When last Friday, journalist and media strategist, Femi Owolabi, went clubbing in the FESTAC area of Lagos State, little did he know that his night of fun would end behind bars.
PUNCH Metro learnt that Owolabi was abducted by ‘raider’ policemen attached to the State Department of Criminal Investigation, Yaba, and was subjected to several hours of torture.Owolabi said on the fateful day, he had gone to Rapongi night club with a female friend, Chidinma. The journalist said he had been experiencing some pains in his right foot around 1am and decided to massage it so he left Chidinma inside the club and stepped outside.
PUNCH Metro learnt that it was while Owolabi was massaging his foot that policemen in black shirts alighted from a blue coloured bus, slapped him and threw him into the vehicle.
Owolabi said, “I stooped somewhere close to the entrance, and I unlaced my boot to rub my toes. When I stooped again to lace the boot, an unfriendly hand landed a massive slap on my back, and then, grabbed me by the band-waist of my trousers and that of my boxers, and then dragged me along.
“When I asked ‘who are you, what do you want?’, multiple slaps landed on my face. He dragged me to where about three blue Volkswagen Vanagon buses were parked and flung me in. About 30 of us were sandwiched inside the 18-seater bus.
“Things were not clear to me. When I asked what I had done, they landed multiple slaps on my face. The man on whose lap I sat was crying that he could not find his glasses but a policeman, who thought I was the one screaming, slapped me again. When I asked them to give the man his glasses, they slapped me again.”
Owolabi said in a bid to subdue all the people in the bus, the policemen fired tear gas canisters into the vehicle and locked the doors to prevent them from running out.
He said it was when the policemen alighted that he was able to see the inscriptions on their black shirts.
He added, “Minutes later, as we all muttered inside the bus, a teargas canister was released inside the bus and these gunmen, all in black T-shirts bearing the crest of the Nigeria Police Force with ‘Raiders’ written across their chest, surrounded the bus, with their guns aimed at us.
“We were all coughing and the doors were locked. As I brought my head out of the window, one of the policemen gave me a punch in the head and I had to stick my head back into the vehicle. He said if I brought out my head again, he would shoot me.”
PUNCH Metro learnt that one of Owolabi’s phones had been seized by the policemen but he was able to use his second phone to send a text message to his friend, Chidinma, who was still in the club.
He also posted an update on his Facebook wall and alerted his friends of the wickedness he was being subjected to.
The journalist said they were all driven to the SDCI in the Ebute Meta area of the state where they were lined up and told to take off their clothes.
Owolabi said, “We were asked to raise our hands as we descended from the buses. We were then, asked to take off our clothes and take our seats, in a linear order, on the ground. While I was taking off my socks, my hidden phone fell off and as one of the policemen rushed to pick it, he used the barrel of his gun to hit me in the chest.
“We, immediately, appeared as criminals being paraded, as the policemen, feeling excited, took turns to snap us with their phones. One of them came with a pen and paper and wrote down our names. When he got to me, I looked into his eyes and I refused to answer.
“He called me an idiot and slapped me twice. I lowered my head, and then, another policeman from behind started to slap me on the back of my neck. I couldn’t hold the pains, and I broke into tears.
“We were called one after the other, into a circle and they started inspecting our bodies and those that had marks on their bodies were questioned.”
The victim said when a bullet wound was discovered on the back of one of those arrested, he was beaten by about 10 policemen for several minutes
He said the policemen entertained themselves by beating up each of the arrested persons. He said when one of those arrested asked for permission to go and urinate, he was slapped repeatedly by the policemen. He said he became thirsty but was scared to ask for water.
Owolabi said the policemen started beating him again when he refused to squat as ordered.
He said, “I could barely get a space to sit. My legs ached terribly. A policeman ordered me to squat properly. When I told him that there wasn’t enough space, about three others joined him and for five minutes, it was a beating galore. The beating stopped when they had successfully beaten me into a space, under a table, where I had to fold my aching legs.”
He said the policemen hurled insults at all those arrested outside the club.
He added, “I observed how happy these policemen were, how they made a mockery of everyone. ‘Stupid people, una get money to dey go club go drink go carry woman abi?’, one them said, with a hiss.
“A pot-bellied man – who should be in his late thirties – caged with me under the table, shook his head. The man said, ‘I can’t find my wedding ring again. I am a Federal Government worker. My family is out of the country and I thought I should come to the club this Friday. When did it become a crime to club again?’
“A policeman came to see us under the table and I told him I was not a criminal but he said, ‘So, you think everybody here is a criminal and you are the only one innocent?”
Owolabi said all of those arrested were taken from one room to the other at the SDCI.
He said salvation came his way when a senior officer entered the room and he (Owolabi) quickly identified himself as a journalist to the officer.
The victim said immediately he identified himself, the policemen’s attitude towards him changed and he was released alongside a few others.
Owolabi said, “I came out of the queue and ran to meet a man whom I heard them call Oga. I told him, ‘I am a journalist, we work together with you people, the law enforcement agencies, please help me, sir.’
“He told me to identify myself but I explained that all my belongings had been seized by the policemen. When I told him that he could verify my identity through my phone, he told his men, ‘Hey! Bring this man’s clothes, he’s a journalist’.
“The man told a policeman named Isiaka to take me back to FESTAC, where they had arrested me. But the oga said I should ‘give his boys money for fuel.’”
Owolabi said Isiaka collected N5, 000 from him while some of the people arrested with him were driven to a nearby bank where they withdrew money from the ATM and gave the money to the policemen.
He said some money was given to the ‘oga’ that had released him.
When contacted on the telephone, the Police spokesman, Joe Offor, promised to call back to give an appropriate response.
However, three subsequent calls put through to his phone proved abortive.