Nigerians and civil society groups have continued to call for the unconditional release of a 21-year-old woman, Gloria Okolie, from Obor Autonomous Community in Orlu Local Government Area of Imo State, arrested by Imo Police and detained beyond the allowed constitutional period at the Tiger base unit, for over two months, over allegation of being an informant to Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB.
Though Gloria, who was later transferred by the Police to Abuja, had challenged her continued detention in court, despite a court order directing the police to charge her to court on or before August 31, 2021, at press time, she has not been arraigned before any court, notwithstanding the Federal Government filing an eight-count charge of taking part in attacks on police stations, belonging to an illegal organisation, taking part in attacking military personnel on duty, among others against her.
Also joined as defendant in the charge filed by one S.M. Labaran, Assistant Chief State Counsel, is Emeoyiri Benjamin.
It would be recalled that following her suit against the Inspector General of Police, the Commander, Police Intelligence Response Team (DCP Tunji Disu) and the Attorney General of the Federation, Justice Sylvanus Oriji of a Federal High Court, Abuja, had on August 27, ordered: “The respondents (Police/FG) should charge the applicant (Gloria Okolie) to court on or before August 31, 2021, if they have any case against her.”
The court further said: “If the applicant is not charged to court as aforesaid, the respondents, especially the 1st, 2nd and 3rd, are ordered to release her on bail upon fulfilment of the following conditions.
“The applicant shall enter into a bond in the sum of N2million with one surety in like sum to report to the respondents whenever they are ready to charge her to court. The surety shall be a civil servant of at least grade level 12 in the federal civil service.”
This came as no fewer than 42 Civil Society Organisations, CSOs and individuals across the country have urged the Police to comply with the court order and release 21 -year-old Gloria Okorie, who has continued to be in incarceration despite the order of the court directing the police to either release her or produce her in court.
The CSOs and individuals include Okechukwu Nwanguma, RULAAC, Samuel Akpologun, Ace and Vanguard LP, Deji Ajare, Access to Justice, Wuyep Nanpon, Sterling Law Centre, Inibehe Effiong, Agba Jalingo, Augusta Yaakugh, LIRAD, Martin Obono – Tap Initiative, Dorothy Njemanze Foundation, DNF, FEMBUD, Centre for Impact Advocacy, JENNON PIUS Initiative, Pastor Adedeji Adeleye, and Executive Director, Independent Advocacy Project, IAP, Lagos.
Others were Ayibasienghe Koko Aluzu, Deji Adeyanju, Concerned Nigeria Group, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, Chairman, TMG, Nelson Nwafor, Executive Director, Foundation for Environmental Rights, Advocacy and Development, FENRAD Nigeria, Harrison Gwamnishu, Behind Bars Human Rights Foundation, Adopt A Goal for Development Initiative, Centre for Liberty, Ayibasienghe Koko Aluzu, Prince Chris Azor, International Peace and Civic Responsibility Centre, IPCRC.
Others include Prison Inmate Development Initiative PIDI-NIGERIA, Patrick Elohor, One Love Human Rights and Caring Foundation, Justice for Peace and Development Initiative, Criminal Justice Network of Nigeria, Legal Resources Consortium, Cheta Nwanze, Auwal Rafsanjani, Lagos Civil Society Participation for Development, LACSOP, Journalists for Democratic Rights, JODER, Nigerian Human Rights Community, NHRC, Toyin Raheem, Coordinator, miwNPF/Chairman CACOBAG, Civic Space Consortium, Coalition Against Corruption and Bad Governance, CACOBAG, Campaign for Constitutionalism and Human Rights, Movement for Improved Welfare for Nigeria Police Force (miwNPF), Richard Inoyo, Country Director, Citizens’ Solution Network, Abdulrahman Akindele Ayuba, Centre for Community Empowerment and Poverty Eradication, CCEPE, Raising New Voices Initiative and Dinidari Foundation.
The CSOs in a statement said that the continued unlawful detention of Okorie, after the orders of the court to immediately release her, on bail or produce her in Court shows that the police were in utter disregard to court orders.
Access to Justice, a rights group, had also demanded her release, but the police authorities have pleaded deaf ears to the calls.
In this edition of Law and Human Rights, the traumatized family of Gloria, led by Christian Okolie, narrated how life has been to them, from searching for their daughter to their experience in the hands of the police in Owerri, while trying to secure her freedom, which has remained elusive till date.
Elder brother to Gloria, Okolie, who is now the head of the family following the death of their father in December 2011, said that Gloria left the house on June 17, 2021, for the International Market, Orlu but never returned. That was four days after marking her birthday anniversary.
He said that nobody could account for her whereabouts until after two weeks when a motorcyclist, Izuchukwu Okeke, who was to convey Gloria to the market, returned and revealed that Gloria was intercepted and arrested alongside himself.
Okeke according to Senior Okolie informed the family that their daughter was being held at the ‘Tiger Base’ of the IGP Intelligence Response Team (IRT) in Owerri.
“It was around 11 am on June 17, 2021. Her phone rang and she told us she was going to International Market, Orlu. My wife had told her to help prepare the kids that were getting ready for graduation because we run a school, but she insisted she was going to return quickly. She climbed the bike and left but never returned till today. It was after two weeks that the motorcycle man that carried her on that day returned. He opened up and said Gloria was at the Tiger Base police station Owerri.”
Ordeal at the police station
Arriving at the Tiger Base Police Station, Owerri, the following day, Okolie said he saw Gloria walking around the premises in a dress different from the one she wore the day she left the house.
