Ezu River killings: why we petitioned the International Criminal Court - Ugwuonye

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Since the past two weeks, we have found ourselves in the unenviable position of filing a petition and a complaint against some elements of the Nigerian security forces for crimes against humanity, committed in violation of Article 7 of the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court (the “Rome Statute” and the “ICC”). When on

the 19th of January 2013, we learned of the horrific incidents in which about hundred human bodies, mostly in tact and evidencing recent death, were found floating in the Ezu River of Anambra State, I was naturally alarmed. We knew that it was highly improbable that so many bodies could be found in a relatively small river unless there was a foul play. What started then as a curiosity gradually morphed into a full-blown investigation into mass murder and crimes against humanity.
 
After two weeks of painstaking, and largely still ongoing, investigation into these chilling events, I am saddened to announce to my fellow Nigerians, and the rest of the world, that our country had all along been turned into a slow but steady and systematic killing field. Over the years, innocent men and women, mostly the youth, were routinely rounded up and disappeared into various police detention cells, from which many never make it out alive. In the few occasions that we managed to see their dead bodies, it has always been with some dramatic stories of how the police had engaged in exchange of gunfire with some armed robbers and three or five robbers were killed. These have turned out mostly to be nothing but nasty lies against dead bodies that could not speak for themselves.
 
Yes, our society has a problem of serious violent crimes, particularly the crimes of armed robbery, kidnapping and mayhem. And these need to be tackled by the State in an effective manner to protect the society and the lives of our people. The incident of the Ezu River, however, has led us to the discovery of atrocities by the Nigerian police. Many a times, the dead bodies that are passed off as armed-robbers killed in an exchange of fire with the police are no more than some unarmed civilian youths who were unlucky to encounter blood thirsty and undisciplined police officers. The Ezu River incident has sharpened our awareness, and our investigation is now opening a wide range of chilling details about the activities of some killer-squads within the police force.
 
I must stop here to make this important clarification. It is not every police officer that has blood in his hands. And to many officers, some of whom have been victims as underpaid workers of the Nigeria’s public sector, as long as you don’t have the blood of innocent civilians in your hand, you have nothing to worry about.
 
Upon realizing the depth and widespread patterns of these atrocities, we had no choice than to seek to pursue investigations and, ultimately, indictments of many Nigeria officials for crimes against humanity. In furtherance of this, we filed a 20-paged complaint or petition to the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC, requesting the activation of the provisions of Article 15 of the Rome Statute. In the complaint/petition, we detailed out the elements of crimes against humanity for: (a) torture (b) murder, (c) deprivation of liberty, (d) extermination, (e) forced disappearance of person, (f) cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, etc as defined in that important piece of law. I can confirm that the ICC has acknowledged receipt of our petition, as attached.
 
We know we are dealing with scores of cases at the same time, and if you stretch into history, probably thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent Nigerians have been killed and wasted by men and officers of the Nigerian police.
 
Though we have amassed evidence, which we forward to the ICC as we go along, we still need to further strengthen our petition from an evidentiary point of view. This is why we are narrowing down on a few cases, starting with the case of Obinna Offer as the ultimate test case. Obinna was seen on the same video clip in which the Commissioner of Police also appeared. The police cannot try to deny arresting him, unlike the Massob members who were detained in secrecy. Obinna was arrested and paraded. Also, he was tortured. The marks of the beatings were visible on his right eye, which was badly injured.

obinnaLate Obinna
 
Obinna appeared to have been a proud person. Even in the video, you could still see how he was trying to carry himself with some sense of dignity, even though it was clear that he had been broken in spirit. He was there admitting under pressure that he would help find somebody, “the kingpin”, whose capture it was presumed would “bring peace to Anambra state”. That was exactly the kind of success language the Governor of Anambra State (whoever is in that office) would like to hear about law enforcement in his state. Something "that would bring peace to the state" could be sufficient motivation for a government to condone extra-judicial executions. Having packaged Obinna as the obstacle to peace in the state, they set him up for elimination, followed by a massive cover-up.
 
Obinna was never charged to court. He was condemned to death the moment they set out for him in Lagos on October 15, 2012. They beat him savagely like a wild animal. To the policemen, he stopped being a human being right there and then. He became a pawn in a chess game of politics of dishonesty, intrigues and propaganda. The Police in the state were probably lying to Governor Obi and to the Police Headquarters in Abuja about the state of crime in Anambra. In an effort to show restraint in our utterances, given the combustible nature of Anambra State politics, let me just say that Governor Obi was probably too trusting or too uncaring about the truth of what the police told him, even though there are strong suggestions of complicity on his part (before or after the facts) in the Ezu River incident. Obinna was never tried. They made up their minds to kill him the way they have killed many others. The poor guy had no idea what they had in store for him. They forced him to incriminate himself to reduce the beatings he was receiving and in the hope that they would spare his life. Little did he realize the nature of the evil he faced. Even if that man was a criminal, we would never know because he was never tried before a court of law, which remains the only way to establish the guilt of the accused. We continue to ask the police to produce Obinna, even though we believe they cannot at this point.
 
The evidence that is emerging is monumental. Just only a tip of the iceberg, below is the statement of an eyewitness to a pattern of extra-judicial executions by the Nigerian police. In three successive online communications, the witness (name withheld) renders his experience of seeing the police handle the bodies of their victims over time. All such information that reaches us gets forwarded in original form to the Office of the Prosecutor for the ICC. The statement below has been redacted by insertion of blanks and square brackets to protect the names and identities of the source. Otherwise the witness statement gives a vivid and chilling narration of how the police engaged in systematic murder.
 
