Torture in a Catholic University in Nigeria

Madonna University, Nigeria founded by a Catholic Priest, Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Edeh has turned into a regimented center where student’s rights are violated. In this report, two students of the institution narrates their ordeal and their struggle

l-Okoye Stanley and Rev. Fr. Isaac Nginga

Two students of Madon­na University, Akpugo Campus, Enugu State, have told the horrifying story of torture they suffered in the hands of key officials of the tertiary institution.

The duo, Stanley Okoye, 23, a final year Civil Engineering student and Ga-Lim Aondofa Lord, escaped death by the whiskers after they were allegedly abducted from their rooms February 3, 2015, in the dead of the night, in commando fashion, by the Chief Security Officer of the university, Okey Ogbonna and the Dean of Student Affairs, Rev. Fr. Isaac Nginga, a Catholic priest, in company of others and taken to a secluded area on the campus, where they were tortured, brutalized, dehu­manised and left to die, but through divine intervention, they lived to tell the story.

Though they survived the ordeal, they are still undergoing treatment for the almost fatal injuries they received in the hands of their tormentors. For instance, Stanley still needs to undergo special surgery in Germany on the spine to repair a major damage inflicted on him while the torture lasted. Aondofa suffered a dislocated jaw that required having his jaws held together with special dental wire to allow the injury heal. The duo would for the rest of their lives bear the burden of the deep psychological scars imprinted on their minds by the experience.

Meanwhile, they are still battling to get the results of their degree examinations released. Accompanied by their parents, the victims who visited The Sun office in Onitsha gave a chilling account of what they passed through in the campus, and revealed the alleged moves by the university management to cover up the truth.

In the heartbreaking and graphic account of what happened that fateful night they were abducted, Stanley Okoye recounted that he was woken up from sleep around midnight by one Mr. Kingsley, the school’s Sub- Dean, Mr. Ola, their hall representa­tives, Mr. Wisdom, Mr. Somtoo and Ogbonna Okey, who is the university chief security officer (CSO), all of whom were accompanied by the Dean of Students Affairs, Rev. Fr. Isaac Nginga. He was then bundled into a Toyota 4runner SUV and taken to a bushy end of the campus where their ordeal began.

Continuing, Stanley said: “These people were accompanied that night by an armed soldier, who is among our security guards in school. First, they asked for the room number of my friend and classmate, Lord Ga-Lim and I told them. They picked him up from his hostel and forced both of us into the vehicle. They first drove us to the administrative building and we alighted. Without any question, they descended on us after commanding us to lie down on the gravel. It was Rev. Father Isaac who hit us first with his belt, and the others then joined. They beat us with military belts, planks, batons, iron, stones and other dangerous weapons they could lay their hands on; they dealt mercilessly with us.

“All the while they were treading on us as we lay on the sharp, rough gravel. Not even our plea for mercy or cries for help could melt their hearts. Fr. Isaac even commanded the military officer to shoot us if we attempted to run away. In fact, the soldier fired the shot but narrowly missed me. I was coughing out blood and bleeding profusely but Ogbonna, the CSO hit me with his elbow and I fell down again.

“In that state, I was forced into the trunk of the Lexus SUV of Fr. Isaac; I memorized the registration number ENU 525 CP. My friend was forced into a Toyota 4Runner SUV driven by Rev. Fr. Mamah. With us in the trunk, they moved with crazy speed and even drove past the university security post without stopping. The road was very bad. Even though I was almost slipping into unconsciousness, I still heard the shrill voices of security men at the gate and flashing of lights at them telling them to stop. I later realized that the people were policemen on patrol who suspected the manner of the vehicular movement. That night, our tormentors took us to Agbani police station.

“A police officer on duty at the station asked them whether we were involved in accident but they didn’t answer. In that state, I told the police that we were attacked by the same people, who brought us to the station and the police told them to take us to a specialist hospital or else we would die but they just took us back to the campus and dumped us in the campus clinic. I was in pains and we were struggling to hang on to life. They only gave us painkillers and sleep inducing drugs. It was one of the nurses who saw our condi­tion that night that I whispered my mother’s number into her ears and she used her phone, after hiding the number, to notify my parents about our plight.

