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Who Will Police The Police? The Collins Agbor Story 

By Fiona McAlpine With Clíona Martyn

Following a legal facilitation session, organised by Global Conscience Initiative, at the Buea Central Prison on January 15, I was left with a strong rancid taste of injustice.  A story of police brutality, a realisation that the police must also be policed and justice must always be fought for. 

Cross-section of inmates legal facilitation session

As I sat in the crowded workshop, in a dusty store room of Buea Central Prison, I was struck with a surge of panic. Not due to the rusty gun perched behind me or the creaking roof that threatened to cave in every time someone sneezed. But because of the words and stories of the detainees, the simplicity of their crimes, the fact that they were no different from me. I could see myself, in another life, positions reversed. I could imagine myself chewed up and spat out by a dysfunctional system, one in which the rights of man are not universal, but available on purchase.

One of the stories stood out starkly, that of Collins Agbor, a teenager who was arrested for aggravated theft in July 2006.  He claims to have been arrested by association, and was not at any time handling any weapon. Collins claims that after arrest he was shot in custody two times, resulting in four bullet wounds, two entry and two exit. Each wound I saw personally. He claims to have been shot by a man who now holds a senior position – a delegate, no less, of the South Western Region who lives unaffected by the everyday horrors of life in a penitentiary facility. The alleged abuse is detailed in a personal statement from Collins;

He showed me his gun, a pistol, and asked me how it was called. I simply told him that I knew it was just a gun and had no idea how else it could be called. Other guns were brought and the same question was asked. I gave the same answer. He then insisted that if I don’t tell the truth then he would shoot me on the leg. I insisted that I know nothing about the allegations against me. That was when he first shot me on the left leg and then later shot me on the right leg
He was later coerced into signing a statement written in French. This is another serious violation as Collins, an Anglophone, was ignorant of the content of the statement.

Collins’ family doesn’t live in Buea, so without support he must rely on a single meal of plantains or fufu per day to subsist. He has been in Buea Central Prison for years with no progress been made on his case, and without charge. As he stood before us relating his story, he did not raise his voice once, his eyes did not flicker with anger. The boy had lost hope.
The session was attended by other civil society members, who (although Collins remained emotionless) were outraged by these allegations.

Deputy State Counsel Collins Bame, advised the detainee to get a family member to visit the State Counsel to commence the investigation into this alleged act of police brutality. It was also attended by a team of pro bono lawyers – a truly noble endeavour in a country where nothing comes for free. Sunday evening we took an injured pregnant woman to the hospital in the middle of the night, and when we finally found a taxi we were not met with an "are you all right?" or "can I help?" but with a robotic "how much".

The pro bono lawyers pledged their assistance to defend those who have been held without trial, including Collins, when their court dates finally roll around. These court dates are like a wedding cake arriving on your fifth wedding anniversary, a positive gesture, but one that is so overdue it is almost insulting.

Four years is a long time for anyone to be imprisoned, without trial, believing to be unjustly accused, and without knowing when you will be free.  Four years in a penitentiary facility for a teenager means that over 20 percent of his entire life, the most formative years of emotional, educational and spiritual development, have been squandered. 

Collins should have been graduating from high school, browsing university courses, jogging with his friends. No wonder the spark had gone from his eyes. I have no legal background, so cannot look into Collins’ case further. But I can plead for the right people to step forward – the State Counsel, the pro bono lawyers, and all other members of civil society. 

I sincerely hope that justice will triumph and the coward who rained bullets upon a child will cease chuckling with his cronies, growing his belly out. People who use such despicable violence destroy the integrity of all law and order. These should be the people locked behind their own bars, scrapping for plantains. "No one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails.  A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but it’s lowest ones." -Nelson Mandela, 1994

I eagerly await Collins’ verdict, and the investigation which must follow into this allegation of police brutality.  I hope when he is rightly released, he can regain some semblance of normality, that the experience does not leave scars as permanent as the bullets in his legs.
 

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