25 June 2024

#EndSARS: ‘Unstoppable OC Akwuzu’

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BEVERLY HILLS, December 15, (THEWILL) – There are good and bad cops. Some good ones become bad in the line of duty and are, sometimes, consumed in their badness. DSP George Iyamu is one infamous example of a good police officer-turned-bad that a certain generation of Nigerians now only dimly remember.

He, it was, who connived with the still infamous Lawrence Anini robbery gang in the mid-nineteen eighties such that their reign of terror topped the agenda during two or so meetings of the Armed Forces Ruling Council headed by military president Ibrahim Babangida. In one such cabinet meeting at State House Dodan Barracks, Obalende in Lagos, IBB was said to have turned to Inspector General of Police, Etim Inyang, and famously asked him: “My friend, where is Lawrence Anini?”

Unmasked eventually, convicted and condemned to death as an officer on the take from robbers he sold guns for operations, tipped off before police raids, Iyamu went to the stakes and was shot along with more than a dozen members of Anini’s gang by firing squad on Valentine’s Day in 1987.

Today in Nigeria, as a result of the ENDSARS youth uprising from early to mid-October, the picture of a formerly good cop-turned-bad is gradually emerging. And that portrait is of none other than CSP James Nwafor, former OC Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) Akwuzu in Anambra state. It is a damning portrait.

More than a dozen families of victims of police brutality have stepped forward before the Anambra State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Police Brutality, Extra-Judicial Killings and Other Related Matters presided over by Hon. Justice Veronica Umeh to back up their petitions with testimonies.

According to Comrade Abdul Mahmud, human rights campaigner and lawyer present at the sitting, more than ninety percent of the 18 petitions so far are about the former police officer whose whereabouts is unknown.

Let’s consider some of them. Chijioke Iloanya was home in Ajali community in Anambra state when he told his mother he was going to a friend’s child dedication sometime in November 2012. She implored her son not to. He wouldn’t listen and so proceeded to the venue of the child dedication. They were still there when some officers from Ajali Police Station stormed and arrested everyone present including Chijioke and transferred them to SARS Akwuzu.

Testifying to the panel, Chijioke’s sister, Ms. Iloanya said inter alia: “the last time any member of the family saw Chijioke was the day her parents went to SARS office in Awkuzu. Our mum saw her son in their premises, (but) the officer in charge, James Nwafor, denied he was there. Some officers said he was bluffing and told my parents he wanted them to bring money.”

Of course, the Iloanyas could not afford the money requested by Nwafor. On the next visit, according to Chijioke’s sister, “Mr. Nwafor told my parents that he had killed my brother; he looked my father in the face and told my dad he could do nothing.” Ms. Iloanya had just turned 17.

Okwuchukwu Onyemele was a graduate of Architecture when his path crossed with Nwafor’s not in any criminal hideout but right in front of his father’s house. The architect was with his sister when Nwafor along with other SARS operatives stormed their father’s residence in Ontisha and arrested him in June 2014. Okwuchukwu was beaten and detained without access to his family or lawyer.

“While Okwuchukwu was in detention,” the petitioner said, “members of his family kept visiting SARS Awkuzu with the hope of seeing him. They were prevented by CSP James Nwafor from seeing him.” It was after several visits spanning years that “Mr Nwafor told Mr Onyemulue’s father that he killed his son.”

Another petitioner, a school proprietor, Emma Adimachukwu, told the hearing how Nwafor as Commander of SARS Akwuzu demanded for N400, 000 to feed his son, Obinna, a businessman, in their custody in 2014.

After graduating from Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka where Obinna read Business Admin, his father (the petitioner) opened a shop for him at Mount Olive Plaza in Onitsha. In Adimachukwu’s words, Obinna “travelled to India to buy clothes. On March 14, 2014, he went to Nnewi and collected $10,000 owed him by a friend and proceeded to Onitsha to take delivery of his goods that just arrived.

“It was while waiting for the goods that some SARS men arrived and started shooting. They arrested him and his friend. They searched him and saw $10,000 on him and concluded he was an armed robber.

“My son refused to let them take the money, he fought them. So, when they got to Awkuzu SARS, they killed him.

“When I went to see him after his friend who was smuggled out told me of it, James Nwafor (SARS boss) told his men to lock me up that I was a father to an armed robber. Some prominent people intervened and they released me. They later told me to drop money so they can be feeding my son, and they collected N400, 000 from me, knowing full well that they had killed my son,” Adimachukwu told the panel.

