He narrates his ordeal to MATTHEW OCHEI
What is your name?
My name is Patrick Onwanaha.
What is your occupation?
I am a newspaper vendor.
You were arrested recently by the police. Can you recall how it happened?
I was not arrested by the police at first. It was the officers from the Department of State Services that arrested me. What happened that day, May 14, was a terrible experience in my life. I was doing my usual newspaper business as a vendor along the streets of Asaba when I saw where people gathered in the Arcade event centre. I entered there to sell newspapers when I saw some of my DSS friends at an event there. I greeted them as usual because anywhere there is a function in Asaba and its environs, especially government functions, I use the opportunity to sell my newspapers. So, most of the security personnel know me very well.
One of the DSS officers told me to give him a copy of a newspaper as a Sallah gift. In the process of giving him the newspaper, he saw a copy of a Biafran paper and demanded it. He said he preferred to read the Biafran paper, so I gave it to him. One of them whispered to him and he started making a call. After the call, he said their oga (boss) wanted to see me. They ordered me to enter their vehicle and I did without arguing with them because my conscience was clean.
What happened next?
Before I knew what was happening, they covered my face in the vehicle. When we got to their office, they uncovered my face and I asked them what my offence was. They said I was an IPOB member and that I was sent to monitor what was going on. I told them I was just a newspaper vendor hustling to make ends meet and not an IPOB member. I told them I didn’t know any member of the group, that I only read them in the pages of newspapers. They removed the handcuff on me and asked me to write a statement. And I told them that I didn’t know how to write but I could read. They wrote the statement and said I should sign which I did.
What happened after signing the statement?
I was thinking the DSS officers would take me back to the place they brought me, so I would continue selling my papers, but they took me to the police headquarters and handed me over to the anti-kidnapping unit. On Friday morning, the police brought me out of the cell and the Investigating Police Officer, one Sunny, told me to write a statement, and I still told him that I cannot write but I can read. So, he (IPO) wrote the statement and asked me to sign, I told him that I will read what he wrote first before I sign. But he said I could not read it, and forced me to sign.
After signing, I begged him to allow me to call my wife to know where I was. That was when I informed my wife that I was at the police headquarters. A few days later, they brought me out, used a big rope to tie my hands and hit me with a baton even when they knew I was sick. They said my members bombed police stations and killed policemen but I told them I was not a member of IPOB, that I was just an ordinary newspaper vendor. So, they asked for the chairman of the Newspaper Vendors Association and the person who allocated newspapers for sale, and I gave them the names.
The police said I was the one printing the Biafran paper and I told them I wouldn’t have been poor if I was the one printing the paper. Linking me with the IPOB was very wrong. Even the police said though I was a well-known vendor in Asaba, they would still punish me and kill me. After beating me, one of the officers begged them to untie me but they refused, saying I was as good as a dead man. They carried me back to the cell with my hands tied to my back. I stayed there until Monday evening and I couldn’t bear it again as I was almost dying, I started shouting in the cell up to a point where I found it difficult to breathe. That was when the IPO told my cellmates to untie me.
How did you regain freedom?
It was on May 20 that one officer who visited the cells brought me out and asked me why I was there. I explained to him. By the time he saw my hands, after they untied me, he shouted. He called a doctor at Federal Medical Centre to come and treat me. Then, on Tuesday, 25 May, I was taken to the court. When we got to court, immediately the judge saw my hands and asked me what happened, I also explained to him, and the judge granted me bail immediately to go for treatment and come back to court on June 8. It was a bad experience.
How many days did you spend in detention?
I spent about 13 days there. I felt very bad especially when I knew I did not commit any crime. If you saw me when I was granted bail, you would know I was close to death.
What impression did your experience give you about the police?
The truth is that the Nigeria police need total reform. Most of the time, innocent people die for what they don’t know anything about; they go through pain and agony. Maybe they keep people in the cell to make them changed persons, but with what I saw inside the cell, innocent ones would go there and meet the bad ones. What I suffered there, I would not wish my enemy to experience it.
My advice, especially concerning the Biafra issue that brought me to the cell, is that I beg whoever that is involved in the bombing and killing of our security agents and their officers to please stop. There are other peaceful ways through which they could channel their grievances or agitation.
After killing all these security men today, who will guard us tomorrow? Who will secure the lives of masses tomorrow? It is we, the masses, that would suffer it, not those people in Aso Rock. To the police, I want to beg them to handle cases professionally; they should carry out proper investigation on time to avoid innocent persons losing their lives. I nearly died in their custody.
I want to use this medium to thank the media, especially PUNCH newspaper, for their role in securing my freedom, and the chairman and members of the Newspaper Vendors Association for their efforts. I also thank my brother who brought a lawyer. God used every one of you to save my life.