By; PAMELA EBOH, Awka
A victim of SARS brutality in Anambra State, Dr Justin Nwankwo has decried the inhuman treatment meted out to him during his 81 days incarceration at the Awkuzu office of the security outfit.
Nwankwo, a former manager of Upper Class Hotel, Onitsha while testifying during his appearance at the ongoing judicial panel of inquiry set by Governor Willie Obiano to look into police brutality in the state, said that his scrotum was hit severally as a way of subduing him to extract information that he didn’t have.
The hotel was demolished in 2013 over alleged use of the hotel for kidnapping activities and alleged discovery of human skill and gun in one of the hotel rooms.
Narrating his ordeal, the former manager who is currently a lecturer at Federal Polytechnic Oko recalled that most of the people who lodged in the hotel on the day of the demolition were traders who also brought their goods into their rooms.
He insisted that there were no incidences of kidnapping at Upper Class Hotel as was alleged by the police.
Nwankwor said, “The owner of the hotel was a very big land agent in Onitsha. What happened to the hotel on that 1st August, 2013 could be the effect of envious business transaction.
“The torture I went through at Awkuzu SARS was horrible. The painful thing was that they took an innocent man to a detention camp without giving him an opportunity to defend himself. After the demolition of the hotel and our detention, some newspapers had screaming headlines with the title, ‘Otokoto in Onitsha’, which was even enough torture to me, a PhD student at the time.
“They parked us into a police van to a torture camp.They wanted me to join as a prosecution witness against the owner of the hotel and because I refused to do that, my own torture was the most severe. They tried to force me to say that there were activities of kidnapping in the hotel, which was not true on.
“So when you hear that my scrotum was damaged and that I was hanged and my hairs were pulled, it was to force me, the second in command in the hotel, to admit what was not true so that I could be joined in the matter.”
He said that apart from the torture, that the 81 days of incarceration was something one would not want to remember.
“I was in the black cell of Awkuzu SARS for 81 days and it is a miracle that I am still breathing because nobody stays in Awkuzu SARS for that number of days and survives.“They were hitting my scrotum to extract information from me by force. They even forced me to thumbprint on a statement I did not write. Imagine a near illiterate forcing a PhD student to thumbprint in a comatose condition, a statement he did not generate.
“At the time they forced my finger on the paper, I was unconscious and they poured three buckets of water on me to revive me to enable them use my thumbprint. This happened on the day of the arrest after they took us around many police stations in Onitsha in a black van and eventually arrived Awkuzu SARS around 3 pm and the torture began. We were in the torture hall till around 8pm.
“We were eventually released after 81 days and the police said their hands were tied and that there was nothing else they could do than to wait for further instructions.
“At the end of the day, they manufactured a case and took us to court because there were pressures from human right organizations, coupled with the fact that government wanted a safe landing.”Nwankwo, who is claiming N50 million as damages for the property lost as a result of the demolition of the hotel said that at the time of his arrest and detention, he was pursuing his PhD programme.
He expressed believe that the owner of the hotel was set up by his adversaries who were looking for avenues to get at him over land and motor park businesses he was involved in.
“The demolition of his hotel was one way they could get at him.We, the staff, were not part of those deals, but we suffered man’s in humanity to man.
“The hotel was demolished on the same day we were arrested. The police started its investigation the same day and ended it the same day, culminating in the demolition of the hotel the same day.
“It marveled us at the speed the hotel was demolished. The government did not come up with any security report on why the hotel should be demolished.
“When they arrested us, they should have investigated the hotel before demolishing it. They should have got a court order before doing anything. When we were arrested and taken to Awkuzu SARS, the news filtered in immediately that the hotel had been demolished and there was no opportunity for anybody to pick up any personal belonging,” he added in tears.