IV. HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES BY THE BAKASSI BOYS
Three case studies
The killing of Prophet Eddie Okeke
A case which attracted considerable publicity was the abduction and killing of Eddie Okeke, also known as Prophet Eddie Nawgu. In November 2000, the Bakassi Boys arrested him at his home in Nawgu, in Anambra State, detained and tortured him at their headquarters at the White House in Onitsha, then killed him. He was forty-three at the time of his death and left behind a wife and eight children, the youngest born eight months after his death.
Eddie Okeke was well-known in the community; he had set up the Anioma Healing Centre in the large compound of his home in Nawgu, which attracted hundreds of visitors. Many of the press reports which appeared at the time of his death replicated the Bakassi Boys' allegations about him-that he was a criminal who had engaged in assault, extortion, drug dealing, trafficking in children, and ritual killing-fueling the belief that the Bakassi Boys had caught yet another high-profile criminal.
Human Rights Watch and CLEEN do not know whether there is any substance to the allegations that Eddie Okeke was involved in criminal activities. However, the information we uncovered in Onitsha suggested various possible explanations for his killing, including resentment over his wealth and fame; his outspokenness in expressing critical views; and a longstanding dispute that he had with a local traditional ruler and other members of the Catholic Church, who had threatened him and attacked his home on several previous occasions. Information gathered by Human Rights Watch and CLEEN from a variety of sources in Nawgu and Onitsha, including relatives and friends of Eddie Okeke, indicates that the true explanation for his death may lie in a combination of these factors.
Relatives and friends of Eddie Okeke appealed to the governor of Anambra State to save him after his initial abduction. The governor would therefore have been aware of his arrest and torture, but apparently failed to order his release or prevent his death, despite initially promising to do so.45 When a friend of the family called the governor on November 6, two days after Eddie Okeke was abducted, the governor reportedly first claimed that he did not know Eddie Okeke, then asked whose side he was on-a comment interpreted by relatives and friends as implying that Eddie Okeke had opposed, or at least not supported, the governor. He reportedly stated that Okeke had not paid him homage since he was appointed as governor.46
Eddie Okeke's wife, Joyce Okeke, was present when he was arrested:47
It was on 4 November 2000, at about 4.00 a.m. I was asleep. [...] Suddenly I heard a loud bang on the bedroom door. Someone said: "Open this door or I'll break it down!" I ran to the door. My husband was sleeping. There was a second bang. I opened the door. I saw a lot of men with pump action guns and matchets. They said: "Where is your husband?" I asked them who they were. They pushed me aside. I called my husband to wake up. They went and pulled him from the bed. He was asking them: "Who are you?" They said: "We are Bakassi Boys. It's a government order." There were about forty of them and more outside. My husband asked them what they wanted. They were hitting him. They dragged him outside. One Bakassi was standing at the door with a gun. He told me to go outside and cocked his gun at me. They were still beating my husband.
Another group came in and asked me to show them my husband's room. There was a boy in front of them. I recognized him as a local boy, an armed robber. He had previously assisted people who were after my husband. They turned the whole room upside down. The boy was doing it; the others were watching. They said: "Where are your husband's guns?" I said: "Which guns?" There was one double-barrel gun there but they were asking for pump-action guns and pistols. I told them we didn't have any. One of them raised his matchet and said: "I will cut off your head if you don't give us those guns." They found nothing. He said: "Turn your back and I will cut off your head." He charged towards me with his matchet raised, then put it down. They said: "We'll take you with your husband and if we don't find what we want, he's finished." I went with them and asked a girl to close the door. One of the Bakassi asked me if I wanted to show them anything. I said: "No, there are only children in there." The children were scared so we had locked the door. The Bakassi wanted to shoot. I said: "No, there are children there." He said: "Which children? The ones you sell?" I asked the children to open. The Bakassi just looked in and left them.
Meanwhile I heard the Bakassi outside shooting. I came out with them. Some were behind me, some were in front. I was just wearing my sleeping clothes and wrapper. My husband was just wearing his shorts. They had used his shirt to tie his hands. Outside, I saw Bakassi everywhere. They were wearing black, with some red material tied on their heads, hands and guns. They had made people in the compound lie face down outside. They were hitting them on their backs with matchets.
They took me out towards the gate. I could see my husband and about fifteen people ahead with one Bakassi group. I was about ten or fifteen steps away. One Bakassi shouted at me: "If you come any further, we'll shoot you down." But a Bakassi behind me was telling me to move. The one in front said: "Are you deaf? If you move, we'll shoot". I turned again. The one behind me said: "Move". I stood still. I said: "I don't know what to do." The ones behind eventually said: "Go back". I started going back. Some of them ran back in and said I should go along with them. They came into the house.
A car and a jeep were parked outside. They told me to give them the keys and open the gate. I called the boy who locks the gate but there was no answer. One Bakassi moved in a flash and slapped me across the eyes very hard. I fell behind the chair. He pulled me from behind with my wrapper. He was trying to strip me. I pulled the wrapper tightly from the front. He started shaking me and saying: "Who do you think you are?"
The Bakassi outside were calling them to come out again. They ran off, taking my husband and fifteen other people, all young men. They took three vehicles. Little did I know they were going to my father-in-law's compound. After they left I heard gunshots for about an hour. Later, I heard that they had picked up my husband's father, elder brother, and another relative.
At about noon, I was sitting in the armchair when I heard people outside screaming. They ran in, saying: "The Bakassi have come back!" I went out and met them at the gate. One had a belt of cartridges on one shoulder and a gun. He asked for the particulars to our cars and said: "Your husband said to tell you to give us those guns." I said: "Which guns?" He told me not to pretend, but I said it was not possible as he didn't have any guns. They took the whole file of car particulars and the keys. They took five vehicles. There was no clear command among them, but there was one man they called "Boss."
Before they left, they said they would search the whole compound for the guns and I should go with them. As we went round, they said: "This land is too big. It is bigger than a governor's." They saw a mentally-ill boy in the compound. They said: "Your husband is making people mad." The boy's mother came and explained that it was the boy's condition. They said that was not true, that my husband was turning normal people into mad people. Then they left.
I sent someone to report the matter to the police. The governor was away and the deputy governor, commissioner of police, and deputy commissioner of police were not there either. I asked some friends to call the governor. He promised them he would ask the Bakassi to release my husband. That was on Saturday. Up until Monday my husband was still there. I didn't know what was going on. I sent people to the Bakassi office in Onitsha. They were refused entry. The Bakassi threatened them with knives and sent them away. They said: "Go away or we'll kill you." They attacked some of them. I saw the marks on their backs. I didn't go there myself as I was too scared.
Eddie Okeke's family and friends spent several days trying to contact the commissioner of police and the governor, by telephone, in writing, and in person. Both officials said they would try to ensure his release, but the family has no evidence that they took any meaningful action. On November 7, the family heard a rumor that the Bakassi Boys were going to kill Eddie Okeke unless the governor, the commissioner of police, or a representative of the president intervened. They eventually found the commissioner of police and begged him to help. He claimed he had done everything he could. In the absence of the governor, they then saw the governor's wife who attempted to contact the governor's security adviser, Chuma Nzeribe, and the chairman of the Bakassi Boys, Gilbert Okoye; she did not succeed in reaching them. The protocol officer of the governor claimed that he had gone to the Bakassi Boys but that they had refused to hand over Eddie Okeke. The family returned to the governor's office on November 8, the day the governor was due to return from his travels. They were prevented from seeing him and the government officials they spoke to would not deliver a letter which had been written by the governor's wife to to the head of the Anambra Vigilante Services. Later, the family was informed that the governor and the commissioner of police had met and that the governor had promised to have Eddie Okeke transferred to the police.
