By Emeka Mamah, Enugu
Izuchukwu Ezema, 23, says he was branded an armed robber and severely beaten for passing through a road allegedly reserved for the “free- born” at his home town in Alor Uno, Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu State.
Narrating his ordeal to Sunday Vanguard when the Panel on Slavery, set up by Enugu State government, visited Alor Uno on a fact- finding mission, Izuchukwu lamented that some people, living two houses away from his father’s compound, confronted him on February 6, while returning from the Afor Alor Uno Market where he had gone to buy food for his sick father at about 8pm, and started attacking him for allegedly being a slave.
He narrated: “I live at Ogbayaga in Kogi State but returned to my home town because my father, Ekwueme Ezema, an old man, was sick. “When I came, we arranged a nurse to treat my father but because he was hungry when the nurse arrived, I was asked to go and buy food in our market which is not too far away from our house so that he would eat before being administered injection.
“I went to the market and bought Akpu with soup (cassava meal) but, on my way back on motorcycle, I was accosted by three people, Chijioke, Ozoemena and Fela (surnames withheld), who asked whether. I was not aware that slaves were not allowed to pass through the road. “The encounter happened in Umuavuru Ani (also known as Umueze) village and directly in front of Mr Frederick Ozioko’s house. Ozioko is a retired teacher.
“This was strange because I knew the three persons well. I told them that I did not understand what they were saying. They said they had earlier warned Ugbene Alor people not to pass through that road because they were slaves, but that since I didn’t understand what they were saying, they would teach me some lesson and they started stabbing me with knives and broken bottles.
“Before I knew what was happening, I had fallen to the ground. They dragged me into Mr Ozioko’s compound where they called one of their leaders, simply identified as Chidi, and informed him that they had caught one of the slaves and asked him to come over. “When Chidi came, he joined the others in beating me. I was still lying down in the pool of my own blood when he came and he used his shoes to march on me.
“He stood on top of me and asked why a slave like me should not be killed, for passing through a road reserved for non-slaves. “I called him “daddy”, and said, `but I am not a slave’. This infuriated him the more and he asked me to shut up. He was barking at me, saying that I should admit that I was a slave. He threatened that they would kill me if I failed to admit that I was a slave. At this point, they started again to beat and march on me.
“As they were beating me, one of their members, a girl who matriculated that day at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, UNN, came out from the house and un-zipped my trousers. “She brought out my manhood and threatened to cut it because, according to her, slaves are not supposed to have it. Her colleagues, however, opposed her, saying that the government would not be happy if they cut my manhood. She then un-zipped her own trousers and started urinating on me.
“One of them removed the N56,600, which my mother borrowed for the treatment of my father in the hospital, from my pocket. “When I became very weak, Chidi called the police Special Ant-Robbery Squad, SARS, from Nsukka and told them that they had killed an armed robber and invited them to come and collect his corpse. “The SARS people later arrived and asked my tormentors to put my corpse inside their vehicle which they did. I was taken to the Shanahan Hospital, where I was to be put inside the morgue but for the fact that the place was filled to the brim.
“The policemen dropped `my corpse’ on the floor and left, hoping that I would be put inside the mortuary the next morning, not knowing that God would save me. “I was lying on the floor outside the hospital where the policemen left me until sometime around midnight when I started dreaming. In the dream, I was standing along the main road waiting to cross to the other side when I saw my late brother passing in a taxi cab and stopped to greet me. He asked where I was going and I told him that I was waiting to cross to the other side of the road when he shouted and asked me to run back to our mother.
It was at this point that I woke up and saw a nurse coming to drop certain things inside the refuse bin outside. I called her faintly and asked her to give me water to drink because I was thirsty. She ran back into the hospital and informed her colleagues that I was still alive. They then came and took me inside the hospital. Inside the hospital, I grabbed a sachet of drip which was on the table and wanted to drink to quench my thirst but the nurses took it away from me, before I was put on drip till the next morning. Shortly after they put me on drip, one of the nurses asked me if I could remember any of my relations telephone number, which they used to contact my brother, Mac-Vin, who was not even aware of what had befallen me.
“At about 10 am the following day, Chidi came to the hospital and discovered that I was alive and called the SARS men to handcuff me on the hospital bed. I was in handcuffs until my brother arrived and complained to the Divisional Police Officer for Nsukka, who ordered his men to remove them. I was discharged after one week just as we were charged N95,610 apart from drugs which were out- of –stock in the hospital”.
The Alor Uno leader, accused by Ezema of participating in the torture, denied involvement in the matter in a telephone interview with Sunday Vanguard on Friday. He said he was invited to the scene as a community leader, adding that he did not play any role in the incident.