From Stanley Uzoaru, Owerri
The story of Glory Okolie who hails from Umutanze, Orlu, Imo State went viral on the social media when a group – Behind Bars Human Rights Foundation owned by a human rights activist, Harrison Gwamnishu – blew the lid off the travails of the 21-year-old.
The lady, now labelled a spy for the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), by the Nigeria Police Force, was arrested on June 17, five days after her birthday. The police, after arresting her, claimed that she is a member of IPOB and a girlfriend to one of the kingpins of the Eastern Security Network (ESN), one Benjamin Uzoma Emojiri, a.k.a “Onye Army” (Army Man).
Since then, she has been in detention, where she is reportedly being used as a maid to do laundry and cooking for operatives of the police Intelligence Response Team (IRT). She was also turned into a sex slave. That was before she was moved to Abuja following the Behind Bars’ decision to wade into her case. But before the NGO had a breakthrough, her family had busied themselves for weeks and months searching for her all over the place, as they did not know where she was taken to after her arrest. This was attested to by one of her uncles, Christian Okolie.
But after discovering her location through the help of a released detainee, the police allegedly refused to disclose her offence to the family but rather demanded huge sums to secure her bail. Her family claimed that the police kept demanding money, and they kept bringing the money. In no time, they had spent more than N280, 000, the family claimed. But in the long run, it was to no avail as Glory was transferred to Abuja. It was at that point that they gave up hope until her story broke out on the social media following the Facebook post by Gwamnishu, director general of Behind Bars Human Rights Foundation.
The Police angle of the story
But the police countered. Their story: “The suspect, a native of Umutanza in Imo State, was arrested following ongoing investigations and implementation of special operation, Operation Restore Peace, to amongst other things, break the information, drugs and arms supply chain to the outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and its armed wing, the Eastern Security Network in the South-East region.
“Police investigations revealed that Gloria Okolie is a member of IPOB/ESN in Imo State who worked closely with one Benjamin Uzoma Emojiri a.k.a “Onye Army”, one of the ESN commanders earlier declared wanted by the Police for his lead roles in planning, coordinating and executing the attack on the Imo State Police Command Headquarters and Imo State Headquarters of the Nigerian Correctional Service.”
But in his reaction to the public statement, Gwamnishu queried why the police thought it necessary to issue such now on an arrest that took place sometime in June. He said: “After using Glory Okolie as beast of burden, abused by Nigeria Police Force officers and unlawfully detained for over 72 days, and upon realising that the world has taken notice of her unlawful detention and abuse by police officers, the IGP of Police caused this “earthshaking” press release to be issued to demonise Glory Okolie.”
He then followed this up with some posers which he said were meant for Usman Alkali Baba, the Inspector General of Police: “Why was she detained and used as a beast of burden to cook and help police officers wash their clothes at Tiger Base in Owerri, Imo State if she is so dangerous? Why didn’t they issue this release since her arrest 70 days ago? Why wasn’t she charged to court since her arrest when the law says you have no right to detain beyond 48 hours? Why was the fellow who exposed her unlawful detention also detained? It is obvious that this belated press statement was designed as a ruse to cover up some police atrocities!”
Glory does not have a boyfriend –Family
Saturday Sun reporter’s visit to the young lady’s family threw up more confounding issues. To start with, the lady comes from Umutanze, and not Umutanza, as police claimed in their statement. Secondly, her name is Glory and not “Gloria” as the police also erroneously wrote. Talking about the allegation about her having a boyfriend called “Onye Army,” the family said they find the claim ridiculous as they don’t know her to have a boyfriend.
Her mother, Mrs. Virginia Okolie who hawks fried yam and plantain to eke out a living recalled once begging her to get a boyfriend for herself to ease their financial burden in the family but said Glory bluntly refused. Her elder brother, John, said he too was surprised as to why his 21-year-old sister does not have a boyfriend like many girls in their community have. But he noted that her disposition to the matter was because she is a born again Christian. She has told them time and again, they said, that she wanted to be focused on her ambition of becoming a professional nurse.
Her mother said: “She wants to be a nurse. After her secondary education, I was just saving up the little money I make from hawking for her JAMB before this incident happened. She finished her secondary education from Comprehensive Secondary School, Umutanze, Orlu, in 2019.
