Unlike many Christians who celebrated Easter with their loved ones in their homes, Peter Onyiuke marked his in the custody of the police at Wuse Zone 2 in Abuja, following his arrest a week ago allegedly on the instruction of the chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Danladi Umar.
Mr Onyiuke is a phone repairer with an outlet at the Banex Plaza in Wuse, Abuja, where Mr Umar assaulted a security guard, Clement Sargwak, on March 29.
It was gathered that Mr Onyiuke became a target of arrest following a separate quarrel Mr Umar had with him in the middle of the pandemonium resulting from the assault on the plaza’s security guard the same day.
The squabble was said to have ensued while Mr Onyiuke was trying to return Mr Umar’s phone which he helped the CCT chairman to pick after it fell to the ground without him knowing.
Many hours later that day, that act of kindness was said to have been rewarded with a beating by security agents on the order of Mr Umar, whom eyewitnesses said accused Mr Onyiuke of being rude in his manner of returning the phone.
Eyewitnesses told PREMIUM TIMES that Mr Onyiuke was harassed, manhandled, and beaten by the security officials before they took him away in what appeared to be a vengeful move orchestrated by Mr Umar long after he unleashed the now-widely condemned attack on the plaza’s security guard.
Our reporter confirmed that Mr Onyiuke who was arrested for a yet-to-be-ascertained offence, was still being held by the police without bail or trial as of Monday morning.
This newspaper had reported how Mr Umar was caught on camera assaulting Mr Sargwak, a security guard deployed to the plaza by its employer, Jul Reliable Guards Services Limited.
In the five-minute video footage that went viral, the tribunal chairman was seen slapping and kicking the 22-year-old after an altercation ensued between them over the space where Mr Umar parked his car.
Mr Sargwak later told PREMIUM TIMES that he was beaten and detained at Maitama Police Station because he opposed Mr Umar’s wrong parking on the premises of the plaza.
Despite video evidence, the CCT chairman denied the assault allegation in an error-filled statement issued by the tribunal’s press and media unit, on March 30.
The CCT chairman, who also accused Mr Sargwak of being rude in their parking space squabble, insisted in the statement that it was him who was assaulted by a mob of ‘Biafran boys’, a characterisation that was widely condemned as a slur on a particular ethnic group.
In separate statements on Sunday, while Mr Umar appeared to double-down on his objectionable claim, by saying his assaulters chanted “secessionist and sectional slogans”, the head of CCT’s press and media unit, Ibraheem Al-hassan, apologised for the “embarrassment” caused by what he described as his “unedited draft”.
Mr Sargwak was released the same day of the incident, following the intervention of the plaza’s lawyer, but Mr Onyiuke has remained in detention since then.
How Onyiuke was manhandled, arrested
Mr Sargwak, in his interview with PREMIUM TIMES, said security officials suspected to be operatives of State Security Service (SSS), in company with Mr Umar, returned to the plaza after they were done at Maitama Police Station on March 29, to arrest Mr Onyiuke.
”As we returned to the Banex Plaza in the evening at about 7 p.m. I saw him (Mr Umar) with my two eyes open. They came to arrest a man, Peter Onyiuke, who had helped him pick up his phone and immediately returned; because his phone had dropped on the floor when he was beating me,” Mr Sargwak had told our reporter.
From the accounts of eyewitnesses who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES, it turned out to be that while Mr Umar was locked in fight with Sargwak, the CCT chairman was also having a quarrel with Mr Onyiuke.
An eyewitness, Joshua Luke, said Mr Umar was probably angered by the tone of Mr Onyuike’s conversation while trying to return his fallen phone to him.
“Onyiuke stood from a distance and looked him in the eye, boldly, and said Oga come get your phone, the man (Mr Umar) who seemed angry, in response to Onyiuke, said ‘ are you talking to me, are you alright? Onyiuke replied, ‘yes, I said come and take your phone if you don’t want to take it, leave it,’” Mr Luke said in his recollection of the events preceding Mr Onyiuke’s arrest.
He added, “Onyiuke then handed the phone over to a Banex police officer who then gave it to the man (Mr Umar). After the phone was handed over to him, Onyiuke asked him why he did not have the courtesy to thank him. The man asked why he would say ‘thank you’.”
Mr Luke said, the CCT chairman, who had presided over the trials of high-profile public officers, including a former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), and a former Senate President, who were accused of breach of code of conduct for public officers, began to brag about his position in the country and how he had “dealt with” notable persons in the past.
He added, “The man later started saying many things like he would jail Oyunike for 25 years without trial.
“It was at that point, Onyiuke called his bluff and told him to do his worst as he was not God.
“The man ordered one of the Banex police officers to arrest Onyiuke, but they were reluctant to carry out the arrest due to the familiarity the police officers had had with people at the plaza. The police officer just held him (Mr Onyuike) gently by his trousers and kept warning him to keep quiet.”
