Sunday Ode, a journalist, who was arrested and detained on the orders of the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, has talked about his experience.
He recalls his ordeal in this interview with OLALEKAN ADETAYO
It was learnt that you recently had an encounter with some policemen. When was this and where?
My name is Egena Sunday Ode. I am a journalist based in Abuja. Yes, I had a bitter encounter with some policemen on Friday, April 30, 2021, near the popular AYA roundabout in Abuja around 5.30pm.
How did it happen?
Around 3pm that day, I received a distress call from my cousin, Johnson Ubeh, that he was being held by some police personnel over an alleged contract that he failed to execute. The policemen had earlier pulled him out of his shop on the pretext that they were going to give him a contract. But when he went out to meet them, they changed the story to failure to deliver on a contractual agreement.
As their conversation continued, they asked if he knew me and he responded in the affirmative. They were able to establish the location of my beat in Asokoro from him and came to lay an ambush for me at the AYA roundabout by the A. A. Rano filling station in Asokoro with my cousin in their car. All the while that he was with them, they seized his phones and allowed him to receive calls from me alone, and they would dictate to him what he must say to me.
So, when I called him around 5pm, he told me that the policemen had brought him to Asokoro and were threatening to detain him in their station if nobody came to settle the matter on his behalf. That made me rush out to the location where he was being held. On sighting me, the policemen and DSS operatives all in mufti adjusted their positions and kind of surrounded my cousin, who was seated in the centre.
As I alighted from my car and walked into their midst to ask my cousin what the matter was, they closed up on me and said I was under arrest and immediately seized my phone. One of them said I had a problem with Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State and that he was the one who had ordered my arrest. The policemen became more hostile when I begged them to allow me to talk to my boss, who was waiting for me in the office, and my wife so that I could tell her where to get money for their upkeep.
I said if they would not allow me to call by myself, they could make the calls on my behalf at least for my family members to know what was happening and where I was being taken to. They still would not yield. I then begged that they should allow me to copy the numbers out so that my cousin, whom they had then freed, could make the calls on my behalf. That was how they allowed me to copy out three numbers before they bundled me into a Mercedes car with a private number plate and zoomed off. I was later to learn that they had been tracking me for weeks and had been in Abuja for about a week to arrest me.
Before this encounter, did the police extend any invitation to you?
No, I was never invited.
You were arrested in the presence of your cousin. What was the experience like?
You know my cousin was used as a bait to get me. He was there while it lasted. It was a horrible experience for both of us, because at some point, we doubted the true identities of the personnel.
What did they say your offence was?
They didn’t quite explain. They only said I had issues with Governor Ortom and that he had ordered my arrest and for me to be taken to Makurdi, the Benue State capital.
Were you shown a copy of the petition that informed your arrest?
It was shown to me only when we arrived at Makurdi the next day, having paused the journey for me to be thrown into police cell in Akwanga around 9.30pm until around 9am the following day.
So, what is the content of the petition?
The allegation in the petition is that I am spreading falsehood against the governor and inciting people with my write-ups and defaming the governor. Those are the allegations that I can remember. The petition is about two or three pages and they attached two copies of press statements that I authored to the petition. I was made to write a statement based on the petition. I authored the press statements in my capacity as the President of the Igede Media Professionals. They were about the way the governor has been handling security challenges in the state, especially as they concern the Bonta-Ukpute conflict.
What was the experience like while the journey lasted?
All through the journey, I was in great apprehension for the fact that I still had reservations about the real identities of the policemen who arrested me, and what their mission was, and especially having to travel with four strange armed persons in the night. The fact that they didn’t allow me to make contact with my family members increased my fears that they might be up to something sinister.
As a matter of fact, when we got to Mararaba in the Karu Local Government Area of Nasarawa State, I then remembered that they only flashed a document purported to be a warrant of arrest. They didn’t give me to read. So, I requested that they should do me a favour by going to a nearby police station and document my arrest, but they said it was unnecessary. One of the officers, the one that appeared to be the youngest among them, then brought out a paper from a big brown envelope tucked behind the driver’s seat to allay my fears. According to him, the document was the warrant of arrest claimed to have been counter signed by the FCT Police Command. Still, it was not given to me to read and ascertain. In any case it would serve no purpose since I was already in their custody.
At some point in the course of the night journey, my apprehension of a possible danger lurking around increased, especially due to some unusual moves and gesticulations by the police personnel. The general insecurity in the country kept flashing in my mind that anybody could be a victim. My eyes were wide open, observing every move and carefully listening to conversations by the policemen with great suspicion.