But why would the police claim she is a girlfriend to an ESN commander if she had no boyfriend?
“I don’t know any of her boyfriends because I’ve not seen her with one before she was arrested,” said the woman. “Even there was a time when the suffering in our family became too much. I personally encouraged her to get one for herself. But being the kind of person that she is, she turned down my request. She said she would not do such a thing until she gets married.”
John added: “I grew up with Glory and know everything about her from childhood. She is a decent girl and everybody knows that. I must tell you the truth. Of all the kids that my mother gave birth to, she is the most decent. She is a Christian. She is the only one that gave her life to Christ. She’s so innocent that everybody speaks good of her.
“She does not have a boyfriend. I called her one day and asked her why she doesn’t have a boyfriend and she said: ‘brother, all these boys you see going about, if you are in a relationship with them, the next thing they will ask from you is sex and I have vowed that it’s only my husband that will have sex with me.’ She lives a simple life. She does not have any problem with anybody.”
This was why the family felt devastated, they said, when they read in the newspapers about the police accusing her of being a spy for IPOB.
“I have not been feeling fine since she was arrested,” her mother told Saturday Sun. “I’ve been falling sick. My blood pressure has been on the rise since she was arrested. I raised my daughter in a Christian home; she does not behave badly and she even finds it difficult to talk. She supports me in my trade, I fry akara, yam and doughnuts and plantain. And she helps me from morning till night to prepare them for the market. Sometimes, she would follow me to go out to hawk them. I have not seen her with any boy before. So when we heard that she has a boyfriend from IPOB, we were surprised.”
You suddenly realised that you have not seen any man by her side since you started talking with her and curiosity moved you to ask about her husband. “Husband? I don’t have any husband,” she said. “He died in 2011. He was a shoemaker (cobbler). I have four children for him. Glory is the third child. They are two boys and two girls. I am not happy that he is not alive to help his daughter realise her dream of becoming a nurse.”
Their situation was so financially pitiable, Christian, Glory’s uncle reported, that the community rallied round to see what they could do to help them. “There was a time people of the community contributed money to enable Glory go for training as an auxiliary nurse but one of our brothers said no, that he wanted her to go to a school of nursing. He said he didsn’t want her to become an ordinary nurse. And, that was what they were planning for
Despite their pitiable condition, the police still extorted N280, 000 from the family, he claimed. “It was not easy raising the money to make sure Glory gets her freedom,” he said with a heavy sigh. To be able to do so, he added, he and another kinsman had to sell their motorcycles to raise money to add to Glory’s mother’s savings from akara business to give to the police. As things turned out, all their efforts ended in futility.
Discovery and alleged police cold treatment of family
Recalling how they eventually got to know that their daughter, Glory, is with the police, Christian said: “She had spent weeks with them there before some people called us with a particular number that we should bring money so that they could change Glory’s statement. They sent us an account number where we paid in N280, 000. Each time I went there to see Glory, I would see her in different attire. She wore blue clothes on the day she left the house for an errand and never came back. But each time I went there, I would see her wearing different clothes, I mean, new ones. And, within me I would be wondering how or where she got the money to buy those clothes. She was not inside the cell but going up and down and washing and cooking for the policemen. But to make matters worse for us, they never allowed us to talk to her. And, nobody opened their mouth to tell us the crime she committed until they took her to Abuja.”
The family said they lost every hope of seeing her again after she was transferred to the force headquarters, Abuja. Even though they are clamouring for the case to be formally charged to court, they complain of having no financial muscle to fight for her. Right now, they told Saturday Sun, they are appealing for the intervention of well-meaning Nigerians, like the Imo State governor, Hope Uzodimma to help them secure the release of their daughter.
Disappointment, confusion and appeal
They expressed disappointment with the police accusation that Glory is a spy. Christian said: “It is only recently that we started hearing that she is a spy for IPOB. And the police gave the news to the media to spread all over the place, to tell lies against our daughter. Why can’t they charge her case to court if they think they have evidence? This morning I was reading in a newspaper where they claimed to have discovered N17.5 million in Glory’s account. We thank God for your coming. See the house where we live. Does it look like a place where you can find such money? As you can see, an ordinary kitchen is better than our house. Me and my younger brother sold our motorbikes to raise that money that the police collected from us. Right now, we walk on foot. This house was built in the 60s. And, if we have that kind of money, why should we be suffering here? We cannot even plaster the house.”