“While we were in the hospital, they confiscated our phones, laptops and all our friends and roommates’ phones and communication gadgets to ensure that information about us did not leak to the outside commu­nity. We were dying in installments. On February 5, I was woken up by the CSO, who told me that my father was at the gate and wanted to see me. My dad was shocked when he saw my condition. When he tried to take a picture of me, they seized his camera and smashed it on the ground. After heated argument between my dad and the people at the gate, they immediately bundled my friend and myself to the Elele campus of the university in Rivers State, in the dead of the night without the knowledge of my father. We were in the hospital at Elele for about seven weeks shut out from the people and still under police watch even on our hospital bed. We underwent several surgeries because the doctor confirmed that my zygo­matic bone close to the spine was fractured. My friend had fractures on the lower and upper jaws.

I fainted when I saw my son –Okoye

Narrating how he heard about his son’s ordeal and the frustrations he encountered in the course of seeking justice for the victimized students, Chief Okoye told Sunday Sun that he was in Lagos when his wife called him from their Abuja home.

His words: “My wife informed me that she received a distress call. Only God can describe the trauma we passed through that night before daybreak. I left Lagos for Enugu with first flight, abandoning all I came to do in Lagos, but I never knew that I was in for the greatest shock of my life. On getting to the school gate, I was denied entry by the security peo­ple and left stranded for four hours. When I noticed that the matter was no more a small issue not to talk of the uncertainty surrounding my son’s life, knowing that his phone was already permanently switched off, I sought for external help through the military. It was the high command at the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army, Enugu that assisted me before they could allow me to enter and stay by the side of the gate while they went to fetch my son. When they brought him, I fainted, upon seeing his condition.

“After regaining composure a bit, I asked him who did that to him and he pointed out the CSO, the Rev Father and some others. I wanted to take his picture in that state for practical evidence but to my surprise, another Catholic priest named Fr. Francis, who came in from Elele, Rivers State with two police escorts ordered the security men to smash my camera which is worth N300,000 to pieces, and they did. They also threatened to shoot me if I didn’t tread with cau­tion. After all arguments, we agreed that the children should be taken to either Enugu State University Teaching Hospital (ESUTH) or Uni­versity of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Ituku Ozalla, Enugu State, but to my surprise again, as soon as I left, they bundled the children in that state to their headquarters at Elele, Rivers State.

“The children were kept in­communicado and detained in the hospital too. It was through military assistance that I was able to gain access to see them in the hospital but they refused to release them to us for proper medical care.”

Federal High Court to the rescue

Unable to endure the continued detention of the students at the Elele campus of the university and the uncertainty and anxiety surrounding their health status, Okoye through his lawyer, G. E. Ezeuko, SAN approached the Federal High Court, Enugu, for the enforcement of the fundamental human rights of the students. He also slammed a civil suit against the Governing Council of Madonna University and eight other respondents, demanding N1billion compensation for special and general damages and for gross violation of fundamental human rights guaran­teed under the Constitution of Nige­ria and African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.

In the Suit No FHC/ EN/M/58/2015, the applicants, If­eanyi Stanley Okoye, Lord Aondofa Ga-Lim and Samuel Okoye prayed the court for a declaration that: “The acts of the respondents on the 3rd and 5th of February, 2015 which resulted in serious bodily injury, torture, intimidation and detention of the applicants amounts to infraction of their fundamental right guaranteed under sections 33, 34, 35 and 36 of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 and under the Africa Charter on Human and Peoples Right.

Through the granted reliefs sought by the applicants, the management of Madonna University later released the wounded students from the hospi­tal though there are other pending matters in the suit. The case was adjourned till October 29, 2015.

Catholic priest, CSO remanded in prison custody, granted mysterious bail

On their release from the hospital in Elele, Stanley and Aondofa sought private treatment in other different hospitals. Stanley was admitted at Olabisi Onabanjo Teaching Hospital, Ogun State while Aondofa also went for corrective surgeries on his broken jaw. It was at the teaching hospital that the doctor revealed that Stanley would still require a corrective surgery abroad for his cervical region to avoid total and irreversible damage to the spinal cord as a result of the injuries sustained from the torture.

Incensed that the university man­agement showed no concern or even bothered to reach out to the aggrieved families of the brutalized students, who are solely bearing the spiraling cost of the victims’ medical bills, while the perpetrators of the acts have been walking about scot-free, Okoye petitioned the Commissioner of Po­lice seeking for criminal prosecution of the alleged culprits.

The petition signed by Barrister A.C Arinze of the chambers of G. E Ezeuko (SAN) and addressed to the Enugu State Commissioner of Police, copy of which was obtained by the Sunday Sun, was entitled: “Petition Against Torture, Maltreatment, De­humanization, Unlawful Detention and Battering meted against Ifeanyi Stanley Okoye and Lord Aondofa Galim by staff and officials of Ma­donna University, Akpugo Campus, Enugu State.”

