Case Study

Abiodun Igbinidu

I was a student at the University of Benin, reading Mechanical Engineering. I started my political activities in 1990, when the military government of General Babagida promised to hand over the country to a civilian elected government. When they announced this, most of us formed ourselves into political parties, which they said they would register. However, the General dissolved them all and formed two political parties of his own instead. He told us these parties would be funded by the government, and most of us who had formed parties before joined one of them. People quickly rushed to them so they would be the founder members. I joined the SDP. I was made secretary of my ward in 1991, with my term to commence in 1992. Throughout 1992 the government organised a series of elections and I was involved in campaigning for the SDP candidates at state and national level. We produced and distributed leaflets, put up posters, that sort of thing.

The date for the presidential election was finally set for June 12th 1993. The SDP chose Basurou. Abiola as its candidate. I was involved in the campaign entourage, moving from state to state, gumming posters, telling people about meetings and that they should come, circulating leaflets and manifestos.

We were very anxious that they should hand over power, and put a lot of pressure on the government to call in international observers, which they did.On June 13th, 14th and 15th the results of the elections started coming in, and Abiola won 15 out of 17 states. We were surprised when they stopped announcing results, and information leaked out that General Babagida had issued an order to the Election Committee to stop announcing the results. They came up with the flimsy excuse that the election was not well conducted. It was then that the International Observers made their own announcement that it was a free and fair election. Tension started building up when people saw the government was not prepared to release the result. On June 21st all the elections, and the democratic principles, were cancelled and they brought in an interim government. It was then that the Campaign for Democracy (CD) was formed in Lagos, and they issued a statement urging all Nigerians to come together and fight the atrocity. It was then that I joined the CD. After that we started organising more coordinated demonstrations, and immediately after I joined, at the end of August, I was arrested. When the tension got high, they swapped the army personnel around, so those from the North went to the South, and vice versa. They were really brutal and would shoot on sight. Lots of people were shot or arrested and many never came back. They took me to Keno State Prison, where I stayed for six months. I was taken there in a big van, they arrested us in the morning and we didn't even know where we were going. Conditions there were appalling. Eventually the CD found out where I was and used a solicitor to bail me out, and my Mother took me back to Benin. When I got released from Kanu in January 1994 I was taken to Benin by my mother and I went for medical checking. My Doctor told me I had lost a lot of weight and I had skin rashes all over my body because of conditions in the prison. He gave me medication and placed me on a diet. Already I was no longer in school, I was running my store, and still attending student union meetings in the University of Benin.

In February 1994, I was arrested for the second time and taken to the state CID in Benin. I was locked up for 2 weeks. They said there were some documents that they wanted to question me about. It was the state security services who actually questioned me, they are picked from the police force. They said they would interview me for a few days, but they kept refusing bail. It was my Mother's solicitor who eventually bailed me out. When I got released we were actually planning the first anniversary of June 12th [when the democratic elections, later annulled by the military government, were held] we were holding secret meetings, deciding who would go to Lagos and who would remain in Benin. I was nominated, not me alone but about 150 of us, to go to Lagos. We had got news that Abiola would declare himself publicly as president of Nigeria since the military government refused to do so. So we were sent to join the rally. Other state delegations were also sent. When I got to Lagos, I stayed with one of my friends, also a Campaign for Democracy member, in his Uncle's house before the time actually came.

On that day, we couldn't do anything, because the police and military were expecting a demonstration, and the police and armoured cars and tear gases were placed in parts of the whole city. So, we went for another meeting in Lagos, a branch meeting, and we were told to hang around, until June 23rd if we could. On the 22nd Abiola declared himself President, with all of us in the rally: there was a great crowd, with lots of people from other states.