Before he got mixed up with those he ought to track, catch, detain and prosecute, Iyamu was something of an exemplary police officer. He once turned down a bribe of N2000 (equivalent of N250, 000 today) becoming an inspiration to younger colleagues and applauded by his superiors. His promotion was swift, ending up as head of the Anti-Robbery Squad in the entire Bendel State Police Command comprising Delta and Edo states. The crooked cop’s descent from then on was as rapid as his promotions. What triggered it? Greed!

Greed is also at the core of the recent revelations regarding Nwafor. Like Iyamu, CSP Nwafor headed an anti-robbery squad, a position he allowed to get into his head like wine. Before his appointment as the number one police officer in charge of SARS Akwuzu, Nwafor must have impressed his bosses as a tough crime fighter. For one, he has an intimidating physique, an unsmiling and inscrutable visage that will make any petty thief quake with fear. He may have been quick on the draw as well, nemesis to hard-eyed criminals and innocent people alike – a point now used against him at the hearings.

Nothing better explains his avarice than, for instance, his supervised killing of Obinna after Nwafor and his team found $10, 000 on him in 2014.

In the heat of the manhunt for Anini and his gang, Iyamu was transferred to Kaduna Police Command and then brought back to Benin. Nwafor also had issues with transfers.

After several complaints by Amnesty International on police brutality in Anambra state, especially Akwuzu SARS under Nwafor, and “despite several petitions from lawyers and HRDs detailing his involvement in torture and extrajudicial executions, he was merely transferred to Bauchi Police Command in January 2016. However, in September 2016, James Nwafor was again transferred back to SARS unit Akwuzu.”

“For the purpose of clarity,” the Amnesty International report pointedly noted, “James Nwafor’s time as the Commander of SARS, Akwuzu, Anambra State was characterised by unspeakable human rights atrocities…During his reign at SARS, Amnesty International carried out research on incidences of torture for two different periods (2014 and 2016) and produced damning reports which were widely circulated in Nigeria and abroad.

“The two reports not only indicted James Nwafor, but found that SARS Akwuzu under him was the headquarters of human rights violations, particularly torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and extrajudicial executions.”

Though the AI report blamed “the lackadaisical attitude of the authorities to multiple calls for prosecution,” Nwafor retired from the Nigeria Police Force in 2018 and was promptly appointed as Special Assistant on Security by Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra state. If anything, the elevation proved to those calling for his prosecution that Nwafor was not only unstoppable but also untouchable. But all that would unravel after the ENDSARS youth protest that has now led to the Judicial Panels in many of the states across the country. Only days after he was mentioned in connection with countless atrocities, the state government decided they didn’t need his services anymore and promptly relieved Nwafor of his job.

Born in Ebonyi state, Nwafor seems to epitomize the very excesses Nigerian youths protested against last October, a man who often played God with his uniform and gun, a man who thought he was above the law, which was why he could chest-thump to a distraught parent that there was nothing he could do to him (Nwafor) after killing his son without recourse to the normal judicial process.

Ironically, Nwafor was safely ensconced in State House Awka when the ENDSARS protests began in some state capitals across the country, safe and secure from the spontaneous reprisal attacks by the protesters on policemen like him. True, Nwafor would have seemed untouchable in the impregnable fortress in Awka where he was for two years. But it is even truer that for the number of crimes against humanity his name is now asterisked with at the hearings, Nwafor would not have found a hiding place for too long.

The ENDSARS youth protest unmasked him fully, just as the confessions of a notorious armed robber more than half a century ago showed to the world who DSP Iyamu really was. Shortly after the revelations came out of his excesses, and after his sack from Government House in Awka, Nwafor went underground. His known phone numbers have been switched off and has been incommunicado ever since. Nobody seems to know where he is. Even the police have been unable to help. Asked about his whereabouts recently, police spokesman, Frank Mba, told journalist he had no idea and could not comment on the case since the Judicial Panel is still deliberating on it.

For now, however, Justice Umeh’s panel has summoned the fugitive policeman to appear before it on December 8 to respond to some of the allegations against him. If he does, then some of the families of his victims can look Nwafor in the eye and tell him to his face the profound grief he has caused them.

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