Nigerians languish in Togolese prison

SUN Newspaper- Sam Anokam

A Nigerian businessman based in Togo, Chief Kalu Jabes, Managing Director, Jabkann Group of Companies, has cried out over his travail and that of other Nigerians in the West African country. He’s currently languishing in prison for a crime he said he knows nothing about.
According to Kalu, he was arrested, bundled to a military barrack, tortured and clamped into detention. He was later taken to court, tried and a 10-year jail term was slammed on him when there is no evidence linking him to the crime.

In his prison notes sent to Saturday Sun from Prison Civile, De Lome, Kalu said that his problem started when he sent a parcel containing shoe and belt samples as well as a catalogue for postage abroad through his journalists friend, Mr. Eugene Attigan, a television presenter. He revealed that he was sleeping at home when armed men stormed his residence on September 19, 2009 at 11. 20 pm. According to him, the security agents pounced on him immediately they gained entry into his home and beat him black and blue. His home was thoroughly ransacked, without anything incriminating found, before he was taken away to a military barrack.
“They pounced on me and started beating me, to the extent that I vomited blood. Also, blood came out from my private part, he said.

The Nigerian revealed that it was at the military barrack that he was told he was arrested on the suspicion that he was dealing in drugs. He revealed that the journalist he gave the parcel to post for him in Paris, was arrested aboard Air France on the suspicion of drug trafficking. The journalist’s luggage was searched, including the parcel Kalu sent through him but no drug was found on him, he revealed.

Kalu said that he was interrogated and detained. Also, he was later placed on identification parade before some drug suspects, who told the authorities that they did not know him, he said. He said that the security agents later brought a bag and forced him to pose for a photograph with the television presenter he gave a parcel to post for him in France, holding the bag. He said that thereafter, security agents asked him to implicated some politicians and business in exchange for his freedom, which he declined to do.

“At this juncture, the captain brought out 15 pictures of personalities of Togo, both politicians and businessmen as well as businesswomen and some top Nigerian businessmen living in Togo, including one Senator Banabon with a promise of releasing me if I accuse them of giving me the bag they forced us to take photograph with,” he said in his prison notes.
The Nigerian said that while he was in detention, the authorities searched his home again as well as his office and carted away documents and property. According to him, nothing incriminating was found. He was transferred to the anti-drug agency, where he was detained, amid intimidation and torture.

Between 2009 and now, Kalu has been in and out of court, from magistrate’s court to other courts, after which he was sentenced to 10 years in prison, amid protest by Togolese lawyers, including the bar association, which felt that the verdict was a miscarriage of justice.
“On this note, the bar association president, who was one of my defence lawyers, made a vow before journalists and other people that she, Madam Ekoun Dope, will never assign any lawyer to defend a Nigerian because he or she cannot get justice,” Kalu wrote.
Kalu said that in prison he has been subjected to inhuman treatment, just as other Nigerians there, who equally were jailed under trumped up charges. He gave an instance of a Nigerian businessman who went to a hotel to patronise a prostitute and was accused of rape. “Before he knew it, about three men came out from nowhere with handcuffs. After series of slaps and beating, he was handcuffed and taken to gendarmerie national. After torture and manhandling, he was thrown into prison on November 17, 2009. From that day till date, he has been in jail,” Kalu revealed.

The Nigerian has written series of letters to the Nigerian authorities, highlighting the travail of Nigerians in Togo, especially those clamped into jail unjustly. In one of the letters, he pleaded with Senate President David Mark to use his good offices to intervene.
A reply written on behalf of Senator Mark by Victor Abang and dated March 15, 2011 said: “His Excellency, the President of the Senate, distinguished Senator David A. B. Mark, GCON is in receipt of your letter on the above subject matter. He commends you for drawing his attention to this issue and has referred same to the chairman, Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs for further necessary action.
“Please accept the assurance of His Excellency’s high regards and best wishes.”

In the absence of government intervention, a Nigerian lawyer has taken up the case of Kalu and other Nigerians in Togolese prison. Speaking with Saturday Sun, on her return from Togo, Barrister Sharonbillet N. Uche, called on the Federal Government, human right activists, African Bar Association and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to come to the aid of Nigerians in Togolese prison.
According to Barrister Uche, her visit to Prison Civile, De Lome, showed that some of the Nigerian inmates were arrested on the street, and at the border while on a business trip from Nigeria to Lome. She said that others were arrested based on information that they deal on hard drugs, without any evidence.

“Some of them have been there for five to six years without any charge. The torture is worse than slavery in the past. Some are subjected to inhuman treatment, such as pulling off their teeth, as part of punishment to extract information from them,” Barrister Uche said.
The lawyer, who described the Prison Civile De Lome as “original hell fire on earth,” said some of the Nigerian inmates do not know why they were clamped into jail, as no reason was given to them.
She said: “Some inmates, who are serving their terms were tried after eight years and given 10 years term, making it 18 years. An inmate who spoke to me said he was arrested five years ago when he was coming to Togo to sell soda, which is used in producing local soap and was kept till about five years before he was charged. He was given 10 years term. Another inmate, a Togolese, who was arrested for the same offence, was set free in same prison.”

On the condition of prison in Togo, Uche said: “The prison is so much congested that 80 inmates are packed in 16x20 ceiling room, while some squat till the next morning.”
The lawyer alleged that Nigerian inmates are taken out of prison without their whereabouts being accounted for, revealing that the country has lost up to 20 inmates in such circumstances since 2010.
“Some inmates have developed partial stroke inside the prison, waiting to give up the ghost. The health condition of the inmates is pathetic, as they bath and defecate in the same room where they sleep,” she said.
Barrister Uche confirmed that the inmates had sent several petitions to the Presidency, National Assembly and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, regretting that nothing has been done by the Federal Government to investigate the situation, apart from the acknowledgement letter from the National Assembly, in response to their petitions.
She called on President Goodluck Jonathan, the National Assembly, minister of foreign affairs and human rights organisations to join hands and press for the extradition to Nigerians in Togolese prison.


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