By Magnus Effiong/Ita Williams
All may not have been heard about the 42 suspected cultists paraded by the Nigerian Navy last week as a middle-aged man, Mr Otobong Sam Peter, has alleged a foul play, saying he was dragging the Navy to court for allegedly torturing him, raiding and destroying his property, Potomass Hotel & Bar, located at Atimbo/Ikang road, Akpabuyo without any explainable reasons.
Peter, who is demanding N110 million damages from the Navy for assault and malicious damage, said his lawyer, Mba Ukweni (SAN) had already formally told the Navy to meet him in court after the Headquarters of the Eastern Naval Command in Calabar rejected a letter from Barr Ukweni intimating them of the alleged criminal act.
While accusing the Navy of destroying his business, Mr Peter alleged that himself and about 17 of his customers were rounded up in his hotel and beaten mercilessly at about 6.30 pm of Sunday, May 24, and that the Navy also indiscriminately arrested other passers-by on the streets, mainly young men, between that Sunday and Monday morning.
He said that after he identified himself as the owner of the hotel and sought to know what their crimes were, he was set free but that others arrested alongside him were not that lucky to escape further humiliation as they were later paraded by the Navy as cultists.
Mr Peter described the reports that cultists were arrested in his hotel during initiation as cooked up story by the Navy to cover up alleged dehumanization of Nigerians, most of who, he said, had been released on bail by the Police who took custody of the suspects after being paraded by the Navy.
His words: “My hotel is very popular in Akpabuyo. Some Naval men and Police officers from their schools also used to come and relax there, mainly at evenings. At about 6.30 pm, three truckloads of men of the Navy invaded my hotel, Potomass Hotel & Bar at Atimbo, Akpabuyo, near the Police Secondary School. I am not running any illegal business. My company is registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission with registration number RC 922196, and I have been operating that business for three years now.
“They mounted an overt operation, shot sporadically, and got myself and About 17 of my customers, who were just relaxing, watching television and drinking, flogged mercilessly with horse whips. I thanked God no one died in that brutal hour of madness. They pulled down the hotel doors and destroyed everything in sight while commanding us to lie flat on the floor.
“We were beaten up like slaves. My back was perforated with whips. You could see the scars on my back to confirm this, and as I was in that state of confusion, I summed up courage and asked the leader of the team what our offences were and then introduced myself as the owner of the property. It was at that point that they allowed me to stand up.
“As they were ransacking everything they could lay hands on, I told them I kept about N500,000 from sales in one of those rooms which they were ransacking, and as I speak, that money is nowhere to be found. People’s handsets were seized, assorted types of very costly drinks were confiscated in a most bizarre form, and when I insisted on knowing our crimes, they said they would reach out to me the following day. They marched others to their trucks and zoomed off.
“As I speak with you, the Police have released more than 20 of those boys they paraded. My name is not in the list of the wanted cultists released by Cross River state government. I am not a cultist and have no business with cultism. My business has not only been ruined but my hard earned reputation has been brought to the mud for nothing.
“I have reported the matter to the Zone 6 Police Command, and my lawyer even wrote to the Headquarters of Eastern Naval Command but they did not accept the letter. No problem, they would prove to the whole world the crimes I committed to warrant such treatment,” Peter stated.
However, a Police medical report on the assault on Mr Peter, sighted by our reporter, diagnosed “multiple injuries 20 to a physical assault.” It stated: “the patient was at his Hotel where he owns and manages at Atimbo, Akpabuyo when a group of Naval personnel stormed into his premises and started firing into the air. They asked him and other people around to lie on the floor and began to beat them up using their guns and every other thing available to them.
“The patient sustained some injuries. There is a large bruise on the mid-line of the back with an abrasion on it. There is another abrasion on top of the bruise at the right shoulder region. There is a third injury.”
Efforts to contact the Commander of NNS Victory or the Base Information Officer could not yield any result as several calls and short message service (sms) sent for their reactions could not be attended to.
Recall that the Navy had last Monday paraded 42 suspected cultists, saying the suspects were preparing for initiation and possible cult war before they were arrested. The suspects were handed over to the Cross River state government for more investigations and prosecution.
Capt. Ibrahim Gwaska, who represented the Commander of the Nigerian Navy Victory Ship (NNVS), Rear Admiral Vincent Okeke, had said “the base responded through a tip off and cordoned the area in Akpabuyo. In that raid, we arrested 61 suspected cultists. On arrival, preliminary investigations were conducted. 42 out of the arrested 61 persons were confirmed to be cultists.”