The Bayelsa State government set up a special security outfit in 2010 to entrench peace and security in the state. One year later, OSA OKHOMINA writes that the outfit may have been turned into a witch hunt tool against innocent citizens and opposition political parties in the state.
When the Bayelsa Governor, Chief Timipre Sylva commissioned over 30 Hilux patrol vehicles and established the dreaded special security outfit code named ‘Famou Tamgbe’ on September 10, 2010, he never knew he had opened an outfit that would drag his administration into the murky waters of controversy that lasted twelve months.
Famou Tamgbe, which is translated as “Kill and Throw-away” in Ijaw dialect was true to its name and instilled fear and respect for the law into criminals and residents. But it later added terrorism in a manner that some alleged killings were reported in some parts of the state.
Signs that all may not be well emerged few months into the operation of the taskforce when the opposition parties in the state led by the Labour Party (LP), the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and other civil society groups, accused the governor of setting up the outfit to intimidate the opposition ahead of the 2011 polls in the state. All calls for its dissolution fell on deaf ears and they allegedly hounded those known to be opposed to the Sylva administration.
The leadership of the ACN through its national youth leader had in a letter to the state Commissioner of Police, fired the first salvo, complaining about the name.
Comrade Mirki in the letter said, “The leadership of the ACN commends the state governor for the presentation of over twenty patrol vans to the outfit and the Nigerian police force. But we fault the name of the outfit. The security outfit needs a more identifiable name, as the name raises doubt over the intention of the state governor at establishing it.”
A pointer to the alleged use of the security outfit to intimidate opposing politicians came few weeks later when the coalition of opposition parties accused governor Sylva of harassment and intimidation. The opposition parties in the state led by the LP accused the Timipre Sylva led administration of intimidating and arresting leaders and youths of their parties with the help of the state controlled security outfit, Famou Tamgbe, on alleged trump-up charges of arms piling and suspicion of plotting violence in some parts of the state.
Another claim of the opposition was the alleged physical assault of government officials and some security personnel in the state, including an assistant commissioner of police (ACP), on the orders of the state governor. The opposition had asked the inspector-general of police to investigate the allegation.
But the state government officials, led by the state commissioner of information, orientation and strategy, Hon. Nathan Egba, dismissed the claims of the LP and other opposition groups, accusing them of whipping up sentiments and trying to shield the required handling of such issues by the security agencies.
The state chairman of the LP, Comrade Adou Bobo, told LEADERSHIP that the illegal arrest of one Chief Millionaire, a relation to the former deputy governor and senatorial aspirants, Peremobowei Jonah, by operatives of Famou Tamgbe, over alleged arms piling in Ekeremor local government area is one of the numerous cases of intimidation by the present administration.
Comrade Bobo said the arrested LP leaders were detained for 72 hours and that it took the intervention of the former deputy governor before their bail was secured. “It is sad and it has given credence to our earlier belief that the security outfit was set up to do the bidding of the governor against opposition in the state.”
Another group known as Timi Alaibe Progressive Alliance, led by Comrade Doufagh Ibiriki, said the violent and erratic actions of the governor in the last weeks to his exit from office had become “aggravated” and “unsafe” to those working around him and in close contact with him.”
Comrade Ibiriki said though the alleged assault on the deputy governor and some members of his cabinet, including Comrade Maxwell Okoh have become their personal affairs in the PDP, and added “The alleged slapping of a senior police officer during the visit of the president is derogatory and a sign that he has lost the capability to lead.”
According to the group, the reported attack on a senior police officer by the governor was provoked by the failure of the officer to detain and implicate six youths arrested by the Famou Tamgbe men, over a purported plan to disrupt the last presidential campaign rally.
At the height of the criticism, governor Sylva was reported to have considered changing the leadership of the outfit but was advised by his special adviser on security matters, Chief Richard Kpodo to shun those involved in the “campaign of calumny” against his administration. The complaints and protest increased and the PDP allegedly cleared the State and National Assembly poll in the state with the help of some ex-militant leaders, men of the joint military taskforce and of course, the Famou Tamgbe.
In a statement after the poll, the LP candidate for Yenagoa constituency 1 for the state assembly election, Mr. Patterson Ogon, said the party and his campaign team wished to place it on record that the conduct of officials on election duty, including the INEC ad hoc staff and security agents left much to be desired.
He said “These people colluded with the ruling People’s Democratic Party to massively rig the election. Coercion, intimidation and arrest of my supporters using the dreaded Bayelsa security outfit, operation Famou Tamgbe vehicles 04, 09, 12 etc, aided the eventual multiple voting and ballot stuffing by agents of the PDP. At Obogoro Community in Atissa Ward 3, a police officer on electoral duty called Otungba with service number 402206 seized the phone of a woman who was taking video record of malpractices.”
“This development angered prospective voters and as they made attempts to recover the phone, another policeman, Friday Pepple, fired a shot to scare away the angry crowd. Please note that the magnitude of the misconduct was such that even votes cast in favour of the Labour Party were voided by stern looking PDP thugs who squeezed and threw them away. In some cases, INEC ad hoc staff refused to announce the number of accredited voters, to create room for ballot stuffing, to enable them push up the number of votes cast for the PDP candidate.”
Few weeks after the poll, the commander of the outfit was changed and a former Mopol commander in Jos, Plateau State, was made the new commander. And the cases of terror began in the state. Though many observers including residents give it to the outfit that the time of response to emergency was high, the cases of human right violation were also on the increase.
