Across the country, heart rendering chilling and gory tales have been laid before the Judicial Panels set up by the different state governments, to look into cases of infraction of rights of the citizenry by the erstwhile Special Anti Robbery Squad, (SARS), disbanded last month in the wake of the EndSARS protests, spearheaded by youths,
Across the country, heart rendering chilling and gory tales have been laid before the Judicial Panels set up by the different state governments, to look into cases of infraction of rights of the citizenry by the erstwhile Special Anti Robbery Squad, (SARS), disbanded last month in the wake of the EndSARS protests, spearheaded by youths, to press against perennial Police brutality.
An aggrieved father on Tuesday recounted the chilling details of how men of the disbanded SARS killed his son in custody at the Awkuzu facility of the security outfit.
Mr Emma Adimachukwu Chimezie, a school proprietor from Oraifite in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State Anambra State, regretted that despite killing his son, an officer of the outfit still collected a total of four hundred thousand naira from him for his feeding after an initial demand of five hundred thousand naira.
Adimachukwu’s petition and that of Mr. Obiora Akabike whose younger brother, Master Ekene Augustine Akabike who was also “wasted” by the anti-robbery squad were both heard on Tuesday at the panel sitting in Awka.
Narrating his story, Adimachukwu said his only son Obinna, a graduate of Business Administration from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka was an international businessman based in Onitsha in 2014 before he met his death in the hands of SARS operatives.
He said: “Obinna had gone to Nnewi with a friend to recover a debt of $10,000.00 which his friend borrowed from him. He had returned to Onitsha and was waiting for his goods to arrive at Ezenwata Park Onitsha when SARS men arrived and started shooting indiscriminately.
“Since they committed no offence, they did not run and were arrested. The story changed when on their way, they searched the two men but Obinna refused to surrender the money to them.
“In the course of taking him to SARS, Awkuzu, a fight ensued when they were searched and found the money with him. He refused to give them the money.
“When they got to Awkuzu they told him that since he can fight, they will send him to where he can fight. So they took him into cell 5 where they detain condemned criminals.”
According to him, he rushed down to Awkuzu SARS on hearing of his son’s arrest but was told on arrival by a friendly police man that though his son was among those detained, he would not would not be allowed to go in, and was asked to return the following day.
He added: “When I returned the next day, the story changed, so I went and hired a lawyer. They told him that my son was not detained at the station.
“When they continued with the game, the lawyer became suspicious and advised me to contact all highly placed people I could.
“I went to the station the next day and gatecrashed since they refused me entry and that earned me detention by the second in command to the commander of SARS.
“The second in command brought out and read a statement purportedly written by my son and when I demanded to verify it, I was not only refused but was detained for a second time by the second in command who was enraged that I had the temerity to ask to see the statement and verify if it was my son’s writing and signature.
“When I finally regained freedom, the second in command demanded for money to feed my son. Meanwhile, I didn’t know that they had killed him the previous day. The second in command demanded that he needed the money to feed my son. I gave him four hundred thousand naira because he had demanded five hundred and asked me to come back the next week.”
Continuing, he said that it was when he demanded to see his son because he had the keys to their country home that the commander of SARS, Mr James Nwafor, confronted him.
“Nwafor jumped up and said: Is it because I allowed you in that you are making all these requests? Look, let me tell you if you don’t know, your son is dead!”
At this point, I collapsed on the chair. As I fell down, Nwafor ordered for my detention but I asked Nwafor to release the corpse of my son, to which he responded, “do you want to go the way your son went?” I was thrown out of the SARS station.
“After one year, I called Nwafor and said, can I burry my son? He said not yet. On the second year, he called a friend of mine and said I can now bury my son, that he had investigated and found that my son was not an armed robber.”
Adimachukwu said he was happy that a situation like this arose for him to talk about what happened to his son saying that he was intimidated and never knew he could ever get anyone to listen to him about what happened to his son.
Equally pathetic is case of Mrs. Ukamaka Obasi, a native of Onueke in Ezza South Local Government Area of Ebonyi State whose three sons were murdered in cold blood within a space of three years, by operatives of SARS, Anambra State Headquarters, Awkuzu. With tears streaming down her cheeks she recounted in an interview with Saturday Sun how the operatives rendered her childless following their extra-judicial killing between 2012 and 2014.
