Investigation

Our journey into hell in police cells –Victims

They were locked-up in different Nigeria Police cells across the country, but their experiences remain the same. Their accounts paint horrible tales of torture and inhumanity. However, it seems only wishful to think that suspected criminals could return from such debasement without becoming hardened, ISIOMA MADIKE, reports

They were incarcerated in different Nigeria Police cells across the country, but their experiences remain the same. Although many of these experiences are not recent, they nonetheless, represent a journey the victims likened to the Biblical ‘hell’.

Their maltreatments were not only in the hands of their police captors, but also in the hands of their fellow inmates, who used the fabled seniority to intimidate and subject others to the authority of the cell leaders. It’s a ritual all must go through, they said.

Her name was something else, but she chose to adopt Toyin. She cut an innocent but pitiable sight on Tuesday, January 5, as she sat with a forlorn look in front of a dingy room at the Isokoko Police Station in Agege, Lagos. The stench from the Isokoko Police cell is indescribably repulsive even within 50 metres from the entrance.

The heat also is of such degree that even those walking pass the cell entrance at some distance feel it. That was her abode for four days as she was forced to live outside from the comfort of her home. Toyin, in her early 20s, left her Ojodu- Berger neighbourhood about 2.30 p.m.

on Saturday, January 2, for Abule-Egba, where her aunt, Bosede, resides. The trip, however, became a misadventure that permanently altered the girls’ perception of the world. In tears, she narrated her experience: “I was picked up around Pen Cinema area by the Police. They were raiding an area they claimed to be a notorious spot for those smoking hemp.

I presented my identity card to them but that was not enough to prevent my arrest. “I couldn’t reach my sister for two days because they were demanding money in spite of the fact that they had emptied the content of my bag much earlier during the arrest.

One of them demanded to sleep with me as a condition for my release, and when I refused, he became wild as he vowed to let me rot in the cell. “I didn’t get to eat anything until I was able to make contact with my sister. When she got to the station, the counter officer told her that I was caught smoking hemp. She eventually paid N5,000 with the help of a lawyer, who signed my bail bond, that is supposed to be free.

Those bastards will never live to enjoy that money. Apart from the Police however, Toyin said she was also beaten by fellow suspects she met in the cell. “They too made me to pay before I could stretch my body due to my swollen and hurting neck.

I had to pay N200, which was all I had left because I could not bear the ‘J5’ position punishment the cell leader gave me for 24 hours.” She said as a rule, fresh suspects are beaten to herald their arrival in cell. “As soon as I was pushed into the cell, all the detainees started shouting “alejo, alejo”, which means visitor in Yoruba language.

As the beating became unbearable, I begged them for some mercy and I was asked to pay the sum of N4,000. I received severe beating because I had no money left on me to pay,” she further recounted. Although an iron blind separates the female from the male cell, male detainees, according to Toyin, often assault female suspects by splashing urine on them through the blind. When she rejected a rotten sausage offered by the president of the male cell, he, Toyin recalled, threatened to splash faeces on her from the toilet bucket.

Considering this a worse prospect than eating the sausage, she accepted the sausage and ate it. She subsequently suffered stomach pains. Sadly, Toyin’s is not an isolated case. Though others may not be as unfortunate as her, they nevertheless, suffered debasement and dehumanisation as victims of police mistreatment. Mordi sells electronics at the popular Oshodi Market in Lagos.

He claimed to have been illegally arrested by the police in 2020, while fixing a new plate number to his newly purchased car from Cotonou in Benin Republic. He was taken to Makinde Police Station in Mafoluku also in Oshodi where he was detained for three days. He described the cell condition as worse than Lucifer’s hell and alleged that the detainees eat and sleep with faeces wrapped and piled in a corner of their screened-off area.

He said the suspects sometimes decide to ease themselves in a nylon bag that they throw outside through a pinhole attached to their cells. The trader, who parted with the sum of N15, 000 to regain his freedom after a haggle, said the room was packed full with 35 other suspects before he was granted bail. According to him, “I was detained for three days without food except for the little they allowed from my relatives whom they collected N500 from. That was in the evening of the second day. There was nothing like a toilet in the crowded cell.

