Felicia Okpara, a 27 year-old single mum, happened to be among the protesters, who men of the Nigeria Police, Area C Command, were caught on video brutalising. We were able to capture her story. She spoke to Nkanu Egbe. Below is the full text of the interview:
LM: Felicia, it’s great to have you this evening. Let’s go straight to the events on the 12th of October. I believe that’s when you had a brush with the police. What really happened?
Felicia: Okay. On that day, I was coming back from an interview on Ojuelegba road. I wanted to go to a cyber cafe to do some things to my CV, so when I got to Ojuelegba junction, there was so much traffic, so I had to walk towards Barrack area. The traffic was so much, and I checked online and saw there was a protest which I wanted to join since it started but I have not had the opportunity to join, which I did.
LM: Why did you want to join the protest?
Felicia: Before now, I had my first share of police brutality in 2005. I was a minor, I was only 12 years old when I was arrested and thrown inside the cell, myself and my elder sister, and my mom was asked to go get money for bail.
LM: Were these policemen, SARS policemen?
Felicia: No, these were just normal policemen in Rivers State. I was in Rivers State when it happened.
LM: Why did they throw you into the cell? What offense did you commit?
Felicia: It was just a fight between me and a boy. We were of the same age and my elder sister, who was 14 years old at the time, told me the boy insulted my mom which I confronted him. I asked him why he was insulting my mom, what happened that it got to the point where you started hitting my little sister who is just one year old. So, it turned to a fight and when the fight got out of hand, the aunty of the guy called the police because we are her tenants, so she called the police for my mom. So, when the police people came, they saw that it was just me and the boy that were involved in the fight. My mom did not fight anybody, it was just me and the boy that fought. So, they took us to the police station that Friday morning. I can’t remember the month, but I remember the day well because I was supposed to go for a school party, but I couldn’t go. So that was what triggered me to join the protest in Surulere on Monday.
LM: Okay, so the event that took place in Port-Harcourt was not a savory event.
Felicia: It wasn’t because we were thrown inside the cell. We were at the counter until the policeman’s shift ended and he threw us in a cell because my mom couldn’t raise money to bail us. It wasn’t a good sight, it was very horrible, everywhere was smelling. I was just 12. I had to write statement that I fought with a boy my age.
LM: Wow. How old are you now?
Felicia: I’m 27 now.
LM: That was 15 years ago.
LM: So, let’s come back to 12th of October. What happened?
Felicia: I joined the protest. I didn’t carry any placard because I didn’t have as I was by the road. I was taking videos of things that were happening. The way I was dressed was not like I was protesting; I was dressed in a normal official wear because it was an interview I went for. So, I was taking videos. I was happy doing it, I felt fulfilled protesting against the brutality that was happening in Nigeria. I was sending videos online and tweeting about it. Then we started hearing gunshots and people were running for safety. Myself, I was running, and I was recording a video while running. So, when we heard that some people were killed, I think towards the Barracks bus stop, people were now running for safety because the gunshots did not stop. So, when the policemen at Area C command saw that people were now scattered and no longer organized, that’s when they came out of the police station. They came out en mass, there were many of them. When they came out, they shot into the air. I was standing on the other side of the road, across the police station. While I was there, I started making a video of what was going on, because I was recording a video, it’s on the road, everybody was seeing it. Then a man in white mufti was one of the people that held me, if you watch the video of the assault, you will see the man wearing white. He walked to me and said “Heh! Shebi you are making a video?” I said I wasn’t making a video. He said, “If you are not making a video, then why is your phone up like that?” I said “I’m not making a video. Besides, don’t I have the right to use my phone the way I want?” That statement triggered them. Before you know, another one on uniform came and asked me to give him the phone. I said I won’t give him the phone. So they slapped me and dragged me. Meanwhile there was another girl standing beside me. I’m not sure if she was recording with her phone or not. I don’t know her from anywhere, but another set of people came and took her away because they felt she was making a video.