First son accused of MASSOB membership
According to the thoroughly devastated woman who was later abandoned by her husband after the misfortunes, her ordeals started when one night in July, 2012, she returned to their residence at Umenweke Street, Okpoko, Ogbaru Local Government Area of Anambra State, and was greeted with the news of her first son, Ebuka, being picked up by SARS operatives at his clothing shop located at Sokoto Road, Fegge, Onitsha. He was accused of being a member of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB).
“By the time we received the information it was already late,” she said. “So the following morning, I and his father, Thomas Obasi, went to SARS headquarters at Awkuzu. They confirmed to us that he was in their custody. They told us to continue to bring food to him until they finish their investigations so that we could take him on bail. We continued to do so. We did this for about one week. Each time, I visited him, I would be made to pay N2000 at the counter before I could be allowed to give him food.
“But on one of the days when I brought food for him, one of the female officers there told me to stop bringing food because he had been executed. His father and I wept uncontrollably before we left SARS office. We made several efforts to confront the authorities of the anti-robbery unit to tell us the offence our son committed that led to his execution. But our efforts yielded no fruits. Yet we’ve not been able to see his dead body till date. Honestly, it was very difficult to convince people in our village that our son who was 20-years-old then and was planning for his traditional marriage in three months time was arrested and killed by SARS based on the allegation that he was a member of MASSOB.
Second son similarly framed up
“As if they were not done with their evil deeds, in August, 2013, about one year after the murder of our first son, the same SARS operatives in Awkuzu, arrested our second son, Obiora on the same false allegation of being a MASSOB member. Before then, he had taken over his brother’s shop, after his demise in the hands of SARS. But it happened that one fateful day as he was returning from the market, SARS operatives on routine patrol arrested him at Fegge area of Onitsha and took him to their Awkuzu headquarters.
“We learnt that a good number of boys returning from the market that fateful evening were also arrested. Again, my husband and I went to their headquarters at Awkuzu. They confirmed to us that his name was among those arrested for allegedly belonging to MASSOB. They told us to bring him food so that he would not starve. We kept bringing food to him for a period of two weeks. Each time we went there, we would be asked to bring money at the entrance gate, and also at the counter, before my son could be allowed to receive the food. I had to pay dearly for the two weeks I took food to him at the place.”
But she was again devastated when after going there for weeks, she was informed like in the first case, to stop bringing food to the place because her son was dead. Her account: “On one of those days, after two weeks of detaining my second son at the SARS headquarters, Awkuzu, I was told by one of the officers to stop coming. He told me that they had confirmed that my son was a MASSOB member and because of that he had been killed.
“It happened that my husband accompanied me that very day. When the information was broken to us that our second son had been killed, my husband collapsed. Thereafter, medical doctors at the popular Ndeli Hospital at Awkuzu where he was rushed to after the collapse, fought tirelessly before they could revive him. From that very day, my husband started developing different health problems but that is a story for another day.”
Third son accused of being an armed robber
The last stroke that broke the camel’s back for the poor woman and made her childless was when her third son was framed for armed robbery and sent to his early grave in the hand of SARS operatives. She told Saturday Sun how it happened. “In October, 2014, I and my husband were alerted that our last son, Chibuike, who was about 18-years-old then was arrested by SARS operatives attached to Okpoko Police station. The information was that he was riding on a motorcycle with one of his friends to go and buy condemned iron materials popularly known as scraps when they were arrested by SARS operatives at the Upper-Iweka area of Onitsha and taken to Okpoko Police station.
“When we got to the station, we were told to come back the following day. But when we did, the SARS commander at Okpoko told us that he had been transferred to their headquarters at Awkuzu. When we got to Awkuzu, SARS operatives there confirmed to us that his name was among those in their cell. My husband was permitted to see him and speak with him before we left that day. So I kept bringing food for him for a period of three weeks. On one of the days, one of the officers, a woman, told me to stop spending my money and time coming to the station.
“The officer was positioned at the entrance gate. It happened that when I was talking with my husband, she overheard us. That was how we got to know that she was from our area in Ebonyi State. She told us frankly that our son died about four days after he was brought to SARS office and that officers in charge of the cell were the people eating the food I was bringing to him. She told us that our son was accused of being an armed robber who had been on the wanted list of SARS. We insisted that we must enter SARS office because we were not convinced about the information.
