Today is August 22, 2020, exactly one year since I was abducted from my home to begin a treason trial I am still standing. I mark the anniversary by bringing you the chapter that recreates the drama that happened on that fateful day.
Bright days are often a rarity during the raining season in Lagos particularly now that we are contending with the unpredictabilities of climate change. So anytime you have one, you want to make the best of it. 22nd August 2019 was one of those bright days that arrived with a lot of energy. Having just returned from one of my frequent journeys, it was very reasonable for me to spend that whole August Day with Okemena. But it was not to be. A day that started out with bowls of energy and decibels of excitement, was abruptly punctuated by four plain clothes detectives barging into our house to forcefully take me away.
A siege had been laid on Okemena’s business outlet since the morning of August 22. Her staff were held hostage by the same plain clothes men. For over 4 hours, they were under guard and panicking. They were not allowed to make calls. The detectives were anticipating the arrival of Okemena or I. When they waited and none of us were forthcoming, they took Seyi, one of the staff, under gun point and threats to bring them home where we were. On arriving at the gate of our house, a familiar face was with them so they gained access easily into the compound, through the staircase up to the last door to our living room. I rushed to the door cladded only in underpants.
Who is at the door, I inquired…
As I peeped through the pigeonhole, I spotted Seyi sweating and panicking profusely. Still talking to her through the pigeon hole, I asked her what the matter was that she was under so much pressure and panic. She broke down in tears and was shouting, “Oga I don’t know oooo, oga I don’t know oooo.”
Immediately I opened the door to let her in, two men sprinted from under the staircase and pushed their way through, forcing themselves into our living room shouting, “we are policemen, you are under arrest.” I asked them what I was under arrest for and their first answer was that, I will know when I get to their station. They initially said they were from Abuja. They created quite a drama that lasted up to 15 minutes. Two other plain clothes men were outside mounting surveillance for the others who had entered the building.
I called out loudly to Okemena who was in the bedroom telling her we have policemen in the house. She rushed out and joined me and was in obvious shock and panic. She asked them who they were, where they came from and if they brought a warrant of arrest and they told her they had no business with her. That they came for me. I was only cladded in an underpants without a singlet and I requested to go get a pair of clothes to wear from the room but the stern detectives will not let me do any of that. I requested that Okemena brings a pair for me and they obliged. She then brought a pair of my blue native dress which I wore in their presence and they advised that I should “carry money” because I may need it. I asked why they thought so and one then informed me that they were taking me to Calabar. I think that actually slipped out of his mouth but it gave me a hint of what I was in for. Meanwhile, Okemena had gone back into the room to also change her dress because she insisted on following us to wherever they were taking me.
She took a little while and before she came out, the detectives had already marched me downstairs into a waiting gold colour highlander. Several AK47 rifles were under the vehicle seats and a driver was already seated. They were very impatient. They all entered and drove away with me leaving Okemena behind. She came out of the gate shouting and racing after the vehicle on the street. Eventually, they stopped and created a tight space were she squeezed herself in.
They drove off into the hectic traffic along Lagos Ibadan Expressway veering into Ojota to Maryland into Bank Anthony way and turned into Isaac John and Joel Ogunaike street in Ikeja GRA. They turned again into a close off Joel Ogunaike and drove for less than 50 meters and a policeman opened a big black gate for the vehicle to drive in.
From outside, while driving into the compound, the presence of a handful of armed mobile policemen at the gate and the police colours which adorn the fence of the compound gives you an idea already that it’s a police facility. Inside the compound, as we drove in and came out of the vehicle, I am guarded through a bunch of abandoned vehicles to somewhere in the back and ushered into a make shift office. Okemena kept following and watching every move closely. While we were guarded to the back, I heard one of the policemen yelling at Okemena from behind us that she had taken a picture with her phone and must delete it. Okemena insisted she didn’t take any picture. The angry policeman kept emphasizing that visitors to the facility are usually not allowed to enter with their phones but Okemena’s own only got in because she was allowed to drive in with us in their vehicle and didn’t go through the regular gate checks. He forced Okemena to open her phone after a protracted altercation, and two of them checked through the pictures in her phone to see if she actually snapped and found none. Her phone was seized until late evening when she was leaving the station before it was returned to her.
