Falae’s anger and CLO’s 7-hour ordeal with the police
Falae’s anger and CLO’s 7-hour ordeal with the police
Sunday, March 14, 2021 3:00 pm
By Richard Akinnola
Wednesday, January 25, 1989. The time was 11.30 a.m. Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, president, Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) was at his Apapa, Lagos office when his secretary informed him that he had some visitors, three of them. The visitors turned out to be plain-clothed security men from the office of the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammadu Gambo Jimeta.
The security men told Mr. Agbakoba that he was wanted for interrogation at the Force Headquarters, Lagos. Not wanting to take chances, Mr. Emmanuel Erakpotobor, the National Treasurer of C.L.O., who was around during the visit, decided to accompany Mr. Agbakoba to the Force Headquarters. As they stepped out of the office, the security men were joined by two others who were waiting outside and they drove off.
At the Criminal Intelligence Bureau (CIB) of Force Headquarters, Mr. Erakpotobor waited in a room while Mr. Agbakoba was taken to another room where he was interrogated by one Suleiman, a Chief Superintendent and another officer, who happened to be a lawyer.
The interrogation centered on the C.L.O’s 1988 Human Rights report titled “Violation of Human Rights in Nigeria,” which was launched on December 10, 1988 (World Human Rights Day) by the founder of Amnesty International, Peter Beneson.
Emblazoned on the cover of the pamphlet was the photograph of two suspects, who had just regained their freedom from Kirikiri prison, courtesy of an Ikeja magistrate court, based on CLO’s legal moves. A look at the photograph would make a most stone-hearted person shudder in pity. The suspects, reduced to walking skeletons looked shriveled, scraggy, disheveled with sunken eyes and ribs and clavicles, shooting out like those of drought victims from the Sahel. One could count the number of ribs on their chests – graduates of our prison system.
The C.L.O’s 12 page report also highlighted various abuses of Human Rights in Nigeria in 1988. The report was sent to those who had the power to ameliorate situations in the prisons and police cells. Among those to whom the report was sent was the President, the Chief of General Staff, Inspector-General of Police, Federal Attorney-General, Chief Justice of Nigeria and Secretary to the Federal Government.
When Chief Olu Falae, Secretary to the Federal Government, received his own copy, he was livid with those who put the report together. He then minuted to the Inspector-General of Police, Gambo Jimeta to take appropriate action against the C.L.O., hammering on the security implication. To him, the report constituted a security threat! Perhaps, he did not read the report. Most of what was highlighted in the report had been reported extensively by the media.
Anyway, the I-G took up the gauntlet and the heat was put on C.L.O. officials.
After about four-hour interrogation, Mr. Agbakoba was asked to report the next day at noon with members of the Board of Governors of the organization, which included my humble self. The Board of Governors was entrusted with the Management of the Organization.
The next day, Thursday January 26, at about 10 a.m., Agbakoba and Clement Nwankwo, the National Secretary, were going through the Criminal code in anticipation of the day’s interrogation. Then I told them to throw away the books, as the police could not bring any charge against the C.L.O
“The Police can never contemplate that. That would be very absurd,” I said in my naivety.
“Absurd?” retorted Agbakoba; “you don’t know these people.” At any rate, after going through the book, they came to the conclusion that there was nothing inciting or seditious about the publication. In anyway, sedition had ben knocked off from our statute books in the case of Arthur Nwankwo vs the State.
“Let me take my breakfast before I go there, may be that would be only meal for the day before we are locked up,” said Nwankwo as he sent for a plate of rice and beans.
“Look at these potential detainees,” I joked when Agbakoba and Nwankwo were eating.
By 1.15 p.m., armed with five copies of the Report (Police only had a photocopy from Falae), we were on our way to the Force Headquarters.
At the main building where we were to sign the register and receive visitor’s tag, the drama started. After filling the register for all of us, and as the Sergeant at the counter was about giving us the visitors’ tags, Agbakoba protested. “We are not visitors” he stated.
“Do you work here?” asked the Sergeant.
“No” was the crisp reply from Agbakoba.
“Then are you a police officer?” the confused Sergeant asked again.
“Then you have to put on the tag once you are not a staff here,” ordered the policeman.
“No, we cannot put on the visitors’ tag because we are no visitors. We are not here on own volition. We were invited here. We haven’t come to visit you people” insisted Agbakoba.
After some argument, we decided to take the tag and went to the fourth floor where the interrogation was going to take place.
It was 1.30 p.m. The guy at the desk said our interrogator was in a conference. “But this man said we should come 2 p.m., if by 2.30 p.m. and he is not out, we’ll leave a note and go away. We can’t be sitting here indefinitely” protested Agbakoba.
After a while, one of the officers, the lawyer, took us to a room with only four tables and two chairs.
Trying to be over polite, he kept on saying “Sir, Sir,” for every word uttered. I was unimpressed and said: “This your sir, sir, sef,” and he laughed it off.
He offered us minerals. “The minerals have to be opened here o,” said Nwankwo and there was a sudden combustion of laughter.
“Oh, yes, it will be opened here since you have suspected me,” the officer retorted, smiling and trying to be courteous. The guy disappeared and we started chatting to “kill” time. The minerals came and we quaffed them.
At about 3.10 p.m, they came for us. First was Agbakoba who was taken to a separate room. Then, Nwankwo and later Erakpotobor. But before they were taken away, we reasoned that one of us should stay behind to monitor events and brief the outside world in case they were detained. So when they came for me, I said I was just their friend and I was left alone. My brief was to alert the public in case the rest were detained.
During their interrogation, Agbakoba was asked to make a statement. He refused. “How can I make a statement when I don’t know my alleged offence. I am a Iawyer, you know?” he said. Then they brought the proposed charge which alleged that the C.L.O. report was subversive, inciting and contrary to Transition to Civil Rule Decree 1988.
After a while, Mike Ozekhome, the organisation’s Director of Legal Services came in for his own interrogation. All of them were asked to make statements.
At about 6.30 p.m. they were let off and asked to report by 8.30 am next day, possibly to face the Transition Tribunal.
Friday, 8.30 a.m., we were all there. Nobody attended to us. We were just kept in a room. At this period, we were becoming impatient. Our jobs were suffering. We put heads together on what to do when they asked us to go and see the I-G himself, at about 1.30 p.m. Contrary to what we had expected, the I-G was quite courteous, nice and civil to us. His genteel demeanor contrasted sharply with his intimidating, burly visage. The I-G sought for our co-operation and understanding. He lectured us on the handicaps of the police, calling on us not to hesitate to contact him anytime we felt it was necessary to iron out things. The 20-minute meeting ended on a happy note and the matter was declared closed by the IG himself.
But how did he feel about the four day ordeal? Mr. Agbakoba said:
“It doesn’t matter whether the government feels bad against it or not. From these travails, we go from strength to strength.”
Ironically, on December 9, 1988, as one of the activities marking the World Human Rights Day (December 10), then External Affairs Minister, Major-General Ike Nwachukwu, commended the C.L.O. for bringing awareness on Human Rights in the country.
Similarly, the CLO was also appointed as a member of the complaint body of Federal Road Safety Corps.
-Excerpts from FLASHBACK: A PREFACE TO MY MEMOIR, Richard Akinnola’s 316-page book scheduled for release on April 1, 2021