After trying unsuccessfully to have access to the base, he left. Okolie, however, had to return to the station, this time with a colleague-cleric, Solomon Opara, a retired policeman, whom he said the police operative tried to intimidate and almost arrested before he revealed his identity as a retired police officer. Yet, they were not allowed to meet with Gloria. It was on the third attempt in the company of a colonel that Okolie was allowed into the premises of the station, but not without being harassed.
“A pastor directed me to a colonel and through the help of the colonel, we were able to enter the Tiger Base because it is a very dangerous place to enter. The colonel said we wanted to see Gloria, they said there was no Gloria there. The colonel asked me to show them Gloria’s picture from my phone which I did. Then, one of them said he knew the girl. They hesitantly asked the one that admitted he knew Gloria to go and show us the girl. When we saw Gloria, she was wearing a dress different from the one I saw her with the day I went with the pastor.
“When I asked Gloria what she did that made them detain her, they rushed at me and wanted to detain me for asking that question. It was the colonel that saved me, he told them that he would not enter the station with someone and leave without the person. At the end of the day, they allowed me to leave with the colonel. They never told us the offence Gloria committed.”
After undergoing harassment and intimidation, and failing to secure the release of his sister, Okolie resigned to fate, became a victim of extortion allegedly by the police operatives.
He said that he was made to pay the sum of N287,000, out of the total sum of N500,000 he said was demanded as a condition for the release of Gloria.
“Along the line, someone called my mother and started demanding money. He said he is a police officer and that what he was doing was a secret because according to him, the instruction was that Gloria’s case should not be disclosed to anybody. He told us that Gloria was sick and that he had already spent more than N34,000. We told him to send an account number which he did, and we sent him N7,000 so that he could buy drugs for Gloria. We believed him because that phone number wasn’t at the police station, but Gloria had the number offhand, so we thought that Gloria must have been the one who gave him the number to contact us.
“Later, he called us and told us that they were about moving Gloria to Abuja and that we should quickly raise the sum of N500,000 for him to sneak Gloria out. I had no money, I had to sell my motorcycle and my younger brother also sold his and a friend helped us to raise some money. The policeman then told us to pay N20,000 to enable him to settle some other policemen. We sent him N20,000. We later sent N60,000 and then N200,000.
He then told us that we should come to the station with the remaining N300,000 the day Gloria would be released to us. He asked us to come in a car so that nobody would see Gloria. I went there with the colonel again. When we got there and called him, he asked me to pay the money through a POS in front of the station. The colonel refused and insisted he should come in person to collect the money.
It was then that the police officer claimed that he only wanted to help and then asked me to send my account number so that he would refund the one I already paid. I sent the account number but he switched off his phone line and till today, the line has remained off. We have been able to track the account details but only waiting for Gloria to be released.
“The next thing we heard was that Gloria had been moved to Abuja. Somebody connected me to the human rights activist, Harrison Gwamnishu. It was when the thing went viral that police released a statement saying that Gloria is a spy and all that.”
The cleric stated that he had the feeling that Gloria may have been sexually abused by the police, a reason they were holding unto her. He wondered who has been buying Gloria the dresses she was changing to.
“They might have defiled that girl. I believe that is what they are trying to cover up the whole thing and that is why they took Gloria to Abuja. They believe she will expose them if released. Who has been buying her the new dresses she was changing to? Each time I went to the station, I cried, you would see many young people being held there.”
On what has become of Izuchukwu Okeke, Okolie said he was rearrested by the police for revealing that Gloria and other people, whose parents had been searching for, were being held at the station. According to him, Okeke was not just rearrested, but beaten to a pulp.
“They released Izuchukwu Okeke without his phone and motorcycle. But some people being detained there gave him numbers to contact their relatives and inform them that there were in detention. Some people have been there for about five months while their parents kept searching for them. When their parents besieged the station immediately after releasing him, the policemen became surprised and invited him to come and take his motorcycle and phone, when he got there with his brother, they discovered he was the one that informed relatives of those being detained; they beat him seriously. Nobody knows whether he is alive or not. Nobody has seen him since then.”
Okolie said that Gloria is the last in a family of four children, and darling of the family and the one at the centre of the buns (flour cake) business done by their mother. He maintained that their devastated mother was being moved from one sickbed to another since the incarceration of Gloria.
Okolie said he learned that Gloria was used as bait to arrest some other person by the police, but why the police were still keeping his sister in detention was what he couldn’t understand.
He challenged the police to take Gloria to court if they have any case against her beyond filing a charge against her or release her.
The police had on August 22, 2021, released a statement accusing Gloria of being the spy girl for the Eastern Security Network, ESN, which allegedly aided violent attacks in South East. The statement came after a public outcry against the detention of Gloria for over two months.
Amnesty International and human rights activists and organisations have, however, condemned her continued detention, describing it as illegal and a violation of the fundamental rights of Gloria.
Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, HURIWA, through its national coordinator and national media affairs director, Emmanuel Onwubiko and Zainab Yusuf, respectively, had described the act of hostage-taking.
While Nigerians await the outcome of the matter, one thing that was missing in the statement released by the police was the date of Gloria’s arrest. The police failed to mention the day they arrested Gloria in their statement.
Maybe, when she is produced in court to face the charges already filed against her, or when she is eventually released, Nigerians and the world will know the true story of the young lady, Gloria Okolie.