The news of Eddie Okeke's death was never directly communicated to his family. His wife explained how she found out:48
On Thursday November 9, I heard on the radio that my husband had been burnt and killed at Ochanja Roundabout in Onitsha. It was all over the radio and the papers. Gilbert Okoye was denying that the Bakassi had taken him and the government was claiming it was a mob action. Up until now, I can't say what happened. I tried to find out but everyone was scared. I wrote several letters, to the inspector general of police, to the president, to the House of Representatives, to the Ministry of Women's Affairs, and others. I just wanted to find out what had happened. I didn't get any reply except one from the House of Representatives expressing the sympathy of the Speaker, and one from the Ministry of Women's Affairs asking me to come to Abuja. I met some people in the ministry. They said they would get back to me. That was five months ago. I have heard nothing since.
The other people who were arrested at the same time as Eddie Okeke were gradually released over the following days, with the exception of a young man in his early twenties, an orphan who had been looked after by Eddie Okeke and who had recently married. His fate remains unknown. Eddie Okeke's eighty-year-old father was released on November 11, but his older brother was only released six weeks later. His father had seen Eddie Okeke a few times during the period that they were both in detention. He said the Bakassi Boys would take his son out of the cell for one or two days, then bring him back; he had been tortured and had machete and other wounds from beatings with gunbutts. His father said: "The sight of him alone was enough to make you cry. [...] When he was taken out, we didn't know where they were taking him. [...] Some of the Bakassi had a radio and we heard on the radio that he had been killed."
Others who had been detained at the same time as Eddie Okeke described how he was tortured by the Bakassi Boys. A man who shared a cell with him said the Bakassi Boys kicked Okeke in the stomach and hit him with their machetes and guns. They accused him of killing people. Eddie Okeke denied this and said the Bakassi Boys should test him to prove his guilt or innocence. The Bakassi Boys hit Okeke with a machete and stabbed him all over his body. They said that if he gave them two million naira, they would leave him alone. After they moved Okeke to a different cell, the other detainees could still hear him being interrogated and tortured.49
Some of those detained with Eddie Okeke confirmed that the governor of Anambra, his adviser Chuma Nzeribe, and the chairman of the Bakassi Boys, Gilbert Okoye, all personally visited the detention center while they were held there. A former detainee said that Gilbert Okoye had stated, in front of the governor: "All these people they took from Nawgu are thieves and should be killed. You should even bring others too."50
After the death of Eddie Okeke, the state government set up a panel of inquiry into the case. The panel had no legal status, no power to require further action by the authorities, and its findings were never published. A local lawyer described the first judge appointed to the panel as a very independent person; however, she was soon replaced by another judge. The panel, which asked for submissions in the form of memoranda, seemed geared towards establishing Eddie Okeke's guilt, rather than investigating his abduction and death. According to a lawyer who followed the case closely, there were two versions of its terms of reference; the mandate to investigate Eddie Okeke's death was removed in the second version. Individuals who were close to Eddie Okeke were severely tortured and threatened with death to force them to testify against him at the panel. A lawyer representing the Bakassi Boys alleged that Eddie Okeke had confessed to committing atrocities on video and in a written confession, but failed to produce the evidence. The Bakassi Boys themselves never appeared before the panel, despite a two month extension to enable them to do so. Their lawyer testified for them instead; he claimed that Eddie Okeke had been killed by a mob. He stated that the Bakassi Boys were on their way to Awka to hand Eddie Okeke over to the police when they were confronted with a large mob who attacked them. The Bakassi Boys were terrified so abandoned their vehicle and ran away; when they returned, they saw a fire and Eddie Okeke was no longer there. The Bakassi Boys' lawyer's evidence was not challenged by the panel chairman.51
By October 2001, a lawyer acting on behalf of Eddie Okeke's family had given notice to bring a case against the state government, on the basis that the Bakassi Boys are state agents and that the government should therefore be held responsible.
In a newspaper interview in March 2000, Chuma Nzeribe denied any knowledge of what had happened in the case of Eddie Okeke. 52
At the time of writing, no one has yet been charged with the murder of Eddie Okeke.
The killing of Chief Ezeodumegwu G. Okonkwo
Chief Ezeodumegwu G. Okonkwo, a politician and musician, and chairman of the All People's Party (APP) for the local government of Nnewi South, in Anambra State, was abducted and killed by the Bakassi Boys in February 2001. Aged forty-one, he had three wives and eleven children. He was a well-known political figure in his local area and was unafraid of denouncing abuses, including those committed by powerful figures in the community. His case illustrates the political dimension of the Bakassi Boys' activities, as well as the escalation of a local dispute into one which ended up involving the state authorities.
According to members of his family, Chief Okonkwo's problems started in Nnewi, several years earlier. First, in 1996, members of the town union executive were displeased when a candidate to the local council elections who was sponsored by Chief Okonkwo won the elections against a candidate sponsored by the town union executive. Then, in 1997, Chief Okonkwo was indirectly involved in a dispute between members of the same town union executive and a man who had refused to give money to them. The man fled to Chief Okonkwo's house for protection after security men, sent by the town union executive, came to his house to try to arrest him and confiscate his property. Chief Okonkwo gave the man a note to report to the problem to the police. The police arrested two members of the town union and threatened to arrest others. The leader of the town union executive paid to get his security men released, but thereafter began inciting members of the community against Chief Okonkwo. In August 1997, five members of the town union executive wrote to the police, alleging that Chief Okonkwo was a criminal and an arms dealer and that he trained armed robbers. The police arrested Chief Okonkwo but released him after three days as their investigations did not produce any evidence against him. Chief Okonkwo filed a civil suit against the five people who had accused him, and another against the security men hired by the town union for abuses they had carried out against him and other people in the village.
In 2000, the town union wrote another letter about Chief Okonkwo, this time to the Bakassi Boys who had recently begun operating in Nnewi. On July 14, 2000, seven men armed with guns and double-edged swords burst into his house, announcing themselves as Bakassi Boys, and detained him. Eye-witnesses told Human Rights Watch and CLEEN how the Bakassi Boys beat him and fired at the walls and ceiling.53 They tied his hands behind his back and drove him away in their vehicle. They detained him overnight and released him the next day, after declaring him innocent.
A second assault was made on December 28, 2000, this time by the Bakassi Boys from Onitsha. Adolphus Anyaso, one of the main financial backers of the town union, and his son were with the Bakassi Boys when they came to Chief Okonkwo's house to arrest him on December 28. The Bakassi Boys struck Chief Okonkwo with their machetes and injured him on his hand and stomach. They also tried to hit his wife. Eye-witnesses said Adolphus Anyaso's son threatened to cut off Chief Okonkwo's head and use it as a football.54 The Bakassi Boys then drove Chief Okonkwo to their detention center in Onitsha. As before, he was held overnight, then released. The Bakassi Boys brought him back to his village for a public "trial" where they asked the villagers to testify as to whether Chief Okonkwo was a criminal, vowing that they would kill him if he was. The villagers protested his innocence, and he was released.
