A final-year student of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Osun State, Hafiz Junaid, who was one of the 69 students arrested by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in their hostels during a sting operation on November 1, 2023, shares his experience with FATTEH HAMID
What are you studying at the university?
My name is Hafiz Junaid. I am studying Computer Science and Mathematics in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Osun State. I’m currently in the fifth and final year of my study, which I started in 2018. Apart from being a student, I’m a software engineer and a technical writer with a focus mainly on web development, front-end development, and application development. I also engage in social media management from time to time. I’ve undergone several courses in my field and I’ve attained several certifications from major platforms online, with a diploma in Software Engineering from Alt School Africa.
You were among the 69 students of the university who were arrested by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on November 1, 2023. Can you recount what happened?
On Wednesday, November 1, 2023, around 2am, I was asleep because I had a long day ahead, so I went to bed around 11pm on October 31, 2023. I was woken up by loud bangs on the door and I was startled. I thought there were gunshots because the noise was way too much with some people screaming. My immediate reaction was that we were being robbed and all I could think of was running for my dear life to escape and protect myself. There’s a small crack in the roof of the corridor to my room and I thought of it as a means of escape. I got onto the ceiling and tried to use it to navigate my way to the roof of the room. After some time up there, I peeped and I saw some officers brandishing weapons with red jackets and EFCC inscribed on them. Even when I saw that, I was still in shock and thinking that it was the robbers who disguised themselves as operatives of the EFCC by wearing their uniform due to the timing of the incident and the harassment I was witnessing. I felt that if they were real EFCC operatives, they should have gone directly to arrest whoever they came for, rather than bursting into everyone’s rooms as if it was a coordinated operation by armed robbers.
What did you do afterward?
After some time on the roof, it occurred to me that I hadn’t secured my gadgets so, I came down to secure my laptop and other valuables so that nothing would be stolen, then go back and hide in the roof. However, on my way down, I burst a water pipe but still got into the room. So, while trying to get back onto the roof, the water from the pipe touched some electric wires and as I attempted to get back there, the wires shocked me and I decided to stay back in my room. Before I knew it, my room was getting flooded and the water level was rising and I had to turn off the sockets so that I wouldn’t be electrocuted. At that point, I kept my phone with me and also my laptop, and waited to be robbed or arrested as what was happening was still not clear.
While waiting, I texted my parents to explain to them what was going on, that my hostel was being raided. I also texted a few friends because I had no idea what was going on. While waiting for them to get to my room, one of them got to me with the caretaker and he was questioning me why the light wasn’t on and where the water was coming from. I tried to explain to him that rain had damaged the roof, but he said I was lying and that I destroyed it while trying to escape. I told him yes, I was trying to hide but the roof had already been damaged.
What did the EFCC operative say when you told him that?
The EFCC operative didn’t listen to me and he told me to go downstairs where the other tenants were. I got there and we were all asked to lay down facing the concrete. While we were at that, some people were being slapped, beaten, harassed and I just stretched there, frozen. I couldn’t even think properly because any thought of escaping could result in being killed. Not long afterward, we were taken to their van and driven away. When we were in the van, we were told not to look up and torches were being flashed in our faces. Shortly after that, we stopped in the estate at another location and they took people from there as well. After doing all of that, they started driving us to an unknown destination, which turned out to be Ibadan. We got to Ibadan very early in the morning when the sun wasn’t even up.
When EFCC operatives broke into your room, what other thoughts did you have?
All I could think of at that point when they broke into my room was not to be beaten for any reason. I was already hearing people screaming, so I was completely compliant with them because I had nothing to hide. I did everything asked of me without complaining or questioning the order I was given. I was also hoping and praying that I wouldn’t get shot at while hoping that they wouldn’t take me away from the hostel, which later happened.
Were you told why you were arrested before you were taken away alongside the others?
No, I wasn’t told why I was being arrested. There was no information whatsoever; it was just harassment and being forcefully taken away. I wasn’t under any investigation. There was no communication; it was just so sudden, which made it more shocking. I was just arrested.