But the gory details of what transpired behind the fence of operation Famou Tamgbe headquarters in Bayelsa as exposed by victims leave a lot to be desired.
Stories of torture and violation of human rights of persons arrested by the taskforce were uncovered with the detention of a journalist and sixty others, over alleged cases of wandering and indecent dressing. This provoked calls by the civil society groups for the probe and prosecution of the members of the security outfit by the Police Affairs Commission.
The outcome of investigations by LEADERSHIP corroborated the testimonies from the arrested and tortured correspondent of the New Nigerian Newspapers, Mr. Uchenna Nwafor, as it exposed the existence of a detention camp at the former commissioner’s quarters complex, where persons arrested are subjected to inhuman treatment and released based on the disposition of the commanding officers.
While some of those arrested including ladies are asked to roll in stagnant and muddy water inside the complex, others are mocked by officers and flogged with horse whips before they are asked to go with no charges against them. The journalist corroborated the report and said he was also subjected to the same treatment before he was able to meet with the commanding officers.
Nwafor told LEADERSHIP that after his release on a Sunday morning, he was re-arrested by fierce looking police officers on his way from a social gathering at about 2am and all effort to identify himself fell on deaf ears He confirmed the presence of about sixty persons in the three cells existing in the camp and the torture that followed on arrival.
“I was subjected to the most dehumanising treatment. I was asked to roll in muddy water and was later locked up without any opportunity of explaining or identifying myself.
When I was arrested by the men, I was beaten up because I tried to explain why I was outside at that time.
Some girls were flogged and obscenity hauled at them by the men,” he said.
He said though the commanding officer, Mr. Aniete Akpan Eyoh? was apologetic and gave him a new shirt to replace the torn and dirty one on him, “the situation of detainees at the headquarters of the security outfit needs to be improved and their style of operation checked.”
LEADERSHIP also gathered the security outfit is used by the government to carry out alleged witch hunt of persons suspected to be opposed to the unpopular policies of the government.
But the state police command, through the public relations officer, Mr. Eguavoen Emokpae, argued that the outfit is not an investigative one and would not belabour itself with the procedure of taking statements and investigation. “They are not an investigative outfit and only roundup suspects and screen them. If they are found to be innocent, they are released.”
Emokpae also denied knowledge of the torture of the journalist and said his case was regrettable as he was unable to identify himself on time before he was taken into custody.
But the Civil Liberty Organisation (CLO) listed cases of killings, torture and beatings to include the unlawful arrest of Josiah Fresh, over the whereabouts of a certain Noble, the outfit was looking for.
“On the February 22, 2011, 22-year-old
Ezonasa,Dietemepreye? received a phone call from his friend named simply identified as Bright at about the hours of 11:00am and 12 noon. Bright said his friend should meet him at at Osiri Road. Ezonasa was surprised at what he saw when he appeared at the location where Bright said they should meet. Bright was in handcuffs inside one of the operational vehicles of Operation Famou Tangbei. A very surprised Ezonasa was not ready for arrest and, on the spur of the moment, he wanted to retreat; to run. Sadly, OFT operatives shot him at once on the shoulder and took him away alive (with blood oozing from the shoulder]). When the mother went to the office of OFT that same day, she was not allowed access into the premises. They replied her at the gate that her son was not there. She repeated on March 27, 2011 and was told the same story; that her son was not there. Up till today, the boy is yet to be seen. It is believed OFT has killed him. Ezonasa hailed from Ayamasa community, in Ekeremor local government area of Bayelsa State,” the CLO said.
Other cases cited by the CLO are those of 25-year-old Tochukwu Uzukwu, who was forced to jump into a river at gun point, despite pleas that he could not swim and was watched drown; that of Mr.Tari Igabu, who was forcefully dragged to the outfit’s headquarters naked and tortured as a result of which he sustained injury and is now deformed in the eye and ear; the case of Mr.Fred Okunbor, owner of Lavida Car Wash and Executive Disco Bar, who was beaten for trying to defend his staff and customers who were being manhandled by OFT operatives; the case of 22-year-old Freddie Ockiya, who was arrested in his father’s house for allegedly belonging to a cult and was later allegedly killed by OFT and his corpse deposited at a hospital mortuary without the knowledge of his family.
The state chapter of the CLO commended the police for the disbandment of OFT and called in the inspector-general of police to commence investigation into the alleged cases of extra judicial killings by the outfit and the orderly room trial of the commander and personnel.
“With the scrapping of the dreaded Operation Famou Tangbei in Bayelsa, CLO calls on the federal and state authorities not to reintroduce the same terror group in another guise. Rather, CLO is using this medium to demand for the proper investigation of all cases of extra-judicial killings and torture perpetrated by officers and men of the disbanded OFT. And all those found culpable should be made to face the law, punished for their crimes.
This should be done to serve as deterrents to all such persons in uniform who acts with impunity in our society.
“We need a police that will not only be friendly to the public, but one both the criminals and law abiding citizens would respect because they are seen to be doing their job well. Unless the hwuman rights of citizens are respected, no nation can have a handful of patriotic citizens. If Nigerian must be seen to be patriotic, then the authorities must take steps to uphold the rights of every citizen, protecting the weak from the powerful and the powerful from the weak. Lastly, all victims of Operation Famou Tangbei should be adequately compensated; cases of extra-judicial killings, maiming and other forms of losses suffered; including monies extorted by operatives of OFT,” the CLO said in a statement.