The third and final attempt to abduct Chief Okonkwo took place on the morning of February 18, 2001. This time, the abduction was followed by murder. Five men, who introduced themselves as AVS (Anambra Vigilante Services), led by the AVS treasurer, Emmanuel Udegbunam, arrived at Chief Okonkwo's house, firing into the air. They tied his hands behind his back and put him in the boot of their vehicle, which witnesses described as a station wagon which used to belong to OTA. They drove off to an unknown destination.55
Chief Okonkwo's relatives then set about trying to find him and alerted the authorities. A family member explained:56
We lodged an official complaint with the police area commander in Nnewi, then we went to the AVS headquarters in Onitsha. The camp boys wouldn't talk to us; they said we should talk to their leader. We had also reported it to the Bakassi at Nnewi, who said they didn't have him and we should check with the Bakassi in Onitsha. At Onitsha, we met their camp leader, Okpompi. He told us to go to the AVS chairman, Gilbert Okoye, Ntu.57 We met Ntu. He said Chief Okonkwo was a criminal. When we realized he was privy to the abduction, we went to government house at Awka. We met the principal secretary there, Hez Nnukwe, who knows Chief Okonkwo. He gave us a letter addressed to Okoye asking for his release. We went back to Ntu with the letter. This time, he denied that his boys were holding Chief Okonkwo. He told us to return the next day at 10 a.m. and that he would look for him in their four camps in Anambra State.
The next day, Monday 19 February, we went to see him again. He said he had to consult the governor first. Hez Nnukwe had also phoned Nzeribe asking for his release.
On Tuesday morning we phoned the principal secretary again. He said that Nzeribe had told him that by the time he'd reached the camp in Onitsha on Monday, they had already killed Chief Okonkwo. That day, on 20 February, his three wives wrote a petition to the inspector general of police reporting this. Nzeribe gave the family an appointment for Tuesday. They went there Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, from 20 to 25 February. He gave them the assurance that he would secure Chief Okonkwo's release.
On 25 February we realized he was not sincere. On 26 February we went to the Bakassi headquarters at Aba. We discovered that when the state government had taken over the Bakassi, they had sacked many of the original Bakassi Boys from Aba. We saw the Bakassi who had screened Chief Okonkwo twice, who were now back in Aba, including their local chief known as "Boss." They told us that they had refused to be party to his assassination and had refused to carry out the governor's instructions. A Bakassi Boy from Onitsha had told them that when Chief Okonkwo was arrested, they had taken him straight to the outskirts of Onitsha and murdered him at about 10.00 a.m., at Junction Niger CAT in 33 area of Onitsha, Nsugbe Road. A junior Bakassi Boy had participated in the killing. They set his corpse on fire, then came later and got rid of the corpse.
We went there on Sunday to check the spot. We asked around. People described Chief Okonkwo and said he was dragged there in the boot of the car, shouting that he was innocent.
In March, the police arrested seven people, including Gilbert Okoye, Adolphus Anyaso, and Emmanuel Udegbunam, and charged them with murder, conspiracy to murder, and kidnapping of Chief Okonkwo. They were released some weeks later. Gilbert Okoye was detained for three months then was granted bail.
Chief Okonwko's family told Human Rights Watch and CLEEN that in a newspaper interview, the governor had denied seeing any letter asking for Chief Okonkwo's release, and that when asked whether the government would compensate the family for his death, he said: "They don't recognize me" (that is, since they were not his supporters, he did not feel the need to take any action). Chuma Nzeribe was quoted in a newspaper as stating: "I have no hand whatsoever in the murder [of Chief Okonkwo]. The members of the Anambra State Vigilante Services have no hand in the case. I have not met the man all my life." He then went on to question the "benefit in harming the man for political reasons [especially as] he is no threat to the government of Anambra State."58 When CLEEN met Gilbert Okoye in October 2001, he said he knew nothing about the death of Chief Okonkwo, did not know him and had never met him. 59 Camillus Ebekue, who took over the chairmanship of the AVS in May 2001, also told Human Rights Watch and CLEEN that there was no trace of AVS involvement in the death of Chief Okonkwo.60
The arrest and torture of Ifeanyi Ibegbu
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."65
Patterns of human rights abuses and other individual cases
Public summary and arbitrary executions have also been carried out with impunity by the Bakassi Boys in Imo State. The Bakassi Boys started executing people as soon as they began their operations in Imo, as described in an article in Newswatch: "They showed everyone that `the real Bakassi Boys' had arrived by slaughtering two persons believed to be criminals on the major streets, apparently to send a warning signal to all criminals in the state. Newswatch gathered information in Owerri that the two persons slaughtered had been undergoing trial in a Bakassi detention camp outside the state. The two people were convicted by the Bakassi Boys and therefore summarily executed in line with their operations in other states especially Abia and Anambra."67 Executions in Imo were carried out particularly along the Owerri-Port Harcourt Express Road, where around ten people were reported by the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) to have been killed by the Bakassi Boys in July 2001. Among those executed there were a man nicknamed Commotion, who had been detained by the Bakassi Boys for almost one month; he was killed and burnt, along with three other people.68
Former detainees told Human Rights Watch and CLEEN how people were regularly taken out of the Bakassi Boys' cells for execution. There was no doubt in their minds as to the fate that awaited such prisoners. A man who was detained in Onitsha in November 2000 said: "They were killing people there. They would come into the cell, take about ten people out, beat them and bring them back in. Sometimes they would chain someone and take them out. Those ones never came back. We presumed they had been killed. Sometimes they would even say they were going to kill the ones they took out."69 Another former detainee held in Onitsha supported this account: "Everyday they came and took people out, sometimes as many as eight. They would take them away. They never came back. There was a man called Ike that they took outside. We never saw him again. I presume he was killed. The day I was arrested, they took eight people out. They tied them with rope: that means they will be killed. When the Bakassi returned they had blood on their knives."70 A man who was detained in Onitsha in March 2000 also stated that detainees were called out, apparently for execution, and were never seen again.
