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Port Harcourt-based journalist Recount his Bitter Experience in the Hands of SARS operatives

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A Port Harcourt-based broadcaster, Kofi Bartels, tells CHUKWUDI AKASIKE how he was almost beaten to death by operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad and his efforts to get justice

You were once attacked by operatives of the now disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad. Can you recall what happened?

On June 4, 2019, I was driving in my area and heard someone screaming in pain. The scream was so loud; I decided to park my car after noticing that the scream was coming from beside a bus parked on a street in my area. On getting out of my car, I noticed about four policemen and two civilians beating up a boy who lives in the area. I later found out that they were all from SARS. They hit the boy’s ankles, knees and elbows with what they had in their hands, including a 2×2 baton, guns and machetes. It was clear the boy was in excruciating pain as he squealed each time he was hit.

When I saw what was happening, I just couldn’t bring myself to walk away. The teenage boy kept shouting: ‘What have I done?’ while they tried to force him into their bus. They were beating the hell out of him. His mum is a petty trader in the area and I knew immediately that the family wouldn’t be able to ‘settle’ the officers. I made to go plead with them, but at a point hesitated and chose to take a shot of the bus and the number plate so that I could track them if they succeeded in taking the boy away.

What happened afterward?

While at a safe distance, I took some pictures and began to film with my phone. After a few seconds, one of the policemen noticed what I was doing and began to approach me. I quickly stopped the recording and made to explain who I was to the policeman. But he seemed not interested in what I was saying and went for my knees with the heavy 2×2 baton he was holding. After relentlessly smashing my knees with the piece of wood, the other cops joined him. I was given the beating of my life right on the road. They smashed my knees repeatedly with wooden bars. Before I knew what was going on, I was dragged into the bus and handcuffed to someone already seated in the bus, a young man they had picked up earlier.

Where did the operatives take you to after the torture?

I was taken to the SARS headquarters in Port Harcourt by which time my left knee had swelled up. The swelling was so bad that I couldn’t walk out of the bus. I had to crawl out from the bus with my buttocks. I was dragged to a detention room and beaten more mercilessly by the SARS officers, who took me there. About three others also joined in beating me. They took turns to slap, punch and kick me all over my body in a detention room, while I was struggling to stand with the swollen knee.

At least, six officers, one at a time, participated in beating me for what seemed like a couple of hours. At a point, I lost hearing in one ear due to the punches and slaps. One officer swore that he would have ‘wasted’ me if his team were the one that picked me up. I was told to get ready to be thrown into their cell, where I would receive the worst torture, including sexual abuse by male inmates. I later found out this was one of their torture methods, sexual abuse on male inmates by other male inmates. A couple of them told me to watch my back, saying that was my end in Rivers State due to the human rights issues we treat on radio involving SARS and the police generally.

What was the reaction of your organisation after the incident?

My then employers, Nigeria Info FM, ran the story of my abduction by SARS operatives for some hours that day but later pulled the story down due to pressure from the police. The same police paid an apology visit to Nigeria Info and promised to bring the officers to justice, which hasn’t happened till date going by the information available to me. I pretty much was left to seek justice by myself. I handled my medical expenses by myself and pursued the case with the police Provost Marshal on my own.

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