Indiscriminate arrests, ritual killers and other stories

Published: Sunday, 5 Aug 2007

My plight as a temporary widower almost worsened penultimate Saturday. My wife had told me the previous day that my second daughter, Kosisochukwu, was sick. So, when she called again that Saturday morning, I braced up for the worst. Besides, cheery news from home is as scarce as a hen’s teeth.

But her message, this time, wasn’t about sickness. Rather, she was under detention at the Ejigbo Local Government Headquarters. According to her, she had left the house early that Saturday to attend to some urgent personal matters. Midway into her journey, she was informed that her daughter‘s sickness was getting worse. She decided to go back to the house. But on her way, some officials of the local government picked her and some other people up. “They are threatening to take us to Kirikiri (Maximum Prisons I guess). They have already taken some people there. Soon, it will be our own turn,” she lamented.

“Kirikiri! What have local government officials and Kirikiri got to do with environmental sanitation offence? Could they truly be local government officials?” I wondered. I later spoke with a female official on my wife’s phone. I introduced myself to the woman and pleaded that they should release my wife on compassionate ground. “Oga,” the woman began, “today na environmental. The thing was announced on radio… Anyway, I have told your wife what to do if she wants to go.”

And what they actually asked her to do was to drop N2, 000. I tried to speak to the woman official again. But she quickly handed over the phone to a man she called her HOD. Again, I introduced myself to the man. Just as I was about stating my case, he cut me short and asked me to call back in two minutes. I did. But nobody picked the call. I called one of my sisters-in-law, who is also in Lagos. Again, no response. I quickly shut my computer as my mind went into some meditation.

I remembered the testimony one man reportedly gave at Winners’ Chapel, Ota, on 17 June. Some friends had forwarded it to me. The testimony bearer (name withheld) said he was driving through Gowon Estate in Lagos on 25 May. According to him, he had stopped his car to make a phone call. But six policemen at a nearby checkpoint came and accused him of making a phone call while driving. As he put it, “I stood by the driver’s side of the car raging and ranting… One of them, a corporal, came from behind me and touched my shoulder saying, ‘We are not fighting now’. Immediately, I became weak. As much as I tried talking, my mouth was not responding.” After a while, he said he was instructed to enter the car and drive. Four other vehicles, including a jeep purportedly followed suit. They were all said to be captives.

They later saw themselves in a thick forest. Close to 2000 people, he said, were sitting down on the ground. Every 40 to 50 minutes, he alleged, the captors would come to pick between 70 and 100 people. Eventually, they came for him. And together with 15 others, they found themselves in a room.

He stressed, “In the room, there was this non-reflective mirror on the wall and one after the other, we were instructed to step in front of the mirror. As each person steps in front of the mirror, in three to four seconds, his or her image appears and the next thing is we hear the person’s name…Then the person’s image on the mirror will be covered with blood. The person will then be directed to go through another door, different from the door we came in from. What happens next I do not know.”

But when it came to his turn, there was a problem. As this miracle man claimed, it was “mummy Oyedepo‘s voice” (wife of Bishop David Oyedepo of Winners Chapel) that everybody heard. Thrice, the voice reportedly said, “God is too faithful to fail…” Then, the mirror allegedly cracked, broke into pieces and dropped in a heap on the floor. One confusion led to another. Eventually, he noted, the captors released him together with three people who became his prayer partners there. They meandered through the forest for another six nights or so under the guidance of a strange hunter who gave them mouth-burning yams to assuage their hunger. They later found themselves at Ekeji-Ile in Osun State from where they made their journey home.

I had dismissed this story as one of those questionable Pentecostal miracles. I still have some doubts. My bid to confirm certain incredible aspects of it from the presumed victim (who signed off as a process engineer of a Lagos-based engineering firm), failed. He refused to respond to my email and phone calls.

Nevertheless, my wife’s predicament had drawn my mind to the testimony. My fear grew when she could no longer pick my calls. And you know in Nigeria, especially Lagos, anything is possible. Stories of indiscriminate arrests of people by the police abound. Even when you may not have done anything, they can frame charges against you and dump you in detention until you are ready to drop. I remembered the 90 girls whom the police reportedly arrested for wearing immodest dresses in Lagos. They charged them before an Ikeja Magistrate Court on 26 July for conduct likely to cause a breach of public peace. I became numb. If I had allowed my family to remain in the UK, I thought, this problem wouldn’t have arisen.

Here in the UK, people adore their freedom. They respect their laws. Even when the police have any cause to arrest, they do so in a civilised and mature way. In March, a police officer, Anthony Mulhall, was alleged to have punched a woman outside a nightclub in self-defence. He was immediately withdrawn from public duty. Police authorities launched an investigation into the matter. The police were invited when the woman, Ms Toni Comer, vandalised a car after being thrown out of the club. Mulhall reportedly said he had punched her to subdue her because she had tried to grab his genitals and knee.

As I reflected on these issues, my mind told me to call my sister-in-law again. This was to alert her and tell her to look after my kids while I think of what next to do. I made the call about noon. It was my wife‘s voice I heard instead. Giggling, she said, “They have released me. It‘s a miracle. They had falsely accused me of selling in the market during sanitation. I was the only person they released free of charge. They are about taking the rest of the people to Kirikiri. They said in Kirikiri, those people would pay N5, 000.”

I was relieved, but disturbed that some people were still in captivity. Somehow, my mind told me that they would eventually be released. The Kirikiri story might just be a ruse to frighten them and extort money from them. With exasperation, I mumbled, “See what poverty has done to my people.”

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