Some detainees personally witnessed others being killed. A man who was detained by the Bakassi Boys in Onitsha in August 2000 stated: "While I was detained they brought a man out and killed him in front of me. He was about seventeen or twenty years old. They killed him with a knife, a matchet and a big stick. They cut him up in one or two minutes."71
The Bakassi Boys' victims have included women. In Anambra, for example, a mother of five and a caterer who had become a successful trader in buildings materials was killed by the Bakassi Boys in August 2000. There were different theories about the motive for her killing: one was that she had been accused of killing her husband's first wife; the other was that she was friendly with a man who was an armed robber, whom the Bakassi Boys were hunting down, and that they killed both of them as they found him in her company. It was also alleged that the Bakassi Boys accused her of having guns and training criminals, but there was never any criminal investigation into these allegations.72
Human Rights Watch and CLEEN are particularly concerned about the fate of the lesser- known victims of the Bakassi Boys, as their cases are rarely reported. Although it is impossible to estimate the number of people killed, the Bakassi Boys are certainly responsible for scores of murders, perhaps hundreds. The majority of victims are young men and boys, some under the age of eighteen, who come from poor backgrounds; they have no one to report on their behalf to the authorities about these abuses, and, unlike some of the Bakassi Boys' more prominent victims, no possibility of appealing to any authorities to intervene to save their lives. Their deaths have also gone mostly unreported by the media. In some cases, the victims were street-boys or orphans whose names were not even known and who had no one to identify their bodies after they were killed. Some may have participated in minor, petty offences but never had a chance to present their side of the story. Others may well have been innocent of any offense. From the testimonies of former detainees, it would appear that these "anonymous" victims constitute the bulk of those picked up and killed by the Bakassi Boys.73
Residents of all three states where the Bakassi Boys operate told Human Rights Watch and CLEEN that unidentified, dead bodies lying on the roadside were a common sight. For example, one man stated: "There are lots of cases. In about March this year , I saw two dead bodies on the road in Umuahia. Their bodies were burnt. Tyres had also been burnt around them. There were Bakassi Boys parading around."74 A woman said: "They play football with people's heads in the market in Onitsha. Children watch and cheer."75 A man described a particularly gruesome period in late 1999-2000 when OTA was responsible for many killings in and around Onitsha. He said that he would regularly see between six and twelve dead bodies on the streets in Onitsha town, Obosi, Nkpor and Ogbaru. Most of the victims had their arms tied behind their backs and had been shot with rifles.76
At least nine people, including several teenagers, were killed in Onitsha on April 10, 2000. The perpetrators are believed to have been members of OTA, the predecessor to the Bakassi Boys in Onitsha, assisted by policemen; according to witnesses, they arrived in police vans and in vehicles of the Anambra State Vigilante Services. Most of the victims were young men, including at least three local government employees-Vincent Ogbuli, aged twenty, Chuka Bosah, aged nineteen, and Chilo Chukurah, aged twenty-four- and two school students, Stephen Chukwurah, aged fifteen, and Obiora Okechukwu, aged thirteen; a thirteen-year-old girl and a pregnant woman were reportedly also killed. Their bodies are believed to have been thrown into the Niger river, but were never recovered. OTA's claims that all the victims were criminals were contradicted by local sources who knew the victims well. Some of their families complained to the authorities, requesting an explanation and compensation for their deaths, but relatives of others did not dare to do so.77
In August 2001, Christian Onwuma, a twenty-year-old okada (motorbike taxi) driver, and three other men were abducted and killed by the Bakassi Boys in Nkpor, near Onitsha, at a location sometimes used for marijuana-dealing. Christian Onwuma, who worked in Onitsha but was originally from Nsukka, in Enugu State, was described by friends and neighbours as a quiet, hard-working young man who had never been a thief or a criminal. A lawyer acting for the family stated: "The only offence he was believed to have ever committed was to smoke marijuana. But it is not the duty of the Bakassi Boys to arrest drug-takers. It is the duty of the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency. [...] They were killed in public. People shouted that Christian should not be killed, but they were told to keep back. The Bakassi alleged that they had found guns in the marijuana dealing site."78
A childhood friend and colleague of Christian Onwuma explained what had happened:
That Tuesday, at about 2 p.m.at the okada park, I saw the Bakassi driving away, with Christian and three other young men: twin brothers (one okada boy and one trader who sold beverages and marijuana) and another man. There were about five Bakassi Boys. They were in an Isuzu pick-up van; I know their car. I saw they were carrying knives and guns. The men had been beaten and injured with knives. They had their arms tied behind their backs. The next day their relatives went to the Bakassi office. They were told to come back the following day (Thursday).
But on the Wednesday the Bakassi drove the four victims to the junction and killed them. Some fellow drivers came to tell me. We went there and saw the corpses. All four corpses were together. They had been killed with matchets and burnt together. They were badly burnt but still recognizable. They had cut off their heads and legs, but the heads were still lying there. People looked, then everyone just went his or her own way. The bodies stayed there for four or five days. I don't know who removed them.
I've seen other people who've been killed but not people who have been close to me. I feel the loss very much. The family is also very affected. We knew each other when we were little. Christian used to be a motorcycle mechanic. He was easy-going, not quarrelsome. He never stole anything. After his death, his relatives tried to get his bike back. The Bakassi made them pay 5,000 naira [approximately U.S.$38]for it.79
On May 29, 2001, in one of the most serious cases, thirty-six alleged armed robbers were killed by the Bakassi Boys in Onitsha. Some of them had reportedly been detained for several weeks beforehand. They were publicly killed with axes and machetes, mutilated and set on fire, in several different locations.80 A woman who happened to be passing by the place where their mutilated bodies were found described what she saw: "It was on the road going from Onitsha towards Delta state, at the spot where they normally burn the bodies. I saw a pile of human remains. They had cut people up with matchets and put them in a container. There were piles of body parts which had been set on fire. The bodies had been cut up into small pieces like in a butcher's shop. They use very sharp matchets. You can't even recognize what part of the body it is."81 Nigerian human rights organizations, including the CLO, appealed to the government to publish a complete list of the victims' names, but to date, there is no known confirmation of the names and identity of the victims.
In March 2002, an Amnesty International delegation visiting Anambra State witnessed an attempted summary execution by the Bakassi Boys inside the compound of the state government in Awka, Anambra State, some one hundred metres away from the governor's office. The Amnesty International delegates described how about twelve Bakassi Boys armed with automatic weapons and machetes were surrounding a man in his fifties, who had his arms tied behind his back and was bleeding profusely, apparently as a result of beatings. "AVS members were pouring petrol over the man's body with the clear intention of setting him on fire. When they realised that there were strangers watching the scene, they bundled the victim into a van, loaded the vehicle with machetes and guns, and drove away." The identity of the victim and his fate remain unknown.82
On July 9, 1999, two young men, Sergeant Okechukwu Madukwe and Chukwudozie Nwachukwu, both in their twenties, were killed by the Bakassi Boys in Umuahia, Abia State. Chukwudozie Nwachukwu, a twenty-nine-year-old man who worked as an operational manager in a seafood company, had traveled from Lagos to Umuahia to visit his family. When he arrived at the family house, his parents were not there, so he went to wait in a restaurant in the centre of town, known as the Safari restaurant. According to eye-witness testimonies and members of the family, a few minutes after Chukwudozie Nwachukwu arrived in the bar, a group of about ten armed men entered the bar. They identified themselves explicitly as Bakassi Boys and said they had been sent from Aba by the state government to stop criminals.
Soon after they entered the bar, the Bakassi Boys got into an argument with the bar boy. The argument escalated and the Bakassi Boys hit the bar boy with a broken bottle. When Chukwudozie Nwachukwu intervened and asked what was happening, the Bakassi Boys began attacking him with knives. Another man who was in the bar, Sgt Okechukwu Madukwe, approached when he saw Chukwudozie Nwachukwu lying in a pool of blood, surrounded by armed men. The Bakassi Boys then set upon him too. They accused Chukwudozie Nwachukwu and Sgt Okechukwu Madukwe of being robbers, after discovering that they were carrying money. Within a short time, they had killed both of them, using machetes and guns. They took their bodies outside, poured fuel over them and set them on fire. Okechukwu Madukwe's brother, who was also in the bar, was attacked with machetes, tied up and put inside a vehicle; he was injured, but survived after being saved by the police.
Chukwudozie Nwachukwu's father was at work when his son was killed: "I was in the office. Someone came in and said: `Come and see what's happening in the Safari restaurant! Your son has been fighting." I said that was not possible. I took off immediately. I reached the restaurant. There were crowds there. I saw the boys' bodies on fire. Blood was flowing. The Bakassi were still there, with their weapons. They had two guns and many matchets. They were searching the vehicle of the spy sergeant [Sgt Okechukwu Madkuwe]; they found nothing. My son had been shot on the neck and shoulder. They had cut off his feet. I was so dazed I couldn't react. I had to leave. I then went to the police with my wife to report it. The body was left there overnight. The police helped us remove it the next day. We had a big funeral."83
Unusually in a case involving the Bakassi Boys, the police came to the scene quickly, arrested six of the Bakassi Boys and took them to the police station. The police then received instructions from Government House, described as follows in the police findings and recommendations on the case: "Shortly after the arrest of these people directives came from the Government House that the suspects should be brought to Government House. At the Government House, the deputy Commissioner of police, Abia State police command was instructed to release the suspects by the governor. Based on the instruction, the suspects were released few hours after having recorded their statements."84 Following a public outcry at their release, the police re-arrested four of them a few days later; this time, they remained in detention and, in one of the very few cases of its kind, they were actually charged and tried. Court proceedings began in Umuahia, on June 21, 2000, but the trial did not commence until February 14, 2001. By April 2002, it has still not concluded, following repeated adjournments.
