11 December 2012

Nigeria: 'Radio House Bomber' Returns to Community's Warm Embrace

Lafia — After six months in detention John Alaku Akpabu, the 39-year-old man who was arrested at the Radio House in Abuja, on May 21, with a bag containing canisters of teargas and ammunition, is back into the warm embrace of his family and residents of Gora in Karshi, Nasarawa State.

Akpabu was arrested by police at the gate of Radio House while a news conference was in progress at the premises with three ministers in attendance. He stopped for a search that revealed the suspicious content and subsequently held as a suspect with intent to bomb the building which houses two ministers and government's Capital FM station.

Police interrogation led them to Gora for a house search the very next day, Tuesday, May 22. He was taken to the village in handcuffs by heavily armed policemen, whose presence attracted dozens of villagers watching from a safe distance how the popular young man was being handled. The police also interrogated his wife, Janet at the hovel which is home to a young family of six.

When our reporter visited, not many residents could voluntee information leading to Akpabu's residence. One resident, who had the courage to do that, had to first extract assurances that his identity must be concealed.

Six months later, Daily Trust returned to Gora to find a different mood. Acting as if new to Gora, our reporter made several inquiries, and villagers were too eager to point to the direction of the house where Apkabu lives with his wife and four children. Others also volunteered to lead the way. They spoke of him like some characters in epic movie.

When our reporter met with Apkabu in front of his makeshift one-room apartment, he related his experience at Radio House gate; his detention at the most dreaded Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) and Kuje Prison in the FCT as well as his first two weeks in Gora, after the High Court in Gwagwalada had granted him bail.

"It was one policeman that stopped me", he said, giving details of how the officer later directed him to take the items contained in his bag to any nearby police station, instead of Radio House since he claimed they belonged to his late elder brother who died in service in Bayelsa State. But he said a second policeman argued with the first and insisted that their superior officer must hear the case.

"It was at that time that private security men attached to Radio House heard of it and began calling newsmen. One of them even started briefing journalists without knowing the details," Apkabu said. "I was then dragged into a vehicle and taken to the command headquarters where the police commissioner was waiting," he added.

Akpabu had told the police that he was heading to Capital FM, to seek air time to speak on a popular programme, "Lean on Me," where he intended to call attention to his late brother's unpaid entitlement.

Akpabu said he and his brother's widow and children had made several visits, seeking to speak and plead with police authorities at various places in respect of the unpaid entitlements without success.

"And I knew if I returned the items we later found among his personal effects, the police will just lock me up on charges of possession of arms. So I decided that I will use the items to call world attention to the unpaid entitlements," he said.

He said while at the command headquarters, the police screamed at him, saying God had exposed him because he wanted to humiliate them as people who don't pay deceased officers' entitlements. He said he was later detained at SARS.

The next day, according to the suspect, he was taken to Gora, where the whole village appeared to have been waiting. "Crowds followed from a distance, and watched as I was dragged in handcuffs. I felt like entering the ground."

"My worse moment was when I met my wife and children. They were all weeping. I began to weep too," he said.

He said he was returned to SARS for detention which lasted one month before his arraignment at Gwagwalada. But that was the last day the police prosecutor showed up in court, according to Akpabu. He said he was remanded in Kuje Prison for three months and appeared in court two more times. The bail application from his lawyer succeeded during the third appearance, but paper work dragged the process to about two weeks before he finally let off the hook.

"On that day, my younger brother picked me up at the prison and drove me straight to a restaurant where I ate food." He said both him and his brother headed to SARS where he hoped to retrieve his personal belongings including his hand held, ATM card and money.

"But policemen there said they haven't finished prosecuting the case; so they won't return my personal items. They began shooting in the air to scare me. So we left." And then he reached Gora at dusk into the warm embrace of his family.

"My children slept in my arms that night for the first time in six months. I can't forget that day." But he said neighbours tiptoed into his apartment that night, cautious of being implicated in the widely reported case.

"By daybreak, the whole village was heading towards my house...but only a few had the courage to come closer. It took over two weeks for them to freely visit," he said.

Akpabu, a trained scar folder now faces another ordeal. "I used to go out and look for jobs, but anywhere I appear now, I answer more questions relating to my ordeal than the job I am looking for."

He said he had two job offers since he left prison; one from a foreign firm, and another from a female lawyer. "I sat for interview at the firm for a job on their construction site, but the job never came after a security check which revealed my identities as the Radio House guy. The female lawyer even threatened to sue me if I continue to call her line", he said.

Village head of Sarkin Angwan Kalara Gora, Chief Baba Gaza, spoke to Daily Trust, saying "we are happy, and we thank God that his ordeal did not lead to any bad thing. I pray he will get out of it if he is innocent."

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