Agonising tale of newspaper vendor’s two weeks in police cell
For 15 years, Patrick Joseph Onwuaha, a 48-year-old newspaper vendor, has been selling newspapers and magazines of all titles in Asaba, Delta State, without trouble. Onwuaha’s dexterity on the job got him a nickname, ‘Ocha,’ from residents and friends in Asaba and environs.
His meekness, composure and complexion made him a beautiful sight to behold. With worn-out slippers and one of his legs riddled with sour, Onwuaha would traverse the length and breadth of Asaba city vending newspapers, including magazines and other printable items, from office to office.
Although his income had remained low as a result of diminishing purchasing powers of many Nigerians, Onwuaha had held on with great expectations till Thursday, May 14, 2021.
What was supposed to be a normal work day turned to be harrowing day in his life following his arrest by the Directorate of State Security (DSS) officials in Oshimili Arcade ground in Asaba.
Narrating his ordeal to The Guardian, Onwuaha said he was tricked, blindfolded by an official of DSS and bundled to their boss for a marathon questioning.
According to him, after the question and answer session at DSS’ office, he was “sentenced” to the state police headquarters anti-kidnapping units where he claimed he had severe torture that could better imagined than experienced.
Onwuaha, who spent two weeks in custody before the court granted him bail, shared his experience with The Guardian in Asaba yesterday.
“On a Sallah day, at Oshimili Arcade, I saw some DSS personnel, among them, a friend of mine.
“He asked me for a newspaper as a Sallah gift, and I was about to give him, when one of them saw copies of Biafran papers in my hand, and demanded for one.
“One of them made calls and after the calls, he said Oga wanted to see me in their office. I entered their car without hesitation. When we got to their office, they used one bag to cover my face. At this stage, I asked them what my offence was, that they were doing that to me. They asked me to shut up, that I’m a member of IPOB sent to monitor the state.
“But I told them I’m just an ordinary newspaper vendor. I know IPOB exists, but I’m not a member. I believe some of you know me very well. From there, they took me into their office, removed the handcuffs, and the things used to cover my face.”
Onwuaha explained further that he was moved to the police headquarters where he was dragged into the anti-kidnapping units to face persecution in the hands of fierce-looking policemen whose “stock in trade” is to torture to get whatever information they need.
“From there they took me to CP’s office for a brief interview. After that, I was asked to write a statement, but I told them I can’t write. Then, the Investigative Police Officer (IPO), one Sunny, wrote it and asked me to sign. I asked him to allow me to read the statement before I sign, he shouted at me, and forced me to sign a statement I didn’t read at all.
“The following day, I asked them to also allow me to call my wife, he agreed, but immediately I said I’m at the police headquarters, he cut off the phone line and dragged me into the cell.
“On Sunday morning, they called me out of the police cell and tied my two hands backward. After that they started beating me with the butt of guns and other hard things to scatter my legs, saying we are the ones killing police and burning stations.
“I said sir, I don’t know anything about what you are saying, I’m an innocent man, you just want to kill me for nothing. As the drama was unfolding, one of their bosses asked them to untie me, but they refused, and said this one must die among them.
“After that, they forced me back to the cell. Inside the cell, I was dying, breathing hard, and shouting for my release, but they wouldn’t listen at all, insisting that I must confess I am a member of IPOB. After the beating, I can’t feed myself with my two hands, instead my cellmates helped; they even helped me when I want to pee. After about 15 to 20 minutes, their boss asked them to drag me out of the cell to face prosecution.
“I raised up my hands and said God unto your hands I commit myself. Thereafter, another boss came, sat me down and asked what happened to my hands. I explained to him. He said no, it was unfair to treat an ordinary vendor that way. At that moment, he sympathised with me and ordered that a doctor treat me till Friday, May 25, when I was charged to court.
“At the court, the judge asked me what happened, and I explained. He said no, no, for this your condition; he granted me bail instantly.” Speaking further on his experience with the DSS and the police, Onwuaha said the incident taught him a big lesson. He called for immediate reform of the Nigerian police.
According to him, many innocent people were dying in detentions because their cases were not thoroughly investigated and there was no professionalism. On the issue of selling Biafran newspapers, Onwuaha explained that he was just an ordinary vendor selling all kinds of newspapers he got from the distributors and nothing more.
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