The arrest and torture of Ifeanyi Ibegbu
In another clearly political case, Ifeanyi Ibegbu, leader of the opposition All People’s Party (APP) in the Anambra State House of Assembly, was abducted and tortured by the Bakassi Boys in August 2000. It was only thanks to the intervention of the inspector general of police that his life was saved.
Ifeanyi Ibegbu had previously been threatened on several occasions by OTA and had alerted the authorities to these threats. As a member of the state house of assembly representing Onitsha, he had been an outspoken critic of the state government; he had denounced many killings by OTA and the Bakassi Boys and had assisted families of victims in seeking redress. He had complained about vigilante violence to both state and federal authorities, in vain. There is little doubt that he was targeted for political reasons and because of his public criticisms and campaigns against vigilante violence.
The harassment and intimidation of Ifeanyi Ibegbu began several months before his arrest. After first being warned that he was likely to be killed, he fled from his home. Members of OTA then came to his house in Onitsha in April 2000 and destroyed everything, leaving a human head behind in his house. He then decided to move out of the city.
On August 18, 2000, Ifeanyi Ibegbu attended a party at which Chuma Nzeribe, the governor’s security adviser, was present. He claimed that he overheard Chuma Nzeribe saying that he (Ifeanyi Ibegbu) was trying to discredit the government and that Nzeribe was going to kill Ibegbu. The two men got into an argument and a scuffle ensued.61 The following day, Gilbert Okoye, the Bakassi Boys’ chairman, approached Ifeanyi Ibegbu and asked him to apologize for his conduct at the party: “He advised me not to adopt the attitude of championing civil rights, because it would cost me my life. He said that this was Nigeria, not America, and that I could not oppose the governor, even though I am the Opposition Leader in the House.”62
On the afternoon of August 20, as he was driving from Enugu towards Onitsha, Ifeanyi Ibegbu noticed that he was being followed:63
Along the road I noticed the Bakassi in strategic positions. They flagged me and said: “Who are you? Oh, you’re the criminal we’re looking for.” They kicked me and stripped me. They gagged me and tied my feet and arms with rope. I was naked. They forced me into the pick-up truck. It was about 4.00 p.m. A crowd had gathered. People were stoning the Bakassi, trying to protest. The Bakassi numbered about forty or fifty; they had pump action guns and matchets. They put me face down in the vehicle. I didn’t know where we were going. Later I saw that I was in the heart of Onitsha market.
They took me upstairs and tortured me; this was at about midnight. I still have the wounds. They called me for interrogation. They were sitting like judges. They said: “Your time is up.” They tied my legs and arms and loosened the rope on my mouth. They asked: “Why did you oppose Bakassi?” I said I didn’t but they must work in concert with the law. They said: “We will kill you,” and mentioned by name various other prominent people they wanted to kill, who had denounced their violence. I started pleading with them. They refused to listen. This went on until about 8 a.m. One Bakassi boy who knew me told me: “The government wants you to die.”
At about 12.00 p.m., they announced in the market that they were going to display a big fish and that I was a big criminal. They brought me downstairs to the execution ground. I was still naked. Some of them said they would kill me, others said they wouldn’t. They took me back upstairs, then down again, then back up again, then down again. The traders had closed their shops and were standing around, waiting for me to be displayed. The Bakassi leader Gilbert Okoye said: “Your day is up. Stop going around with those criminals.” They said they would kill me. I was still pleading with them.
They were making calls on their cell-phones, saying: “This is the man, we have him.” They were calling Chuma Nzeribe. Then the inspector general of police got to hear about it. He called Nzeribe for him to tell the Bakassi to release me .
They forced me to make a mark on my body. They rubbed a black native substance into a cut on my arm. They hit me three times on my chest and back. I had to take an oath that I would keep it secret and say they were doing a great job. They warned me not to go to the police and not to go to court. After they released me, I went to make a statement to the police. The Bakassi came to the police station. Then they entered the car and zoomed off.
The same night, after my release, they killed two boys at the junction just to frighten me. They just left the bodies there, near my house.
The Anambra State House of Assembly set up an ad-hoc committee to investigate the arrest of Ifeanyi Ibegbu. In their submissions to the committee, Ifeanyi Ibegbu’s personal assistant and his driver, who were traveling with him at the time of his arrest and were both arrested and detained with him, confirmed that the Bakassi Boys had not accused Ifeanyi Ibegbu of any specific criminal offence, but of challenging Chuma Nzeribe and being against the activities of the Bakassi Boys in Onitsha. They both stated that when their car was intercepted on the road, the Bakassi Boys made a call on their mobile phone before then assaulting and arresting them. In his own submission to the ad-hoc committee, Chuma Nzeribe accused Ifeanyi Ibegbu of using his house as the operational base of an armed gang and having links with two well-known armed robbers. He denied any involvement in his arrest and denied threatening to kill him. Gilbert Okoye, for his part, admitted to the committee that he had been informed on the telephone about the arrest of Ifeanyi Ibegbu, but claimed that he had asked the Bakassi Boys not to harm him since he was a public figure. The operational secretary of the Bakassi Boys confirmed to the committee that the intention had been to kill Ifeanyi Ibegbu: “He disclosed that Hon.Ifeanyi Ibegbu would have been killed but for the timely intervention of the Commissioner of Police and the Security Adviser.”64 Ifeanyi Ibegbu’s own testimony, including his account of comments made by the Bakassi Boys during his detention, clearly confirms that they would have tried to kill him had it not been for the intervention of the police.
Ifeanyi Ibegbu has taken his case to court and is suing the Anambra government, Chuma Nzeribe, and the Bakassi Boys for damages for wrongful arrest and assault. Despite having been given a police escort since his release, he still felt unsafe when he spoke to Human Rights Watch and CLEEN, more than a year after his abduction and torture.
When Human Rights Watch and CLEEN met Camillus Ebekue, who replaced Gilbert Okoye as chairman of the Anambra Vigilante Services in May 2001, and asked him about the abduction and torture of Ifeanyi Ibegbu, he said the story was not true, or else he was “not aware of it