Apart from the fear that I was feeling at that moment, I was very angry and sad because I was a new tenant in that hostel. I moved to the hostel a week before the incident. So, I wondered why I was being taken away just after a week of being a resident of the apartment. It was a confusing situation. Moving to the hostel felt like a wrong decision for me. I also felt that my rights were being abused because they came into my room without prior notice to harass me, paraded me like a criminal, and took me to an unknown destination. It was also unjust and surreal. That night was the worst I ever felt and indeed, one of the worst days of my life.
What happened when you got to Ibadan?
In terms of punishment, I wasn’t punished. We were made to sit in the sun on the concrete pavement outside their office for hours barefooted, because they took me barefoot from Osun to Oyo State. They verbally and physically harassed us. They also took our pictures as if we were criminals; making us face the camera and taking another one with us backing the camera. These were taken without any investigation or confirmation that we were criminals.
The EFCC operatives did not accuse me of anything. I was not accused of anything, not even a single thing. I was arrested illegally without any investigation. I was sleeping when it happened and I dare to say that was an illegal arrest for an issue I have no idea about.
It was reported that luxury cars and other items were seized during the raid. Do you own any of them?
No. They only seized my mobile phone. I do not own any luxury car or item. It was just my phone that was seized and it was returned to me after they went through the phone.
What will this experience leave you with?
To start with, it leaves me with gratitude. That night, I was so scared and at one point, I thought I was going to die; I was stuck in my room and just waiting. I was really scared. So, I give thanks to God that I’m here and that I’m alive today. I’m grateful to God for my family members, my parents, and my brothers for coming to my rescue in Ibadan. I’m grateful to the Student Union (Government) officers, who came all the way immediately after they discovered what had happened to come and fight for our rights. I’m grateful. This experience also left me with the reality of the lawlessness that is happening in this country. We’ve always heard about it, but none had been my own experience before then. I was sleeping and the next minute, I was taken away for something I had no idea about.
Yes, I’m traumatised even though I’m a bit better now, but I was shaken mentally, emotionally, and physically for a few days. I saw a psychologist and will be seeing him again to assess me but I’m doing better now, much better. I’ve also been in and out of the hospital a few times, but I’m much better compared to when the incident just happened. The incident took a toll on me mentally and also left me with some physical bruises, but I thank God.
What were your parents’ reactions when they learnt that you were arrested?
Well, I can’t say what their immediate reactions were because I wasn’t there with them, but from what I heard, they got to know about the whole thing around 6am. My brothers showed them my message, which I earlier said I sent while waiting to be arrested. After my brother showed them the message around 6am, I was told that they were scared because they didn’t even know whether the invaders were EFCC operatives or robbers. It was the most traumatic experience any parent would go through due to many uncertainties. They didn’t know it was the EFCC until around 10am when they sent a lawyer to Ibadan to confirm if I was there. I didn’t know all these until my release and recounting their experiences to me was even more traumatic. They were traumatised by the whole thing because they didn’t know if I was kidnapped or anything. It was hours later that they discovered my true location and were able to confirm that I was alive.
How critical were the efforts of the OAU students, who protested your arrest and that of others?
I believe that their efforts were key in creating awareness about the situation and applying pressure for our release, and I am deeply grateful for their swift response and care towards us. I only found out that they were outside very late in the evening as we had no contact and never knew what was happening outside.
Do you plan to take legal action against the EFCC?
I just need the EFCC to do the needful because despite being innocent and not convicted of any crime, our names were released to the media and are still there.
What do you want the EFCC to do?
What I want EFCC to do is to clear our names. Since they released us after confirming that we were innocent, there hasn’t been any statement to the media. They should do the needful by clearing our names. It is injustice to soil our good names when we are innocent of the crimes they accused us of. We can only do what we can on our path and that was why I made the tweet on X (formerly Twitter) just to explain my part, which you saw before you contacted me. So, I want to try and clear my name and eliminate the damage done to my reputation. Other steps are also being taken by my parents and concerned parties to see that something is done.
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