LM: Would you know how many people assaulted you at this time?
Felicia: At this time when those two people dragged me to that gate, immediately we crossed to the side of that gate, there were so many of them there. I couldn’t count. I wanted to resist at first but when they overpowered me, I just told myself no because anything can trigger this people to shoot me and say I was trying to do something. I just complied with them and didn’t drag. If you watch the video, you will see that I didn’t drag, I didn’t resist the arrest be ause they said I was under arrest for making the video and also for disturbing Lagos State. So, when they dragged me there, I couldn’t keep count of how many policemen beat me, but I know that every single one of them that gathered there touched me. When we got inside, it was something else.
LM: What happened inside?
Felicia: When we got inside, the policemen and women continued the beating. They beat me until I peed on my body. They were after my phone. My phone fell on the ground when I was outside and one of them smashed it. God knows why the man did it, but I still picked up the phone because it was the only thing, I had to contact a family or friends if I had to. But when we got inside, they beat me so bad. The women joined them to beat me. Slaps were coming from all corners; beatings were coming from all corners. I don’t even know who they were.
LM: Do you know how long this went on for?
Felicia: Sir, I was beaten so much that I lost control of my body and the only thing o could think of was let these people not shoot me to death. If it’s only beating that they are going to beat me, no problem but I didn’t want to die. I was begging them that I don’t want to die. I was begging them not to kill me. At some point, I stopped talking and allowed them to continue with the beating. When we got to the reception, there was a lady there, she is not on the big side, she is slim, and she had a low cut. I remember her and she is black in complexion. She was seriously dragging my phone from me and beating me, punching me and using her foot to step on me. We ran under the staircase to hide because the beating was too much. The other guy they dragged in was beating mercilessly. The girl too was also beaten mercilessly. After a while, they probably felt we have had enough beaten and they should stop and continue later. I begged them to give me my phone so I can call a family member to say where I am. I want to call my family, I want to call my daughter, cos I have a daughter, so I can tell her what has happened. If not for anyone, at least let me call my child. These people refused and landed me slap. A fat lady fair in complexion, I’m not trying to body shame her, but she is on the big side, she slapped me and seized my phone. Then they asked us to go sit in one corner inside. Then a policeman on uniform came. All these things that were happening, I lost concentration. I couldn’t get the names of anyone because most of them were not wearing uniforms. Even if I got a name, how was I going to put it in my head? I couldn’t think straight, I was beaten and dragged on the floor and I had peed on myself.
LM: So, would you say that it was all the whole policemen and policewomen in the building that beat you?
Felicia: Everyone who was there from the gate to when we got inside were so many.
LM: So, if you were to seek redress, would you say that the people in the police unit are culpable?
Felicia: Yes. There were some people who were there watching as it was happening. They didn’t say stop it’s enough. They continued to watch the other people beat us and they were calling us criminals saying, ” you want to protest, have they not ended SARS? Criminals! We are going to take you to court. You will go to Kirikiri”. That’s what they were saying. There was a man inside that singlehandedly beat us so badly because he wasn’t satisfied with what happened outside; so he had to continue inside from where they stopped when we were asked to sit in a corner. He came with a mop stick and started hitting the guy, then after a while he faced the girl beside me and hit her till the stick broke. When it broke and saw he couldn’t beat me with it, he went outside to look for something and when he didn’t see anything, he used his assault rifle to beat me. He used the mouth of the gun to hit me so much that he would have stabbed me with it but he didn’t. I was blocking my face with my hands and after a while he started to kick me. Then a man wearing white, huge and black came and was using his shoes to hit me and said I should lie down and face the ground. Afterwards, everything now subsided with the beating which they stopped.
LM: Can you identify these men?
Felicia: Of course, I can identify them. If they are present, I can identify them.
LM: Okay. So, let me confirm. How many of you were there? You, the fellow and the other lady, just three of you?
