Two friends were on their way home from work when they encountered a police incident that changed their lives.
On the 10th of November 2017, Godwin Oke, 34, and Kingsley Obinna Nweke, 32, had just closed from work. They both worked at a lead and zinc mining site, located at Ezza-Ameka village in the Ezza South Local Government of Ebonyi State.
Riding on a motorbike – Nweke driving and Oke seated behind him – they were on their way home, back to their village. The street they were on was empty and quiet. But that would change soon – and in a violent manner. “Before I could wrap my mind around what was happening, I heard loud gunshots and felt sharp pain,” Nweke remembers. “Police officers had pierced my stomach with bullets.”
Both Nweke and Oke are from Enyimagalagu, in the Ndufu-Alike village of Ebonyi State’s Ikwo Local Government Area.
On the day they were shot at, both friends hadn’t known that the route they had taken to their village wasn’t safe. It was only later that they learnt there was danger around that side because mining firm Royal Salt Company Limited (now known as First Patriot Nigeria Limited) were having issues with the Enyimagalagu Ndufu-Alike village folks, and had invited the police in to help disperse angry village youth who were protesting against the company.
Both Nweke and Oke recall suddenly spotting a police van on an otherwise empty street. While the van was the last thing Nweke saw before losing consciousness, Oke saw police officers alighting from the van.
The policemen who alighted from the van started shooting sporadically. Some bullets were sprayed towards Oke and Nweke. “The next thing I remember noticing was blood, and then severe pain in my left hand,” Oke remembers. “And oh, I found myself on the ground too.”
Immediately they noticed they had shot the friends, the police officers entered their van and drove off.
Oke and Nweke say they honestly do not know the Police Division where the police officers who shot them came from.
Both friends were down for up to 30 minutes, and yet nobody was close enough to help them. Oke gathered some strength to shout for help, “Somebody help ooh, somebody help ooh”, before a good samaritan finally came to their aid.
The good samaritan’s name was Chekwube Pascal Nwakpu, and he was from their village. He called other people who came to assist him, and together they took the friends to the hospital.
Roller Coaster ride
The first hospital they were taken to was at Ohankwu in the Ikwo Local Government Area. The doctor there rejected them, asking them to go to Federal Teaching Hospital in Abakaliki, the capital of Ebonyi State.
On their way to Abakaliki, the driver carrying them told them that no hospital would attend to them without a police report. So they went to Onuebonyi Police Station, located at Onuebonyi Junction, along the Abakaliki-Nwezenyi expressway. There, they were denied a report, but ultimately referred to the Police Headquarters in Abakaliki.
When they got to the headquarters in Abakaliki, they were again denied a report, as the police did not attend to them.
Oke believes “it was just by the grace of God” that the driver managed to use his influence to get doctors at the Federal Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki II, to commence treatment on them. They waited for about two hours at the hospital before the hospital agreed to take them in.
Regarding their cost of treatment, the police left them to their fate. Royal Salt Company, meanwhile, asked them for all the receipts of expenses incurred in the hospital. The friends submitted the receipts to them between November and December 2017, but as of now, they are yet to be refunded.
For Oke, who was recovering from his mother’s funeral in October 2016, a year before, a situation that had a “drastic drain” on his emotional and financial strength, life after getting shot has been tough. After a first surgery, Oke went in again for a second one after six months.
“I struggle to eat even twice daily now,” he says. “I’ve been unable to do any work due to the fact that my left hand is yet to heal. Meanwhile, I have spent all my money on drugs.”
The story has not been too different for Nweke. “My family had to sell three plots of land which I owned in order to save my life,” he says. “We couldn’t go to the company to ask for money for treatment because it is not an easy place to go to and just ask for money and expect to receive it.
“At some point after an initial surgery, I was taking drugs and injections regularly. After six months, I had to go back for a second surgery because of complications. I couldn’t wear any of my clothes. I looked like a pregnant woman. The second surgery cost me about 250,000 naira, but it was the payments for drugs that took a heavy toll on me.
“I cannot do any meaningful job to survive now. I have been rendered useless after that incident. Since 2017 to date, I’ve struggled to feed myself because I’ve not been able to hustle like I used to before.”
After recovering, Oke and Nweke decided to report the issue to the Human Rights Commission, but were told they needed a lawyer. They didn’t know what to do, so they dropped the case, and since then, nobody has ever asked how they’ve fared.
Oke says it is unfair what happened to him and his friend because they neither fought the police nor joined protests that day.
“Let the government come to our aid. Let them help us. We didn’t do anything to the police,” he says.
“The government knows what they can do to help Godwin and I. Survival for us has been hard since we got shot. We are suffering. We are dying,” Nweke adds.
Both friends are demanding a 30 million naira compensation from the government.