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Page last updated at 19:18 GMT, Wednesday, 7 May 2008 20:18 UK

Nigerian court frees 'dead son'

Ugochukwu Nwaokporo
For the last six years, Mr Nwaokporo's family believed he was dead

A Nigerian man, believed dead by his family, has been released from police custody on bail after seven years in detention without charge.

Ugochukwu Nwaokporo, now 24, was arrested in 2001, just after he arrived in the capital, Abuja, his family say.

He was tortured and shot in the leg by police in an attempt to force him to confess to armed robbery, he says.

A year later his parents say that they were told Mr Nwaokporo was dead and did not know he was still being held.

The Nigerian police have been the subject of several reports by international human rights organisations who say they are guilty of arbitrary imprisonment, summarily executing detainees and routine torture.

Vagrant

Mr Nwaokporo's parents say their son travelled from the south-eastern city of Onitsha to Abuja to find work in 2001.

Peter Nwaokporo
They told me he was dead, and I thought there was nothing I could do, so I went home
Peter Nwaokporo, Ugochukwu's father

Speaking for the first time since his release, Mr Nwaokporo told the BBC News website that he had arrived in a remote area of the capital at night and decided to stay in the motor park where his bus had dropped him.

A group of police officers were rounding up vagrants and they arrested him.

While in police custody, he was blindfolded, beaten and led out on to a piece of waste ground where he believed the police would kill him, he says.

The officers shot him in the leg.

"They told me if I confessed they would take me to a hospital. But I did not."

He treated his own wound with medical supplies brought to him by church groups who visited the police station cells where he was held.

But the first time he cleaned the wound it was with his own urine, his lawyer told the court.

Sometimes I lost myself I was so afraid
Ugochukwu Nwaokporo

His leg is now withered and almost useless, the bullet has broken the bone and it has not healed properly.

His father, a civil servant from Ebonyi State, was told of his son's arrest by one of the church groups who visited the jail.

He came to Abuja regularly to beg for his son's release, but was brushed off every time.

Then in 2002 the family was told their son's name had been scrubbed off the list of inmates at the jail.

"They told me he was dead, and I thought there was nothing I could do, so I went home," Peter Nwaokporo told the BBC.

'The president'

Ugochukwu Nwaokporo says that he was held in a cell in an Abuja police station for the whole seven years of his detention.

Ugochukwu Nwaokporo (2nd from right) is helped from court
Ugochukwu Nwaokporo was helped from court as his leg is now withered

He was known among police officers as "the president" of the jail because he had been there so long, and some of them tried to help him, he says.

But while there, he heard police summarily execute several armed robbery suspects.

"Sometimes I lost myself I was so afraid," he told the BBC.

In 2006, the police tried to bring charges of armed robbery against Mr Nwaokporo in the High Court.

The case was delayed several times in Nigeria's tortuously slow legal system until 2008.

It was picked up by Nigeria's Legal Aid Council who appointed Mr Nwaokporo a lawyer.

They didn't have anything on him, so they threw him back in jail perhaps hoping he would die
Lawyer Nnaemeka Ejiofor

"They have not brought him to court in seven years to enter a plea. They want to keep him in prison as long as they can," his lawyer Nnaemeka Ejiofor said.

"When they arrested him, they didn't have anything on him, so they put him back in jail thinking that perhaps he would die. But by the grace of God he did not."

Because of a misunderstanding, his family were not notified that their son was alive until last month.

Trial

He was bailed for $4,000 (2,000) on Wednesday by a member of a church group helping his case.

He still faces trial on armed robbery, conspiracy and weapons charges.

But the robbery the police say he committed took place two months after Mr Nwaokporo says he was taken into custody.

"In Nigeria, if you do not have money, you cannot buy someone to maintain for you," his father said.

"The police should be protecting the citizens but they're victimising them."


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