Nigerian activist: ‘My trial exposes crude justice system’

Nigerian trade union leader Osmond Ugwu was detained in October 2011 and imprisoned for three months on what Amnesty International believes are trumped-up charges. The arrest, which happened during a prayer meeting about ongoing labour negotiations in the south-eastern city of Enugu, was sudden and brutal. “A large number of soldiers, police and members of an anti-terrorist squad, all heavily armed, circled us, with their arms raised up as if in a battlefield,” he told Amnesty International.“The soldiers started shooting to disperse the crowd, and policemen pounced on me. They tore off my clothes and dragged me over the rough ground after hitting me repeatedly.”Ugwu spent the first two days in police detention without any food or water, in agony from the injuries he sustained to his legs, back, waist and hands. His skin has now healed but the internal pains in his neck and head persist.”At the State Police Headquarters, the policemen who had arrested me were jubilant – as if they had arrested a notorious terrorist. They mocked me, accusing me giving the government and police in the state discomfort, saying they can now have rest.”Together with fellow union member Raphael Elobuike, Ugwu was charged with attempted murder and assault, in an apparent bid by the police and prosecution to silence the activists. A ruling is expected in June on a motion the defendants filed, urging the court to quash the charge due to lack of evidence.  Neither the police nor the state prosecutors have presented any evidence against the two on the attempted murder charge, and the assault charge is based on the claim by the police that Ugwu held on to a police officer’s uniform and tore it while he was being dragged away.“The incident exposed the raw, crude nature of Nigeria’s justice system. The Nigerian police unfortunately serve as an instrument – settling scores and intimidating people while the judiciary complements this role,” says Ugwu.