He said when police officers attached to Mr Umar arrived at the plaza, the CCT chairman ordered them to arrest Mr Onyiuke, who immediately fled the scene.
“Onyiuke did not touch the man. The only thing between them was just the way he spoke to him to come to collect his phone. It was the same phone the man used to call his security details at his home to come to pick up the security guard (Mr Sargwak),” he said.
In what came as a corroboration of the account earlier given to PREMIUM TIMES by Mr Sargwak, Mr Luke said it was near closing time at the plaza when the earlier incident had been long forgotten that some gunshots were heard on the premises.
“I heard gunshots and I went outside the plaza premises only to find Onyiuke struggling with officers of the SSS; his clothes were torn to his boxers,” he said.
Asked if any of Onyiuke’s family members had been contacted, Mr Luke said the detainee was living alone at Jikwe, New Nyanya, a border town between the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Nasarawa State.
On Banex plaza management’s efforts to secure his release, he said, “They are currently dealing with the case of their security guard. I heard they said they want to go to court. But for Onyiuke, we have tried to bail him. The police had called us to come for his bail, but they changed their position again. The matter is confusing.”
ALSO READ: UPDATED: Assault: Embattled CCT Chairman speaks, claims ‘assaulters’ chanted ‘secessionist, sectional slogans’
Another eyewitness, Paul Emmanuel, who is also a phone repairer and friend to Mr Onyiuke, said he and some of his colleagues had been taking food to him at the Wuse Zone 2 Police Station, morning and evening.
According to Mr Emmanuel, SSS operatives handed over Mr Onyiuke to the police on Wednesday after he had spent about two nights in custody of the secret police.
Our reporter asked the eyewitnesses how they arrived at their conclusion that it was SSS operatives that came to the plaza to pick up Onyiuke, and they said the operatives that carried out the arrest wore camouflage with ‘DSS’ inscription, which is the acronym of Department of State Service, a self-adopted name of the agency different from its statutory name.
‘We knew it was them from their black camouflage uniforms with DSS inscription on their back and their guns,” he said.
But when contacted by our reporter for his comment on the involvement of SSS operatives in the arrest of Mr Onyiuke, the agency’s spokesperson, Peter Afunaya, denied it in a text message.
“Not true, no SSS operative did that,” he stated in the text message sent to our reporter.
‘Onyiuke’s case being handled’
Samuel Ihensekhien, a lawyer to the owners of the plaza, told this newspaper in a phone interview that the plaza management was on Mr Onyiuke’s case.
“The guy is still in custody, but I am going there to visit him tomorrow (Monday),” he said.
Asked if the plaza had taken steps to ensure his release on bail, Mr Ihensekhien, said, “It’s either they charge him to a court or they release him on bail. They must release him as they (police) have breached the constitutional provision of 48hrours limit of detention of suspects.”
In a bid to speak with the detainee, our reporter joined his friends on a visit to the Police Station on Friday.
Our reporter, along with a lawyer who was contacted by friends and colleagues of Mr Onyiuke, and three others, arrived at the Wuse Zone 2 Police Station at about 6.p.m.
“Omo I don dey here since Wednesday, you see my buttocks,” Mr Onyiuke said in Pidgin English, as he pulled down his oversized stone blue trousers to show his friends an injury on his buttocks.
“I was badly injured in the hands of the SSS agents since Monday I was taken out from the Plaza in custody.”
No one can tell reason for Onyiuke’s arrest
Neither the two lawyers who have been acting for Mr Onyiuke nor any of his friends could tell the offence for which he was arrested.
Mr Onyiuke too said he had not told the reason for his arrest but has been told he would not be released without Mr Umar’s instruction.
He added, “I don’t know what I did wrong. Am I being punished for giving a man his phone back? What was my offence for helping him to pick up his phone which I returned?”
“I was even told I would not be released until they (Police) get approval from him (Mr Umar).”
This claim was corroborated by a police officer who attended to Mr Onyiuke’s visitors.
The police officer, whose identity PREMIUM TIMES would not want to disclose to shield him from possible victimisation, said, “If it was left to me, I would release him for you guys, but it’s out of my power; even if you meet my oga here (the Divisional Police Officer) he would tell you same.
“I don’t like what happened to him, it’s not fair, I must confess.”
Bolaji Samson, the lawyer who was contacted by Mr Onyiuke’s friends, assured that he would be released after the Easter holidays.
“Since it’s a festive period it’s obvious we cannot do much, but we would try to get him bail after the holidays,” he said.
Mr Al-hassan, the CCT’s head of press and media unit, declined to speak when asked on Monday to comment on the allegation that Mr Onyiuke had been held for a week on the tribunal chairman’s order.
When contacted for her comment on why Mr Onyiuke was being held, spokesperson for the FCT police command, Mariam Yusuf, told our reporter over the phone to send her the enquiry in a text message.
But over 12 hours after the text message was sent to her, she has yet to respond.
She has also not answered our correspondent’s numerous calls since receiving the text message enquiry and the reminder sent to her on Monday.
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