The police's initial investigations into this case in Abia State were reportedly obstructed by the state government, so the investigation was transferred to the police in Lagos. According to the police findings in the case, at least two Abia State government officials-the secretary to the state government and the protocol officer-had called the Bakassi Boys to Umuahia on July 9. However, the reasons and motives for the killings remained unclear. The police findings state: "On 9th July, 1999, at about 1400 hours members of a vigilante group based in Aba, Abia State popularly known as `Bakassi' invaded Safari Restaurant [...]. Members of this gang with their office at block C4 Ariaria market Aba were invited by the Secretary to Abia State Government Dr E.J.Nwogbo through one Ndukwe Okereke, a Protocol Officer attached to the Government House on behalf of the State Government. The Deputy Governor in his statement confirmed that they i.e. the Governor, himself and the Secretary to the State Government on 9th July 1999 held a meeting bordering on the activities of the Bakassi group. He asserted that after their deliberation an arrangement was reached to invite the group. Ndukwe Okereke a Protocol Officer was dispatched from Umuahia to Aba to invite this group and on his return trip with the gang numbering about (10) ten men went straight to the Abia State Government House, Umuahia. At the Government House, Ndukwe and the Chairman of the group by name Ezeji Oguikpe called at the office of the Secretary to the State Government, Dr E. J. Nwogbo. The SSC had some discussions with the Chairman of the group after which Ndukwe Okereke led them to Safari Restaurant [...]" The police report then goes on to describe the killings and confirms that the two victims were not criminals or armed robbers.85
The victims' relatives believe it was a case of mistaken identity. They asked the government to admit publicly that it was a mistake and to state for the record that the men were innocent. The government refused to do so.86 In an interview with the magazine Insider Weekly two years after the deaths of the two men, in which he was asked about the case, Abia State governor Orji Kalu simply said: "Well, there is nothing I could have done because the case is before a court of competent jurisdiction and government was directly not involved."87
Arbitrary arrests and unlawful detention
Under international law and the Nigerian constitution, all suspects have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of law. Even those who are suspected of having perpetrated the most brutal crimes have the right to be informed of the reason for their arrest, to have access to a lawyer, and to be charged and tried by the competent authorities, according to due process. Vigilante groups have no judicial status and no powers to detain, charge, try or judge, even less to administer punishments, including death.
Contrary to statements made by government authorities and vigorous denials by the Bakassi Boys' leaders themselves, the Bakassi Boys were always armed when carrying out the arrests reported to Human Rights Watch and CLEEN, usually with guns and machetes. They rarely informed people of the specific reason for their arrest, apart from general, unsubstantiated accusations of criminality. Arrests were not covert operations: the Bakassi Boys usually identified themselves explicitly, sometimes even stating that they had been sent by the government. Their victims were almost always badly beaten at the time of arrest; most sustained serious injuries from machete blows in particular. The Bakassi Boys often intimidated and threatened other people who happened to be present at the time of arrest, for example by firing into the air, or by arbitrarily arresting and ill-treating onlookers and neighbors, as well as relatives of their main victims. Typically they then forced those arrested into their vehicles, often with their arms tied behind their back with rope or cable, and took them to the Bakassi Boys' headquarters where they were detained.
The official leaders of the Bakassi Boys have denied that they have been responsible for unlawful detention. When Human Rights Watch and CLEEN met the chairman of the Abia Vigilante Services, Onwuchekwa Ulu, and the former and current chairmen of the Anambra Vigilante Services, Gilbert Okoye and Camillus Ebekue, they all claimed that they always handed over the suspects they apprehended to the police, despite clear evidence to the contrary. Camillus Ebekue denied that the AVS had any detention centers and told us: "I have never seen any cell."88
Conditions of detention
The Bakassi Boys' detention centers consist of overcrowded and dirty cells, with no hygiene or other facilities. Detainees would be deprived of food and drink for several days.
An elderly man who was detained at the White House in Onitsha in November 2000 described the conditions there:89
They crammed us all into one room. There were thirty of us in the cell. We were not given anything to eat or drink. They came with knives and threatened to kill anyone who looked at them. They brought us a bucket to urinate in. We couldn't go outside the cell at all. All the time while we were held there they were beating us and threatening us. [...] In the cell it was difficult to talk. We would whisper to those who were close but we didn't dare raise our voices. We were locked in there with a big padlock. They just left us there. Some detainees had money in their pockets and would send someone to fetch water. We would share one or two sachets. We were not given food for a week.
Another former detainee in Onitsha stated: "There were many people, thirty-eight men and three women, young and old, all in the same cell. We were all crammed in, sitting between each other's knees. We couldn't lie down or stand up. When they brought in new detainees, they would ask them for money. Once in a while we were able to ask a kind-hearted Bakassi to buy us a sachet of water or bread, once every three days. We had nothing else to eat at all." 90
Another man detained in Onitsha in October 2000 said: "The cell was dirty with blood on the floor and it smelled bad. There were about forty other men detained there; some had cuts on their hands. There wasn't enough room to lie down; we had to sleep sitting up."91
Detainees in Owerri were held in similar conditions: "There were eight or nine people in the cell. The wall and the floor were splattered in blood. People had cuts. One old man was groaning, pleading his innocence, saying no one had interrogated him. He had knife cuts on his body. [...] Another man had cuts on his hands. [...] There was a terrible smell, a smell of blood. It was an unbearable stench. [...] They didn't allow us to go outside to urinate."92
Torture and ill-treatment
A man who was tortured by the Bakassi Boys in Onitsha in October 2000 told Human Rights Watch: "The Bakassi called me out. They said they would kill me and eat me, starting with my heart. Once when they called me out, I was alone facing about thirty Bakassi. They beat me badly with their matchets; I have scars on my legs, my chest and my back. They scraped my back and wrote their inscriptions on me; they beat me with hammers. They accused me of sponsoring armed robbers and trading in weapons."94
Torture was often inflicted with the intention of extracting confessions of guilt. The Bakassi Boys have actively fuelled the myth that they have magical ways of ascertaining guilt or innocence; a particular belief is that they hold a machete over the individual, and that if the blade turns red, it means that the individual is guilty. A man who was detained and tortured by the Bakassi Boys in Onitsha in March 2000 stated: "People actually believe that the Bakassi Boys have magical powers through which they detect criminals, but my experience has taught me that that there is nothing like that. They will just continue torturing you till you confess you are guilty."95 Likewise, a detainee held with Eddie Okeke in Onitsha said that when Eddie Okeke offered to have his guilt or innocence "tested" by the Bakassi Boys, the Bakassi Boys asked him whether he had any instrument to test people's innocence, thereby indicating that they did not have, or even pretend to have, any such instrument. Instead, they beat him and tortured him.96
One of the most prominent victims of torture by the Bakassi Boys in Imo State was Bishop Alex Ezeugo Ekewuba, founder of the Overcomers Church in Owerri, who was detained and tortured on June 8, 2001. He appears to have been targeted as a perceived political opponent of the state government. Bishop Ekewuba recounted his experience at the hands of the Bakassi Boys to Human Rights Watch and CLEEN:97
They came believing that Rochas Okorocha was a member of this church. Rochas Okorocha is a famous, popular man. He ran against the governor before, in the primaries, in 1999. But he isn't a member of this church. I don't even know him. There is fear in the government. They see this church as a threat as we are very powerful, popular and populous. They see us as a security risk because we have a mass following. They think I am too vocal.
