OWERRI – When a High Court in Owerri, the Imo State capital, on the 24th of August, 2018, unconditionally freed more than 114 women sympathetic to the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), after about one week in detention for embarking on a peaceful procession, many people believed the greatest abuse suffered by the women was the illegal incarceration.
Following the release of the women, it has become evident that ‘incarceration’, was just one aspect of a traumatising episode of shame and impunity. The women may be free apparently, but their bodies now bear tell-tale marks of a horrifying one week in detention.
Narrating their ordeal, the Imo State IPOB woman leader, Madam Queen Ikeama, who was also arrested, assaulted and detained said, “When our procession got to IMSU junction, without any provocation, the police started shooting teargas at us. From that point to Orlu Road roundabout, which is more than half a kilometre, the police were persistently firing teargas canisters at us. But for some reason, the teargas was not working and not giving them the desired result as it was unable to disperse our women.
“As we turned towards Orlu Road, apparently frustrated, the policemen disembarked from their patrol vans and unleashed the worst level of brutality I have ever experienced; punching, kicking, gun-butting elderly women, mothers, and ladies alike. Right before me, they beat one of our members to a coma. She fell in front of me and went still, I could not tell her identity immediately because the procession was carried out by women from 11 states. Before we fled from the assault, my impression was that she was already lifeless.”
She continued: “The beating did not stop, when we got to the police headquarter; these policemen even kicked women who were already on the ground. There were broken ribs, broken heads, miscarriages and a lot of unthinkable dehumanisation. About 50 women were stuffed into one stinking cubicle they called a cell, where we defaecated and urinated. At some point we were convinced the idea was to eliminate us extra Judicially.”
“Coming towards Alvan Ikoku College of Education, we saw another police team operating in a light brown Toyota Camry car; they were punching and kicking a middle-aged woman, trying to force her into the car. On approaching, we identified the woman who was almost too weak to fence off her attackers; she is one of our members from Okigwe and we all know she is pregnant. They eventually forcibly stuffed her into the vehicle. By the time I saw her at the Imo State Command Headquarters, she was in a coma and it took about nine hours to revive her. She was just laid out on the floor and the Police did not bother to even revive or take her to the hospital.”
She was not the only near fatality in the gory episode. According to the woman leader, “Around 6:00 pm, they dragged women to go and write statement. In the course of writing the statement, another woman slumped. She was shouting, ‘my BP is high’, ‘my BP is high’ before she slumped. This was in the Rapid Response unit and as the woman stretched out for more than four hours, these policemen did not as much as give her a second look. It was the women that ran helter-skelter, searching for water and praying for God’s intervention. She was miraculously revived.” Before entering the cell, Madam Queen noted that Policemen stole from most of the women, as most of the mobile phones; bags collected from the women were not registered and could not be accounted for.
“In my cell, we were about 44 women in a small cubicle that was hardly up to 12’x12’ in size. We had to sit on the floor, lap ourselves so we could all be accommodated. In that same room, 44 women with some of us in their monthly period, defecated and urinated all in that space. It was dehumanising”, she recalled.
Telling her story also, Gift Ibe who has a deep gash to her head said: “At the Warehouse roundabout, apparently after their teargas failed to disperse our women, the police deliberately started using the metallic teargas canisters as missiles shooting at the women at close range and inflicting grievous injuries with direct shots.
“At that point I noticed a policeman just across the road fixing a canister to his gas gun while facing the opposite direction. I didn’t suspect anything; I was merely turning my head to know what was happening on my flank when I saw the policeman pointing the nozzle of the gas gun in my direction at close range. Before I could move from his line of fire, he had already shot at my head. I literally blanked out at the impact as blood gushed from my head. My head was stitched repeatedly and some said I had convulsion. I have since been advised by my doctor not to drink water until a re-evaluation. My head still throbs with pain.”
“For Mrs. Josy Ege, the third victim, stuffed into the unmarked brown Camry car alongside the pregnant woman and another whose clothes were ripped from her body by the policemen; she was marching with other women brandishing banners and placards when her shoelace became loose. She was bending to knot the lace, when a canister of teargas fell directly under her legs and the smoke gushed into her nose, eyes and mouth. She was choking and groping for help when some policemen attacked her from behind, dragged her to the same brown Camry. Apparently unresponsive, Mrs. Ege said the policemen jabbed the gun-butt on her rib cage and leg making it difficult for her to walk. “I was slapped twice, punched and then kicked from behind and I fell into the vehicle. The effect of the teargas was wearing off then and I saw the state of the Okigwe woman who was also in serious pain.”
She recalled that for the Okigwe woman who is also pregnant, “When the Policemen asked her to move to the car, she obeyed and was moving towards the car. But the policemen were beating her as she walked towards the car and suddenly she stopped and queried why they should still be beating her when she obeyed their instruction, they beat her some more and she said she was not going any further until they stopped beating. The mindless policemen swooped on her from all sides and beat her to stupor that she could barely walk and then threw her into the car. The third woman with us in the car was stark naked. While she was being beaten and dragged to the car, she tried to fend off her attackers and one of the policemen lost a button from his shirt. The policeman went berserk and tore her clothes to shred while battering her. She was dumped in the vehicle all bruised.”
Mrs. Josy continued: “When the policemen entered the vehicle to drive us to the Police headquarters, the one that sat in the back with us apparently had not forgiven the Okigwe woman for her little resistance, and was repeatedly punching her as we rode to the Police Headquarters. Now in tears, the woman in her feeble effort to protect her stomach from the punches, left her chest bare and the policeman landed an elbow to her chest and she passed out.” The women eventually managed to tell the Policemen that the Okigwe woman may have passed out, but they dismissed it, adding that “It will also teach her in her next life how not to protest and disturb the peace of the state.”
“When we got to the Police Headquarters, we all managed to get out of the car but the Okigwe woman was still slumped over. She was not moving. The policeman who beat her into coma shouted, ‘We know your type’ and he dashed to the vehicle and started slapping the unconscious woman. The slaps were countless; when he got tired of slapping her numb body, he forced us and other women to drag and carry her out of the car. The Okigwe woman was in coma. She was laid out on the floor, with no help from the Police authorities, the scores of women who were already at the headquarters when we arrived kept trying and praying. She was revived after about nine hours.”
“It would be noted however that on sighting the woman who was beaten and stripped naked by the policemen, all the women who were already at the police headquarters, stripped their blouses and tops in protest until they rallied to clothe the naked lady.
According to Mrs. Ege, apart from the two other women that slumped in court and were dumped and abandoned in a certain hospital by the police without feeding or paying for their medical bills, a most disturbing sight was that of one of their members, who after the beatings, bled out in police cell and lost her baby through a miscarriage.
“This woman started bleeding while in the police cell. We called the attention of the Police but it meant nothing to them and they did not respond. The woman begged and got inmates to contribute tissue papers with which we tried to pad the bleeding. Even when we were taken to court, she was made to stand in a police van for over one hour, she bled and got weaker. There was no intervention whatsoever until she eventually lost the baby.
“ How can such insensitive and mindless creatures be called the policemen of a country? With this kind of system, there is just no way we are quitting. They have vindicated our leader, Nnamdi Kanu and they should tell us if they have killed him. Whether dead or alive, sick or healthy, we want his body. As for this struggle, it will continue.”