“We learnt the cell was meant for only nine suspects. We ‘shit’ and ‘bail’ it with our bare hands. And we were made to pay what the station officer calls a toll fee before anybody is allowed to see us. Mine was a horrible experience as I am yet to get through the shock. The place is not fit for even animals, not to talk of human beings.” Mordi, like Toyin, met with violence at Makinde Police Station cell.

On arrival in the cell, he said, “I was beaten mercilessly, not by the Police, but by the other suspects in the cell, who were angry that I brought no money for them.” Another suspect, a chartered accountant who, according to Mordi, was in police custody because of the theft of his company’s money by night burglars, was similarly beaten by his cell seniors when he was placed in a cell inhabited mainly by professional criminals.

The seniors in that cell, continued Mordi, even chided the accountant for not facilitating the alleged burglary, and threatened to kill him for not being man enough. Adebayo’s case is not different. He was arrested on September 10, 2019, on allegations of making a phone call some few minutes before a raid by armed robbers.

Adebayo was stripped naked before being thrown into the cell at the Area B Apapa Police Command. He said that over 60 suspects were compressed into an enclosure of 12 by 18 feet dimension in the dirty cell. He recalled: “I was asked to do ‘Toshiba’ immediately I was pushed in; that is, you use your shirt to fan another person, who is your senior. That is the tradition in that cell.” The penalty for not fanning continuously or vigorously enough, he said, is ruthless beating from the beneficiary of the duty or his proxies.

He alleged that he was refused bail even when investigation proved that he was innocent within two days of his arrest. He eventually paid N30,000 before he could get his release. But he had to spend six extra days in detention while his relatives were looking for money for his release. A human rights organisation’s intervention was what saved him from further stay in the cell.

Mercy, a 32-year-old, had a similar experience when she was arrested by the same Area B Apapa Police Command on allegation of receiving stolen money from a servant of a popular Lagos socialite. Mercy was tied hands and feet and placed between two metal poles. She was allegedly stripped naked during interrogation by male police officers and hung upside down from the ceiling of the torture room.

Her torturers allegedly held her legs apart by tying each foot to a pole; the two poles being some distance apart from each other. The torture was said to have continued while the investigation officers beat repeatedly against her exposed private parts and legs with the flat side of a machete.

She said: “I was also asked to do ‘ashasha’ by which I took a squatting position, bending my head downwards and putting a blindfold over my eyes with my shirt while I was beaten on my naked back with horsewhips. It was forbidden for me to attempt standing up in response to the koboko lashes.

“I bled profusely from the injuries of the torture. Even at that I was denied bail, and the Police investigators declined me any medical assistance. I was left in that condition until intervention of human rights groups. And when I was released, I could neither walk nor stand.” Jude, another victim suffered beating in the hands of his interrogating officers at the state CID, Kaduna, with a swollen face. He said the officers threatened him with more torture if he did not confess to the crime with which he was charged. Jude eventually fainted but is lucky to still be alive.

The procedure of interrogation torture by the Police in Nigeria is a well-formulated set of tortuous practices whereby pain is applied to the accused person in graduated doses. The interrogating officer determines the intensity of the pain, its frequency, and according to his calculation of what is necessary and adequate to break the suspect’s resistance.

The application of pain to the body of the suspect is systematic and various methods have been developed or borrowed from other sources, each involving a peculiar positioning of the suspect, a sort of bodily restraint by an odd set of devices to inflict pain. Among the most notorious of these techniques are J5, freeze-up, suicide, and third degree. When Tanko came under interrogation, the Police reportedly subjected him to torture by the third degree method. He was made to lay face down. His legs folded upwards at the knees and tied together at the ankles, and his arms raised upwards and tied together at the wrist.

A pipe said to have been attached at its end to a rope hanging from ceiling fan hook was allegedly passed between his legs and arms. That position generated excruciating pain all over Tanko’s body, particularly in his shoulders, spine and waist. While he suffered this pain, the interrogating officers subjected him to beating with horsehide whips, batons and wire cables. Tanko recounted: “At Garki Police Station, I was raised up with a rod and asked to put my two hands behind my knees.

