Back in January 19, 2013, villagers in Amansea, Awka, Anambra state woke up to find the bodies of over 35 people floating on Ezu River, with no idea who killed them.
This is a line from one of the many stories on the victimisation, wanton killing and extortion by the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (F-SARS) unit shared on social media in the month of October. As Nigerians recounted their ordeal with this dreaded unit of the Nigerian Police Force, one name kept recurring, James Nwafor of SARS, Azukwu.
The SARS in Awkuzu, a town in Oyi Local Government Area of Anambra state, once headed by James Nwafor has been described as the country’s most dreaded SARS unit. Nwafor is alleged to have orchestrated several extrajudicial killings while he headed the Awkuzu SARS.
“I Have Killed Your Brother And There Is Nothing You Can Do”
A Facebook user Kween Obianuju Emmanuels, described Nwafor as a bloodthirsty murderer while narrating her family’s ordeal with him.
She said her family’s path collided with Nwafor in November 2012, when her brother was arrested by the police who initially denied that he was in their custody. During the traumatic experience, her father had to swim through the Oji River at the boundary of Enugu and Anambra State, hoping to find her brother’s dead body.
She wrote: “My family went to the police station at Ajali and they said SARS Awkuzu had taken the arrested boys. So my parents went to Awkuzu. This man blatantly denied ever making any arrest and assured my dad that the boy wasn’t in their custody but as fate may have it, as my parents were leaving the station, they saw my brother and other boys handcuffed together and being led in. My mum screamed and pointed at him, telling this man that that was her son. He ordered that my parents be pushed out that day. The next day, my parents went back and this man told them point-blank that he had killed my brother and that there’s nothing that can be done about it. My mum collapsed immediately and had to be taken to the hospital.
“However, lots of people including some SARS officers said that he was bluffing and wanted us to bring money. So we brought money, yet he refused to budge, we sold lands and took money in bags yet he didn’t budge. We went to the then commissioner of police, Anambra state, Mr Bala Nasarawa.
“He called Mr. Nwafor who claimed they had a shootout with armed robbers and said it was likely my brother was one of them. My parents explained that they saw the boy at the station and then James, again, denied ever arresting the boy. Then Mr Bala Nasarawa looked my parents in the eye and told them that there’s nothing he could do since Mr James had denied ever arresting or detaining the boy.
“So we went to Human Rights. Of course they took the money and promised heaven and earth and yet, nothing happened, we didn’t get my brother. People who made it out of the station as at early 2013 said my brother was still there. They came to my father and told him to make more offers and he did but it did not yield any result.
“Mr James Nwafor was the OC of SARS Awkuzu during the period when over 40 dead bodies from SARS Awkuzu were thrown into the Oji River at the boundary of Enugu and Anambra State. This issue made my father swim in the river to see if he can identify my brother, he didn’t find his body amongst those that were dumped there. During his time at SARS Awkuzu, the station was known as an abattoir for human and it was well known that Human parts can be bought at any point there.”
“They Shot 17 People In One Night”
Anmabra based business man, Bonaventure Chokwebundu Mokwe said he came in contact with Azukwu SARS on August 1st 2013, when his Upper Class hotel was demolished. Mokwe said he witnessed many killing during his time behind bars and alleged that Nwafor could be bought to do a particular job, death inclusive, if the price is right.
He was arrested by the police men after they searched the hotel and found a bag with two human skulls with sand all over them and two rusted and unserviceable AK47 guns.
Mokwe noted that Nwafor’s deputy, Sunday Okpe who inspected the exhibits admitted that it seemed he was innocent of the charges levelled against him but this did not deter James Nwafor who was determined to keep him in custody and kill him.
He shared;”Okpe’s observation did not stop James Nwafor. Not long after that, one of the officers came back with an already written statement and I was asked to sign. I refused and insisted that I was quite capable of writing my own statement.
“My torture commenced immediately. I was overpowered and my shirt was removed from me. They then wrapped my neck with the shirt and then followed it will a green rope and they started pulling from both ends till I passed out. They appended my thumbprint on the prepared statement that substantiated the allegations against me.”
He was detained in Cell 5, regarded as the ‘Death Chamber’ because the cell was reserved for those James Nwafor wanted to kill and that was where he witnessed the gruesome and uncensored murder of inmates that went on in Azukwu SARS.