“When we got to the counter, the cell officer came to take the food but we told him that we want to see Chibuike and speak with him. It was during the ensuing argument that we came to realize that our son was no more in their cell. When my husband and I begged them to show us the bodies of our children, nobody spoke to us. Rather, we were pushed out of the station after the officers called us all sorts of names including ‘corrupt parents,’ ‘parents of criminals,’ and so on. It was based on these developments that my husband left me. He went back to Ebonyi State some years back and refused to come back to Onitsha till date. I am alone here managing my own life.”
Saddled with mounting debts
But it is a life shackled by debts incurred from the incarceration and death of her sons. She explained: “During those years of persecution, we spent a lot of money. Friends and family members contributed money to assist us. We also borrowed a lot of money while trying to secure their bail. We spent over N900, 000 in the hands of the SARS operatives because on each occasion they would ask us to bring, say, N150, 000 or N200, 000 promising that they would release our son. But at the end they would kill them. That situation coupled with indebtedness made my husband to leave Anambra State because he could not pay what we borrowed and creditors were disturbing us.”
It was a tearful day as more petitioners in Abuja gave various testimonies at the Judicial Panel in Abuja set up to look into the allegations of brutality and high handedness by personnel of the disbanded SARS.
Two cases came up for hearing but the first, which has to do with an allegation of unlawful detention, could not be heard as both the petitioner, one Bala Mohammed and the respondents or their representatives were absent at the venue.
Killing of Youth Corper
The respondents were the Inspector-General of Police, the Commissioner of Police at the FCT Command, and the defunct SARS.
The session was, however, thrown into a moody atmosphere as a testimony taken by one Chinenye Igwetu, narrated how her sister, Miss Linda, died as a result of the action of a policeman.
She recounted that Linda was killed by a policeman on the night of July 3, 2018, while on patrol.
Chinenye, who broke down in tears at a point while narrating what happened, said her sister had gone out with her friends in celebration of her National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) passing out parade scheduled for the next day.
According to the petitioner, the Police claimed that late Linda was with two others in a car that refused to stop when it was flagged down.
Following the refusal, the Police were said to have shot the tyres of the vehicle but in the process, Linda was hit and that led to her death, Chinenye said.
Then she received a call from one of her sister’s friends who was also in the car at about 4:30am.
The man, identified as Mr Tobi, asked her to come over to the Garki Hospital and upon her arrival, she noticed a pool of blood at the entrance with several policemen there.
“I saw Tobi drenched in blood and he was in handcuffs. I asked him what happened, and he could not answer because he was still in shock.
“A policewoman there took me aside and asked if I was the sister to Linda. She was like I have to be strong and narrated the experience that they had to trail these guys (that’s my sister and her colleagues) to the hospital,” the petitioner said.
She added, “Tobi said on their way from Civic Plaza. After they passed the plaza, they heard a loud sound and he thought it was one of his tyres and he looked at the mirrors and saw that the tyres were ok.
“He said my sister tapped him slowly and was gasping for air and when they turned on the light in the car, she was already in a pool of blood.”
Chinenye noted that they later discovered that Linda had been shot, adding that the policewoman at the hospital identified the policeman who fired the shot.
After giving her testimony, she demanded justice and compensation for her family who she said were yet to get over the incident.
Torture, Unlawful Detention
Petitioners have also demanded the sum of N50 million as compensation from the Police on the grounds of alleged torture, unlawful detention and imprisonment.
They made the demand on Friday at a sitting of the Independent Investigative panel on human rights violation by SARS and other units of the Nigeria Police Force in Abuja.
At the resumption of the hearing, two cases were raised.
The first was a case from Mr Tony Duchi and seven others who alleged torture, unlawful detention and imprisonment based on ethnic origin.
According to their counsel, Mr Samuel Yusuf, some of the complainants could not make it to the court as a result of distance.
He, then went ahead to present their demand of N50 million as compensation for all the torture they went through in the hands of SARS.
In addition to that, they also asked for the scrapping of the new Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) team, which was created as a replacement for SARS because they believe it is no different.
The respondents, (Inspector Cornelius Agbo of SARS FCT, IGP) were, however, absent.