While sitting in the make shift container office, one of the detectives who told me his name is Shaka, asked his colleague to get me a statement form so I could write a statement. I wondered what I was going to write in the statement when I have not been told why I am under arrest. I was then informed that the office we were was the Inspector General of Police Intelligence Response Team IGP IRT. That there was a complaint about me from the governor of Cross River State. They asked me if I had any issues with my governor, I told them we have been having a very frosty relationship lately and the policeman handed me a paper and pen to write what exactly has been going on between me and the governor as my statement. I did capture the much I could in the statement while the detective was watching me closely. I remember refusing some of the things he wanted me to write but he wasn’t forceful. After writing my statement, he informed me that I will need to wait to see their “oga” in another office who will sign my detention order, after which I will be detained pending my transfer to Calabar very early the following morning.
Okemena had gone outside the premises to contact our staff, lawyers and journalists. She also quickly moved to get some snacks from a fast food outlet around for me to munch and a pair of slippers, toothbrush and paste. All formalities were completed. She escorted me to the gate of the dingy cell along with an armed man. As I approached the cell gate, stripped and bare footed, the crowd in the police facility who had also come because of their relations locked in there, kept staring at us and wondering if I was the same Agba Jalingo they see on TV and what was going on. I hesitated briefly and had a short conversation with Okemena about what initial steps she should take as I was been taken away. I told her I may be away for long and we encouraged ourselves that the anxious moments, like others, will surely pass, I gave her my wedding ring so other inmates in the cell wouldn’t dispossess me of it and collected the slippers and toothbrush, we hugged and she stood there with tears laden eyes, watching as I was marched into the cell that night.
The night of 22 August, was indeed very long. A night when the gods forfeited their iron teeth of chastisement. A night when racing thoughts threatened the carapace of my mind. The policeman that took me into the cell was in all honesty not hostile. As the first gate opened, there is a hall way and two cells by the left, about 40 by 20 feet in size. The first one is designated for females and was very scanty. The second which is for males is congested. There were 82 inmates in the cell and I was the 83rd and the last for the night. The policeman took me to the gate of the second cell and called the cell marshall out.
I don bring you alejo o!
But this one na your brother. So make you treat am well. Make nobody touch am o. E no be kidnapper. Na only one night e get for here. Early mor-mor, we dey move am go una town. Na your brother from Calabar o! Ask am if e dey chop dog meat! I think the policeman wanted to be humorous to put a smile on my face as he was pushing me into the dungeon.
He hands me the N500 I also collected from Okemena to settle the cell officials and opens the gate for me to be pushed inside. He locks the gate and turn back leaving me to my fate.
Good evening ceeell!
Good evening alejooo!
I greet all the cell leaders and members!
You are welcome!
The Marshall abruptly wakes inmates laying around him ordering them to shift and create a space for me on the mat next to him. I was actually lucky because that is luxury in the cell, I was told. I handed Marshall the N500 begging him that, if I am able to see anyone before our departure for Calabar in the morning, I will be able to give him more money. He was satisfied.
It was a very sober night of intense memory. As usual, I had to tell the cell what brought me. The “cell cup” was scrubbed on the floor to grab everyone’s attention and Marshall informed them that the cell had a new entrant who is passing by and as culture demands, I had to tell them my story of what brought me to the cell. The “cell-cup” secured the rapt attention of cell members. I stood up and was pointed to a corner where I should stand. I introduced myself and briefly told them why I was arrested. I told them I had issues with my governor and I am needed in Calabar. I added that I was still confused until I get to Calabar then the whole picture will be clear to me. It wasn’t a long one and we all returned to our positions. But not long after that, the Marshall who told me he is from Ugep in Yakurr Local Government of Cross River State, tapped me.
Journalist, please I wan tell you wetin carry me come here.