Acting on the contents of the petition, and particularly moved by the pictures of the tortured state of the victims, the Commissioner of Police, after interviewing both parties and expressing serious dismay over the inhuman treatment of the students, ordered the detention of the duo of Fr. Nginga and Ogbonna Okey while others connected to the alleged crime were declared wanted.

Then on Tuesday, July 14, 2015, Nginga and Ogbonna were arraigned in an Enugu Magistrate court presid­ed over by Nkemdilim Anibueze on a two-count charge of conspiracy and felony.

When the court registrar read the first charge against the defendants, an argument ensued between the police prosecutor, Anichima Boniface and the defence counsel from the chambers of Tony Muogbo, SAN, who argued that the first count charge preferred against the defendants was incompetent, arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction to try the case.

After arguments, the magistrate ordered that the defendants be remanded in prison till the next adjourned date (July 21, 2015) for her to rule on whether the first count charge should subsist and on the issue of jurisdiction.

When the case was called on the resumed hearing, which was wit­nessed by Sunday Sun reporter and other journalists, a mild drama played out when the magistrate expressly granted all the prayers of the defence counsel and disallowed any objection from the police prosecutor or the counsel to the victimised students.

The magistrate, after ruling that the court did what it was supposed to do by remanding the suspects in prison custody when issues of competency of the court, charges or jurisdiction arose, later gave room for the counsel to argue their points.

The defence counsel, Tony Muogbo, SAN represented by Mrs V.C. Okoye told the court that the defendants had applied for and were granted bail by Agbani High Court, presided over by Justice Anidi, stressing that they had met the bail conditions. She explained that Friday and Monday, being November 17 and 20 respectively, were public holidays, therefore the defendants could not pay the necessary fees to obtain the certified true copies of the bail application.

The police prosecutor, Anichima, while addressing the court said that the argument by the defence counsel was a novelty to him because he had never heard that a defendant standing trial in a magistrate court could go to another court to seek and obtain bail when the magistrate hearing the case had not dispensed with it. The presiding magistrate in her ruling admitted the files as Exhibits A, A2, A3, A4 and E, which were enclosed in a big envelope. She stated that the case had been bonded over with the sum of N200,000 while the matter was adjourned sine-die pending when the Attorney General of Enugu State through the Director of Public Prosecution would give his opinion.

Before the magistrate could finish her remarks, the cleric and the CSO jumped out of the dock and in a jiffy, rushed to the door, followed immediately by other priests from Madonna University, who came to court in solidarity. Before the two lawyers could step out of the court, the defendants had already boarded a vehicle waiting within the premises and the driver zoomed off.

In a chat with Sunday Sun within the court premises, counsel to the brutalized students, Fidelis Mba­dugha expressed dismay over what transpired in the court, saying that there were indications that something transpired in secret before the court sitting. He said the proper thing the magistrate ought to have done was to first of all decline jurisdiction. He said the high court had no jurisdiction to grant bail when the matter was still pending in a magistrate court.

His words: “It is after a magis­trate court must have concluded and transmitted the case file to the DPP, and the DPP had prepared his opinion that the defendants could then apply for bail at the high court. The high court would then see the proceedings and records at the lower court before granting the bail. This kind of procedure has not happened in our justice system and we will study the situation and know the next step to take.”

They wanted to eliminate my son –Mrs Lim

Mother of Ga-Lim Aondofa Lord, Mrs. Yemi Lim, who spoke to Sunday Sun from Benue State, where she lives, expressed sadness and dismay over the whole situation, alleging that the university authorities were eager to cover the truth.

“I’m not happy over the whole sit­uation. My son was tortured, assault­ed, locked up and would have died in that school but till today, nobody from the institution has communi­cated to us what actually happened. They performed surgery on my son without my signing any consent form. I was at the Elele hospital from February 17 to March 26, at my own expense but all I see is conspiracy of silence. I asked Fr. Mike at Elele to tell me the offence my son commit­ted but he said nothing. It is very dis­appointing and I say that this barbaric action must stop in that school. In 2013, two students were (allegedly) set ablaze at the Okija campus of the university. That matter was also swept under the carpet. I want justice to be done,” she said.

Another student brutalized for making noise

In the course of investigating this case, Sunday Sun also encoun­tered another student at the Akpugo campus of the university, who was allegedly brutalized for making noise during a church service in the campus. Sunday Sun learnt that the incident also involved the CSO and the cleric in charge of student affairs. He said they used military belt to beat him, and inflicted serious injuries on him. The scars of the injuries were still visible on his face since November 2014 when the incident happened.

