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East Bay Professor Arrested in Nigeria

  • May 23, 2011

By Katharine Mieszkowski

A Bay Area college professor who has been on leave this semester running for governor of his home state in Nigeria was arrested Monday in Abuja, that country's capital.

Professor Steve Torkuma Ugbah's arrest came just over a week after he survived an attack on his convoy that killed one of his political advisors and injured another — who was subsequently arrested. [Update: On Tuesday, at about 6 p.m., Ugbah was released on bail, according to the U.S. State Department.]

Ugbah, who has dual citizenship in Nigeria and the United States and has taught marketing and entrepreneurship at California State University, East Bay, for more than 20 years, campaigned earlier this year in Benue State as a reformer. At rallies, his supporters enthusiastically waved brooms as a symbol of sweeping in change.

On Monday, the inspector general of the police in Abuja invited Ugbah to meet with him, according to his wife, Stevina Evuleocha, who is also a professor of marketing and entrepreneurship at Cal State East Bay. When Ugbah arrived at police headquarters, he was arrested.

“He called me from his holding cell,” Evuleocha said, adding that she is in “disbelief.”

The incumbent, Gov. Gabriel Suswam, claimed victory in the April 26 election. But Ugbah’s campaign is contesting that outcome, alleging Suswam's supporters stuffed ballot boxes.

On May 13, Ugbah’s convoy was attacked by gunmen on the road to Makurdi, the capital of Benue State, from Abuja. Charles Ayede, Ugbah’s senior media advisor, was killed, and Adaa Maagbe, his senior political advisor, was injured. Local villagers helped Maagbe escape. He called Ugbah, who was traveling in another car, and told him to turn back to avoid the attackers.

“If anything, the cowardly murder of Charles, and others before him, has further strengthened my resolve to fight for the realization of the stolen mandate,” Ugbah told reporters the day after the attack.

Maagbe was arrested on Friday and charged with "breach of public peace." Ugbah denounced Maagbe's arrest as a form of political intimidation.

A spokesman for Suswam accused Ugbah of politicizing the May 13 attack in the Nigerian press, saying Ugbah’s political party, the Action Congress of Nigeria, was engaging in a “propaganda war.”

Ugbah's arrest Monday was on charges of inciting violence against the governor and his supporters.

Ugbah’s friends and family members in the United States fear that as news of his arrest spreads, violence will break out in Benue.

“It very troubling for us,” said Ernest Ezeoha, the executive director of the California Nigeria Forum, a San Francisco-based nonprofit where Ugbah serves as president. “Not only is there a history of people under detention being found dead or disappearing, the only person who can quell the mob is Steve. Steve was already planning on going on the radio to tell his supporters to avoid violence."

“We’re very concerned about the heightened security risk his arrest poses,” said Evuleocha, Ugbah's wife. The pair have five children and live in Dublin. Fearing for Ugbah’s safety, his supporters and relatives in the United States have contacted the U.S. State Department, as well as their senators and congresspeople.

“I want them to be able to get the government to be able to guarantee his security,” Evuleocha said. “We’re uniquely aware that arresting and detaining him does not guarantee his safety. People … in Nigeria can be hurt or harmed while in custody.”

Officials from the U.S. Embassy contacted the police while Ugbah was in custody.

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