Asked about the next step they plan to take, he threw his hands helplessly in the air and said: “If we couldn’t do anything when Glory was here in Imo State, is it in Abuja we’re going to do something? We don’t have any other option than to pray to God and to ask human rights lawyers to intervene for us. We are also calling on our governor, Hope Uzodimma, to help us.”
Details of the suit filed against the Nigeria Police Force
But some lawyers, acting on behalf of Glory, have already responded to that request by filing a case in court against the Inspector General of Police, Usman Baba and Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami. Joined as the third and fourth respondents are the Nigeria Police Force and Tunji Disu, the IRT commander.
In the suit instituted at the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Abuja, a copy of which is in the possession of Saturday Sun, she is asking the court to mandate the respondents to pay her the sum of N100 billion as general and punitive damages separately for infringing on her rights. She is also seeking her immediate and unconditional release from the custody of the police.
Among other reliefs being sought are a “A declaration that the act of the respondent in detaining the 1st applicant from the 13th June 2021 till date, without an order of any court permitting same, is a violation of the 1st applicant’s right to fair hearing and personal liberty as enshrined in articles 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 & 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act Chapter A9 LFN, 2004.
“A declaration that the beating/slapping, torturing, physical assault and verbal/vulgar abuse of the Applicant by the 1st respondent and the respondents IGP, IRT officers, without the applicant committing any crime known to law whatsoever, is illegal, unconstitutional and amounts to a violation of the 1st Applicant’s right to fair hearing and personal liberty as enshrined in articles 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 & 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act Chapter A9 LFN, 2004.
“A declaration that the usage of the applicant by the respondent IGP IRT officers by sexually assaulting the 1st applicant, usage of the 1st applicant to wash the respondent officers clothes and usage of the applicant to cook for the respondents IGP IRT officers, even when the applicant was in the illegal custody of the respondent, and without the applicant committing any crime known to law whatsoever, is illegal, unconstitutional and amounts to a violation of the Applicant’s right to fair hearing and personal liberty as enshrined in Section 35 & 36 of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and articles 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 & 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act Chapter A9 LFN, 2004.
“An order restraining the respondent to desist from engaging in untoward, violent and irrational conducts against the 1st Applicant.
“An order granting bail to the 1st applicant on liberal terms to wit: unconditionally and conditionally pending the time the respondent deem it fit, to charge the 1st applicant to court in this regard,” among others.
According to the court documents, Okolie went missing on June 13, 2021, while running an errand in Imo State “and never returned home on that day”. It read in part, “That from the 17th June 2021, the family members started making all frantic search of the 1st applicant in hospitals, churches, and mosque, all to no avail.
“That the family members, in search of the 1st applicant actually approached the Owerri Command of Nigeria Police Force, who charged the uncle of the 1st applicant, the sum of N50, 000,00k to track vide telephone tracking the last known address of the 1st applicant.
“That the phone tracking above showed that the 1st applicant was detained by the respondent IGP IRT officers at their Owerri Tiger Base unit of the respondent, and when the uncle approached this office, the respondent denied ever arresting the 1st applicant, nor was she in their custody.
“That not till the end of June 2021, that a certain Izuchukwu Okeke, having just been released from the respondents unit at Owerri Tiger base cell, informed the family and uncle of the 1st applicant, that the 1st applicant was in custody of respondents at Owerri unit cell, and in the said cell, she was cooking for the IGP IRT police officers, washing clothes for them and sometimes that, therein the respondent Owerri command unit officers occasionally take turns to abuse the applicant sexually.
“That afterward the respondent officers then demanded monetary commitment from the uncle of the 1st applicant, for the release on bail of the 1st applicant, wherein the 1st applicant uncle thereafter in cash and POS bank transactions actually advanced to the respondents IGP IRT officers in Owerri Tiger base unit, different financial sums in this regard, copies of this aforementioned POS transactions are marked as annexure herein.”
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