A long rod was put between my legs and raised up like that; and I was beaten badly.” Ifezina suffered a similar fate in which his legs were tied to a ceiling fan hook at the ankles, the head pointing earthwards and pulling it at the loose end. He was said to have been stripped naked and later hung upside down. A lawyer from a rights group that followed the case confided in this reporter that the interrogating officers inserted and withdrew an unsterilised needle into and out of Ifezina’s penis while answering questions. According to the lawyer, who does not want his name in print, “blood gushed out of Ifezina’s genitals and spattered the floor and walls amid screams.

The Police refused to treat him and could not grant him freedom to treat himself either. He remained in that state until the other suspects contributed money and bought him ampicillin to treat it. But, it was too late though, for Ifezina eventually died,” the lawyer said.

Sabi also experienced aerial suspension in an upside down position during interrogation at the state CID, Panti, Lagos. He had been arrested alongside Uwalaka on an allegation by their employer of colluding with some other persons to hijack and sell his truckload of iron rods. “After they made attempts to have me implicate my colleague, they then asked me to confess to the fact that I knew where Uwalaka kept the truckload of iron rods; and when I insisted I didn’t know, they took me to a small room, where they tied my legs, and lifted me up.

“They tied my legs to something like a ceiling fan iron on the decking with my head pointing downwards. They started asking me questions. I cannot remember what I answered because I was bleeding from my nostrils. I was almost passing out when they brought me down. I could neither see anything nor stand on my feet,” he said.

Sabi also talked about his experience among other suspects. “The cell compartment was terribly overcrowded with over a 100 suspects in a room that could barely take 45 to 50 persons. I was trapped in a fixed position from which I could neither adjust myself nor stretch a foot.

We were all groaning under pain and anytime a suspect attempted to adjust himself, a fight resulted on account of the pain to which other suspects are put,” he recalled. He described the heat from Panti cell as easily felt, quite a distance from the cell entrance. And the airborn smell, he recalled, pervades the corridor of the first floor of the station building, occasioning much spitting and covering of noses by passers-by. The stench from other stations’ cells stings also. Those, who have been through them, describe the conditions as hell on earth.

The environments look more like conquered colonies. Blood stains, spent tear-gas canisters, and skin ointments strewn all over. Suspects are often seen manning a gaping hole on the padlocked iron gates. The country’s police cells are seen by many as a place of torment for suspects. Little wonder it attracts derision and revulsion as the most awful evidence of under-development. Most stations wear fading coats of blue-yellow-green paint, a clear indication that little attention is given to maintenance of the facilities that were erected many years back. And the compelling rituals new suspects are meant to go through in police cells are no better.

The senior inmates are lords, literally speaking. Zombies, as new suspects are called, are required to pay “state taxes”. The tax is the money extorted from “new tenants” and it is ostensibly channelled towards meeting the collective needs of the cell suspects, which in many cases, is appropriated by the cell leader for his use and that of his buddies. Although such taxes are usually fixed sums of money in many cells, in actual practice the suspects are habitually dispossessed of all the money they might have on them on coming into the cell.

The cell leaders extract this money from suspects by threats of violence or actual infliction of violence. Those unable to pay are beaten mercilessly with slaps, blows and kicks and in many cases lashing all over with canes or other whips. The cruelty assumes an initiatory aspect in many police cells, irrespective of a demand for payment of the “state taxes” having been made or of the ability or willingness of the newcomer to pay it. It serves the purpose, in such cases, of intimidating and subjecting them to the authority of the cell leaders.

The cell officer among the suspects has the sole responsibility of overseeing such collection or initiatory brutality. They are usually designated OC Torture in mimicry of the practice among their police jailers. Indeed, it’s in the belly of police cells, can Richard Nixon’s deepest valley allegory be better appreciated. The former United States of America President said when he was leaving office after the Watergate scandal: “Only in the deepest valley can you know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain.” The same way, it is only those, who have been locked-up in Nigeria’s police cells that would appreciate how splendid it is to be free after days of incarceration.

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