On 8 June 2001, they came and first arrested a young man, "A",98 who is a member of this church [...] They arrested him in his house, along with his younger brother and his mother, who is about sixty years old. They stripped all of them naked, including the mother. They brought them to the church and accused "A" of fronting for Rochas. They claimed Rochas had given him money to fight against the governor. He denied it; he is just a security man.
They smashed up chairs and attacked people who happened to be in the church. One woman had her collarbone cut with a knife. Another boy was slashed on his back with a knife. "A" had knife cuts on his head and arms. His brother was beaten and they tied his hands and feet. His mother had a knife cut on her shoulder. They picked up a gun and accused the church of using it for armed robbery.
Then they came to my house, at about 2 a.m. They fired shots and shouted: "We're Bakassi!" I asked whether I could come to their office in the morning. They said: "No, open the door or we'll break it." They scaled the wall and came into the compound. They jumped upstairs and pointed their gun at my wife through the window and asked her for my gun.
They stripped me naked and beat me with their gunbutts, on my chest and shoulder-blade. They broke my rib. I asked for time to pray, but they refused. They dumped me in the boot of their car and took me for interrogation. They had slapped me, beaten me and kicked me all over. They also wanted to take my sixteen-year-old son. I pleaded with them not to. My son hid under the bed. They said they would come back for him.
The place they took me to was behind the Concord Hotel in Owerri. [...] They tied my arms and legs with electric cable. They tried to cut my hand but I struggled, so it was only scratched. There were rounds of interrogation. They threw me on the floor. It was filthy. I asked to sit up. They dragged me and hit my head against the wall. They hit me repeatedly and asked how much Rochas had paid me. I kept saying: "I don't know him." They accused me of training armed robbers.
During the night, the Bakassi were arguing over which one of them should be allowed to cut my neck. One of them, nicknamed Tufiakwa ["abomination"] put his fingers into my eyes. He was arguing with another one. He said: "It's my turn to cut off this man's neck. You did the other one a few days ago." The argument carried on until the morning.
Later they claimed that "A" had said Rochas had given him fifteen guns. They made him read a statement saying: "He gave me fifteen pump-action guns." They just put a microphone in front of him, then brought out the statement as evidence. "A" and his brother were held in another cell. Their hands were tied behind their back and their feet were tied in a crossed position; they were tied with cable. Four men kept lifting him up and dropping him, to try to break his backbone. When they do that, there is no blood.
The next morning at about 6 a.m., my wife came to try to rescue me. They chased her away. She went to the minority leader in the House of Assembly. He went to the Bakassi and told them they should release me. He arrived just at the same time as the Bakassi leader.
They released me the next morning. "A"'s brother was released two days later; "A" himself was released a week later. I went to the police and to the hospital. They had injured me on the jaw with the butt of their gun. I wrote to the governor. He has still not replied. I wanted to explain to him that I was not fighting against him. The absence of a reply from him was the most painful thing. It was more painful than the physical injuries. The police took my statement but there was no action, no arrests.
At around the same period as Bishop Alex Ezeugo Ekewuba , another man was arrested and tortured with machetes by the Bakassi Boys of Imo State because his mother was accused of having affiliations with the same political opponent of the government, Rochas Okorocha. He was later released.99
A combination of superstitution and fear has led to situations where some individuals have offered or agreed to submit themselves to the Bakassi "test" to prove their innocence, in full knowledge of the associated risks of detention, torture or death. The alternative is to refuse to do so and risk being presumed guilty. The price of taking that risk is considered too high. Effectively, anyone facing accusations of guilt-whether founded or not-is caught in a trap. For example, a twenty-seven-year old trader in buildings materials from Nsukka, Enugu State, described how he and his colleague were tortured by the Bakassi Boys in Onitsha, in March 2000, after they were wrongly accused of stealing money:100
On March 15, 2000, a colleague and I were sent to Aba market by our traders' union to buy goods there worth 850,000 naira. It is the practice here that two people are always sent to buy goods for the rest. On this particular day, the two of us set out to Aba with the sum of 850,000 naira. When we got to Aba, we boarded a cab with one other person; together with the driver, there were four in all. It was at around 5 p.m.
On the way the vehicle jerked and stopped. The driver pleaded with us to help in pushing the vehicle. We all disembarked except the other passenger who told us that he was sick. While we were pushing the vehicle, the driver suddenly kicked the vehicle and sped off with our bags containing the money. We raised the alarm but it was futile. We went home that evening to report the incident to the other traders. We did not go to the police because of the fear of being detained. The other traders called a meeting to deliberate on the matter. While some accepted our story, others insisted that it was a cooked-up story. It was then that the chairman of the association suggested that we should be taken to the Bakassi White House at Onitsha in order to ascertain our innocence.
We got to the White House at Onitsha on March 20. We were accompanied by two members of our association who handed us over to the Bakassi leader, who they call "the Boss," after explaining their mission. We were ushered into a one room cell with little ventilation and no light. We may have been around twenty to thirty people in the cell. The next day, we were called out to state our side of the story, which we did. There were three Bakassi men on the table facing us including the Boss. The Boss warned us sternly that the price for our insisting on lying is death, that it is better for us to say the truth. We insisted that we were innocent.
Then they took me to the interrogation room. I was stripped naked and made to lie on the floor. My hands were tied on my back and I was repeatedly flogged on the back and buttocks with a matchet. All the while one of them was asking me to tell the truth so that I could be saved from the torture, but I insisted that I was innocent. The torture lasted for about four hours. I was taken back to the cell. The next day the same process was repeated. Meanwhile my colleague was undergoing the same process. They did not interrogate us on the third day. But on the fourth day, the interrogation was intense and more brutal. They then decided to release us after failing to extract any confession from us. I was told later that that our association had made a payment of 20,000 naira [approximately U.S.$154] to the Bakassi Boys.
When we came back, our people had given up hope of seeing us alive.
During his arrest and detention in Onitsha in August 2000, Ifeanyi Ibegbu came across several other people who had been victims of severe ill-treatment by the Bakassi Boys. For example, when the Bakassi Boys arrested him and forced him into their van, "I noticed the presence of another brutalized youth, who I could not recognise because his head was covered with blood from what was obviously a matchete blow." Later, within the Bakassi Boys' headquarters, Ifeanyi Ibegbu was tied up and dumped in a corridor where he saw a man he recognized: "[He was] similarly trussed up there in the corridor. I know him to be a school teacher and a former local government councilor. He is a man of advancing years, over sixty."101 The reason for the arrest and detention of these other individuals was not known to Ifeanyi Ibegbu.
Most of those detained and tortured by the Bakassi Boys were men, some very young, others over sixty. However, former detainees have also testified to the presence of women in their cells. A man detained by the Bakassi Boys in their headquarters in Onitsha in August 2000 said that there were around twenty women detained there at the time. In Owerri, Human Rights Watch and CLEEN received reports of the detention and torture of women, including sexual abuse, by the Bakassi Boys. For example, in February 2001, a woman who was targeted because she allegedly owed money to another woman was whipped on her genital area by the Bakassi Boys, who also put a stick in her vagina.102
Targeting critics of the Bakassi Boys
The Bakassi Boys have dealt ruthlessly with individuals who have dared to criticize or denounce their methods, or refused to make financial contributions to them. For example, it is clear that Ifeanyi Ibegbu, the minority leader of the Anambra State house of assembly whose case is described above, was targeted in large part because of his denunciation of vigilante violence. Other, less prominent individuals, have suffered a similar fate.