Statement of a witness at to a pattern extrajudicial killings by men of the Nigerian Police Force.
 
I can confirm authoritatively what ____________________. I used to be a government medical officer once posted to ________________ State of Nigeria and witnessed severally first- hand as young men and women were brought to the hospital for admission to the mortuary. You see, the procedure "works" this way. The medical officer on call or regular duty notices sudden pandemonium within the hospital premises....an open- roof panel van is driven roughly into the premises as red- eyed policemen jump down from it....then the doctor's ears are assaulted by what sounds like the sound of water running briskly from a tap....then he takes a closer look....blood!.....running freely from the floor of the van to the ground! And its source?..... human bodies!...all stripped naked...totally! then a much closer look....bullet wounds....in the chest, on foreheads, on temples, occiputs....brains flowing out....blood trickling from urinary tubes of penises.....missing nail plates apparently pulled out with pliers....cigarette burns on scrotums....cigarette burns on penises and labia (lips of the "vagina"), smell of raw peppers oozing from vaginas,....of persons all dead....as people gather in hundreds....to witness this spectacle....all hissing, spitting, cursing....that nemesis has finally caught up with the "robbers" who terrorize them! ....as I leave other waiting patients to attend to these ones.....right there in the parking lot....using the bonnet of the panel van as my writing table.....as I pronounced them all dead....and admitted them into the mortuary!
 
Prosecutor....Judge....Jury....Executioner....all- in- one.....the hallmark of the Nigeria Police. An unintelligent bunch! Their unsung motto: why waste time and energy to investigate....as we often read in....and utterly enthralled by.....detective stories....when there is the option of torture! My brisk response to minister to victims of police brutality....dead or alive did not go unnoticed....especially by the then ________[Senior Police Officer) _______....who took to me and extended to me expedited entry to his office....whenever I was at the station. Little did this brute realise that I rose briskly to the call of duty to attend to such men and cadavers....because of my respect for human dignity...and not to impress him! His [child studied marketing in the university], as I was reliably informed. That chap must mean a lot to him. So how would he have felt.....if his son....in whom he is so pleased.....is killed extrajudicially in cold blood. I met him several months later....in a local eatery....but rather than offer him a greeting, I just looked through him....like he was a mere transparent piece of glass....as I was overwhelmed by revulsion....for this animal in Police uniform! So, wherever you may be, [name of the senior police officer], I say a big shame to you! Don't you ever think you will reap the fruits of your labour on that [child] of yours. Because you will not! Nemesis!
 
Emeka, my "account" which you so cherish is a rendition of what happened several years ago...about [_______] years ago. And quite unfortunately, this is my first real chance to talk about it! The brute of a [officer] to whom I referred left that position about [_______] years ago....my encounter with him at the said eatery occurred when he visited [_________] from his "new" station in [_______] where he was posted as the [_________________] so it's kind of stale news. I do not know how useful it would be or if the man is still in the service. Please do not blame me for taking this long to reveal this....but you know as young medical officers, we were not allowed to speak freely on many issues....part of the reason I left the service. I would be of service to this cause in any way I can. Nigerians are a funny lot. They not only try to avoid issues like this, merely pray that the next victim is not of their bloodlines, but go to the extent of scaring or discouraging those who are so committed from doing something! My response to such vacillators is: the next victim may be your son!
 
Emeka, please note that my first post on this thread has been edited by the insertion of this addendum as I recall more of the gory details of torture that I so witnessed: blood trickling from urinary tubes of penises.....missing nail plates apparently pulled out with pliers....cigarette burns on scrotums....
  
Emeka, dumping of bodies of dead victims of extrajudicial killings was prevalent even then as junior policemen often boasted and bragged about it. There was this incident in which the police came to dump such bodies in the hospital reception. You see, the bodies were initially rejected by the doctors on regular duty thus compelling the policemen to make a round of other [______] Hospitals in the state only to revert back to [_____________________] as the other centres also rejected the patients (please allow me to so refer to them). I, on resuming duty as the doctor on call, met the heap of human bodies in the hospital lobby with flies buzzing all around!
 
The Medical Director was not around and could not be contacted. The Hospital Admin was expressly "banned" from entering the [senior officer]'s office having gone there earlier to shout. I, on seeing the "spectacle" went to the Admin office, and having assured her that I "knew" the DPO, went along with her to the station. The [senior officer] on hearing my name, promptly ushered us in and in between surreptitiously stepping on the Admin's toes to keep her silent, I found myself promising the [senior officer] that I would personally follow the corpses to all [_________] Hospitals in [___________] State to drop them in twos and threes....before he agreed to send some policemen and detainees to follow us back to the hospital to transfer the bodies back on to the truck!....as chosen detainees and their relatives wailed uncontrollably....thinking the detainees were being moved to execution centres! From the hospital, our convoy moved at great speed to [_________] Hospital [_______] (now [_______]) where fortunately, we got some vacant floor spaces to leave the bodies....as the hospital was "overflowing" with corpses. The mortuary disposal van was said to have broken down for weeks! I went through the whole process of getting the "patients" registered as B.I.Ds ( Brought In Dead), calling on the office of their Admin....as their Medical Director like ours, was also absent! On location at [_____Hospital] Ikeja, the policemen freely boasted that had we not accepted the bodies, they had several ready locations where they could dump them! 

Statement by Eculaw Group
Emeka Ugwuonye, Esquire
February 19, 2013
Tel: +1-202-509-7597
Fax: +1-202-318-5956

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