EndSars Protest: Victims wallow in pains, anguish amidst unfulfilled promises by Enugu government
The EndSars Protest victims in Enugu have yet to receive compensation despite promises from the state government. CHIKA MEFOR-NWACHUKWU reports on the pains and anguish of the victims whose lives were altered by the actions of the police during the protest.
October 23, 2020, was the day the paths of two men, Ebere Udechukwu and Uche Chiagozie, crossed. Nothing pleasant followed the meeting because one of them died that day, while the other lived to tell a tragic story.
It was the period when the #EndSars protests rocked Nigeria. The country’s young populations across cities were protesting police brutality, calling, specifically for the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a notorious formation of the Nigeria Police Force, as part of a popular push for police reforms.
SARS officers have been blamed for human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, mostly unpunished by the authorities.
Like many other states in the country, people came out to stage the protest in Enugu State. On the day when the paths of Udechukwu and Chiagozie crossed, the cops who were allegedly sent by the state government to quell the protest shot at innocent people and killed some of them, leaving many others injured.
The unusual meet
“That day, some miscreants hijacked the protest in some places,” Chiagozie narrated. “I had just finished eating at the Ejindu Park in the Coal Camp. I was heading towards my house at Mission Avenue when the police in their armoured car moved in. I saw one of the policemen open the armoured tank and started shooting.”
Chiagozie, who was then a student at the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Spiritans) Province of Nigeria, South East, had come home from Imo State, where he was doing his six-week apostolic work – a prerequisite for his attaining the next level of Philosophy – to see his sick father.
After seeing his father, he went on to get food to quench his hunger as he was suffering from an ulcer. This turned out to be his most unfortunate move. He got caught in the shooting, an incident that changed his life forever.
“People were running from every side, and I joined too. A man ran past me, and I unconsciously moved left to give him way, and that was how a bullet missed me and hit him on the waist, and he fell down. I later knew that his name was Ebere,” he narrated.
Udechukwu, a 53-year-old father of two, had gone out to get some cash from the ATM at a bank in the area, and was caught up in the shooting.
Chiagozie said that as Udechukwu fell in front of him, he realized that he needed to quickly find a place to hide himself, or else he would be hit by a flying bullet.
“I decided to hide in front of a stationary tipper; but before I could do that, the bullet hit me on the shoulder. I still went on to crawl into a ditch around the area,” he narrated.
He would later realize that the ditch was not a good place to hide as he was informed by another man who ran past him that the police were approaching on foot.
“I picked the last strength I could muster, and climbed out of the ditch, and ran into the first compound that I could find,” he narrated.
Luckily for him, one man saw him running and bleeding profusely and opened his door for him. He rushed in, and then began his fight for survival. The ‘good’ man quickly started to call for help from his neighbours and those around the vicinity, but no one came to help him rush Chiagozie to the hospital. They were all very afraid.
“I nearly died that day. I lost so much blood. I was bleeding for two hours. No one was willing to help those who sustained bullet injuries. It was later that my brother and his friends summoned courage and found a Keke (commercial tricycle),” he recounted.
The tricycle that was found by Chiagozie’s brother was hijacked by those who were gathered around Udechukwu. They felt Udechukwu’s injury was more fatal and needed immediate medical attention. All pleas to get them to allow the tricycle to take Chiagozie to the hospital first, fell on deaf ears, and this prompted his brother to go in search of another tricycle. He was eventually conveyed to the hospital.
“I was taken to the Eastern Medical Center, the same place Udechukwu was taken to; but I heard he was pronounced dead on arrival. I thank God I’m alive today,” Chiagozie narrated.
Alive but lost…
Chiagozie was aged 27 when the unfortunate incident occurred. He stated that though he is alive, his life has lost its meaning as his family had to spend all they had to ensure that he got proper medical treatment.
He further stated that after staying four months in the hospital and two years after the incident, his family is yet to offset the debt that was incurred during his treatment.
He added that despite all the efforts made to get him back to perfect health, he is yet to recover fully as he still experiences recurrent pains around his injured shoulder and can hardly do anything for himself.
His biggest loss of all
Chiagozie, who was yet to complete his apostolic work before the incident, stated that he lost his place in the seminary school due to the incident, and that his passion to become a priest has been shattered.
The Economics graduate of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, completed his tertiary education in 2017 and joined the Spiritan Congregation in the same year. He was on a six-week apostolic work that preceded his graduation to the study of the second phase of his Philosophy course, but was hampered by his health situation, and was unable to join the 20 lucky ones who were chosen for the course.
“I was at the hospital when I got the message that I wasn’t among those chosen for the course, and the shock nearly killed me. I was vibrating, and the doctors were pumping me with drugs to calm me down. I made a lot of calls but didn’t get any positive response.
“I did my apostolic work in Imo State. It was a Hospital/Old Priests’ home at the Holy Ghost Haven, Mgbidi, in Oru West Local Government Area of Imo State, and I served meritoriously. I am very sure that I wouldn’t have been withdrawn if it weren’t for my injuries. That incident blocked my entire chances,” he lamented.
In search of compensation…
Enugu State was among the 28 States that set up judicial panels of inquiry to investigate police brutality and extrajudicial killing claims as was directed by the National Economic Council, NEC, in 2020.
The Enugu governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, then constituted a 9-member Administrative Panel of Inquiry on the 28th of October, 2020, to “clearly ascertain” the number of victims of the #EndSARS protests in the state.
Chiagozie was among the victims that appeared before the panel to seek compensation, but one year after the panel, chaired by Justice Fredrick Obieze, submitted its report to the state government, there hasn’t been action or news from that quarter.
“The government created a platform for those affected by police brutality, and we followed the process. We were invited to testify. We presented everything to the panel, including the receipts and documents. It was mentioned that we would all be compensated, but nothing has happened after that,” he lamented.
The ex-seminarian disclosed that he had written several letters to the governor on the issue but got no response.
“The government should compensate us as promised,” he demanded, adding: “Though, there is nothing that will compensate me for what I have lost. The only thing that will compensate me is taking me back to the seminary. That has been my heart’s desire.
“Also, to make this pain in my shoulder disappear completely. The trauma is still there. Every time I remember that day, I shed tears.”
Chiagozie further disclosed that he has tried to move on with his life, but that the event of that awful day continues to traumatise him, especially when the pains come back.
“After the whole thing, I decided to go for my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). I was posted to Katsina State where I was appointed the leader of my platoon. There, the pains came back while I was trying to teach the girls in my platoon how to play volleyball.
“I was unconscious for two days. The camp coordinators had to bring me back to Enugu. I was then redeployed to Ebonyi State.
“As it stands now, if I do anything rigorous, the pain returns. Is this what I will continue doing?” he asked, rather rhetorically.
He explained further that it has been difficult for him to get a job due to his condition, adding that he could not buy the drugs prescribed for him by the doctors because of a lack of money.
“I thank God that I’m alive today, but I need to feed. We need this compensation. I shed tears whenever I remember my experiences. I also weep for many, like Ebere’s wife, who lost loved ones to that unfortunate circumstance,” he stated.
According to a human rights group, the International Society of Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety), over 200 #EndSars protesters were killed by security operatives and pro-government hoodlums during the protests that were held between October 7 and 23, 2020. It added that at least four persons were killed in Coal Camp where Chiagozie got injured and Udechukwu killed.
A Widow’s cry for help
Like Chiagozie, Udechukwu’s wife, Nkem, also appeared before the panel, but has not received any response from the Enugu State Government even after sending out several letters to that effect.
“I appeared at the panel three times,” Nkem said. “At the hospital, they collected videos, documents and evidence of all that transpired that day, but up until now, we have not heard anything.”
Recalling how she got to know that her husband had been killed, Nkem said that she got a call from a strange number on the day of the incident, urging her to call her husband.
She immediately called him, but he wasn’t answering his calls. So she called back the strange number only to be told to come quickly to the Eastern Medical Center as her husband had been shot.
“Before I got there, the doctor had confirmed him dead. He just went to an ATM to get some cash, and the police wasted his life,” she said bitterly.
Udechukwu, who was a mechanic at the Industrial Area in Enugu, was the breadwinner of his family before his life was cut short. His demise has left his family in huge difficulty.
“Life has been very difficult since then. I am just a petty trader. I sell biscuits, buns and soft drinks at the front of my house, at the Coal Camp. I have two children.
“The boy is 17 years old and the girl is 12. My son was supposed to take WASSCE that year but was stuck because there was no money to pay for his exam fees. I am surviving with the help of people,” she said tearfully.
On how much compensation she would be okay with, the 48-year-old widow stated that there was no amount of money or compensation that would bring her husband back to life, and pleaded that the government should either give her a job to help her earn a monthly salary or give her money to start a business to take care of her family.
Udechukwu who would have been 55 this year, was buried on January 5, 2021, at his home town in Akwueze, in Aniocha Local Government Area of Anambra State, after the panel had delayed the burial with the excuse that there might be a need for an autopsy. Nkem had to pay the mortuary fees even after the delay.
We have submitted our report…
The Administrative Panel of Inquiry submitted its report to Governor Ugwuanyi on March 15, 2021. The secretary to the Panel, Charles Abugu, when contacted on the issue, stated that as a civil servant, he was not in the position to talk to journalists.
Abugu, who is also the Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Head of Service of the state, disclosed, however, that the report of the panel had been submitted to the governor, and that any other required information could be obtained from there.
When this reporter reached out to the Senior Special Adviser to the Enugu State Governor on Media, Amoke Louis, by phone to ascertain why the EndSars Protest victims were yet to receive their compensation, he promised to get detailed information on the matter and get back to the reporter.
However, he refused to answer repeated calls, nor reply to texts sent to him.
Civil Society Organisation intervenes
Speaking on the issue, the convener of the Civil Society Coalition in Enugu, which is also known as the Coalition of Civil Society, Workers and Human Rights Defenders in Enugu State, Comrade Osmond Ugwu, stated that the organization, on July 29, 2022, had an interface with the Enugu governor during which it discussed among other things, the need for compensation of the #EndSars Protest victims.
Ugwu, who is also the President of a civil society organization, International Solidarity for Peace and Human Rights Initiative, and a member of the Judicial Panel of Enquiry, stated that the governor expressed regret over not having done much about the issue, and promised that the matter would be resolved within a month’s time.
“It is already getting to two months now. We will keep pushing further and continue to remind the government of its promise, as a promise is sacred. We have a sequence that we follow. If it is deviated from, we come back and restrategize,” he said.
Support for this report was provided by the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID Africa) and it is made possible through funding support from The Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR).
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