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Saturday, 2 December, 2000, 02:39 GMT
Inside Nigeria's terror cells
Journalists and investigators at the former detention centre
A former prisoner demonstrates how he was tortured
By Mannir Dan-Ali in Lagos

Three detention centres of the Nigerian security establishment were thrown open to members of the country's human rights commission and journalists on Friday.


Mr Layemo claimed that he lost over 30kg by the time he was moved from his solitary confinement in the dark and forbidding dungeon

The visit followed various allegations of illegal detention and torture by retired soldiers, politicians and businessmen.

Most of the allegations are levelled at officials of the late military ruler, General Sani Abacha.

At all the three locations we saw grim reminders of the dehumanising conditions detainees were made to live in, in some cases for up to one year.

VIP cell

One of the first places we visited, at a place called Inter-Centre close to a cemetery, is what is now referred to as the "Very Important Prisoner" cell.

Olusegun Obasanjo
President Obasanjo is himself a survivor of the detention centre
It is where President Olusegun Obasanjo himself was held in connection with the alleged coup plot against the Abacha government in 1995.

It is now abandoned and dusty, without losing its forlorn and oppressive air.

The second detention centre is in the unlikely location of the upper-class Ikoyi residential area.

It is a property of the dreaded State Security Service, and the countless makeshift cells in the large compound give it a sombre air.

Tied up

Colonel AM Ajayi, who was charged with plotting to overthrow the Abacha regime, was detained in the same clothes and in the same cell handcuffed and tied to a wall for three months in 1995.

General Sani Abacha
General Abacha: Ruthless with his opponents
He recounted to us how detainees could only go to the toilet for 10 minutes once a day, and went without a bath for the whole three months he was held there.

He also said he had been beaten, and given just enough food to survive.

A businessman Jonathan Olalere Layemo had more harrowing experience. He was also held for three months at a dungeon we saw within a building belonging to the Nigerian military intelligence corps in the seaport area of Apapa.

Mr Layemo claimed that he lost over 30kg by the time he was moved from his solitary confinement in the dark and forbidding dungeon.

We were all sweating profusely within the 10 or so minutes that we managed to stay in the unventilated dungeon.

Mr Layemo said he survived the oppressive heat for the three months by staying naked at all times.

Overcrowded

There were four cells under ground, and more than that number above ground.

All were just big enough for one person, but the detainees say up to eight people were kept in some.

We saw graffiti and crosses on the grimy walls full of blotches where inmates had waged a lost battle against mosquitoes who kept them company.

A member of the human rights commission, Mrs Elizabeth Pam, told the BBC that she felt sad and shaken by what she saw and she feels that it will help them understand the allegation of human rights violations which went on in Nigeria in the last 35 years.

At all the detention centres efforts were made to reassure members of the human rights commission and journalists that none of the facilities were in use as evidenced by the dusty and disused look they had.

All the same one cannot help shuddering at whatever went on there - even if all was in the past.

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See also:

03 Sep 99 | Africa
Nigeria: A history of coups
20 Oct 00 | Business
London implicated in Abacha probe
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