Felicia: Yes, just three of us that I saw. Me, the other lady and the guy. The guy was on dreadlocks and he had a tattoo.
LM: But you don’t know his name.
Felicia: No. He said he wasn’t protesting, that he was a conductor and was offloading cement from Dangote’s truck and he was eating there when they dragged him. That’s what he told them. I don’t know if it’s true or not.
LM: And the other lady?
Felicia: She came for the protest and I came for the protest too. She told me and I told her my story. I told her my name and she told me her name. I shared my name because I wasn’t sure if her family will come and bail her but if they did, I told her to go on social media and tag me, because I don’t have any family member in Lagos, so I said she should post that I am still inside there so that people who know me can help me. I also shared my social media handle with her. So that’s what we did before they told us to take off our underwear, our bras. They searched us and asked me to unlock my phone. They searched my media, and I was trying as much as possible to dodge it because they were looking for the videos. Then they saw the videos and they said, “Yes this is it. She is a suspect. She is making videos of a protest. She came here to protest.” Then they assaulted me again and the other girl too. They refused to let us make a call and said a whole lot of things to us.
LM: So how do you feel right now?
Felicia: Right now, I’m upset because I came online and saw that His Excellency, the Governor had tweeted about two ladies that were assaulted and mentioned four people that were involved. I’m upset because they were more than four. I know they were more than four. What about the ladies? Those ones were merciless. They didn’t even consider and say these are young girls. They beat us more than the men but where are their names? Why were they not mentioned? If we were beaten like that outside the gate, what do you think happened inside where there were no camera? They had beaten us outside the gate for up to two minutes before they took us inside. The video online wasn’t all that happened.
LM: Well, obviously, the people whose names were mentioned were those who were identified in the video.
Felicia: That’s why I’m saying they should ask us Sir. They need to ask us what really happened. If you look at the video, there were more than four men who were hitting us. There was a big man there too in the video wearing white, if I see the video, I can circle him out. He was the first person to slap me.
LM: So, the government has said they will prosecute those 4 men but let me ask you, are you going to seek another form of redress? There are two forms of redress, the criminal trial and the civil trial. Are you going to seek the civil trial as redress?
Felicia: Yes sir, anything to make me get justice for what they did to me. Even if I don’t have cuts all over my body like the other lady or the guy that was pounded and beaten so badly, all I want is justice because I know I did not in anyway break any law. I was just standing there using my private property to record so if there is anything they are going to do, all I want is justice.
LM: Felicia, what do you do right now?
Felicia: As I mentioned from the beginning, I went for an interview and I don’t even have the job yet.
LM: So, you’re looking for a job.
Felicia: Yes I am looking for a job. My rent expired and I had to pack my things to squat with my friend. I am at her place right now. I’m desperately for a job right now. When the call came through, I quickly went for the interview, did well and came back only for me to be assaulted that way. I didn’t deserve it. Nobody deserves it.
LM: I really feel for you.
Felicia: If it ever gets to a time when I have an issue with someone and they say they want to call the police, I will just settle the issue right there because if you don’t have anyone, with what we saw there and what they told us, if you do not have anybody to speak for you at the Nigerian police, just forget yourself. These people don’t understand what human right is. They don’t know what human rights are. They just wait for you to provoke them and they will act. They are not intelligent, most of them can’t even speak properly. The other girl was quoting the law for them, they didn’t even understand. I was begging them for water to drink because my lips were dry, and they said there is nothing they can do. They treat people like animals. That’s what they do at the police station, they treat people like animals.
LM: Felicia, we really sympathize with you. I only just pray that you get justice for what you went through as you have requested and I am hoping that you get a job as quickly as possible just as you have been seeking out. I pray nobody goes through what you went through, and I am sure that the future is bright for you. Maybe this is the dark part of the tunnel that you have gone through and you are about to enter where there is light. So, let us look at the hope of the future and expect the best.
LM: Thank you very much for speaking to us and do take care of yourself.