Africa

Nigerian freed after 15 years awaiting trial

Prisoners in Nigeria being held in a Black Maria police van

Effiong Elemi-Edu, 40, was released from prison in Nigeria last month after spending more than 15 years inside awaiting trial.

He was newly married and working in a plastic manufacturing firm when he was rounded up by police in Lagos in November 1995, the month after the murder of pro-democracy activist Alfred Rewane. His brutal killing has been linked to the government of former military ruler Sani Abacha.

Mr Elemi-Edu told the BBC about his arrest and how he was largely forgotten in the justice system even though military rule ended in 1999.

Effiong Elemi-Edu's testimony

I left my house to buy some suya (grilled meat) for dinner when I heard repeated gunshots. So I ran to a drain ditch to take cover - and when the shooting died down I wanted to rush to my residence.

On my way I heard a voice shouting: "Stop there, stop there!" I had to stop. "Who are you?"

I explained myself to the armed police, but before I knew what was happening, they were saying I was an armed robber and I was already in their vehicle.

Then they drove me down to Sars [Special Anti-Robbery Squad] - it wasn't only me. I saw a lot of people inside and they were all arrested.

I'd never been to the Sars detention camp before. I was handcuffed and asked to sit down under the fruit tree and before I knew it, a man came and took me to "theatre".

I didn't know what "the theatre" was - I thought I was going for an operation. At the "theatre" I was asked to lie down flat, face on the ground, my hands up and they chained me with rubber twine and then suspended me from my legs.

They were asking me if I knew the incident that happened to Pa Rewane and I said I didn't know what they were talking about.

"I have never robbed, I've never stolen in my life - I don't know what you're talking about," I said.

I had never met him, and there was no way for me to get in touch with people.

I wasn't able to ask for a lawyer, my family weren't even allowed to get close to me. When they came looking for us, they drove them away and started insulting them.

About 50 of us had been arrested but seven of us were eventually charged with the murder of Pa Rewane.

I was shot in my left leg shortly after my arrest. We were all tortured and beaten.

And when I refused to recopy a statement that the police wrote with my handwriting, I received the same torture - I was punched with blows to my left ear which filled up with blood.

I was almost at the point of death so I did what they asked me.

Four of the others died while in detention in 1996 because of the torture. Only three of us have been released.

Basketball dreams

God alone knows why he kept me alive. I had it at the back of my mind that God would rescue me one day.

Life in jail was a hell. Not hearing from your people. During the whole process I lost my mother. She died the month after my detention of a heart attack.

My wife gave up and got married to another man.

I was always very sad. It was very painful, there was nothing you could do but look at the four corners of the prisons 24 hours a day.

Then there was the tribunal time - it was no joke back and forth in the Black Maria (police van).

There were 50 appearances before military tribunals - and between 200 to 250 adjournments in court. No trial ever got under way. You become so tired.

When the ruling was made for my release last month I felt like cold water was poured on me. I give glory to God.

I am now living with a younger cousin in Lagos. I am trying to locate my other family members and will soon travel to my village in Cross River State. I intend to visit the site of my mother's grave.

My life has just been wasted like that but God has a purpose for it.

I had dreamt of becoming a basketball player - because of my six-feet-four-inches height my school mates nicked me "The Dream" after Hakeem Olajuwon [a professional Nigerian player in the US].

Coming back to society is not that easy. I'm calling on government that they should do something because presently now I don't know where I will start from.

I don't have anything. I've lost many things.

Around the BBC

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites