IHEU has appealed to authorities in Nigeria to stop the police harrasment of Leo Igwe, IHEU Representative for West Africa. Igwe and members of his family have been subjected to a sustained campaign of harassment by local police involving multiple arrests on unsubstantiated charges since 2007. Most recently, Leo Igwe and his father, Oliver Igwe, were arrested on Tuesday, January 5.
Following complaints to Nigerian authorities by Humanists around the world, Oliver and Leo Igwe were released on bail. Then on January 8, Leo’s brother Uche Igwe was taken into custody by the State Security Service. He has now also been released.
The campaign of harassment against the Igwe family is a consequence of their work to bring to justice a powerful man in the area who allegedly raped a ten year old girl.
Leo Igwe’s father, who is a 77 year old diabetic in failing health, has been arrested six times on false charges since 2007. Two of Leo’s brothers have been detained three times each in connection with the same case.
On January 9, Sonja Eggerickx, president of IHEU, wrote to Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, President of Nigeria, to request his office intervene to end the police harassment of Leo Igwe and his family. The IHEU request was also sent to the Nigerian attorney general, minister for the police, and the governor of Imo State, where the Igwes live. A separate appeal is being sent to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the regional human rights body in which Leo Igwe represents the IHEU.
Commenting on the case, Sonja Eggerickx said “Leo is fearless and selfless in fighting for justice for others. He is never afraid to speak truth to power, even when he is the lone voice and knows that the powerful may hurt him. It is up to the global Humanist community to show that he does not stand alone and that we will work together to ensure justice for him.”
Upon his release from detention, Leo Igwe issued the following public statement:
MY ARREST: A ROUGH ROAD TO JUSTICE FOR A GIRL CHILD, FAMILY AND COMMUNITY MEMBERS IN NIGERIA
On Tuesday January 5, at about 7.00am some police officers and soldiers led by two crime merchants in my community, Edward Uwah and Ethelbert Ugwu stormed my family compound in Mbaise in Imo state in Southern Nigeria. They arrested me and my aging father.
We were detained briefly at the local police station in Ahiazu before we were transfered to the zonal police headquarters in Umuahia. The officers threatened to beat us when we asked them to allow us to clean up and change our clothes. One of the soldiers brought out his gun and threatened to shoot my father when he wanted to make phone calls to alert other family members of our arrest. The police held us throughout the day without giving us food and water.
At the zonal police headquarters in Umuahia, a police officer read a petition by Ethelbert Ugwu who alleged that in September 2009 I with my father, three brothers and one Mr. Gregory Iwu conspired, murdered and attempted to conceal the murder of one Mr. Aloysius Chukwu who died in September last year. According to family sources, Mr. Chukwu died in a local hospital after a brief illness. We made statements in response to the allegations and were later released on bail.
Since 2007 I have been working to ensure that Daberechi Anomgam and her family get justice following the rape of the 10 year old girl by Edward Uwah (55), a university teacher, in 2006. Since 2007, both Edward and Ethelbert have brought several police actions and framed allegations against me and my family members; against Daberechi and her family and a few members of the community opposed to their criminal schemes.
My father, who is over 77 years old and with a failing health (he is diabetic), has been detained six times at the local and zonal police stations in connection with this case. Two of my brothers have been detained three times. And on one occasion in 2008, one of them was beaten and brutalized by soldiers and mobile police officers brought by Ethelbert Ugwu. Both Ethelbert and Edward have filed three civil suits against me and my family members including Daberechi’s father at three different courts claiming damages of over 500 million naira (3.3 million dollars). They have written petitions calling for my brothers to be sacked from their jobs and expelled from the college.
The police officers in Ahiazu and Zone 9 in Umuahia have aided and abetted these atrocious and criminal acts by their irresponsible handling of the case and their readiness to arrest and detain any one as long as they are given some money. On a particular occasion in 2008, my father was arrested by police officers sent by Edward Uwah as he was leaving the court premises after attending a sitting of one of the civil suits also filed by Edward Uwah. I got the information about 10.00pm the same day. I flew in from Ibadan the following day and on getting to the police station I was also detained. I never knew I was among those accused by Edward Uwah of breaking in and stealing. He alleged that we broke into his house and stole some items, and after that, scattered some juju and charms of the floor! I was released on bail. The petition ended there. Edward never produced any witnesses and the police never charged him for providing them with false information.
As a result of my efforts and those of other Humanist and human rights activists and groups in Nigeria and across the world, Edward Uwah is currently standing trial at a local court for indecently assaulting Daberechi.
So far, the plot by Ethelbert Ugwu to undermine the prosecution has failed. Last year, he obtained through a backdoor a fiat to prosecute the case against Edward Uwah. When I was informed about this, I got a lawyer to help Daberechi’s family apply for a withdrawal of the fiat. And in November, the Director of Public Prosecution in Imo state cancelled the fiat.
Unfortunately the police have refused to arrest and investigate Ethelbert Ugwu despite several petitions against him at Ahiazu and Zone 9 (Umuahia) police stations. When it comes to this case the police are part of the problem. Because most police officers do not carry out their duties with intergrity. When it comes to police arrest and investigation in Nigeria three things matter most: MONEY! MONEY!! MONEY!!!. In most cases, police officers carry out their investigation to favour whoever ‘mobilises’ them or gives them a bribe. The way you are treated at police stations is determined by how much you pay or are ready to pay the officers whether as a complainant or a suspect. And in my community like in other rural communities in Nigeria, most people are poor and cannot afford to bribe the police. Hence criminal-minded individuals are having a field day with police officers and soldiers.
And this nonsense must stop.
Pressure must be brought to bear on police authorities in Nigeria so that they would stop all acts of harassment, intimidation, illegal detention, extortion of money from the members of my family and community including the family members of Daberechi Anomgam. Pressure must be brought on the police authorities so that they can carry out their jobs responsibly and immediately arrest, investigate and prosecute Ethelbert Ugwu, Edward Uwah and their partners in crime including the police officers and soldiers whom they have used over the years to raid my community, assault innocent citizens and obstruct justice.
And I want to state that no amount of intimidation, police action, extortion, harassment, legal suits, trump-up charges, fictitious and malicious allegations, petitions against me and my family members will stop me from fighting for justice for this girl child and for humanity at large
Leo Igwe, Owerri, Imo State, 7 January 2010