On 7 July 2000, Bonaventure Chiedozie Egbuawa, a human rights activist in his thirties, was detained by OTA in Onitsha, taken to their headquarters at the White House, tortured and killed. His body was never recovered. Bonaventure Chiedozie Egbuawa was well-known for publicly criticizing excesses and abuses, including the establishment and activities of vigilante groups. He would walk around the town, including the main market, with a megaphone, denouncing what he saw as injustices. A lawyer and human rights campaigner explained how Bonaventure's activism cost him his life:104
On that day he was in the market condemning the activities of OTA in front of many traders. OTA men arrested him and took him to the White House. They tortured him with rifle butts, iron rods, kicked him, hit him deliberately in the eyes; his face was very badly injured. After torturing him they threw him from the staircase of the White House. He came out staggering. No one in the market was brave enough to help him. About 300 metres from the White House, OTA men came and shot him. They put him in a wheelbarrow and dumped him in the River Niger, in full view of everyone, in the daytime. They usually dumped victims in the river as they can't be prosecuted for murder without the corpse. We called a press conference and demanded an inquiry, compensation and a trial. But only one member of his family was willing to come forward, and then they withdrew. There was too much fear and pressure on the family.
Patrick Odi Okaka Oquosa, a musician and artist in his thirties, was arrested and tortured by the Bakassi Boys in Onitsha in October 2000. He had been outspoken about the abuses of the Bakassi Boys and in September 2000 had gone to speak personally to Gilbert Okoye, their chairman, to plead with him to stop the violence. Gilbert Okoye said he would speak to Chuma Nzeribe, the governor's security adviser, and told him to return. On his second visit, he was told to return a third time, then again a fourth time. Meanwhile, members of a local church, with whom Odi Oquosa had had a disagreement, had secretly taped a conversation where he had denounced and criticized the Bakassi Boys and the governor of Anambra State, and gave a copy of the tape to the Bakassi Boys. On his fourth visit to the Bakassi Boys, on October 19, 2000, Odi Oquosa was detained. He was severely tortured; his torture was clearly linked to his criticisms of their activities. He told Human Rights Watch: "They were saying I had been shouting that the Bakassi were no good."105
Odi Oquosa was detained for three days. He was released thanks to the intervention of relatives who called the police, the governor's office, and Chuma Nzeribe. He stated that on the day of his release, Chuma Nzeribe was present at the Bakassi headquarters. When they released him, the Bakassi Boys told Odi Oquosa that he should stop writing against them and talking about them. He later returned to ask for his glasses and precious stones which they had taken from him; they returned his glasses only. They threatened him and warned him that he should not talk about what happened. He refused to be silenced and continued writing to the authorities denouncing the abuses of the Bakassi Boys. A year later, in October 2001, his office was burnt down and all his belongings destroyed.106
People who have objected to the levy which they have been required to pay for the upkeep of the Bakassi Boys have also been victimized. A shopkeeper in Umuahia who refused to pay the levy received a visit from the Bakassi Boys who stole his goods and tortured another person who happened to be present.107 In Owerri, in Imo State, on December 20, 2001, protests by traders and okada drivers who did not want to pay the Bakassi Boys a levy of 200 naira led to violent clashes, in which at least four people were reportedly killed and others seriously injured.108 A bus driver who questioned the legality of the levy was reportedly stopped by the Bakassi Boys from Aba; they made his passengers get out of the bus, beat the driver and forced him to lie flat on the ground in submission to the Bakassi Boys.109
Interventions in private disputes and civil matters
A man who had been detained by the Bakassi Boys in Owerri in June 2001 talked about some of the others detained there with him. One man, nick-named Abidjan because he had come from Côte d'Ivoire, had left Nigeria eight years earlier because of a land dispute. The day after his return to Nigeria, he was detained by the Bakassi Boys who had apparently been called by his enemies. The man had been injured and had cuts on his hands.110 In another case, in Anambra State, in around September 2001, a man called the Bakassi Boys to intervene because another man allegedly owed him money. The Bakassi Boys entered the house of the man who owed the money, injured him with machetes and detained him for three days. The police arrested the man who had called in the Bakassi Boys, as well as some of the Bakassi Boys themselves, but they were later released.111
The Bakassi Boys also intervened in a dispute in around September 2001 between rival transport workers' unions in Onitsha, apparently supporting one side against the other. Several people died in a shoot-out between the Bakassi Boys and one of the unions. The police arrested four of the Bakassi Boys and they were charged with attempted murder. However, they were granted bail.112
Between October 27 and 30, 2001, in one of the most serious cases of involvement in civil matters, at least twenty-seven people, and possibly more, were killed after the Bakassi Boys clashed with market traders in Ariaria market in Aba, in Abia State. According to local human rights activists who visited Aba to investigate the case, the incident started when a landlord called in the Bakassi Boys to deal with a tenant, who was a shoemaker, who allegedly owed him two months' rent. The Bakassi Boys attacked the tenant with machetes and pushed his wife. The shoemakers' union then mobilized and complained to the Bakassi Boys about their ill-treatment of the tenant. The Bakassi Boys beat some of the protesting shoemakers. On October 27, the Bakassi Boys abducted at least fifteen traders and apprentices, including some teenagers, at the Powerline Shoe Plaza in Ariaria market, took them to their execution ground known as Burrow Pit, and killed them. They beheaded them and cut off their genitals and brought their headless corpses back to the Shoe Plaza. In response, the shoemakers returned to the Bakassi Boys' headquarters the following day and burned and vandalized their building. They also destroyed part of the residence of the Bakassi Boys' leader, as well as the house of the landlord whose invitation to bring in the Bakassi Boys had sparked off the incident.
The Bakassi Boys then confronted the traders and a violent clash ensued. There were victims on both sides, as both the Bakassi Boys and the shoemakers were armed with guns and knives. The total number of casualties is not confirmed, but at least four Bakassi Boys and at least eight shoemakers were killed in the clash. Human rights activists who visited the area on October 31 reported that there were still bodies lying around in the market and in the streets. They saw a human head found in the premises of the Bakassi Boys' office; the body could not be located. The Bakassi Boys were still parading around with guns and machetes, shooting sporadically; some were in official government vehicles, apparently coming from the state capital Umuahia.113
This incident, which took place in Ariaria market, the birthplace of the Bakassi Boys, illustrates how far the situation has spun out of control and how the actions of the Bakassi Boys have ended up pitting them against their original sponsors, the shoemakers. One human rights activist described it as the culmination of a struggle for supremacy between the section of traders who founded the Bakassi Boys and the Bakassi Boys themselves, as the Bakassi Boys had become too powerful.
The Bakassi Boys and OTA have also carried out acts of gratuitous violence, with the apparent aim of terrorizing the population. For example, on April 30, 2000, a woman who was driving in Onitsha blew her horn for a group of people to move out of the road. Four men came out with guns and threatened to kill her; the men, who were members of OTA, beat her with rifle-butts and whips. She reported the assault to the OTA president, who said he would investigate and claimed that the perpetrators had been punished. However, when she asked for compensation, the OTA leader threatened to send the same men after her again.
In January 2002, in Aba, it was reported that the Bakassi Boys had abducted the chairman of the Nnewi vigilante group, Chief Agu Okonkwo, and refused to release him until a large ransom was paid. The Bakassi Boys reportedly claimed that the Nnewi community owed them money for the services they rendered.114 The Nnewi chairman was later released, after pressure from the local government chairman and a demonstration by local traders.
