As Nigerians marked this year’s Democracy Day, several heroes of the June 12 struggle may have died or are living unsung. One of such persons is Francis Ede; a former staff of the defunct National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), who had narrowly escaped execution on the orders of the then military junta, headed by Late General Sani Abacha.

Ede, from Ebonyi State, who was recruited by Senator Polycarp Nwite, told SATURDAY SUN he was detained at various times in 32 detention camps for more than five years over an alleged plot to bomb the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) depot, Ejigbo, Lagos State. He spoke with WILSON OKEREKE

How true is the story that you would have been killed the same day that General Abacha suddenly died?

Yes, I, alongside some other NADECO members, would have been killed on June 8, 1998 by the late General Abacha over an offence which I knew nothing about.

In Gen. Abacha’s desperate move to bulldoze members of the pro-democratic organisations and other dignitaries whom he viewed as obstacles towards his ambition, he falsely accused us of conspiring and attempting to bomb the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Ejigbo Depot in Lagos State.

During your travails, were you tried in the law court?

No. On 12th September, 1994, I and others were taken to the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) where we were put inside sacks for hours before we were forced to sign fabricated confessional statements. Thereafter, we were taken to the Presidential Task Force on Anti-Abacha led by ACP Zakari Biu at Alagbon Close in Ikoyi Lagos. At this juncture, we encountered the highest torture of our lives from the security agents.

Some days later, they were on our necks for us to sign other forged confessional statements implicating other NADECO members. During our encounter, I was told by a certain DSP Emma Ogolo that the only condition for my release was to admit that Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu sent me to bomb NNPC, Ejigbo Depot, a request which I stoutly objected to.

Were there other reasons for your incarceration?

No! The only factor was General Abacha’s bid to eliminate members of NADECO whom he considered as opponents of his regime. The government then tactically conceived a plot to implicate and possibly kill us in the process. And for his security operatives to brainwash the public, they stage-managed series of bomb blasts across the country. So we were arrested on spurious allegations, claiming that we engaged in the said acts to destabilise the nation.

Which other NADECO chieftains or prominent persons suffered same fate with you? 

I can remember vividly that the following persons; Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu, Senator Polycarp Nwite, Senator Mac Nwulu, Professor Wole Soyinka, Senator Ameh Ebute, Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Dr. Fredrick Fasheun, Dr. Olu Falae, Chief Anthony Enahoro and Chief John Oyegun, among others, were being hounded and they suffered incarceration.

Consequent upon the arbitrarily arrest over the false accusations being that we were the brains behind the various bomb blasts and that we also had the intention to remove the Head of State from power, over 290 of the detainees were dressed in green robes, the clothes indicating that we were meant to be killed, on June 8 1998. But as God would have it, Gen. Abacha died mysteriously at the early hours of the same day that we were supposed to be executed. That was how the man died without accomplishing his greatest desire of eliminating his perceived enemies, of whom I was among. But before his demise, execution duty soldiers had been assembled at the Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison in preparation for the purpose but we cheated death by the death of he who wanted to put us to death. It was a narrow escape.

Were there persons accused of other crimes on the list of persons slated to be executed that day?

All the detainees were drawn from the following categories: those who were being held incommunicado for allegedly inciting disaffection and sedition, those who were convicted by the Aziza Military Tribunal, those convicted for alleged coup plot, others held in connection with bomb blasts, those who were arrested as a result of the spontaneous protests that greeted the announcement of Abiola’s death, and so on.

So, how did you regain your freedom?

Immediately after Abacha’s demise, General Abdusalami Abubakar took over the administration. He withdrew all the charges against political detainees and thereby ordered our release but luck could not come my way due to lack of political connection. I was abandoned to rot in jail. On this note, I became the longest detainee of the Abacha junta, followed by Chief Frank Ovie Kokori, former General Secretary of The Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG).

Were you kept at a particular detention camp throughout the period?

Related News

No I was detained variously at 32 detention camps, which include DMI, Lagos, Alagbon Detention Camp, SSS Detention Camp, Ikoyi, Adeniji Adele Robbery Camp, Area F Cell, Ikeja, Lion Building Police Station, Lagos, Moroko Police Station, Ita Oko Detention Camp, Central Police Station, Bauchi, Kuje Prison Abuja and others.

At some point, my parents and brothers were also arrested and detained for months through the order of Lt Col. Frank Omenka. Due to the blistering torture which I was subjected to by the security operatives, the action eventually filtered to the knowledge of human rights organisations. That was how I was released on court order by the DMI in the last quarter of 1996 only to be rearrested by other agents from Alagbon Close on 12th September 1997. Then I was taken to the dreaded Ita Oko Detention Camp at Epe in Lagos State.

After the second arrest, how did you come out?

Eventually on 19th May, 1999, luck came my way as the Miscellaneous Offences Tribunal, Lagos, presided over by Tijani Abdulahi discharged and acquitted the remaining persons. That was how I came out after five years and nine months in detention. My release was achieved through the concerted efforts of Dr Clement Nwankwo of the Constitutional Rights Project (CRP) and Femi Falana (SAN) of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights

After you had come out, did you take any legal action over the violation of your rights?

When the former President, Olusegun Obasanjo established the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission popularly known as Oputa Panel in June, 1999, to investigate human rights abuses during the period of military rule between 1984 and 1999, I proceeded to the commission at Enugu and on 23rd April 2002, my case was heard.

How was the experience generally? 

That I am still alive today is a result of divine providence because without that, the offence which they charged us was Decree 2, detention without trial; it’s the highest offence in the world.     

But what was the recommendation of the commission regarding your case?

It is on record that the commission, after its sitting, recommended that Chukwuma Mba and I should be paid the sum of N100 million collectively. Mba was arrested the same day with me, but unfortunately to us, nothing has been done about the payment till date. This had made the injustice meted out to me a compound problem.

What of other victims? Have they been settled?

Those who were detained along with me had received their reparations in one way or another, mostly through political appointments, including those whom I staked my life to save from the bullets of Abacha’s hit men. Today, these persons are occupying political positions in government but they forgot me – the man whom the Abacha junta felt that could be used to nail and eliminate them.

What’s your relationship with former NADECO members who had similar experience with you?

I will be blunt with you; I’ve been forgotten by all. And each time I flash back on the ugly situation, I usually feel that I am supposed to be remembered. After all, our efforts contributed to this 22 years of uninterrupted democratic rule.  Really, I feel that I should be remembered.

As we celebrate June 12, the day Nigerians got victory over military rule, I recall that I was the only person from Ebonyi State who appeared before the Oputa Panel and who would have been killed in the morning that General Sani Abacha died. I feel pained that I am yet to be remembered for my role in the victory.

Do you have any request?

Really, the onus is on men of goodwill, political activists and civil society organizations, especially those who fought for the detainees then, to make a case for my recognition, so that my act of patriotism, courage and humanism will not be futile.

I’m also calling on Igbo political leaders to make a case for me as one of those who paid painful physical and emotional prices to achieve democracy which we are enjoying today.