Let me also add that before we got to Mararaba, which is some two and a half hours drive to Akwanga, I begged the policemen to allow me to buy tissue paper, because my tummy was already rumbling and I needed to relieve myself. I made that request many times, but they kept pretending that they would soon stop until we completed the over two hours’ journey to Akwanga. Now, at Akwanga they pulled up at a chemist shop by the bye-pass and said I could then buy the tissue paper.
After that, two of the personnel stepped aside and when they re-joined us, I was brought out of the vehicle, a cream Mercedes Benz car, and asked to follow one of them into a dark expansive compound, which happened to be the Area Command of the Nigeria Police Force. That gave me some relief even though I ended up in the cell.
After the policemen, who arrested me, handed me over at the counter and left, I thought I could then ask the personnel on duty to assist me to call my wife. A lady, whom I supposed was the second most senior officer on duty, actually showed up by the cell entrance, which was secured with a huge bar, but she was visibly afraid to render any assistance to me. She said she had no airtime and when I told her I would give her money to buy some, she said the sellers had closed for the day. I asked again if she could just borrow and replenish in the morning, she just told me she was coming and disappeared.
Remember also that I had complained to the policemen, who arrested me that I was pressed. In fact, when they asked me to follow the man I later discovered to be an inspector into the police station that was enveloped in darkness, I had thought he was going to show me a place to relieve myself.
However, the sight of the cell and the indescribable foul odour that attacked me automatically suppressed that feeling. But around midnight, it came back. So, I started shouting and banging the bar repeatedly for any person around to help me. After a while, a youthful lady showed up but said the person who had the key of the cell was not around. I knew she was lying. Her fear, probably, was that I might try to escape in the process, since she didn’t know the offence for which I had been arrested.
So, I pressed on hitting the bar to have their attention and get help. Then suddenly, a dark tall man, who appeared to be the most senior officer on duty, probably an inspector, rushed to the entrance of the cell and issued a stern warning to me that if I disturbed them again by hitting the bar, he would handcuff me. At that point, I gave up because I knew no help would come.
In Makurdi, where were you detained?
At the state CID.
For how long were you in custody?
To my utmost surprise, the detention in Makurdi was brief, lasting just about two to three hours. I was released on Saturday, the second day of my arrest and detention.
How was your experience in custody? Were you tortured? Were your family members or colleagues allowed access to you? Were you given food?
There was no physical torture as such. As I had mentioned earlier, I spent the night of Friday, April 30, at the police cell in Akwanga. The experience was traumatic. And I also said that right from the point I was arrested, I had no access to anybody. They seized my phones on the spot. No food was given to me. In fact, no offer was made. It was only in Akwanga that while in the cell, I bought a bottle of soft drink for myself and all the suspects, but I could not drink mine because of the stench. In fact, I didn’t even open it, I left it there.
But the second day at Lafia, where the policemen stopped to have breakfast, I decided to join them and take something as I knew that once I was thrown into a cell in Makurdi, I might not be able to eat anything again until help would come.
That means you were not the only detainee in the cell where you kept?
Yes, there were six other detainees in that cell. I was the seventh person.
Were you manhandled by your co-detainees?
No, I wasn’t. In fact, that was one of the reasons I quickly settled them with the soft drink.
Have you had any encounter with Governor Ortom or his men before?
No direct encounter.
It was learnt that you were released on bail. What are the bail conditions? Are you expected to return to the police any time soon?
I have been asked to return to them in Makurdi on Thursday, May 6.
Did the governor or any of his men reach out to you during your incarceration or after you were released?
Do you regret authoring the statement the governor was angry about?
The statement was issued by an association of which I am the president. It was not personal to me and it wasn’t my personal opinion. I only signed it as the president.
As a journalist, do you really believe the governor is not handling the security challenges in the state well? What should he be doing?
I can’t talk about the entire state, but for Ukpute and Bonta communities in the Oju and Konshisha local government areas, we believe that only boundary demarcation holds the key to an enduring resolution of the incessant conflicts. Several newspaper commentaries and editorials have suggested how that can be seamlessly achieved.
With this development, do you exercise any fear about your safety and that of your family members?
The way and manner I was tracked and arrested in Abuja and whisked away to Makurdi on the orders of Governor Ortom without any previous police invitation has left me in fear that my family members and I are not safe.
Source: The PUNCH