Increased political use of Bakassi Boys and other groups
In Abia State, there have been reports of the Bakassi Boys being used against members of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), a group created in 1999 which advocates autonomy for the Igbo people. MASSOB members have previously been targeted by government authorities, as well as the police, throughout 2000 and 2001; their meetings have been repeatedly and violently broken up by the police, their offices raided, hundreds of their members arrested and detained, and at least ten summarily executed by the police in Okigwe, in February 2001. According to MASSOB's own records, at least fifty-three MASSOB members have been killed by the Bakassi Boys in Abia State since 2000.116 Tensions appeared to increase in 2001. In the second half of 2001, several MASSOB members were injured by the Bakassi Boys. In October 2001, there were violent clashes between the two groups; both sides were armed with guns and machetes. MASSOB leaders claimed that the governor had instigated the violence and was using the Bakassi Boys against MASSOB because they were not supporting his policies.117
The Bakassi Boys have sometimes been used as security guards, including by government officials. In December 2000, for example, the Bakassi Boys were openly seen carrying machetes in public gatherings. They were also invited as security guards and bouncers at parties and social functions, especially by members of the state government, including the speaker.118
45 See testimony of Joyce Okeke, below.
46 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interviews in Onitsha and Nawgu, October 2001.
47 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview, Nawgu, October 10, 2001.
48 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview, Nawgu, October 10, 2001.
49 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interviews, Nawgu, October 10, 2001.
50 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interviews, Nawgu, October 10, 2001.
51 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interviews in Nawgu and Onitsha, October 2001.
52 Interview in the Weekend Vanguard, March 10, 2001.
53 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interviews in Nnewi, October 14, 2001.
54 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interviews in Nnewi, October 14, 2001.
55 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interviews in Nnewi, October 14, 2001.
56 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview in Nnewi, October 14, 2001.
57 Gilbert Okoye is known as Ntu (the Nail).
58 See article entitled "Bakassi Boys: panic in Igboland," in Weekend Vanguard (Lagos), March 17, 2001.
59 CLEEN interview with Gilbert Okoye, former chairman of the Anambra Vigilante Services, Awka, October 18, 2001.
60 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview with Camillus Ebekue, chairman of the Anambra Vigilante Services, Awka, October 16, 2001.
61 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview, Awka, October 9, 2001. See also Ifeanyi Ibegbu's written statement about his arrest and torture, entitled "An account of my ordeal at the hands of the `Onitsha Vigilante Services' also known as `Bakassi Boys,' " August 28, 2000.
62 Ifeanyi Ibegbu's written statement about his arrest and torture, entitled "An account of my ordeal at the hands of the `Onitsha Vigilante Services' also known as `Bakassi Boys,' " August 28, 2000.
63 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview, Awka, October 9, 2001.
64 Summary of submissions in "Report of the select committee investigating the arrest and detention of Hon.Ifeanyi Ibegbu."
65 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview with Camillus Ebekue, chairman of the Anambra Vigilante Services, Awka, October 16, 2001.
67 "Bakassi Boys storm Imo State," Newswatch, January 22, 2001.
68 Report by the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Southeast Zone, August 1, 2001.
69 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview, Onitsha, October 10, 2001.
70 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview, Onitsha, October 10, 2001.
71 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview, Awka, October 9,2001.
72 Human Rights Watch interviews in Enugu, October 2001.
73 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interviews with former detainees, October 2001.
74 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview, Umuahia, October 16, 2001.
75 Human Rights Watch interview, Enugu, October 8, 2001.
76 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview, Onitsha, October 12, 2001.
77 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview, Awka, October 9, 2001. Some of these cases are also described in The Eye, newsletter of the Onitsha Youth Development Organisation, May 2000, and in a letter to the inspector general of police in Abuja from the Onitsha Youth Development Organisation, April 13, 2000.
78 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview, Onitsha, October 12, 2001.
79 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview, Onitsha, October 13, 2001.
80 Report by the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Southeast Zone, August 1, 2001.
81 Human Rights Watch interview, Enugu, October 8, 2001.
82 See Amnesty International news release "Nigeria: Amnesty International witnesses attempted summary execution by Anambra Government Security Force," April 10, 2002.
83 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview, Umuahia, October 16, 2001.
84 Police findings and recommendations reproduced in the CLO's Human Rights Call: "The extrajudicial killing of citizens by the Bakassi Boys," October 2, 2000. The more detailed police report is also reproduced in Insider Weekly, July 16, 2001.
85 Police findings and recommendations, reproduced in the CLO's Human Rights Call: "The extrajudicial killing of citizens by the Bakassi Boys," October 2, 2000. The involvement of the Abia State government in this case is also documented in "Orji Kalu's murder gang," in Insider Weekly, July 16, 2001.
86 Case information summarized from Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interviews in Umuahia and Enugu, October 2001, and articles in Insider Weekly and Tell magazines.
87 Insider Weekly, July 16, 2001.
88 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview with Camillus Ebekue, chairman of the Anambra Vigilante Services, Awka, October 16, 2001.
89 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview, Onitsha, October 10, 2001.
90 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview, Onitsha, October 10,2001.
91 Human Rights Watch interview, London, February 18, 2002.
92 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview, Owerri, October 17,2001.
93 The various forms of physical and psychological suffering inflicted by the Bakassi Boys on their victims are considered as acts of torture, as the existence and activities of the Bakassi Boys are endorsed by government authorities. Article 1 of the U.N.Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman , or Degrading Treatment or Punishment defines torture as "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person [...] when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity."
94 Human Rights Watch interview, London, February 18, 2002.
95 CLEEN interview, Nsukka, October 20, 2001.
96 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview, Nawgu, October 10, 2001.
97 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview, Owerri, October 17, 2001.
98 The names of some of the individuals are withheld for their own security.
99 Human Rights Watch interview with Civil Liberties Organisation, Enugu, October 17, 2001.
100 CLEEN interview, Nsukka, October 20, 2001.
101 Extracts from Ifeanyi Ibegbu's written statement about his arrest and torture, entitled "An account of my ordeal at the hands of the `Onitsha Vigilante Services' also known as `Bakassi Boys'," August 28, 2000.
102 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview, Owerri, October 17,2001.
103 Human Rights Watch interview, Lagos, October 18, 2001.
104 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview, Onitsha, October 12, 2001.
105 Human Rights Watch interview, London, February 18, 2002.
106 Human Rights Watch interview, London, February 18, 2002.
107 Human Rights Watch interview in Enugu, October 17, 2001.
108 "Four dead as traders, vigilantes clash in Nigeria," Reuters, December 21, 2001.
109 See "Bakassi Boys hold Abia residents hostage", in the Comet (Lagos), June 7, 2001.
110 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview in Owerri, October 17, 2001.
111 Human Rights Watch interview with Civil Liberties Organisation, Enugu, October 17, 2001.
112 Human Rights Watch/CLEEN interview in Onitsha, October 12, 2001.
113 Human Rights Watch telephone interviews, November 7, 2001.
114 See "Kidnappers demand N3.9m ransom for Nnewi Vigilante Group leader", in the Lagos-based The Vanguard, January 24, 2002.
115 Statement by Group Captain Nnamdi Nnorukah, leader of Anambra People's Forum, in Tell magazine, March 11, 2002.
116 Human Rights Watch interview with Uche Okwukwu, MASSOB legal adviser, Port Harcourt, March 18, 2002.
117 CLEEN interviews, Aba, October , 2001.
118 Human Rights Watch interview in Enugu, October 17, 2001.