February 25, 2021

SARS House of Horror: Intriguing account of a Survivor

Awkuzu SARS house of horror

Awkuzu #EndSARS protest

 

  • Chijioke Eruchalu, an environmental biologist and advertising practitioner, in this riveting account paints a grisly picture of activities of men of police SARS and their holding facility in Awkuzu, Anambra State, as narrated to him by a survivor, whose name he gave as Bonaventure Mokwe-Dikeh

 

BY CHIJIOKE ERUCHALU


This is going to be unusually lengthy for my piece but, it is necessary to enable a comprehensive understanding of the modus operandi of Awkuzu SARS, under CSP James Nwafor.

I will try as much as possible to narrow it down to the essential points. My coming in contact with the outfit started on August 1st 2013, when my Upper Class Hotel was demolished. On the very date, I drove into my hotel from my residence at around 7.30 in the morning. Minutes after that, a truck load of policemen arrived and surrounded my hotel. It did not take long before the crowd started gathering outside of the hotel, as I looked through my office window.

It took sometime before some of the police officers walked into my office with Dr Justin Nwankwo. My other hotel staff had already been beaten to a pulp down stairs. I introduced myself and they said that they wanted to search the whole of the hotel premises and I said no problem.

We started from the last floor of the hotel, room after room and most of the rooms were occupied by guests that were mostly traders from Cameroon. We finally got to the first floor, but before then one of the officers had demanded that we showed them Room 102.

Indicted: CSP James Nwafor

When we got to Room 102, the door was locked and I turned and asked Dr Nwankwo Justin whether a guest paid for the room the day before and he said yes. I asked about the manifest of the hotel lodging and he said that he had submitted the police copy to SCIB (Special Crime Investigation Bureau) at the Central Police station Onitsha which every hotel is obligated to do before 7am every day. I instructed him to bring our own copy which he hurriedly did and we showed it to the police. The guest gave his name as John Obi. The officers insisted on breaking the door and I pleaded with them to wait for the guest for some time; that the customers of Upper Class Hotel are predominantly traders from Cameroon and Niger Republic and that they carry a lot of cash with them. That has been the case since 1974 the hotel was built because of its nearness to the main market Onitsha.

Before I could finish, they broke the door and entered the room. We saw black polyethylene bags (waterproof) all over the room with an open suitcase. The officers then opened the wardrobe and brought out a bag. Inside the bag was two human skulls with sand all over them and two rusted and unserviceable AK-47 guns.

READ: 4 police officers who assaulted protesters in Lagos arrested

I was promptly leg-chained on both legs and Dr Justin Nwankwo was handcuffed. I was taken to the outside corridor of the hotel and made to kneel down while holding the exhibits and they took pictures. At that point, from the faces I saw amongst the crowd with axes and machete, I then knew where the whole incident came from, hazard of land business along with motor park duel. By the time I was led downstairs, practically most of the police officers had all headed back to the station with the exception of the ones that accompanied me.

The crowd was surging to clearly mob me. Luckily for me, I came to the office with my Q56 Infiniti SUV and the leg chain gave me some space to drive. As I entered my SUV and started the Engine and pushed down the vehicle auxiliary, I turned around to the police officers and told them that I already knew what happened and that if the crowd rushed at me, I would fill up the MORTUARY at the general hospital Onitsha, including myself. As I surged on, one of the police officers opened the vehicle door and started firing rapidly in the air. That pretty well saved me and some of those people.

From the Area Command Onitsha, we headed to Awkuzu SARS with CSP James Nwafor and his team. Dr Justin Nwankwo and the staff were packed in one vehicle while I myself, Csp James Nwafor and three other SARS officers were in another vehicle. When we got to the present ROAD SAFETY office along the Enugu/Onitsha, before you get to Awkuzu SARS, James Nwafor turned around and said to me: 1. You will never see that hotel again. 2. He will kill me whether I am innocent or not and that, if I am innocent, may my blood be on him and his children. When we then entered Awkuzu proper, Dr Justin Nwankwo was kept in their torture hall while I was taken behind the torture hall where James Nwafor mostly does his killing.

