Agba Jalingo, the forty-four-year old Nigerian activist tells KAYODE OYERO his ordeal in the hands of operatives of the Inspector-General of Police Intelligence Response Team under the suspended Deputy Commissioner of Police, Abba Kyari
What do you do?
I’m a journalist and publisher of Cross River Watch, a newspaper based in Calabar.
You are currently undergoing trial for alleged treason before a Calabar Division of the Federal High Court. How did it start?
I was arrested on August 22, 2019 in my house in Lagos by four operatives of the IGP Intelligence Response Team. The four of them raided my house around 2pm. They first went to my wife’s business premises, which was not far from our residence. They arrested one of the workers of my wife and invaded my house thereafter. They took my phones; I was in my underpants and they wouldn’t let me to go inside to wear any dress but they allowed my wife to get a top and trousers for me. They handcuffed both legs and both hands and threw me into a waiting car.
They informed me that there was a petition from Calabar against me. Before they came, the then Commissioner of Police in Cross River, now an Assistant Inspector General of Police and Force Secretary, Hafiz Inuwa, had already sent an invitation to me but I was in Makurdi, Benue State, for a workshop organised by UNICEF. The manager of my office phoned me to inform me of the invitation but I called the police and appealed for time to extend the invitation by four days, after my workshop. Two former Attorneys General of the state said they were going to accompany me when the invitation came. Perhaps, that infuriated the Cross River State Governor who involved Abba Kyari and his men to come for me in a Gestapo manner. I already got the information. So, when the IRT men came, I was very calm while they started their drama. They kept calling me criminal and an armed robber.
Were you dehumanised or beaten at the point of arrest?
To be very frank, they didn’t hit anything on my body beyond pushing and shoving. They spewed expletives but nobody hit anything on me.
Did the IRT officers show you an arrest warrant?
They did not. My wife even asked them for an arrest warrant but they pushed her away and told her they didn’t have any business with her. None of the four men were in police uniform but they were heavily armed with AK-47 rifles. Some wore dreadlocks, some low-cut but they weren’t looking like police officers. Initially, I was worried whether they were the police I was expecting. They introduced themselves as policemen but it was when I was taken to their detention facility at Joel Ogunnaike in GRA, Ikeja, that I knew where they came from.
How did you know the men were sent by Abba Kyari?
Inside the car while they took me away, with two of the men seated by my sides, they made some phone calls. They called Abba Kyari on the phone and I heard the conversation. One of them told the other to call ‘Oga’ that they had caught the ‘criminal’. They took my photograph while I was handcuffed and sent it to Kyari. They told Kyari they had arrested one of the #RevolutionNow leaders. I saw what they wrote as they chatted with Kyari on WhatsApp. He was the one who sent them to come.
Along the line, when I was bundled to the detention facility, the policemen opened up. No matter how terrible policemen are, when they look at your name and disposition, they start to hold discussions with you. The policemen asked me if I had any problem with the Cross River State Governor, Ben Ayade, saying the instruction came from him. And of course, Abba Kyari was the head of the IRT and the men couldn’t have come without getting his approval.
How long were you kept at the IRT detention centre in Lagos?
I was kept there for one night. My wife followed me there because she wanted to know where her husband was taken. As a matter of fact, they harassed her and even seized her own phone, they forced her to enter her password and they ransacked her phone to check whether she took any photograph. That was at the detention facility. I was the 85th detainee at the facility because they wrote down attendance. I slept at the detention centre for one night.
The following morning around 4am, the four men came for me. I was thrown into the trunk of a Toyota Highlander with handcuffs on both hands and legs. The vehicle moved and headed to Uyo. It was a journey of about eight hours. I was refused water to drink and they would not allow me to ease myself. I defecated on my body twice and kept begging them to allow me drink some water but they refused till they got to a filling station in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital. At the filling station, one of them was kind enough to get me water to wash my soiled body.
From Uyo to Calabar, they moved me from the trunk to the back seat of the car where I was seated in the middle of two of them. Another drove while one was seated beside him.
What was going on in your mind when you were kept in the booth of car?
It was a mixed feeling for me. I was scared for my life. I thought of my wife, I thought of my little baby and I thought if that was how I was going to end my life. At another moment again, I told myself it was not going to be the end, just to give me some strength and encourage me.
Was that the first time you were arrested?
(Laughs) I have been arrested by the police for more than 50 times but the IRT arrest was very nightmarish. I was afraid because I know what Kyari can do. The commissioner of finance in my state came to Lagos to do the mobilisation. Ayade’s cabinet was angry at the manner I held them accountable to the state resources.
What happened when you were taken to Calabar?
We met government officials at Metropolitan Hotel now Transcorp Hotel and they were celebrating. Minutes later, a truck with about eight hooded policemen came and I was transferred to the police truck in chains and then they drove me to the Cultural Centre in Calabar to the office of the Cross River State Anti-Cultism centre. My two hands were chained to a deep freezer at the centre.
What offence did the police say you commit during interrogation?
The police said I shouldn’t have posted some contents on my Facebook page. I refused to pen a statement and I insisted on seeing my lawyer, sometimes they allowed them to come, sometimes they didn’t allow them. Access to me became restricted and I was still in chains. After 34 days of that humiliation, the police took me to court. It was in court that they read the charges against me. They said I accused the governor of misappropriating N500m from a microfinance bank and I said yes. I was charged with treasonable felony, terrorism and attempt to overthrow Ayade and President Muhammadu Buhari. That was how the journey started and I was at Afokang Prison for six months.
Do you feel Abba Kyari has some government backing?
In Nigeria, you don’t even need government backing once you have stolen enough money to but the value chain from the police, to the prison, the judges; just steal enough and you don’t need government backing, you only need the backing of your money. If he even has government backing, he won’t be in this travail. Even if he doesn’t go to jail, his life and his career have been ruined and it is a lesson for other policemen to know that things have suddenly changed. They should learn the lesson that life can actually turn and the same jail that Abba Kyari threw people and the bail he denied people is what he is begging for in court.
Do you feel bitter against Abba Kyari?
I am an investigative journalist. I have loads of evidence of his criminality. He just had his day. Thank God it was another government agency that decided to drag him. Thank God it was not a civil society organisation or another activist. They would say they were trying to pull the ‘super cop’ down.
In the past 23 years of my life, I have been oppressed and beaten by policemen and these same policemen, you see me seating with them, even though I still watch my back. My joy is that people like Abba Kyari have been fished out, embarrassed as a lesson to others. As a matter of fact, Kyari’s accomplice in the net of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, ACP Sunday Ubua, is from my state but I am very happy that he is going down because he is one of the characters that should not be in the police.
Do you think police brutality has reduced after the EndSARS nationwide protests in October 2020?
It would be difficult to stop police brutality in Nigeria now but no doubt, the advent of social media and secret gadgets has actually put a lot of caution on the arbitrariness of the police. It until recently that they inculcated human rights into the curriculum of the police. Even in America for over 200 years, we still hear ‘I can’t breathe’. So, it is not a destination; I just expect a gradual decline. My advice to the public since the government has failed to reduce the atrocities of the police, let us roll our cameras. Evil thrives when darkness is not exposed. The moment powerful people are exposed, it would weaken them. Like what Bamise Ayanwole did in a BRT bus in Lagos by sending her friend voice notes when she figured she was kidnapped, citizens must begin to expose evil because the government is not ready to reform the police but a militia group to police Very Important Personalities and not public spaces. When public spaces are protected, VIPs don’t even need orderlies because the environment is protected. Citizens must develop the fragrance of resistance through cameras to hold the police accountable.