By Babangida kakaki
Before I was detained in a police cell for a minor civil cases of alleged breach of contract, I had no inkling that the cell is so inhabitable that even domestic animals would scamper for life therein.
I had heard many bitter tales of police brutality and inhumane condition of cells but my first-hand experience confirms the situation is even worse. This is happening despite the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) in Section 8 (2) which provides that, ‘a person shall not be arrested merely on a civil wrong or breach of contract.’ In other words, persons shall be arrested and detained on all contract related offences.
It was a Monday, July 8th, 2019 at around 5:30 p.m. when I was taken to Magajin Gari Police Station in Kaduna.
The offence that earned me detention was a minor civil cases of alleged breach of contract.
To the police, I am a hardened betrayer who have to pay for breach of trust but to me, the arrest and detention was a pre-arranged in order to ascertain the level of inhuman treatment meted out to detainees by police.
It all started on one fateful Monday, July 8th, 2019 when a lady I entered a translation contract with, dragged me to the police station.
She reported me to the officers that I breached a contract I had with her. The contract was to translate some scripts from Hausa to English language and submit same to her, within a stipulated eight days, but I reneged.
I pre-arranged with a lady friend of mine, to claim that she have gave me the translation work at the rate of N20, 000, but I couldn’t deliver.
She played the script well; told the officers in charge that I collected full payment but give excuses. She also told them that I stopped answering calls after a while.
One of the officers followed her to a pre-arranged destination to arrest me.
On arrival at the station, I narrated my side of the story but the police would not have any compassion; exactly what I want
”You will not leave this place, unless you give her her money, period.” a police officer in mufti said.
Without wasting time, the DPO, Zubairu Mohammed, gave orders for my detention, until I refund the 20,000 Naira to her.
Inside the Magajin Gari police station cell
The DPO’s order was carried out by one of the officers on duty who asked me to surrender all my belongings; my phone, identity card etc. l did without resistance. He then asked me to sit on a bench at the canter. I was asked to remove my clothes thereafter.
Just by the entrance of the cell, by left hand side, there is a black board on the wall with a chalk, in which they write the names of detainees and their offences. Mine became the last on the list on that day. I gave them my name as Badamasi Harisu, totally different from what I have on my ID card.
Inside the police station, there is structured corridor, with the canter at the first entrance. Other offices are investigation rooms, with a bench and an older cupboard with dusty papers.
The DPO’s office is within the corridor, with an old cushion chair and a desk that could tell one he is indeed in charge.
After about one and a half hour, the police officers on the canter, including a policewoman, asked me to remove my clothe and enter the cell. I protested, but I was forced to enter.
From the canter, I could smell the bad odour coming out of the cell. When I finally entered with a white plain vest on me, I knew I’m was in for a terrible experience.
The cell is about 5 feet in length and about nine inch in width. There was an old-looking two double-decker beds standing with rags on it as a mattress.
On the floor are old and tattered polythene bag and some empty packs of a refrigerator spread as sleeping mats.
The odour oozing out of every corner of the cell already tells the number of people that had been detained and the level of hygiene they exhibit. The cell has a choking bad odour of mixed dirt, urine, mucus and all sort of things.
It has two small-framed rusty windows high up such that no detainee could. There is a iron burglary also as a barrier. The window has no nets so it is easy for mosquitoes to gain access into cells and feed on detainees.
There is a restroom inside the cell, but left unused, but nobody dare use is. The odour coming from the urine was so terrible that to enter it is herculean task. This combined with worms the dirt has generated makes it a no-go-area. There is no worms and it very filthy and smelly, indeed. I once peeped I aide, but the approaching odur was terrible that I had to remove my face immediately.
Experience with other detainees
The inside wall of the cell was covered with graffiti and inscriptions of different kinds. Some of the inscriptions are; ”a place of abode for those who are oppressed.” ”I am detained because I’m poor.” ”Goodbye till another time.”
One of the inscriptions that would catch anybody’s attention is the one that reads “police is our friends and protectors” The inscription has however been cancelled, suggesting that the officers did the inscription while detainees cancelled out, but it’s still visible.
One of my first contact in the cell is a sextuagenarian, Mamman (not his real name) who welcomed me as a partner in the ‘dungeon.’
After normal greeting, he asked me why I’m detained and I narrated him my ordeal, he said, ”May God rescue us all.” I answered, ‘ameen.’
This was followed by lengthy discussion until an officer came to end it. ”Keep quiet, you fools. you,” he bellowed at the two of us. “You know the rules,” he said, pointing at the aged man “And you are still talking. I will not talk to you again. The next time I hear you talking, i will beat the hell out of you despite your age. You (he turned to me), talking inside cell is not allowed. You better comply or else, your body will tell you,” he said then went out.
As all these were ongoing, mosquitoes took the advantage to have a field day. They buzz across my face in their welcoming tune. Asides mosquitoes, other insects, including cockroaches, soldier-ants and many others that were roam the cell.
Police officers’ account
Days earlier, before I was detained, I spoke with some officers who told me about the unhygienic condition of the cells in the different police stations they are serving.
Their accounts are similar to my experience as the cells are inhabitable to detainees.
”Our cell is unkempt and very unhygienic. To tell you the truth, there is no functioning toilet inside. Detainees urinate inside the cell by the corner. It is smelly, while mosquitoes and insects are many especially in the night. I really pity whoever is inside. Our DPO don’t give money for its upkeep nor provide insecticide,’ the officer who doesn’t want to be named for fear of victimisation said.
When asked on separation of detainees according to the culpability or gravity of their crimes, he said, ” We don’t have this and I’m certain no police station in this country has this system of demarcation or separating detainees.
