Not so far from the roundabout where the statue of a man in broken chains stands in tribute to freedom, at least a hundred and twelve women were taken captive last Friday by officers of the Nigeria Police for an offence nobody in the Force has proudly announced.
Amongst them are mothers and pregnant women. Nzube Uwaigwe is 22 and Igboka Ngozi is one of five classified as “adults” but believed to be in their 70s, according to a list by International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law (Intersociety). The women were reportedly arrested by the Police in connection to a protest demanding the whereabouts of Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). Kanu has not been seen in public since the invasion of his father’s residence by men of the Nigerian Army on Python Dance II duties last September.
Bearing flags and barely clad, the Owerri women supposedly were calling attention to the year-long absence of one who, at least until he denounces it publicly, remains a Nigerian citizen. As prodigal as many even within Igboland categorise Kanu to be, it should be normal to realise that he is, to some others, an ama ala – a legitimate son to be looked out for. If his reputation in Abuja is for being “the preposterous”, there is no debate as to whether there are those who regard him as illustrious in other parts of the world.
The women, arraigned in court on Monday, were denied access to their family members on Tuesday for what the prison officials at Owerri referred to as “prevailing circumstances”. The same circumstances have prevented their crime or misdemeanours to be made public, something that is a given in a society where the rule of law exists. It is instructive that the prison official referred to them as “the pro-Biafra” women, an assurance that they were not just randomly picked and packed into trucks from the streets of Owerri for mass immodesty.
It has been established that they were unarmed. The present wonder and outrage is whether the Police is trying to prove that their pro-Biafraness, demonstrated by the public show of concern for Nnamdi Kanu while spotting red and green insignia, amounted to disturbing the peace. In other words, if it is not their motherly nature of being worried sick about a missing child on trial, it would be their thoughts that a referendum be held on the creation of the IPOB. From what is generally known, the Police should not seek people out for the former neither does the Nigerian constitution preclude her citizens from holding an opinion in consonance with the latter.
And as we might expect, organisations like SERAP are condemning the arbitrary act of the Police calling for the release of the remanded women. Confined within a space planned for 500 persons which now contains an excess of 3000, the recklessness of the process that has led to the depreciation of their lives over the past seven days is another course to worry whether the presidential directive to overhaul the SARS should not be directed to the entire Force. The attributes that make the men and women in (faded) black impulsively disregard constitutional laws cannot be amended by a change of uniforms or by having them stare at slides with bullet points on a projected screen. The water has far passed the garri that no amount of milk can remedy the meal.
The Owerri women should soon be freed but the Nigeria Police should not be allowed to proceed on its course of weathering public confidence in the nation’s institutions. When people are drawing attention at this time to the continued freedom of the Miyetti Allah group after alleged provocative statements by some members of its Benue chapter, it is a definite sign of fewer people believing that law enforcement agencies are working apolitically and professionally. The tragedy of a Police which cannot act unless in the interest of the Executive is that the society becomes a democracy by day and a ruthless dictatorship at night.
In Zaria and Abuja, there have been signs of this. Owerri, with the unsightly panorama of a choir of crying mothers, adds to the list.