He continued; “The shock of my life happened on the second or the third day of being in the cell 5. There was this young boy between ages 19 and 22, a second year Engineering student. When we spoke, he said he had been arrested because his supremely rich uncle, based in Lagos wanted to annex his late father’s portion of family land. His resistance against the uncle landed him at SARS as a kidnapper and armed robber.
“That night, the door opened and names were called out. 17 people including the young guy were called. It did not take more than 15 minutes for gunshots to fill the air. The 17 young men were killed. I lost it that night. My system just shut down.
“I witnessed some of the tortures and I became aware of some their cases along with what really happened in the place. I witnessed an incident when a young trading apprentice was arrested by SARS on behalf of the master over a missing N250, 000. He broke his spinal cord and died when he was subjected to what they call HANGING TORTURE. He was written off as an armed robber. Z
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“I witnessed an incident which they call verification exercise. All the inmates will be brought out in the open yard and seated on the ground. When your name is called, you will stand up and answer some questions. There is this boy that was called up and James Nwafor asked him; Are you from Ogidi ? Before the boy could finish saying no, Nwafor shot him with the silver coloured pistol he always carried. The boy bled to death right there.
“I also witnessed the practice of shifting inmates in the middle of the night to Nneni for the purposes of dodging official inspection of the place. Nneni SARS annex is another abattoir. Starvation of inmates and outright shooting is the rule there. If the government undertakes the excavation of the perimeter of the Nneni anex, The Ezu River will be a joke compared to what will be discovered.
“I saw other killings at the very place. Every morning, the inmates of CELL 1 will be called to carry a dead body or two behind the torture hall. Any individual that has been detained by SARS for an extended period of time will tell you exactly that.
“Nwafor does not release proven kidnappers or armed robbers, he kills them but with a negotiated huge amount of money, James will at most, charge the person to court. Outright release of the person is off as far as I know. What I also know is that, he can be bought to do a particular job, death inclusive, if the price is right.”
More Pain And Agony
For Onyinye Maureen, It has been pain and agony for her family since 2014 when SARS Awkuzu took my brother.
She wrote; “This same man took my brother and told me he had killed my brother. My Mum died of heart attack and stroke from the pain of the inhumane treatment and pain of what this man did to my brother. “
Another Facebook user, Gwen Florida recounted how they were made to pay N3 million to secure the release of her brother from the dreaded unit. “It feels like yesterday. His hands and legs were tied and suspended in the air. He was not allowed to eat. We paid over three million naira to bail him out. He came out looking like a skeleton. Someone who was really big, His eyes had become white, no blood in his veins and he couldn’t move three steps without falling down. Same day, I saw them exchange an Okada man for a rich man son who murdered a secondary school girl.”
Petitions To Investigate, Sack James Nwafor
A report released by the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law on July 2017, accused the Special Anti-Robbery Squad of Anambra State Police Command of being responsible for the 35 corpses discovered in the Ezu River, Amansea.
The report which was signed by the Chairman of Board of Trustees of the group, Emeka Umeagbalasi, and addressed to several authorities, including then acting President Yemi Osinbajo and Amnesty International among others, condemned the use of force, torture and other unapproved ways to extract information from suspects.
Although the discovery led to creation of a panel of enquiry by the federal government, Nwafor was never prosecuted.
Amnesty International’s had also previously written reports on the atrocities committed by Nwafor. In 2014. Amnesty captioned the report, “WELCOME TO HELLFIRE ”, and that of 2016 was captioned “ YOU HAVE SIGNED YOUR DEATH WARRANT. One of the captions used by Amnesty was reportedly an inscription on one of the death cells at SARS Awkuzu while the other was culled from the testimony of one of the many victims of human rights violations in the hands of James Nwafor and his men. These reports contained gory details of many human rights violations by officals of SARS under James Nwafor.
Apart from the efforts made by Amnesty International at exposing the unlawful breaches and infractions committed by James Nwafor, many other local human rights organisations like Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN), International Human Rights and Equity Defense Foundation (I-REF), Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (INTERSOCIETY), among others, have on many occasions in the past written several petitions against the activities of SARS, Awkuzu under James Nwafor regarding human rights atrocities.
Nwafor who retired from the Nigeria Police in 2018 was apppointed by Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State as a Senior Special Assistant on Security Matters. As the ENDSARS protests demanding an end to police brutality and extra-judicial killing gained momentum, he was sacked but he has yet to be prosecuted and arrested for the alleged atrocities.