All detainees are being kept in one cell in all police stations, period. Whether they are hardened criminals or drug barons or addicts, or minor offenders, its the same to us.”
“That is why detainees who are often minors or first offenders become hardened and sophisticated in committing more crimes due to contact with criminally-minded ones they meet in the police cells, hence the assertion that police cell is not reformatory in nature,” he added.
Section 4 (15) prohibits law enforcement agents from mixing detainees with minor offences with hardened criminals.
Another police officer said the habit of detainees’ removing clothes is pervasive in Nigerian police stations.
“We don’t allow suspects to enter our cell with their clothes on. We instruct them to remove their clothes and give them a small vest to wear. That’s the rule in our station, and many stations I’m sure,” he said.
When asked why, he said, the police adopted the practice to prevent detainees going in with weapons or any other dangerous thing that might be hidden in their clothe that may facilitate their escape. This is also done to prevent such detainee from taking photos or record audio.
In an interview before the arrest, a detainee Salisu Mato (not his real name) narrated his experience, similar to mine. He was ordered to remove his clothe before beingdetainead, adding that the police station where he was detained, just like others, have no food provision for detainees.
“Food? Who would give you? He said, it’s only your relatives would bring you food. No station as far as I know would give you food or even a sachet water to drink.”
Another detainee, Folashade (not his real name) said, he was detained in Rigasa Bakin Tuwa police station for four days because his relatives did not come to bail him out after a brawl with someone. He narrated how he used to get food.
”Throughout my four days stay in the police cell, I was left to go hungry unless I have money in the police custody to use it and ask a favour from them to buy for me or if one has relatives to bring for him. Beside that, hunger will kill a detainee. I was lucky to have some money on me when I was detained. In fact, it’s my litte food we share with one youth who was detained with me on cases of drug peddling. He apwnt a day and a half inside. I am certain many left the police cells with ulcer due to hunger, especially those that were detained for days,” he said.
Kaduna State Police Public Relations Officer, Yakubu Sabo, said there is a provision for feeding of detainees budget.
”There is a quarterly funds given to DPOs for the running of the police stations under them, which includes fuelling of police vehicles, upkeep of the cells, buying stationeries and day to day running of the stations. This is for certain,” The PPRO said in an interview.
The following morning Tuesday, July 9, 2019, when the lady that caused my detention came around 8:30 a.m., the IPO (What’s IPO?) my case was assigned to had not come until an hour later.
Upon her arrival, I was taken out and given my clothes to wear. They asked me questions as such, ‘Do you now have the money to give her? Is the cell not enough for you to give her N20, 000 naira? Don’t you have a friend that will lend you the 20,000 naira to free yourself and later to give him?
I asked permission to make a call to my brother and the IPO obliged.
Shortly after, my brother came to bail me. He introduced himself and later brought out N20, 000, the amount the lady claimed I owe her. The money was handed over to the IPO who counted it and gave it to the lady.
The IPO followed this with his comments, ”You see, you have caused it to sleep inside our cell. Had it been yesterday you have agreed to play ball and give her the money, you would not have slept in that place.’ Now the case is over, you can go,” he said.
The lady, who brought me to the station, in our presence, went into the DPO’s office and presumably to ‘see’ him. She gave him some part of the money, which was N10, 000.
Later, the officer at the canter gave me my cap, my GSM phone, my ballpoint pen, my ID card, my talisman and asked me to sign a book that all my belongings are surrendered to me. I did. We left the station.
Kaduna Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), DSP Yakubu Sabo Abubakar, in an interview said, the cells are better off now compared to before. When asked what is better about them, he said the force is in the process of improving the standards of the detention cells across the state, but did not mention when or the timeframe.
”You have to understand that, we have over one thousand police stations’ cells across the state and due to their number, they cannot be taken care of at once. It’s a gradual exercise.”
When asked about the budgetary provision for the upkeep, he said there is a budget, but could not say whether it’s being utilised or not, including the amount budgeted for their annual upkeep.
He said the force would soon do rehabilitations to make the cells habitable and reformatory.
When asked about the cases of detainees that goes out with various ailments such as skin infections, cold, catarrh, headache and malaria fever due to mosquitoes bite, the PPRO said, they are not aware of any detainees with such.
”Even if there is, to the best of their knowledge, nobody ever come forward to complain about it or goes to the media or court to do so.
When asked why police officers detain all kinds of suspects in one cell instead of separating them according to the gravity of their offences and according to ACJA Act, Mr Sabo defended the force.
“They don’t have enough space for that. But in due course, they would look into that, so that the cell would not be a place for making minors and first offenders more criminals than reforming them.”
The police have over the years been underfunded by the Federal government.
Mr Sabo could not provide information on funds disbursement to DPOs upon inquiry.
In a document presented at the Senate Public Hearing on the bill for the establishment of a Police Trust Fund in 2018, Ibrahim Idris, the Inspector General of Police, said only N16.1 billion was allocated to the police in 2016 for capital development, out of which N10 billion was released.
Out of the N31.6 billion allocated to the police in the 2017 budget, only N8 billion has so far been released, Mr Idris added.
The figure for 2019 is not known yet.
How Detainees can seek justice
Hassan Latifat, a lawyer said any detainee whose rights has been violated by law enforcement agents have the right to file a suit before a High court for the establishment of his fundamental human rights.
She added that such suit could be filed with the police added as as second defendant.
”If you are detained under severe conditions in a police cell, you have the liberty to sue the person who reported you and join in the suit, the Nigeria police as second defendant for fundamental human rights in a state high Court.” She said.
’This report was supported by The Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ).