NEWS:My ordeal in SSS cell – Thomas Thomas

Thomas Thomas represents one of Nigeria’s finest journalists; he was arrested and detained in the SSS for about 38days. He spoke to THE INK Newspapers three days after his release. BY NSEOBONG DAVID

Can you tell us how you were trailed and captured by the SSS and their reason(s) for the capture?
I was arrested by officials of the State Security Service on the 1st of July 2014 on the orders of the state governor, Chief Godswill Akpabio.  The reason why they arrested me, according to them, when they eventually took me to the station was that I volunteered an information to the paramount rulers of Ibibio, sometimes around June this year, that there was a plot to eliminate some of them for refusing to support Udom Emmanuel.  I agreed with them and told them a certain person called me sometimes around 14th of June and the person said he was from Ekpenyong Atai in Essien Udim Local Government Area,

that he does not love what Akpabio is doing with the Ibibios, that he gave me this information based on the fact that he was convinced that I was going to take a step to prevent the assassination or elimination of the paramount rulers of Ibibio. 

So having been convinced and tried to reach out to the sons of Ibibio that were mentioned in the plot, I had to publish the information, and of course the message was recorded.  I was led to the two paramount rulers by one barrister George on Sunday, either 16th or so, of June.  So after that, the paramount rulers, having heard and listened to the recorded voice, decided to give the governor a traditional injunction (an ayei).  

Because of that, the state governor was provoked and thought the action, I mean her action would lead to blood bath, and the person who volunteered the information should be arrested, and I was arrested on the 1st of July 2014.  I would not have been arrested if I had listened to what my parent said because I went to see them on the 30th of June, and on the 1st when I wanted to go, they said I should not go, that I should attend prayer and fasting session in The Apostolic Church at Calabar where I was with them, I told them no, they insisted, I still said no; and immediately when I came back to Uyo that same day, it was not up to three minutes when I arrived Uyo, I was arrested.  So that was what happened on the 1st of July, and I was being taken to the SSS station along Nsikak Eduok Avenue.

Did the caller identify himself?
No o, he did not.  The only thing he said was that he was from Ekpenyong Atai in Essien Udim.  So immediately when I heard that the man was from Essien Udim, and he mentioned some names which I don’t want to repeat here, I regarded the message as something very true and strange in Akwa Ibom State, so I had to save the lives of the paramount rulers.

It was being rumoured that you were being locked up in a cell.  We want to know where they actually took you to; was it really a cell or just a confined place?
Well, I was taken to a cell, you know a cell, even if you are given an estate to stay with security operatives directing your way; in short a cell is a regimented environment, so I was in a cell, though my cell was a very special one.  Where I was kept was like a living room with a parlour.  I was in a house arrest.  I was not beaten, the men of the SSS took good care of me; they were like brothers.  Even though my life was regimented, I was not allowed to do certain things, at least they were nice.  So I was in a cell, but a very special cell, that was I have written many poems and stories while in their custody and in my poem, I described where I was as Egypt.  It was Egypt because while I was there has a lot to do with spiritual and partly because of politics.

Were there other inmates in the cell, and what was your relationship with them?

Yes, there were.  I was in a special cell any way but I was very close to other inmates in the cell.  They were about four or five cells, mine was the sixth cell, but there was a corridor that used to link me to other cells, so I used to go there and talk to the inmates, sometimes I discovered that majority of them were innocent of the charged labeled against them. So I talked to them and asked them to pray, even though I am not that religious, but I asked them to pray, and they complied, so I was kind of a king in the cell cos I had access to them, I open my door, go to wherever I want, but there was a limit because there was a gate where I was.

Did you expect to be kept for so long in the cell?
Well, I didn’t know how long I was going to be kept, infact I didn’t know I was going to be arrested that day, not to talk of the duration of my stay.  You see, when I was arrested, the SSS knew I was not guilty of the charges labeled against me.  Infact, I was supposed to be let go the first day I was arrested because I told them the truth, I even volunteered to go out of the ethics of journalism to give them the number of the person who volunteered the information, but they still kept me there based on what the governor told them.  Two days after, I was arrested on Tuesday, on Thursday at about 4.15pm, I was taken to a court.  We waited in the court for about 10 minutes before the magistrate arrived, and it was not up to five minutes, she gave a kind of order that I should be remanded in the SSS custody indefinitely.  She conspired with the state government to keep me there.  She conspired because she knew there was going to be a strike.  The order was to keep me there for the SSS to have a legal backing to keep me there.

Which court did they take you to?
Chief Magistrate court at Fulga Street, off Ikot Ekpene Road.

Now let’s come back to the caller.  Did the SSS confirm the call and the caller that it was real?
Yes.  On that 1st of July they arrested me, they asked me to call that person and book an appointment, which I did.  The guy, I didn’t know who told him I was in the SSS custody.  He switched off his phone, so the SSS had to look for him in their own way.  Then on the 16th of July, the man who led the squad that arrested me called me out of the cell and paraded a man of about 51 years before me and said he was the man that called me.  Well, I believed him because the man spoke Annang dialect.  Although the man kept denying that he was not the one who volunteered the information, but there was a communication between me and him, that I was the one that always initiated any information that went on between him and me.  But they did not believe.  The SSS official who directed the squad that arrested me asked his officers to take him away and give him the beatings of his life in other to comply and I was asked to return back to my cell.  Since then I kept asking about the man whom they paraded before me, nobody, until I left, could tell me where the person is, up till now.  I don’t the person’s name, but I can identify him if I see him.  That was all on the man.

Now what’s your take on Gov. Akpabio on the issue?
You know, Gov. Akpabio had contemplated arresting me and other members of the Global Concord family.  Ever since Global Concord came on board on March 2010, it has been against the obnoxious policies of the government, so he has been on our neck, so that was a fine opportunity to arrest any of us, but I know I was the target.  They arrested me and wanted to torture me and perhaps send me to jail or an early grave but because it was not designed so by God, I have to live and tell the story.  Earnestly, Governor Akpabio wanted me to be in jail because of the charges he and the government effected.  They said I am a terrorist and gave me all sort of names, and said I should be hung, just like the proverbial dog.  But because it was not willed by God, I am still alive today.

Any message for Akwa Ibom people on the issue?
I want to use this opportunity to thank Akwa Ibom people for always being there for me.  You see, I would not have survived that arrest if not for their prayers.  Their prayers turned that incarceration into a sort of house arrest.  I was treated like a king in a strange land.  I was there, I became something that they don’t even deserve to keep in their midst, just like the ark of covenant that was taken into Philistine by the Philistines.  The philistines rejected the ark of covenant, so the SSS men rejected me.  They gave me everything I wanted, they loved me, they cherished me, they even sought my opinions on so many issues bordering Akwa Ibom State, I am very happy. All those things happened because Akwa Ibom people prayed for me.  It happened because I am loved by the people, not because I am a saint, but because of what I stand for.  I am very happy, I don’t know how to reciprocate the love they have for me, but I think God will reward them.

There was a paid advertorial in some national papers by the state NUJ, signed by the NUJ Chairman, Elder Patrick Albert on the issue, trying to say that Global Concord Newspaper is not registered with the Nigeria Union of Journalists in Akwa Ibom State.  What is your take on that?
Well, you see, we have so many sycophants who parade themselves as journalists.  I was shocked when a man who calls himself the state chairman of NUJ disowned the very establishment that made him the chairman of NUJ in the first place.  In fact, he actually sent me a text message immediately when he was elected the chairman of the NUJ in the state, thanking me and my colleagues for standing by him and as a result of that he made sure that the establishment – Global Concord had a share in the largesse of Mobil, by making sure that Unyime Ekwere collected a laptop from Mobil as a result of our efforts to install him as the chairman, because if not for us, he would not have been admired by anybody in the media profession.  We showcased him, and of course, even the Pioneer that he is a staff, has no strength to have showcased him. 

 We showcased him, wrote a lot about him and compelled journalists to vote him to power.  So for him to say Global Concord is not registered, he’s just making a noise because we don’t need to register in a puppet organization like NUJ in the state to operate.  We have been registered with the National Library, Federal Ministry of Information, and other parastatals of the Federal Government, so we don’t need to register with the NUJ in Akwa Ibom State.  After all, even if we had registered, he would still have denied us because he received a lot of money from the government.  
He received over 10 million naira from the government, so why won’t he say he does not know us?  He does not know us anyway because we are not in his puppet organization, so we don’t need to be a member of NUJ to practice.  We have the freedom of association and dissociation, so we have the freedom not to associate with the so called NUJ in Akwa Ibom State.  In fact, we cannot become a member of such a body until he leaves, but one thing I can assure him is that this is his last chance of being there, he can never become the NUJ chairman again, he cannot and will never be the NUJ chairman again, you can quote me anywhere because he has betrayed the people.  Patrick Albert is just Akpabio does not know is that these so-called publishers in Akwa Ibom State have no capacity to showcase his aspiration.  They have no capacity to showcase him, that was why they had to pay that advertorial in a national paper because nobody would read Pioneer, nobody would read all these small newspapers in the state.  
We have only six newspapers in Akwa Ibom State, Global Concord is the number one, The Ink, The Radar, Insight, the Guide and the rest.  Others are just Akpabio’s testimonials.  They say all sort of useless testimonies about Akpabio, but NUJ has nothing to offer, Patrick Albert has nothing to offer.  Patrick Albert is not recognized by us.  You can’t disown what you don’t own, so for Patrick Albert and his NUJ to disown us, it’s just a kind of trying to make a name where you don’t have a name.  They don’t own us, so they can’t disown us.

Apart from the volunteered information, do you think there are other remote causes that led to your arrest and detention?

Yes.  I can say the publications that warranted my arrest and unnecessary incarceration was just a plot to arrest me.  My arrest was conceived four years ago, not while I was in Global Concord.  I would have been arrested while I was with the Community Pulse Newspaper.  The reason is that I had opposed the government from its inception.  From inception, the government had been a government of lies and propaganda.  
I ventured into journalism, though I have been a writer from my primary school days, but I ventured into journalism in 2008 as a reaction to Akpabio’s lies and propaganda.  You see, I was in my village on the 4th of August 2008 when Akpabio came and commissioned a project that had already been commissioned by Governor Attah’s administration, that was borehole and the water was still running, there was no problem.  But to be very sincere, when I learnt that he was coming, and he actually came and commissioned that project, I was very angry so I had to take up my pen and started writing because I believe so much in pen than the weapon so since then I started practicing journalism in the Community Pulse Newspaper, so he was not happy, he’s not still happy.  I would have been arrested far back but God prevented him, so for him to say I am a terrorist and hide that guise to arrest me, it holds no water because everyone knows I am against the bad policies of Governor Akpabio.

Thomas Thomas represents one of Nigeria’s finest journalists; he was arrested and detained in the SSS for about 38days. He spoke to THE INK Newspapers three days after his release. BY NSEOBONG DAVID

Can you tell us how you were trailed and captured by the SSS and their reason(s) for the capture?
I was arrested by officials of the State Security Service on the 1st of July 2014 on the orders of the state governor, Chief Godswill Akpabio.  The reason why they arrested me, according to them, when they eventually took me to the station was that I volunteered an information to the paramount rulers of Ibibio, sometimes around June this year, that there was a plot to eliminate some of them for refusing to support Udom Emmanuel.  I agreed with them and told them a certain person called me sometimes around 14th of June and the person said he was from Ekpenyong Atai in Essien Udim Local Government Area, that he does not love what Akpabio is doing with the Ibibios, that he gave me this information based on the fact that he was convinced that I was going to take a step to prevent the assassination or elimination of the paramount rulers of Ibibio.  
So having been convinced and tried to reach out to the sons of Ibibio that were mentioned in the plot, I had to publish the information, and of course the message was recorded.  I was led to the two paramount rulers by one barrister George on Sunday, either 16th or so, of June.  So after that, the paramount rulers, having heard and listened to the recorded voice, decided to give the governor a traditional injunction (an ayei).  
Because of that, the state governor was provoked and thought the action, I mean her action would lead to blood bath, and the person who volunteered the information should be arrested, and I was arrested on the 1st of July 2014.  I would not have been arrested if I had listened to what my parent said because I went to see them on the 30th of June, and on the 1st when I wanted to go, they said I should not go, that I should attend prayer and fasting session in The Apostolic Church at Calabar where I was with them, I told them no, they insisted, I still said no; and immediately when I came back to Uyo that same day, it was not up to three minutes when I arrived Uyo, I was arrested.  So that was what happened on the 1st of July, and I was being taken to the SSS station along Nsikak Eduok Avenue.

Did the caller identify himself?
No o, he did not.  The only thing he said was that he was from Ekpenyong Atai in Essien Udim.  So immediately when I heard that the man was from Essien Udim, and he mentioned some names which I don’t want to repeat here, I regarded the message as something very true and strange in Akwa Ibom State, so I had to save the lives of the paramount rulers.

It was being rumoured that you were being locked up in a cell.  We want to know where they actually took you to; was it really a cell or just a confined place?
Well, I was taken to a cell, you know a cell, even if you are given an estate to stay with security operatives directing your way; in short a cell is a regimented environment, so I was in a cell, though my cell was a very special one.  Where I was kept was like a living room with a parlour.  I was in a house arrest.  I was not beaten, the men of the SSS took good care of me; they were like brothers.  Even though my life was regimented, I was not allowed to do certain things, at least they were nice.  So I was in a cell, but a very special cell, that was I have written many poems and stories while in their custody and in my poem, I described where I was as Egypt.  It was Egypt because while I was there has a lot to do with spiritual and partly because of politics.

Were there other inmates in the cell, and what was your relationship with them?

Yes, there were.  I was in a special cell any way but I was very close to other inmates in the cell.  They were about four or five cells, mine was the sixth cell, but there was a corridor that used to link me to other cells, so I used to go there and talk to the inmates, sometimes I discovered that majority of them were innocent of the charged labeled against them. So I talked to them and asked them to pray, even though I am not that religious, but I asked them to pray, and they complied, so I was kind of a king in the cell cos I had access to them, I open my door, go to wherever I want, but there was a limit because there was a gate where I was.

Did you expect to be kept for so long in the cell?
Well, I didn’t know how long I was going to be kept, infact I didn’t know I was going to be arrested that day, not to talk of the duration of my stay.  You see, when I was arrested, the SSS knew I was not guilty of the charges labeled against me.  Infact, I was supposed to be let go the first day I was arrested because I told them the truth, I even volunteered to go out of the ethics of journalism to give them the number of the person who volunteered the information, but they still kept me there based on what the governor told them.  Two days after, I was arrested on Tuesday, on Thursday at about 4.15pm, I was taken to a court.  We waited in the court for about 10 minutes before the magistrate arrived, and it was not up to five minutes, she gave a kind of order that I should be remanded in the SSS custody indefinitely.  She conspired with the state government to keep me there.  She conspired because she knew there was going to be a strike.  The order was to keep me there for the SSS to have a legal backing to keep me there.

Which court did they take you to?
Chief Magistrate court at Fulga Street, off Ikot Ekpene Road.

Now let’s come back to the caller.  Did the SSS confirm the call and the caller that it was real?
Yes.  On that 1st of July they arrested me, they asked me to call that person and book an appointment, which I did.  The guy, I didn’t know who told him I was in the SSS custody.  He switched off his phone, so the SSS had to look for him in their own way.  Then on the 16th of July, the man who led the squad that arrested me called me out of the cell and paraded a man of about 51 years before me and said he was the man that called me.  Well, I believed him because the man spoke Annang dialect.  Although the man kept denying that he was not the one who volunteered the information, but there was a communication between me and him, that I was the one that always initiated any information that went on between him and me.  But they did not believe.  The SSS official who directed the squad that arrested me asked his officers to take him away and give him the beatings of his life in other to comply and I was asked to return back to my cell.  Since then I kept asking about the man whom they paraded before me, nobody, until I left, could tell me where the person is, up till now.  I don’t the person’s name, but I can identify him if I see him.  That was all on the man.

Now what’s your take on Gov. Akpabio on the issue?
You know, Gov. Akpabio had contemplated arresting me and other members of the Global Concord family.  Ever since Global Concord came on board on March 2010, it has been against the obnoxious policies of the government, so he has been on our neck, so that was a fine opportunity to arrest any of us, but I know I was the target.  They arrested me and wanted to torture me and perhaps send me to jail or an early grave but because it was not designed so by God, I have to live and tell the story.  Earnestly, Governor Akpabio wanted me to be in jail because of the charges he and the government effected.  They said I am a terrorist and gave me all sort of names, and said I should be hung, just like the proverbial dog.  But because it was not willed by God, I am still alive today.

Any message for Akwa Ibom people on the issue?
I want to use this opportunity to thank Akwa Ibom people for always being there for me.  You see, I would not have survived that arrest if not for their prayers.  Their prayers turned that incarceration into a sort of house arrest.  I was treated like a king in a strange land.  I was there, I became something that they don’t even deserve to keep in their midst, just like the ark of covenant that was taken into Philistine by the Philistines.  The philistines rejected the ark of covenant, so the SSS men rejected me.  They gave me everything I wanted, they loved me, they cherished me, they even sought my opinions on so many issues bordering Akwa Ibom State, I am very happy. All those things happened because Akwa Ibom people prayed for me.  It happened because I am loved by the people, not because I am a saint, but because of what I stand for.  I am very happy, I don’t know how to reciprocate the love they have for me, but I think God will reward them.

There was a paid advertorial in some national papers by the state NUJ, signed by the NUJ Chairman, Elder Patrick Albert on the issue, trying to say that Global Concord Newspaper is not registered with the Nigeria Union of Journalists in Akwa Ibom State.  What is your take on that?
Well, you see, we have so many sycophants who parade themselves as journalists.  I was shocked when a man who calls himself the state chairman of NUJ disowned the very establishment that made him the chairman of NUJ in the first place.  In fact, he actually sent me a text message immediately when he was elected the chairman of the NUJ in the state, thanking me and my colleagues for standing by him and as a result of that he made sure that the establishment – Global Concord had a share in the largesse of Mobil, by making sure that Unyime Ekwere collected a laptop from Mobil as a result of our efforts to install him as the chairman, because if not for us, he would not have been admired by anybody in the media profession.  We showcased him, and of course, even the Pioneer that he is a staff, has no strength to have showcased him. 

 We showcased him, wrote a lot about him and compelled journalists to vote him to power.  So for him to say Global Concord is not registered, he’s just making a noise because we don’t need to register in a puppet organization like NUJ in the state to operate.  We have been registered with the National Library, Federal Ministry of Information, and other parastatals of the Federal Government, so we don’t need to register with the NUJ in Akwa Ibom State.  After all, even if we had registered, he would still have denied us because he received a lot of money from the government.  
He received over 10 million naira from the government, so why won’t he say he does not know us?  He does not know us anyway because we are not in his puppet organization, so we don’t need to be a member of NUJ to practice.  We have the freedom of association and dissociation, so we have the freedom not to associate with the so called NUJ in Akwa Ibom State.  In fact, we cannot become a member of such a body until he leaves, but one thing I can assure him is that this is his last chance of being there, he can never become the NUJ chairman again, he cannot and will never be the NUJ chairman again, you can quote me anywhere because he has betrayed the people.  Patrick Albert is just Akpabio does not know is that these so-called publishers in Akwa Ibom State have no capacity to showcase his aspiration.  They have no capacity to showcase him, that was why they had to pay that advertorial in a national paper because nobody would read Pioneer, nobody would read all these small newspapers in the state.  
We have only six newspapers in Akwa Ibom State, Global Concord is the number one, The Ink, The Radar, Insight, the Guide and the rest.  Others are just Akpabio’s testimonials.  They say all sort of useless testimonies about Akpabio, but NUJ has nothing to offer, Patrick Albert has nothing to offer.  Patrick Albert is not recognized by us.  You can’t disown what you don’t own, so for Patrick Albert and his NUJ to disown us, it’s just a kind of trying to make a name where you don’t have a name.  They don’t own us, so they can’t disown us.

Apart from the volunteered information, do you think there are other remote causes that led to your arrest and detention?

Yes.  I can say the publications that warranted my arrest and unnecessary incarceration was just a plot to arrest me.  My arrest was conceived four years ago, not while I was in Global Concord.  I would have been arrested while I was with the Community Pulse Newspaper.  The reason is that I had opposed the government from its inception.  From inception, the government had been a government of lies and propaganda.  
I ventured into journalism, though I have been a writer from my primary school days, but I ventured into journalism in 2008 as a reaction to Akpabio’s lies and propaganda.  You see, I was in my village on the 4th of August 2008 when Akpabio came and commissioned a project that had already been commissioned by Governor Attah’s administration, that was borehole and the water was still running, there was no problem.  But to be very sincere, when I learnt that he was coming, and he actually came and commissioned that project, I was very angry so I had to take up my pen and started writing because I believe so much in pen than the weapon so since then I started practicing journalism in the Community Pulse Newspaper, so he was not happy, he’s not still happy.  I would have been arrested far back but God prevented him, so for him to say I am a terrorist and hide that guise to arrest me, it holds no water because everyone knows I am against the bad policies of Governor Akpabio.