She is a graduate of French Language from the Ahmadu Bello University. Her father is a retired military officer. She is slightly built and could not have been anybody’s troublemaker. But, Uzoma Okere was last Monday, caught in the web of naval men in the convoy of Rear Admiral Harry Arogundade. She was bruised, battered and dragged. Now her face is on CNN and Nigerians are asking that justice be done. The young lady spoke with Eni Akinsola in her Crystal Estate home in Lagos.
What really happened on that day?
I left the office not far from Muri Okunola Street on the Island at about 5.15pm after work on Monday. There was so much traffic, about four lanes and we were just moving. At some point, we heard sirens in the background.
I told my colleagues to collapse the side mirror on the owner side and I did same to the one on mine, conscious of the approaching siren blaring vehicle.
Not too long after, I actually heard the siren directly behind me. Then I saw a Peugeot 406 pass. I saw two stars on the number plate and surmised that the occupant could be a Rear Admiral. Then I saw some naval ratings directing the traffic. Suddenly, one of them asked me to stop, and I gesticulated with my hand that I was going this way.
The next thing I knew was that he started whipping me. I was still in the car. He whipped me the first time, whipped me the second time. That was when I made to come out. He pulled me out and started hitting me. After he continuously hit me, I attempted to hold the whip so that I could put an end to the punishment. Then his colleagues came out, there were about four of them, and they started hitting me.
One of them was insisting, “handcuff her, handcuff her.” The men that were initially hitting me had no epaulette to show their rank. The one who came with the handcuff was of rank, though that I did not find out.
You’ll see that there are some bruises on my arms, my back and chest (showing marks and bruises). Seeing what I was going through, one of my colleagues attempted to plead with them to calm down. One of them turned round and used the butt of his gun to hit him on his head, several times.
There were five of us in the car and they were going to beat all of us, including two pregnant women and one other lady. As they were pulling me, I was shouting “leave me alone.” They tugged ate my shirt and ripped all the buttons off. Yet they kept on hitting me. They dragged me so much that I also had bruises on my leg because I was not wearing shoes when all this was happening. They dragged me from Muri Okunola into a building down the street. (About 6 blocks away)
I learnt that the building is a Guest House owned by a Retired high ranking officer. As they were dragging me, I cried out to the other girl with us; “call my father.” After she called, my father now called me, and asked me what happened. I told him they beat me up, they tore my shirt. What did I do? So the man spoke with my father. He identified himself as Rear Admiral Arogundade and that he knew my father at the Nigerian Military School. He claimed that my father was in final year when he was in year 1 or something like that.
I said I didn’t do anything wrong, but he wondered that I was still insisting that I didn’t do anything wrong, as if I ought to accept guilt. I wasn’t even on the road; everybody that witnessed the incidence could see that my car was going out of the road while they were going straight ahead. So, I couldn’t understand why anybody could hit me because it wasn’t that I was blocking their way. The Rear Admiral at this point said I was lucky they didn’t kill me.
I said they couldn’t have killed me, because this is democratic setting. They couldn’t have done it because there were so many people. He also said I didn’t have any right to try to fight a military man. I replied that they beat me up and not that I fought them.
He then asked his boys to give me a shirt in place of what they tore. I was on my way out of the premises when I saw that the crowd had gathered from the point of the crisis. I told them that the man did not apologise when asked by the people. The crowd were ready to prevent them from leaving without an apology but with their guns and whips they prevailed and left. I went to the hospital and was treated with my colleague who was beaten, Abdulazeez Abdulahi.
Your father is a retired military person; you probably would have had a taste of military brutality before.
Yes, there was this day I have this experience on Five Cowries Bridge. Sometimes, I come in through Ikoyi. It was a similar accident but this one, I wasn’t trying to avoid them, I just kept on moving. So at some point, one of them parked and was coming out to meet me. The “Oga” in the car asked him to forget about it. That one was a three-star general, he’s in the army, and he went on.
Is it because you are the daughter of a military person that you are that bold as to assert your right?
I don’t know; all I know is that it’s the kind of person I am. Even if they are military, I don’t like to see things like that. I remember that last week, very early in the morning before seven, I was on my way to buy fuel when we saw a couple of metres from my office, some policeman dragging a man on an Okada. They might have hurt him badly and nobody will even know about it. So, it’s not about the military set up because “am not a barrack girl. I never lived in the barracks.” It is not that I had that orientation in the military. I just believe it’s wrong, it’s wrong.
Were you fighting when they were hitting you?
Not at all! I was shouting what did I do wrong? That was all I was saying, I didn’t do anything wrong. They were saying, it doesn’t matter who my father is. They kept asking if I knew what it is to be a Rear Admiral.
What would you have done if after beating you, the man apologised?
If he had said sorry immediately it happened, it would have ended there and then. Because at least at some point he said am old enough to be his daughter. But I wondered, if I were his daughter, would he have allowed anybody to treat me that way whatever the case may be? If he had said; “oh sorry, can we take you to the hospital, sorry about that.” That would have been it. That was what everybody expected him to do. If he had done that yesterday by now it will be history. I mean, the media would probably not have heard of it. His telling me he is sorry will not be good enough now. He had to go to the print, the electronic media, and come out and say he’s sorry.
Sadly today again on my way from the hospital, I had another experience because this one, which shocked me. They were soldiers and this one was a one-star general, Brigadier General driving like the masters of the road. My colleague was like I should just keep calm and allow them to pass. So, it’s not just about me and him now, it’s about the general ideology, military men actually have to stop brutalizing people, whether it’s the child of someone who’s in the military or not, it is wrong.
So, if he apologises, you won’t go to court?
Yes, but the kind of person I saw would not do that. If he couldn’t apologize to me when it was just the two of us, he probably would not now that the whole world knows about it. But I want him to come out to apologize in public. Though I am considering suggestions to sue for damages, my feeling is that whatever comes as damages will be blood money as far as I am concerned, and it doesn’t do anything for me. It’s not that am hungry or that money is going to do wonder. If he can come to the pages of newspapers and apologize, we might allow it to go without going to court. (She is now in court after the navy continued with justifying their position)
Now that he’s calling your father don’t you think it’s a way of say “I am sorry”?
He’s calling my father, he’s not calling me
So if he calls your father and apologizes to your father, and your father says look, Uzoma, let it pass…
You know immediately after it happened he spoke to my father. My father called me and said it is okay, go. I was actually going but I saw that there was no remorse and then they have been justifying their brutality. Now, it is out of my hand. If he tells me sorry, what about the people 3who were traumatised, those who helped alert the press and those who saw the way they refused to owe up. Those who were ready to get shot at to prove a point? What about my colleagues? There were two pregnant ladies. One, who is about 7 or 8 months pregnant couldn’t go home after the whole accident. She was in shock. As at the time I went to the office the next day, she hadn’t come in. I don’t think she would have been able to come in. What if she had gone into premature labour?