Stanley and Aondofa when asked by the reporter if they knew why they became targets of their torturers, they said that it was their courage to speak out against the ill-treatment of students in the institution that made them targets of threats and physical attack.

“In our school, student leaders appointed by the management take delight in maltreating other students. We are treated as second-class citizens in the university. They don’t allow us to use camera phones while our parents are barred from seeing our hostels. During accreditation by the National Universities Commis­sion, the school management often hires qualified lecturers and profes­sors for presentation but they leave soon after the accreditation process. In some of the cases of students maltreating their fellow students, we have risen in some instances to condemn such acts. This was what made us objects of attack by the dean and CSO. Before we were physically attacked, the dean, Father Isaac had often threatened us, saying that we would not graduate from the univer­sity,” one of the duo said.

Two other students from the university who spoke on strict anonymity corroborated Stanley and Ga-Lim’s positions, saying that they live in fear of the threat of expulsion everyday on the campus.

The brutalized students are suspected cultists –PRO

When the reporter spoke to Rev. Father Isaac Nginga on phone, he said that he had no comment to make on the matter. When reminded that his submission of no comment was an indication of being guilty as charged, he still maintained that he wouldn’t say anything. But when contacted the Public Relations Offi­cer of the university, Emeka Okpara, told Sunday Sun that Okoye and Ga-Lim were suspected cultists, who had been disturbing the peace of the university. Though he acknowledged that the injuries inflicted on the students were too much, he said it was as a result of the antecedents of the students in the university. He also punctured the claims by the students that the university lacked qualified lecturers.

His words: “The two students are suspected cultists who have been rebelling against the university. They had previously attacked the chief security officer off campus one day he rode in a public transport. Those students jumped over the school gate and entered into the town, breaking university rules. The allegation that the school hires lecturers during NUC accreditation is unfounded. Anybody who knows the calibre of the Chancellor/owner of Madonna University, Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Ede knows that he doesn’t compromise on quality standards. The university boasts of sound academics that can stand tall anywhere in the world. The initial plan of Fr. Ede was to build a worldclass aeronautical engineering faculty at the Akpugo campus but some powers scuttled the approval. The problem is that those children born with silver spoon don’t want to suffer while they know the rules and regulations guiding the university before they enrolled and accepted to abide by the rules.”

But a human rights activist, James Okoro of the Center for the Advance­ment of Human Rights and Peace Advocacy advised the management of Madonna University to toe the path of honor by accepting their wrongs and making efforts to remedy the ugly situation by placating the victims and desisting from inhuman and degrading treatments of their students.

Okoro told Sunday Sun that it was unlawful for anybody, no matter how highly placed, to take the law into his hands and inflict harm on an­other person whether in revenge or as punishment for offence committed. He said part of the terms of peaceful settlement to the affected students would be the immediate release of their results by the university and payment of adequate compensation. Failing this, he threatened that his or­ganization in conjunction with other groups would drag the management to court.

In the interim, and particularly regarding the controversial circum­stances that led to the temporary discharge of the accused persons by the magistrate court, Chief Samuel Okoye has made a vow that the struggle to ensure that the victims get justice will continue. He threatened to petition the National Judicial Council, the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC), National Human Rights Commission and other relevant bodies both in Nigeria and abroad over the matter. Okoye also punctured the claims by the uni­versity PRO that the students were cultists, saying that such labeling was also an indirect indictment on the university management.

“They can thwart the course of justice but it will only be for a while. How can a university where you have armed soldiers, policemen as well as other private guards, claim that my son is a cultist. Also, does the law allow anybody to become the arresting authority, prosecutor, and dispenser of justice at the same time in a jungle manner? They wanted to use my son for rituals but God said no. There are still so many unanswered questions about what happened to my son and his friend. The Rev. Father still needs to tell the whole world where they were taking my son and his friend in the dead of the night in the trunk of the vehicles after torturing them half dead, beating the university security and the police. If God did not expose this crime, we would have heard a different story about what happened to the students. Since this matter started, they have been busy trying to cover up by de­stroying evidence and reaching out to some people so that the matter would be swept under the carpet. That was why they destroyed my camera and also refused to release the medical records of the tortured students but I know that there is God in heaven who oversees the affairs of men,” Okoye said.

Source :Sunday Sun Newspaper, Nigeria