The Head of the panel, Justice Silverman Galadima said the proceedings of the day, would be recorded and sent to the Force as a reminder for them to appear before the panel at the next sitting scheduled for November 19.
The next complaint was from Mr Gabriel Ufuoma on alleged denial of access to justice and confiscation of property by the force.
Counsel to Ufuoma, Emmanuel Adedeji, alleged that his client bought a plot of land in 2011, in Abuja, and when he was ready to resell, someone else laid claim to it.
The Police, thereafter, allegedly laid ambush on the victim outside the court room and seized the documents forcefully.
His prayers include an order directing the Police to release the title documents of plot 104, Lugbe, Abuja at the next sitting. He also said the Police lacks the power to determine land ownership in Nigeria.
The Presiding Justice ordered that the Police brings the original documents on the next adjourned date (November 18).
At the close of the sitting, members of the panel resolved to visit Police detention sites across the FCT.
In another bizarre story, Mrs. Funmilayo Akinade revealed that her son, Mr Seyi Akinade killed himself after losing N7 million in forex trading following his arrest and illegal detention by SARS operatives.
She told the Judicial Panel on Thursday, that the operatives were from the Zonal Intervention Squad of SARS, a Police formation at Obada – Oko, near Abeokuta, at that time.
The ZIS unit was later scrapped by the Inspector General of Police, Mr Mohammed Adamu, following the alleged killing of a soccer star, Mr Kazeem Tiyamiyu (aka Kaka) in February.
Funmilayo said her son, a student of the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta (FUNAAB), was taken in a raid on a student hostel in Abeokuta.
She said the operatives detained her son, causing him to lose N7m in forex trading before he sank into depression and killed himself.
She said he drank a poisonous liquid later confirmed by a medical doctor to be the insecticide brand “sniper”.
Recounting his experience, a witness and a friend of the deceased, Mr Damilare Adejoro who was also among those arrested, said, “on February 3, 2020, Inspector Babajide Adebusuyi and his three other colleagues raided and arrested all the 17 students staying inside Chocolate City Hostel at Camp, Abeokuta, detained and locked us all night inside the cell at the station.
“The officers did not tell us what our offence was, but rather when we got to the station, we were locked up with other 52 inmates already in a small cell after we were asked to pay a sum of two million naira for bail which we could not afford to pay.”
Adejoro added that while in the Police custody, his late friend, who was a forex trader, told the officers that he had opened trading business online that would run into loss if not attended to, but they refused him access to his mobile phone, slapped and even made a jest of him which eventually made him lose over seven million naira.
Adejoro added that before his friend committed suicide on April 22, 2020, he went on his Twitter page and wrote, “This is my story in case anyone is wondering why I did it” and on his last day on earth, he wrote, “I guess it’s goodbye now…no one heard my cry for justice and this had to happen haha…bye world”.
Adejoro said, “I believe this panel would ensure justice and bring hope to the common man.” He requested that the parents of the deceased be compensated for the huge loss that led to the death of Mr Seyi Akinade.
Another witness and landlord of the victim, Mr Olaleye Adejare, confirmed the incident, saying the Police officers eventually collected N120,000 before releasing the students without any just cause.
One of the respondents, Inspector Babajide Adebusuyi, said they arrested the victim, “but it was because they got information that some people were smoking Indian hemp in the house even though the deceased, as well as his friend, was not culpable.”
Drunken Police Constable
The Nneibo maternal family of late Friday Arunsi, allegedly murdered on April 17 by a “drunken” Police constable at Ebem Ohafia in Abia, is asking for N100 million compensation.
The family, represented by Mr Kingsheart Ukpai, is also asking for justice in a petition filed before the Abia Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Police brutality and extra judicial killings, through its Counsel, Mrs Ngozi Ukwueni.
Ukpabi told the panel on Wednesday in Umuahia that the family was demanding justice and compensation for the “brutal killing of a promising young man” by a policeman.
The defendant was attached to the Ohafia Divisional Police Station, when the incident happened.
Ukpabi, who was led in evidence by the Defence Counsel, SP Stanley Ofoegbu, said that the 19-year-old deceased was the breadwinner of his family.
Narrating how the boy was killed, Ukpabi said that constable, who was said to be drunk at the time of the incident, shot and killed the boy, while he was unloading essential goods from a truck in front of a shop during the COVID-19 lockdown.