Behind the very torture hall, I was chained to a local weight lifting device. After some period, James Nwafor came back with some officers along with one other officer I latter discovered to be his deputy by name CSP Sunday Okpe. Sunday Okpe inspected the exhibits for some time and asked me the following questions: 1. Where the exhibits recovered in my office and I said no, it was recovered in a guest room. 2. Do we have hotel manifest and I answered yes that we submitted the police copy early in the morning but that my manager has a duplicate copy. He inspected the exhibits yet again and said that the skulls look old and that the guns had not been in use for a long time, why all in one bag, he asked, while the rest looked on. As he turned to leave, he muttered; this looks like mago mago. His observation did not stop James Nwafor. Not long after that, one of the officers came back with an already written statement and I was asked to sign. I refused saying that I am quite capable of writing my own statement. My torture commenced immediately. I was overpowered and my shirt was removed from me.

Awkuzu SARS of Horror

They then wrapped my neck with the shirt and then followed it will a green rope and they started pulling from both ends. Gentlemen, I was gone. They then appended my thumbprint on the prepared statement that substantiated the allegations against me. Meanwhile, Dr Justin Nwankwo was seeing hell in the torture hall. When I eventually regained consciousness, I found myself in their death chamber, called Cell 5. It is the cell that is reserved for those James Nwafor will kill. Congested and extremely dirty. Food is not allowed in the very cell unless periodic loafs of bread which is shared in slices. One bucket of water every day for drinking. The shock of my life happened on the second or the third day of being in the very Cell 5. There is this small boy of between the age of 19 and 22, a second-year engineering student of FUTO (Federal University of Technology Owerri).

He called me uncle. He told me that he was an only son of the mother and that his supremely rich uncle, based in Lagos wanted to annex his own father’s portion of family land and that his father was late. His resistance against the uncle landed him at SARS as a kidnapper and armed robber. Then, it was either in the second or third night of my staying in the condemned cell, the door of the cell opened late one night. What I saw was a touch light. Names were being called one after the other, 17 names in all including the small boy and they were ordered out and the door closed back. It did not take more than 15 minutes, gunshots filled the air, nne moh, nne moh (cries of ‘my mother, my mother’) was all I could hear. The 17 young men were slaughtered cold blood. I lost it that night. My system just shut down. It was either the 4th or 5th day that the door opened one morning and it was the same Sunday Okpe that called my name and told me to come out. No energy was left in me because I have not eaten real food except periodic slices of bread. He bought me something to eat along with a malt drink.

READ: Senate orders prosecution of SARS men involved in killings

I was subsequently transferred to Cell 1. After some days, I was called into James Nwafor’s office to see my wife and my lawyer, Professor Umenweke Nnama Meshach. I tried to get Dr. Justin Nwankwo to join me but they refused. As time went on, I discovered that the case had hanged because there was no complainant. Even James Nwafor voiced out some frustration when he said, the hotel demolition was too fast. This is the same person that told me that I will never see the hotel again. He became unusually friendly towards me but I knew it was a damage control. The latitude then allowed me to study what truly obtained at the AWKUZU SARS. I witnessed some of the tortures and I became aware of some of their cases along with what really happened in the place.

I witnessed an incident when a young trading apprentice was arrested by SARS on behalf of the Master, over a missing 250,000 (Naira) or thereabout. He broke his spinal cord and died when he was subjected to what they call HANGING TORTURE. He was written off as an armed robber.

I witnessed an incident during what they call verification excise or something like that. All the inmates will be brought out in the open yard and all will be seated on the ground. When your name is called, you will stand up and answer some questions. There was this boy that was called up and James Nwafor asked him; Are you from Ogidi? Before the boy could finish saying no, James shot him with a silver-coloured pistol which was always with him. The boy bled to death right there.

I also witnessed the practice of shifting inmates in the middle of the night to Nneni, for the purposes of dodging official inspection of the place. Nneni SARS Annex is another abattoir. Starvation of inmates and outright shooting was the rule there. If the government undertakes the excavation of the perimeter of the Nneni Annex, the Ezu River will be a joke compared to what will be discovered. I saw other killings at the very place. Every morning, the inmates of Cell 1 would be called to carry a dead body or two behind the torture hall. Any individual that had been detained by SARS for an extended period of time would tell you exactly that.

Let me clarify an issue here, CSP James Nwafor does not release proven kidnappers or armed robbers, he kills them, but with a negotiated huge amount of money, James will at most, charge the person to court. Outright release of the person is off as far as I know. What I also know is that, he can be bought to do a particular job, death inclusive, if the price is right.

Let me stop here, but there are more details. If the government of the day is desirous of appeasing the victims of SARS, the government should offer immunity to some officers that served under James Nwafor and they will lead investigators to the exact location of corpse dump in the vicinity of Nneni. Some of the SARS victims’ family members can at least recover the body of their loved ones for burial.

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