Daily Trust columnist Gimba Kakanda and two others were among citizens assaulted by police for protesting on Sunday in Abuja.
Mr Kakanda, whose column, Beyond the Surface, appears in the Sunday edition of Daily Trust, told our reporter that the attack was “traumatizing” and a “close shave with death in the hands of the police”.
The protest has been on for days demanding scrapping of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, which has come under criticism for profiling, human rights abuses, extortion, intimidation, harassment and killings.
Police had teargassed and use water cannon on a crowd of protesters marching from Unity Fountain toward the Force Headquarters on Sunday morning.
— Nigeria Customs Broadcasting Network (@ncbn_ng) October 11, 2020
The direct attack on the columnist came by evening, as he and others went to retrieve their cars parked by the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, which is a few metres opposite the Force HQ.
Kakanda and another protester, Ibrahim Usman, were slapped and beaten with clubs, the social media influencer and commentator told Daily Trust.
Up to 10 people have been killed as authorities try to crack down on the widening #ENDSARS protest, according to Amnesty International. Authorities have denied the claim.
Minutes after the protesting crowd was dispersed, Kakanda and Usman got a lift to return to the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development to retrieve their cars.
“When we reached the first barricade and explained ourselves they let us in. We didn’t know it was ploy,” Mr Kakanda told our reporter.
As the men reached for their vehicles, armed policemen accosted them with a barrage of questions.
“I tried to explain myself. At that time I was on the phone with a friend who is a police officer himself. I was attempting to hand over my phone to the man talking to us when someone hit me hard with a stick from behind. They grabbed the phone and smashed it on the road.
“There were a number of vehicles there aside ours. But these policemen went on rampage immediately by using knives to tear as many tyres as they could. They destroyed three of my own,” he explained.
After destroying the tyres, Kakanda said the policemen turned on them with clubs.
“I was using my hands to protect my face and head and that was how they caused serious injuries on my hands,” he narrated.
“They dehumanised us as much as they could and kept boasting that they could have killed us and erased every trace of our existence.”
“I will waste you and nobody can do anything to me”
Kakanda said after the initial round of beating, the policemen then dragged them before their superior.
“The officer, an ASP, with the name tag “MB Shehu” was very hostile and was direct in his threats. He told us that we were lucky it was daytime that had it been it was at night they would have killed us.
“’I’ll waste you right now and nobody can do anything to me’,” Kakanda quoted the police officer saying.
He said the police officer ordered his subordinates to take the two activists into the police headquarters for more beating before handing them over to SARS.
“He asked us why we didn’t go to protest at the SARS offices instead; when Ibrahim tried to explain that the Force headquarters was the right place for such action, they started slapping him again,” Kakanda said.
‘Thanks to Oby Ezekwesili’
It took an encounter with a senior officer Kakanda could only identify as “Ibe King N” to remedy the situation.
“When he saw us being escorted in, he was alarmed and asked the policemen about our identity. They told him that we were among the troublemakers protesting. To our relief and surprise, the man frowned at their action and ordered them to take us to his office instead.
“When we were alone in his office, he told us his intention to let us go but expressed fear that the same men could intercept us on our way out. So, he asked us to make a call for someone who could come and take us out,” Kakanda narrated.
While this was going on, former education minister and activist Oby Ezekwesili, arrived at the Force HQ demanding the whereabouts of Kakanda and Usman.
“The officers outside told her we were not in their custody. But she insisted. When the officer who was with us heard that he beckoned us and handed us over to her.”
The spokesperson of the police, Frank Mba, did not respond to repeated calls for comments on this story.
Recalling his injuries, Kakanda said, “Oby Ezekwesili took us to Amana Clinic for treatment, and then later I went to Deda Hospital for further check-up. But I’m all good.”