When Abiola declared himself President, we caught the police unaware: when the demonstration started they couldn't move into the crowd, they couldn't do anything because there were lots of people. They waited, and after Abiola went to his home a combined team (the Nigerian military comprises the Air Force, the Army, the State Security Service and Army Intelligence) arrested him up Opbebi Road. This was in the evening, so we didn't know until the night, and they had smuggled him out of that area. We then decided that the demonstration was going to continue until he was released.

So we demonstrated until the 25th, when the police mounted a very serious campaign against the rally, where they brought in a lot of troops. This was in the Ikeja (this place is close to Abiola's home). On the 25th, the police just came, a lot of them, the army, they all were armed, so they just started shooting into the air. Then there was confusion and everyone was trying to get away. They started to shoot into the crowd. There was confusion and a rush for space, a lot of people stampeded, a lot of people got shot, and the police rounded up the remaining crowd.

It was then I got caught again. I got caught with a lot of other boys, even some from Benin. When they caught us they just threw us into a van, and took me to the Lion Building, the state police headquarters, where they now separated us. When I got caught, that is where I got this mark [points to scar above his eye]. They beat me using their rifle butts to smash on my head. A lot of us were bleeding, some of us had been shot. First of all, they kept me in a cell. They now brought me to a chamber with chairs, and other equipment. Some of the floor was stained with blood. There's a table, and a police officer was sitting there with other police officers, three of them. So they now asked me my name, and I realised if I tell them I come from Benin it's going to be very serious for me. So I gave them another name and told them I was from Lagos. They now begin to ask me questions, how much had I been paid to be involved for three days, who was the sponsor, how was I involved, in which organisations. I told them I didn't know, I was just a student. They said I was lying, and that they should search me. They discovered a card in my wallet, and on the back was a message to me in Benin. They discovered I wasn't from Lagos and that I hadn't given my real name. They got more angry and started to beat me using batons to beat my legs and the back of my head. They pushed my head to the wall. After they beat me I became unconscious. I couldn't walk, my legs were all swollen.

It was then, after they beat me, they dragged me into a car and dumped me at Kiri Kiri maximum security prison. It took me a lot of months to recover. This was in June, and the conditions in the prison and the food makes you lose a lot of weight, and the place is so dirty, stinking... a lot of diseases. I was not tortured there, but the conditions and the things you see there, some people died... I was in the awaiting trial cell. I was there for four months, June, July, August and September.

My mother actually knew I was in the prison, but because I had been taken to the Lion Building it made it very difficult to bail me out. They were saying I had breached the peace of the nation, causing the government a lot of problems. My mother actually came to Lagos with her solicitor, and I was told after I was released that an army captain had put in some effort, met with the right people, and that was why I was granted bail.

Then I was asked to go back to Benin immediately, and told that the police in Lagos had been in touch with the police in Benin, and the police in Benin had told them I had also been causing trouble in Benin. They asked me to go back to Benin and that any time they needed me they would call me back for interrogation. It was a kind of conditional release. So when I got released my mother said I should come back with her to Benin, but I refused because of my condition. I wanted to recover a little before going back. I was in Lagos for about five days when someone came from Benin and told me that my mother had been arrested, that the police came for me but my mother told them since I had been released I had not been to Benin. So they said she was lying, she knew where I was, and that she should come with them. So the message said I should have to come, and I decided to go back to Benin and surrender myself so that they would release my mother. I didn't go directly to our house, I stayed at a friend's house, and sent a message to find out the situation. I was told I should not come out of hiding as they had arranged to release my mother the next day.

When my mother saw my condition - it was worse - she escorted me to the Doctor and I was admitted to hospital. The doctor said I should be admitted to rest and regain my weight and recover from a lot of sickness. I stayed in hospital for about 10 days, and then I was discharged.

It was after this that Abiodun managed to escape to England. When he arrived he was put into Campsfield House. It was only after the sustained effort of several of his visitors and their friends that the Home Office was prepared to listen to his story. At the moment he has Exceptional Leave to Remain (ELR) in Britain. These pages last updated 25/2/98 by Tim Lattimer