My name is Ezeanozie Obinna. I’m a 24-year-old panel beater.
My SARS story started with a bang at 2 a.m. on May 23, 2020. My sleep was interrupted by a loud noise at the gate that leads into my compound, which is in the town of Ekwulobia, Anambra State.
Now wide-awake, I stared through the window and saw someone jump over the fence into the compound. I heard another bang at the backyard door. My dog started barking.
Soon, there was a knock at my bedroom’s door. The intruder was now at my doorstep.
It turned out not to be just an intruder, but intruders – six of them, in fact, scary men all carrying guns. I asked who they were and what the matter was. They said nothing was wrong, that they were security operatives. I was annoyed, and wondered what manner of security operatives would appear at a person’s house at this ungodly hour. I immediately assumed they were local security men who had come to collect security fees or fines from those who had not yet paid.
But the men told me they were members of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Arrested, taken out of town
They asked me to come with them. I begged them to allow me to call someone so I could let them know what was happening to me, but they refused and dragged me out of the room.
Outside, the men led me to a Toyota Hilux and asked me to give them five names of people who were cultists. Confused, I asked why they would ask me about cultists when I was neither a cultist nor knew anything about cultism.
In the Hilux, were other arrestees. The officers threw me into their midst. Like me, they had been forced out of their houses without knowing what was happening. We were all driven to the SARS station at Nnewi, a large town in Anambra State.
We reached Nnewi at about 4 a.m.
‘Tortured for denying cultism’
At the station, we were asked to call family members to tell them where we were. I called my parents.
Later, the officers interrogated us, one after the other, mainly about cultists.
I maintained my stance: I was not a cultist, and I knew nothing about cultism.
For that answer, I suffered the same fate suffered by those who had denied being cultists: my hands and legs were tied behind my back and a rod inserted in between. I hung in the air, my face staring at the ground. Then the SARS officers began hitting me with sticks.
I wept and wept. It was unbearable. The SARS officers took a break, sat in a corner, and filled their mouths with alcohol.
“It’s time you speak the truth,” one of them said to me. After drinking, one of the officers resumed the torture – mercilessly punching me. I screamed and wept. I was an absolute wreck.
Soon afterwards, when one of the SARS officers came and untied me, I remember slumping to the ground like a lifeless chicken.
At about 7 a.m. that same day, the SARS commandant asked us some questions about the cult group they accused us of being members of, and the names of the other members of that group.
I was given a piece of paper and told to write that I was a cultist.
After that, the officers collected our phones, clothes, and shoes and led us into a cell, where we were all subjected to various degrees of bullying at the hands of old inmates.
We were given a series of punishments like ‘mounting the wall’ which meant facing the wall and pretending to climb it. We were also ordered to ‘pick pin’ which meant hanging one leg in the air and pointing one finger to the ground. As we ‘performed’ the punishments, the inmates hit us with sticks.
At about 8 a.m., one of the SARS officers came into the cell and asked who Ezeanozie Obinna was. I answered. The officer told me to come out. I did.
At that moment, I remembered that an inmate had warned that if the officers came in and called my name, I should not answer because it was believed they called out inmates to kill them. This information dawned on me as I walked out, and tears began to well up in my eyes.
But it turned out to be good news. The officer led me to the counter, where he told me that they (SARS officers) had received a call from a Divisional Police Officer (DPO) who asked them to release me. The DPO had told them that I was not a cultist. He was my neighbour, and my parents had reported my arrest to him.
My belongings were returned. Six hours after I had been arrested and tortured, I was free. But I was weak, and to add insult to injury, I did not have a single Naira in my pocket.
I sat on the stairs of the station and wept. I hoped any of the SARS officers would give me transport money. But no one did. Later, one of the SARS officers pushed me out of the station.
Outside, I stood by the gate for a while. Then I began acting like a gateman, opening the gate for whoever came in and went out, hoping that someone would notice me and give me money.
A man who happened to be the brother of one of the arrestees saw me and asked what the problem was. I told him that I had suffered the same fate as his brother. After the man had secured his brother’s release, I followed both of them. Coincidentally, they also lived in Ekwulobia.
‘Lucky to get out alive without paying bribe’
The two men were surprised to learn that I had not paid for my release. With SARS, people are priced like goods. Relatives and friends of those arrested pay huge sums to secure the release of their loved ones.
The officers would ask for, say, 100,000 naira, and if you say you do not have that amount, they would tell you to go home and come the next day.
Though I was lucky to escape paying an expensive sum for my release, I couldn’t escape paying a lot of money to treat the injuries and wounds I sustained from being tortured. My hands were so useless, that a point, even feeding myself was a problem. For three weeks, I could not do anything.
My parents keep telling me they thank God I came out of that station alive.
I thank God, too.
This story is part of a multimedia project by Tiger Eye Foundation and media partners across Nigeria, documenting police brutality in Nigeria, and advocating police reform.
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