I no know how help fit take come but since you be journalist, if you go outside, you fit help. I don dey here over four months.
So wetin happen Marshall?
Na kidnapping carry me come here. We do the work for here, I come run comot for town, police trace me go Imo state go catch me come back.
So why dey never carry you go court?
Dey say make I pay N800,000 but I don see N400,000 pay. My people still dey find money and I still dey beg them.
So if you pay that N400,000 balance now, dem go let you go house?
Ok Marshall, who be your IPO?
E dey outside. I go call am for you for morning.
Better. So that I go fit ask am somethings, then I go know wetin I fit do.
I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. Not even the snacks that Okemena bought for me. I could only drink water through out the night. Other inmates were readily available to eat the snacks. I kept rolling restlessly in the spot I was lucky to be alloted and in the darkness of the cell, I could still see the stacks of human beings cramped into a room that wouldn’t be habitable even for animals. In the midst of my anxiety, my greatest fear for the night befell me. I was pressed and needed to ease myself. That’s one fear I had nursed before being thrown in there. I had prior experience of how a toilet in a congested cell looks like and didn’t want to witness it. But I was so pressed till I couldn’t hold it any longer. I beckoned to Marshall to help me find my way and he was still in a good mood and was nice to me. Before then, I was not just worried about what I will meet in the tight far corner designated as toilet, I was even more worried about how I will cross the stack of human beings who were laying on the ground to get there without incurring some wrath.
Marshall shouted at his assistant.
The assistant jumps up.
Help clear road make journalist go use lavatory.
Tell am the law for there o.
I accompanied the person assigned the task and he clears the road for me until I get to the toilet. There is no door. People are sleeping by the entrance almost rolling into the toilet. He instructs me to cross over the people that were sleeping by the entrance and enter. I obeyed the instruction. But on getting into the toilet, I couldn’t even wait for him to finish telling me the lavatory rules before I bolted back into the cell not minding anymore whether I will step on anyone. Whatever I went to do in the toilet also sympathized and cooperated with me and returned to my belly immediately and I had to go back to my position and endure the night. When Marshall asked me why I did not ease myself again, I told him I was no longer pressed. He smiled and told me he knows it’s because I find it difficult to use the toilet. He further informed me that tap water did not flow that day at all. So they were managing the water they had in the bucket for the night. So they allow 10 to 15 people to defecate per time before they flush. I think I was unlucky to arrive the toilet when the 14th person just left and I just couldn’t bear the stench and the sight.
The morning came longer than expected. I was anxious for it. We had no time piece in the cell but someone had a device we used to check time. About 4:48am, the same policeman who brought me into the cell came for me.
You don bath?
No sir but I don ready…
We dey go Calabar now o.
I know sir.
You no wan bath?
I go bath after sir.
For where you go bath?
You don brush?
Make I come brush for outside there na before we enter motor.
Ok. Oya come make I open door for you. Carry your brush and toothpaste. Come take pure water for outside or use that tap for where Muslim dey pray there.
I quickly picked the small polythene bag that contained my paste and brush and rushed to the cell door. He opened the door for me and we left together. I remembered to tell my cell mates, bye bye but we didn’t have time to conclude our unfinished discussions over the night.
Outside the cell, I took a plastic cup at the Muslim prayer point and collected water from the faucet on the wall and brushed my mouth. I wrapped the brush and paste back in the bag and told the policeman I was ready. He called his colleagues who were milling around and they all got into the vehicle. I was also handcuffed and thrown behind and we departed for Calabar shortly after 5am in the morning of 23rd August, 2019.
The story continues in Chapter 3 and other Chapters of my book, THE PEN IN JAIL.
There is a lot of anticipation for the book, but we all have to wait a little more for the work to finish and come out fantastic and that will be very very soon!
Citizen Agba Jalingo.
Agba Jalingo is the Editor-In-Chief of CrossRiverWatch and writes from Lagos State.
NB: Opinions expressed in this article are solely attributable to the author, Agba Jalingo and do not in anyway represent the opinion of CrossRiverWatch or any other organization the author works for/with.
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