Barely two days after President Muhammadu Buhari received the report of the panel on the reform of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police, the notorious operatives have recorded another low.
The Police “killer” squad on Tuesday barred its ugly fangs against a Port Harcourt-based-journalist, Kofi Bartels, for daring to capture them while brutalizing a young man.
Recounting his ordeal, Mr. Bartels, a staff of Info FM, Port Harcourt said he was driving within his neighborhood when he spotted SARS operatives beating up a boy.
According to him, the boy must have been manhandled because of the boy’s inability to settle the errant officers.
“His mum fries “akara” (bean cake) for a living and I knew immediately that they wouldn’t be able to ‘settle’ the officers,” Mr. Bartels stated.
“He (boy) kept shouting ‘what have I done,’ while they tried to force him into their bus. They were beating the hell out of him and I don’t know if he would have survived.
“I made to go plead with them but hesitated and rather decided to take a shot of the bus and number plate.
“I was given the beating of my life right on the road. They started by smashing my knees repeatedly with wooden bars. As I type this, my left knee is swollen and my right knee seriously bruised. I have pains on my head, neck, and back.
“I was handcuffed like a common criminal and shots were fired to disperse a small crowd that had gathered.”
After the second round of beating, Mr. Bartels said he was taken to SARS headquarters in Port Harcourt where the operatives subjected him to another round of beatings.
Narrating his ordeal at the SARS headquarters, Mr. Bartels said three more operatives joined the others and together, they took turns, slapping, punching and kicking him inside the facility.
“They took turns to slap, punch, kick me all over my body in a detention room, while I was struggling with a swollen knee. At least six officers attacked me, one at a time. One swore he would have wasted (kill) me if his team were the one who picked me up.
“I was told to get ready to be thrown into their cell where I would receive the worst torture, including sexual abuse by male inmates.
“A couple of them told me to watch my back, saying this is my end in Rivers State due to the human rights issues we treat on radio involving SARS and the police generally.
“My phones were seized and I had no way of communicating with anyone. I was saved at the last minute when words got to their former boss and they were ordered to release me unconditionally,” Mr. Bartels said.
The attack on Mr. Bartels has triggered outrage in Rivers State as journalists and rights activists have called for justice from the police.
Already, the Chairman of the State Council of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Stanley Job, condemned the attack, adding that the body will soon release a statement in the matter.
“I have just been informed of the attack on one of our colleagues and we will soon issue a statement on the matter. The NUJ will not allow anybody to violate the right of any of its members and this would not be an exception,” Mr. Job told our correspondent.
Also, the Executive Director of the Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Justice (IHRHJ), Anyakwee Nsirimovu, said Mr. Bartels has been involved in human rights advocacy in the state.
Mr. Nsirimovu condemned the attack on the journalist and said his organisation would initiate action to ensure that those involved in the criminal violation of the rights of the journalist are brought to justice.
“I know Bartels very well and he has been involved in human rights advocacy programs. It is sad to hear how he was maltreated by the police” said the rights activist.
When contacted on the telephone, the Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Nnamdi Omoni, confirmed the attack, adding that the journalist was released unconditionally on Tuesday.
He argued that the rights of suspects are guaranteed under the law, saying that the police are expected to treat people with decorum even while arresting them.
“I tried to get in touch with the officers who arrested him on phone as soon as I was told about it but the line didn’t connect. But he was later freed unconditionally.
“The commissioner of police has ordered an investigation into the matter and if it is found that the officers breached the code of conduct in the course of their operations, they will be punished based on the provisions of the law,” said Mr. Omoni.