and the resultant severe health challenges;

3. That I be paid compensation for the whopping medical bills that I have incurred thus far, and which costs continue to mount, in the management of my injured spine and the severe health challenges thereof;

4. That I be paid compensation for the huge losses of earnings arising from my injured spine and the severe health challenges thereof;

5. That I be paid compensation for the huge losses of earnings arising from the criminal deletion of my cellphone’s invaluable and irreplaceable files;

6. That I be paid compensation for huge losses of earnings arising from the criminal destruction by Lagos State Task Force policemen of my two laptops, two digital cameras, and a digital audio recorder, and, consequently, the loss of priceless and irreplaceable files those devices housed;

7. That I be paid compensation for the destruction of my backpack;

8. That all the policemen involved in my brutalisation be investigated to prove their levels of culpability or non-culpability;

9. That those found culpable should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law;

10. That that particular policeman, whose singular act of compassion and courage in rescuing me from the rampaging policemen against all odds saved my life, is deserving of official recognition;  

11. That the Lagos State Government tenders an apology to me for the trauma caused me by its officials; and

12. That the Nigeria Police Force Headquarters tenders an apology to me for the trauma caused me by its personnel.

CONCLUSION

I wish your committee the very best in the execution of its brief. Your mission is a most crucial one in the march towards making Nigeria a truly just and equitable society.

Please, accept an affirmation of my sincerest regards.

Thank you.

Yours faithfully,

Obiajulu Agu

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