Lance Corporal Matthew Isabu (93NA/35/1993), who claimed to have served in 1 Division Workshop of Nigerian Army, alleges that he has been tortured since December 2000 when a scuffle with an air force sergeant reportedly led to his death. His story:
“I was on official assignment during the Kaduna crisis of Friday, December 27, 2000 at about 10-11pm at Musawa junction. We were four on duty that day, namely: Oladokun Caleb (Pvte), Cpl Martins, Cpl Isikilu and myself. Sgt Eko Sunday was the guard commander in charge of the zone.
As there was no light that night, the whole area was very dark. An army truck drove to where we were with the headlights directed at us.
“The truck stopped and Sgt Eko Sunday called me to come. I went to him and he asked what happened between me and one Sgt Thompson of the Air Force who was with them in the truck.
“Initially, I wasn’t aware of the man’s presence in the truck. But to my surprise the (now deceased) air force sergeant began to point at me, saying he will deal with me . I just stood alert watching him. In the process, the air force sergeant jumped down from the truck and began to threaten me. He held my gun and wanted to disarm me. I resisted him. As we were struggling, he slipped and fell inside the gutter. As soon he fell inside the gutter, Sgt Eko Sunday and the other soldiers’ jumped inside the truck and drove off.
No one looked to see the air force man’s condition inside the gutter, as he could not come out immediately. From his countenance, he looked like someone drunk. He must have become unconscious there.
“Meanwhile our duty commander, Sgt Eko Sunday, drove away with the other soldiers, and made false statement against me; that I was the one who first attacked them and Thompson. My colleague Caleb was also joined – as they left only two of us at the junction – and the deceased whom they abandoned in that state of unconsciousness.
“The following day, December 28, 2000, at about 7-8am, an army truck came to our duty post, with a group of soldiers. They arrested Caleb and I and took us to the barracks where we were tortured, detained and locked up at Iusiu Garrison till the following day. Up to that time, Sgt Thompson remained abandoned inside the gutter at Musawa junction.
“On December 29, a group of armed soldiers came to the guardroom and asked us to come out. They tied us with chord – hands to the back, and commanded us to lay face-down. This was under the instructions of the then Lt. Col Audu, Commander of 1 Division Garrison, Nigerian Army, Kaduna. We were thrown inside the truck, facing sky-wards under the hot late morning sun, and taken to 1 Division Headquarters, Kaduna. We were handed over to the Military Police (MP) under the command of then Lt. Col Adeyemi, the Military Police Provost.
“Adeyemi commanded his men to continue the torture. We were now completely naked. The MPs used all kinds of instruments to torture us – we sustained wounds all over the body. Under that condition, we were then asked to write statements. Whatever we wrote was torn to shreds.
“They now began to dictate what we should write. When we refused, irons were used on us. My head was broken, my body peeled. Because I refused to accept the dictated statements, I was locked with chains – hands and legs and dumped in the guardroom.
“The next day, we were brought out for another round of torture. Weak and, at the point of death, I submitted under duress. I was asked 69 questions of their choice. I answered all to satisfy them to save myself from further torture.
“They said I shot the deceased. I said I did not. Right from the day I was deployed to 1 Division Garrison, I found out that one bullet was missing from the magazine of the AK 47 assigned to me which usually contains 30 rounds of ammunition.
I made this known to Lance Cpl Musa, whom I took over from and he admitted that he was the one that once misfired. To make it official, I took him to the armourer in company of other colleagues. They counted and said there were 29 bullets in the presence of the armourer. Thereafter, I signed and took over the rifle from L/Cpl Musa. That notwithstanding, I was still locked in the Military Police guardroom for the missing bullet. Later a Board of Enquiry was set up by my unit. One Major Abu was the Chairman. He led other members to the guardroom where they interrogated me. I stated what happened. The Board discharged and acquitted me in their report.
“Yet, a summary trial was carried out at 1 Division Garrison under the command of the then Lt.Col Audu, after which I was referred to a court martial in 2001. I can still remember vividly that at the end of the summary trial, Lt Col Audu said to my hearing that the officers in my unit wrote a very good report about us.
He said we should look for a good lawyer that will handle the case as it was referred to a court martial. Unfortunately, I had no help from within or access to legal aid or my people before the sittings of the court martial. Like a fait accompli, we were condemned to die by hanging.
“Four years on, I was still in chains in the Military Police guardroom. There, one Lt Col Ibokette, who took over from Lt Col Adeyemi as Provost Commander, 1 Division Headquarters, Kaduna, visited the guardroom during inspection. He was shocked to see me in chains. He exclaimed!, “Young man, how long have you been chained?” I said four years.
He shouted: “For what?” One of my tormentors present, in an attempt to justify their wickedness, responded: “Sir, it’s because of the seriousness of the case.” The Commander asked,” What is so serious about the case? Were the soldiers not on duty? And was it not on operation?” They became silent; they could not answer the questions. Lt. Col Ibokette recommended that we should be released, having already over-stayed in the guardroom. Shortly after, Lt.Col Ibokette was transferred to the War College, Abuja while his recommendation was dumped.
But by God’s intervention, the death sentence was commuted to life jail on May 26, 2004. Next, we were transferred to Kaduna Central Prison. Although our tormentors were said to have secretly warned the prisons officials, with a written note on my warrant, that on no account should I be transferred to any other prison without their permission, in 2009, I was transferred by the Kaduna Prison’s authority to the Kirikiri Maximum Prison, Lagos, without their knowledge.
“By providence, while I was in Kaduna Prison, early in 2009, one Lydia, then an undergraduate at the University of Jos, who heard about my case, took the matter to the then Chief of the Defence Staff, General Martins Agwai. The Defence Chief, reportedly furious over the way I was treated, summoned the 1 Division Commander to his office and cautioned him concerning my continued detention. Rather than complying with General Agwai’s order, the G.O.C 1 Division, Kaduna reportedly took some of his men to UNIJOS to identify the lady who reported my case and ‘’pleaded” with her, promising that he will ensure I was released from prison.
Through Agwai’s efforts, the matter was tabled before the late President Umar Yar’Adua shortly before he took ill – and never returned to work. It was also reported to the National Assembly in 2009.
Meanwhile, it was discovered that the air force authorities, in 2001, court martialled the deceased Sergeant Thompson and found him guilty of abandoning his duty post and going to the army post.”
The authorities could not be reached to comment on L/Cpl. Isabu’s story at the weekend.