Andrew Mbang was last seen alive on September 20, 2007, when his mother visited him in detention at the Old GRA Police Station, Olu Obasanjo Road, in Portharcourt, Rivers State.
The previous day, Andrew had been arrested with his friends – Obele and Kingsley, by men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Since then, they have never been seen nor heard again. The police have also failed to provide details of their mysterious disappearance.
“They were arrested while they were watching a football match in their apartment in the Eneka area of Portharcourt, Rivers State,” recalls Irene Mbang, Andrew’s sister who was just 14 at the time.
“They had just rented the apartment and moved in together.”
Immediately she got the news of the arrest, Andrew’s mother, Mrs. Mbang, visited Old GRA police station, where his neighbors said they had been taken.
She saw him and his friends in the police cell, but was asked by the police to come back the next day to secure their release, as the IPO (Investigating Police Officer) was not around.
She went back the next day, but was informed by the police officer in charge of the case identified as Supol Bassey, that her son and his friends had been transferred to the State Criminal Investigations Department (SCID), charged to court and were now in prison.
She wondered how all that could have happened within a short time that morning, as it was only 7 a.m. and also raining.
Mrs. Mbang visited the SCID and thereafter Ahoada prison, but found no trace of her son. It was on one of the trips that she fell into one of the gutters and sustained injuries.
“My mom fell into the gutter and was badly injured. It was raining that day and she couldn’t make out gutters because the streets were heavily flooded,” Irene said. “Today, she still aches from that fall.”
Relentless, Andrew’s family also visited other police stations, but the search yielded no success. The families of the other boys, Obele and Kingsley engaged in various searches, but that too was futile.
The denial of arrest and detention
The families of the boys went back to Old GRA police station where they were first detained, but were shocked when the police said they had no knowledge of their whereabouts. They also denied ever arresting Andrew and his friends, or detaining them.
This was odd, as Mrs. Mbang had seen them in the cell on September 20, 2007, a day after they were arrested.
“The officer in charge of the case, Supol Bassey, who initially informed us that they had been transferred to SCID and sent to prison, recanted his statement and denied ever meeting, arresting or detaining them,” Irene said.
The police also failed to produce any records to show that Andrew, Obele and Kingsley were ever arrested or kept in their custody. There was no evidence that he was charged to court.
“My mom was devastated and broke down. She was in a coma for two days,” recalls Irene. “It was really a difficult time for all of us.”
A glimpse of hope
What seemed like a glimpse of hope appeared in 2009, when Mrs. Mbang received a text message from Supol Bassey, the police officer who had been in charge of her son’s case.
“Your son is alive. Some paid me money to do what I did. Your tears is (sic) disturbing me. Your son is alive, please forgive me,” the message read.
Mrs. Mbang decided to call Supol Bassey via the same number. The feeling of seeing her son again after a long time thrilled her. However, that hope was soon dashed again, as he shouted at her; and warned her sternly to never call his number again.
In 2011, when she heard that Supol Bassey had been transferred to Ikot Ekpene in Akwa Ibom State, she visited him there in search of her son. She begged him to help her by providing information on her son’s whereabouts, but he denied having anything to do with the case and sent her out of his office.
She went there again in 2012, but this time, with a family friend who is a retired police officer. Again, Supol Bassey denied knowledge of the case.
Families hit hard by disappearance, seek justice
The mysterious disappearance of the three boys 13 years ago, has caused their families untold pains.
Unable to manage the shock of losing her only surviving son, Kingsley’s mother died from a stroke. She had lost another son, a few months before Kingsley was taken by the police.
Obele’s sister hasn’t recovered from the disappearance of her only brother just weeks to her wedding. “She refused to get married, because she had hoped that he would be there for her wedding,” said Irene. “I don’t know if she ever got married.”
For the Mbangs, life has not felt the same again in the last 13 years. They had to relocate from Portharcourt, because their mother could not take the shock.
Andrew was young and full of aspirations and nursed dreams of working in one of the oil companies in Portharcourt. He was enrolled as a welding and fabrication apprentice, before he was whisked away by the police.
His mother still lives with the pains; and fears that Irene’s quest for Justice may cause her the loss of another child.
But Irene is not backing down. She has joined the #EndSARS protests to lend her voice against police brutality, as she continues to seek answers to a 13-year old question: “Where is Andrew Mbang?”
“I’m not giving up. I want someone to hear me. I want peace. I deserve to know if they killed Andrew,” she said, in an emotion-laden voice.
Widespread protests across the country have led to the recent dissolution of the Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS), with increasing calls for police reforms.
Created in 1992, the unit was tasked with combating armed robbery and other violent crimes. However, it has since gained a reputation for extortion, indiscriminate arrests, torture and extrajudicial killings, Amnesty International reports.
Like Andrew and his friends, the unit has also been linked with the mysterious disappearance of people.
(Uchenna Igwe is a student journalist with the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism. This report was funded by the Gatefield Impact Initiative)
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