By Owei Lakemfa
OLADUNNI Emmanuel Segun is an inspirational youth popularly called “Che” in the Nigerian Civil and Labour Movement because he strives to live the exemplary life of commitment, selflessness and sacrifice of legendary Ernesto Che Guevera. A pan-Africanist and internationalist who has represented Nigerian youths in Africa and Latin America.
Segun is the field organiser of the Joint Action Front, JAF, the umbrella organisation of Pro-People Civil Organisations in the country. He also heads the Political Education and Organisation Department of the Amilcar Cabral Ideological School, ACIS, and is the Administrative Officer of the Kolagbodi Memorial Foundation, KMF, which organises annual lectures in the country on labour and social matters. Segun was one of the organisers of the Sixth Afro-Cuba Solidarity Conference which held from September 23-25, 2019 at the Yar’ Adua Centre, Abuja with 23 countries, including delegates from the United States, Namibia, South Africa, Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, Venezuela, Ghana and Guinea Bissau. I am not sure how he manages to juggle all these as well as his mentoring programmes for youths.
On Saturday, January 9, 2021 he sat back in his bedroom at his 14, Celestra Street, Isoto Road, Command Alagbado, Lagos home trying to recover from a fever. The structure is a new complex of six flats and he was the first tenant that moved into the premises. On this Saturday morning, Segun’s fiancé went downstairs. Then at about 7.20 am, eight men, including an armed policeman pushed her into his flat. Instinctively, he knew they were not armed robbers. He thought they were operatives of the Directorate of Security Services, DSS. Every social activist and human rights campaigner in the country knows that this secret service of the government is never far away and has a culture of barging into peoples’ homes.
But the invaders turned out to be operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. Segun demanded for their search warrant which provoked the team. Seven of them set on him, slapping, kicking and beating him. The EFCC has the same mentality as the notorious Police Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, which assumes that Nigerian youths are criminals and those suspected of committing crimes, are guilty even before any investigation.
The squad was not just angry that a youth they profile as a fraudster not only had the audacity to demand for their search warrant but also had the temerity to fight back. So they pummelled Segun. After this baptism of violence which is not an unusual ‘welcome’ by security agents, the operatives asked him to identify himself. He did and produced his identity card. Then they took his phone and the two phones of his fiancée and asked him to open his laptop. He told them he does not use a password as he has nothing to hide.
Segun was put in handcuffs and marched downstairs with his fiancé where they met nine other persons, including other tenants in the premises. At the gate, the operatives had a change of mind; they released Segun’s fiancée, but confiscated her phones.
The ten persons were taken to an EFCC sub office at 7A, Okotie Eboh Street, Ikoyi where on arrival, they were forced to line up with ‘items recovered’ from them for photo and video sessions. Segun despite his resistance, was forced to carry his laptop which was supposed to be his main weapon for carrying out alleged internet fraud. It was after this, they were broken into groups for interrogation. Segun explained the places he works, his activities and means of income.
The operatives ran through his bank accounts which had little or no money, his phone and lap top. Apparently satisfied that he was innocent, the agents gave him a ‘Provisional Bail’ form to fill and sign which he did. However, he was not released as he could not meet the bail conditions because it was Saturday and his lawyer needed time.
Meanwhile, his comrades who had been alerted by his fiancé were combing EFCC and other security offices searching for him. Segun spent the next three days in the EFCC cell as his colleagues and lawyers worked to set him free.
To them, a nightmare was coming to an end. They did not bargain for what happened next. On Monday, January 11, 2021, that is 40 hours after the interrogators seemed satisfied that his arrest was a mistake and offered him bail, the EFCC issued a press statement in its Abuja headquarters announcing the arrest in Lagos of “10 persons for their alleged involvement in computer-related fraud”. The names of the persons, including Segun, were listed with a group photograph which showed him in blue T-shirt over brown trousers clutching his laptop.
While this Police-culture of parading people in the mass media as part of the media trial of Nigerians who might turn out to be innocent is common and criminal, it made no sense whatsoever that a person like Segun whose innocence had been established days before, could also be paraded.
The EFCC stated that: “Items recovered from the suspects at the point of arrest are cars, mobile phones, laptop computers, passports, a digital video recorder and a cheque book”. I wonder which of the listed items is illegal, a weapon of mass destruction or can be used to produce an Improvised Explosive Device, IED. How can the EFCC glibly announce that it recovered these items from a group of middle class Nigerians; is it that they cannot afford them? What is the big deal in a middle class Nigerian having a passport which is part of his right to free movement? This could be an issue if the items are proceeds of a crime or used for criminal activities but only investigations can confirm this.
The EFCC public statement and photograph of the men featured repeatedly on international television, national newspapers and widely on the internet. Messages of solidarity also came from various local and international groups many of who believe that targeting Segun was a deliberate act of repression by the Buhari government. But I believe that the whole episode is the manifest incompetence of the agency, failed intelligence, lack of coordination and the EFCC culture of impunity.
If I were to advise the agency on the Oladunni Segun issue, I will recommend that the EFCC tenders a written apology to him for the mental agony he and his family have undergone and defamation of his character. That will show that the agency is human and can admit its errors. This would also make unnecessary, or mitigate, whatever actions Segun might plan to take to restore his good name.
On the other hand, the EFCC can insist on playing rogue with innocent Nigerians and continue its culture of impunity.