Wuche Ajuru, a widow from Ndele community in Emohua Local Government Area of Rivers State, tells CHUKWUDI AKASIKE about the disappearance of her son in police custody and the burning of her house by a vigilante group
Your son went missing in police custody in 2016. How far have you gone in searching for him?
I have already searched for my son from where he got missing; that is Rumuji Police Station in Emohua, to the Rivers State Criminal Investigation Department (in Port Harcourt) and many other police stations in the state, but I have not seen him till today….CONTINUE READING
What did the police say about the disappearance of Happiness, your son, from their custody?
Surprisingly, the police have continued to say that my son is not in their custody, but the truth is that I visited my son who did not commit any offence four times in that same Rumuji Police Station before he went missing.
How old was your son when he was arrested?
He was 23 years old when he was arrested in 2016.
Why did the police arrest him?
He was arrested and the sum of N49,000 was taken from him. He was working as an okada rider then. The money was what he was paid after selling his motorcycle which we (his parents) bought for him to do okada business.
What happened after he was arrested?
One of our community leaders in Ndele, called me and told me that the police said my son would be bailed with N60,000. I later borrowed the money from our women’s union and took it to the man (community leader) so that he would make sure that my son was released from police custody.
Was your son released after you sent the money to the police through the community leader?
Till today, I did not see my son and I did not get back the N60,000 bail money. I am still shocked that my son disappeared from police custody and they (the police) cannot tell me what they did to him.
How have you been living with the fact that you still don’t know the whereabouts of your son?
I feel sad and miserable each time I remember that my child was arrested for committing no crime and the police failed to account for his whereabouts. I have searched everywhere but I have not been able to find him. My plea is that the police should show me where they buried my son. I am missing my son since then till this moment.
Are you sure that your son is still alive?
To me, I believe those who arrested my son and failed to tell me his whereabouts have killed Happiness, my son; they have killed him. If he were to be alive, they (the police) would have since released him. I have stopped looking for him.
Can you recall the circumstance that led to the arrest of your son by the police?
Before my son was arrested, policemen were always detaining innocent indigenes of the community. My son was only standing on the road before he was arrested. He was on his way to the village before he was taken away and detained. He was taken to Rumuji Police Station in the morning. When I got to the police station that morning, I was asked who I was looking for, and I told them that I was looking for my son, Happiness Ajuru. They asked me if it was ‘that small boy’ and I said yes….CONTINUE READING
One of the policemen there even told me that my son did not commit any crime. The policeman told me that my son was with N49,000 when he was arrested. As I said earlier, my son was into okada business. We (parents) bought the motorcycle for him and we asked him to sell it. The N49,000 was the proceed of the motorcycle he sold.
Why did you give a community leader N60,000 to bail your son out of police custody instead of taking it directly to the police station?
The community leader was close to the Divisional Police Officer of Rumuji Police Station at that time. He helped in bailing those arrested by the police. I pleaded with him (the community leader) to follow him to the police station so that I could take my son along with me, but he declined and told me to wait for him. I waited for him for a long time and when I could not see him, I left.
Do you think the community leader did not deliver the money to the policemen at the station as promised?
I cannot tell whether the money was delivered to the police or not. The DPO was later transferred to Nonwa, and nobody told me the whereabouts of my son.
The federal and state governments set up panels across the country to look into human rights abuses by the police. Why did you fail to take your matter to any of these panels so that government will compensate you for your son’s disappearance from police custody?
I sent in my petition, but one of the panel members that was to help me to handle my matter said I should bring N150,000. I am a widow who is just trying to survive, I cannot afford that amount. That explains why I stopped pursuing the matter.
What about your husband?
My husband died three years ago. He was sick for about four months before he died.
There are reports that your house was burnt in November 2022. Do you know the people behind the dastardly act?
Yes, the commander of OSPAC (Rivers vigilante group also known as Onelga Security Peace and Advisory Committee) set my house ablaze.
Why did he take such action against you?
He accused me of being a government informant; he said that I was giving information to the government about those involved in illegal oil bunkering in the community.
How did the burning of your house happen?
I was at home with my children on that fateful night, precisely 3am. The OSPAC commander and some of his men came to my house. I was able to see them first because I came out to urinate. They were flashing their torchlight. I asked who they were while hiding in-between two plantain trees outside the house. He (the OSPAC commander) tried to force the door open, but could not succeed. My children continued to shout, but we managed to escape before they poured fuel and set the house my husband built for the family ablaze. All our belongings were destroyed by the fire. They shot their guns several times that night. If you go to the house now, you will see that some parts of the house were hit by bullets, especially the ceiling.
Have the police arrested the suspect?
I learnt that he was arrested last week. Nobody is happy that my house was set ablaze. When my children and I became homeless, one of my relatives said we should stay in her house in Port Harcourt, but we can’t feed well because all my goods were destroyed when my house was burnt. If you come to the house now, you will see the bucket we put in the room because of the leaky roof. As it is now, people are stealing my plantain and cassava in the village because I am not there.
What do you want the government to do for you?
I want the government to give me justice by investigating the circumstance that led to my son’s disappearance in police custody. Those behind my son’s disappearance should be arrested, tried and punished. Again, the people that set my house ablaze should be punished. I also want the government to help us find a place we will live. If they can rebuild my burnt house for me, I will be happy. I am a widow and there is no way I can rebuild my late husband’s house. I don’t have the money to do so. We sleep on a bare floor where we currently stay because our mattresses were destroyed in the fire that gutted my house.
I want the law to take its full course. If anybody should set the house of another person ablaze, the law should be able to punish the perpetrator of the crime. But I leave that to the government to handle.
You were accused of being an informant to the government. How true is that?
I am not an informant to any government. The government does not pay me. I don’t even know what my accusers are talking about. I know that illegal oil bunkering is going on in my community, but I never informed the government about anything. I was doing my business, selling foodstuff. I also sold cooked food. However, I can’t do my business again because my coolers and other cooking utensils were burnt when my house was set ablaze.
Are you saying you were accused wrongly by those who burnt your house?
Yes. I was wrongly accused because I don’t even know the government they are talking about. I am not an informant and the government is not paying me to monitor oil pipelines. So, why did they accuse wrongly? I am not into securing oil pipelines and therefore, nobody should accuse me wrongly. The man that set my house ablaze should explain what he meant by informant because till now, I cannot understand the meaning of what he is accusing me of. I did not steal; my children are not members of any cult group. So, why did the OSPAC commander set a widow’s house ablaze?
How old are you?
I am 47 years old.
How old was your husband before he died?
My husband was 57 years old before he died.
How many children do you have?
I gave birth to 12 children. Out of the 12 children, seven died and five are left with me. I got married at the age of 14. I gave birth to all the children within 26 years.
What is your occupation in Port Harcourt where you currently stay?
I am not doing anything because I don’t have money. As I speak with you, we (my children and I) have not taken our breakfast.
But what kind of business can you do so that you can feed the children?
I want to go back to my foodstuff business. I will be very happy if I can get a shop where I will sell the foodstuff.
What can government do for peace to reign in your community?
I want the government to empower the youths….CONTINUE READING