He said: “Three policemen were coming back from a drinking spree in their private car about eight poles away from the shop.
“The driver lost control, while the car veered off the road and rammed into the truck.
“The policemen quickly jumped out of their car and asked the boys to stop unloading the goods.
“While this was going on, the constable rushed to his house to pick up his rifle and immediately started shooting sporadically, hitting Friday in the process.”
He said that the deceased was immediately rushed to a nearby hospital from where he was referred to the Federal Medical Centre, Umuahia.
Ukpabi said that the boy was confirmed dead upon arrival at the hospital.
He further told the panel that his remains were deposited at the hospital’s morgue and that efforts made by his relatives for the Police to release his body for burial had been unsuccessful.
However, the defence counsel wondered why the petitioners were still asking for justice, when the suspect “is already facing justice”, having been detained at the Umuahia Correctional Centre.
Ofoegbu prayed the panel to grant him an adjournment to enable him to continue with the cross examination of the witness at the next sitting.
The petitioner’s counsel did not oppose the application.
The Chairman of the Panel, retired Justice Sunday Imo, thereafter, adjourned the matter to Dec. 1 for continuation of the hearing.
The Chairman, Katsina State Judicial Panel of Enquiry on Police Excesses, Justice Abbas Bawale, said the panel would on November 23, 2020, commence public hearings in the state.
He said the panel had received 61 petitions from various individuals.
Justice Bawale told journalists that the panel would summon the complainants and the defendants to appear before it.
He said the panel will begin its public hearing from Funtua zone where majority of the petitions emanated from, adding that, thereafter, the hearings would be held in Katsina and Daura zones. Justice Bawale maintained that the panel would complete the public hearings within a week.
He said, “Presently, we have 56 petitions from Funtua zone of the state and five petitions from Katsina zone. We are expecting more petitions from Daura zone. For now, we have a total of 61 petitions in all.
“Definitely by November 23, we shall begin public hearing from Funtua zone and thereafter, move to Katsina and Daura zones.
‘We spent last week assessing the petitions, while for this week, we shall formally write and summon both the complainants and the defendants to the public hearings.
“By next week, we shall round up all public hearings after which we shall write our report. We should be able to complete our assignment within the stipulated time given us to do so.”
Indicted SARS Operatives
Meanwhile, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) claimed at the weekend it had provided the Attorney General (AGF) and Justice Minister, Mr Abubakar Malami all relevant materials needed to prosecute 33 ex-operatives of the now scrapped SARS indicted for impunity and rights abuses.
Executive Secretary of the NHRC, Mr Tony Ojukwu, made the claim in reaction to a report that the office of the AGF had no sufficient evidence to prosecute the affected operatives.
The 33 ex-SARS operatives were indicted in a report recently submitted by a Presidential Investigation Panel constituted by the NHRC.
Ojukwu said the two issues raised by the AGF as impediments to prosecuting the indicted operatives were that he had not received the original case files and that some of the police officers must first be dismissed by the Police Service Commission (PSC) before they could be prosecuted, “which is procedural.”
He added: “We have worked on those conditions. We have sent all the original cases files, not only to him (the AGF), but to all the states, because the law says it is either the Attorney General of the Federation or the Attorney General of the states.
“There are about 13 states involved, and I can assure you that we have dispersed all the original case files to all the 13 states. Secondly, we have submitted the list of these officers, with other necessary documents to both the Police Service Commission and the Inspector General of Police.
“So, they need to do the needful. Moving forward, I expect that, once these internal procedures are tidied up, they should be able to do what they are supposed to do. This is because, as at today, we have sorted out these two obstacles identified by the AGF.”
Rules of Engagement
Ojukwu, who frowned at the excesses of security agents in their relations with the people, and their reluctance to subject themselves to the law, insisted that members of the various security agencies must learn to comply with their rules of engagement.
He noted that one of the major challenges of democracy and human rights protection in the country is that most people still manifest military mentality, while security agents feel they could operate unchallenged.
“The law enforcement agents still keep feeling that nobody should challenge them,” Ojukwu noted, adding that it was time they realise that, in a democracy, despite the importance of their duty of keeping the society safe, they must operate within the confines of existing laws and the rules of engagement which they made for themselves.