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Conflicting allegations as family accuses police of refusing to release corpse of okada rider killed on birthday

Conflicting allegations as family accuses police of refusing to release corpse of okada rider killed on birthday
November 04
14:24 2020

It was a Saturday. Adeyemi Idris AbdulKareem had a good reason to be happy as that day — August 8 — was his birthday. Although he rides okada for a living, his journey outside his home that night was on foot as he was going to celebrate with friends in the neighbourhood. Unfortunately, that was the last time Oluwafemi, his wife, heard from him. Adeyemi’s trip outside his single room in Mushin became a journey of no return. For Oluwafemi, her husband’s birthday will be remembered with tears, agony, and pains for he died in the hands of members of Olosan police station, who have also refused to release his corpse.

Adeyemi, who just clocked 32, had parked his okada at the backyard when he arrived home. He worked at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) area in Idi Araba part of Lagos state. He sat on his brown-clothed chair located close to the single window which illuminated the room. The room, located in a face-me-I-face-you compound, was divided into two with the help of curtains. A part of the room containing two chairs, a shelf, television and fridge, is meant to serve as a sitting room to entertain guests, while the other part contains a bed where the family members rest for the night.

JOURNEY OF NO RETURN

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After taking a short nap, he went out to have fun with some friends in celebration of his birthday. His wife would later call him around 10pm and his response was that he was already heading home. While Oluwafemi waited for her husband, drowsiness crept in and she fell asleep. The following morning, she received a call from someone in the neighbourhood informing her that her husband was seen in a police van.

Before she could ask what went wrong, the voice added that he seems to be dead. She became numb for a few seconds. With two children and a third on the way, the thought of her husband’s death being true struck her heart with fear, pain and a bleak future.

“I was very confused. I felt like my head was turning and I screamed immediately. People asked me to calm down, that it wasn’t possible but I wasn’t feeling good. I had a sudden chronic headache. I felt like urinating on my body and passing out waste at the same time. All my system broke down,” she told TheCable.

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“So, I was taken to Aishat Hospital in Idi Araba where they said he was. As I was on the bike, I kept putting a hand on my head. I had a feeling that something terrible had happened. Everything was too sudden.

“On getting to the hospital, we saw that people had gathered. When I went in, I saw policemen there and I told one of them that my husband was brought into the facility and I needed to see him. He then threatened that if I don’t behave myself he will shoot me. So he cocked his gun and immediately we all ran away. They sent us running from the hospital to somewhere around LUTH. That was where we waited and after a while, we went back and stayed beside a house.

“They didn’t allow us to get close to him and the next thing we saw was them putting his body back into their van which was parked outside the hospital building. They told us from afar that they are already taking him away and if we talk we will all die. I fainted and the next thing I saw was that I was taken home.”

DEAD ON ARRIVAL AT HOSPITAL

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Findings by TheCable revealed that Adeyemi was already dead before the police took him to Aishat Hospital. He had been arrested on his birthday for conflicting allegations. After the encounter at the hospital, the officers in Olosan police station in Mushin refused to grant audience to Adeyemi’s family.

It was gathered that after the police rushed the body to the hospital, Ayantola Oladipo, the chief medical director, was asked to check his pulse to confirm if he was still alive. But the result was negative. The hospital could not admit him as he was already dead, so the police took his body away.

Adebowale Savage, coordinator of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) in Idi Araba, was also involved in the case. The deceased’s family had sought his help after they were repeatedly ignored by the policemen. Savage led a team of six human right officers in unravelling the incident. The team visited the deceased’s wife, the medical doctor, and Ayodele Arogbo, the divisional police officer (DPO) of Olosan police station.

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“The doctor said he was only asked to check his pulse which means that it was an instruction given to him by the police officers that he followed. They (the police) wanted to confirm if he had given up the ghost or not. So what they asked him to do is to check whether he is still alive. After it was confirmed that the guy was dead, the police then collected the corpse and took it away,” Savage said.

TRIGGER-HAPPY OFFICERS AND NOTORIEORITY OF OLOSAN POLICE STATION

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Olosan police station, Mushin

Officers in Olosan police station are not only said to be trigger-happy, they are reportedly known for injustice against residents. During the #EndSARS protests, there were multiple videos showing policemen shooting at protesters in Mushin. The DPO of Olosan police station, also known as Gbakoje, was said to have led the officers on the mission which reportedly led to the killings of some people, while several other persons sustained injuries.

The Nigeria police style of operations has always been a source of concern, especially when compared to other countries of the world. The security agency was ranked the worst in the world according to the latest ranking by the International Police Science Association and the Institute for Economics and Peace in the 2016 World Internal Security and Police Index (WISPI).

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When Sulaiman, the deceased’s father, was briefed of his son’s death, he wasted no time in travelling to Lagos from Ibadan where he resides. Upon arriving at the police station, the sexagenarian was refused entry alongside other members of the family. It took the intervention of the human rights officers before he and other family members were granted audience at the police station.

“Immediately I was told about my son’s death, I left Ibadan and travelled down to Lagos. They didn’t allow us to enter the police station until we found someone from human rights that allowed us to gain access. When we met the DPO, he said the body has been taken to SARS office. Till now, we are still searching for his body and we haven’t seen anything yet,” the 60-year-old said.

Savage said there have been several allegations against officers in Olosan police station over cases of human rights abuses and police brutality. He narrated the intimidation by officers when the human rights team visited the DPO.

“In terms of cases of police brutality, people do mention Olosan police station a lot of times, compared to other police stations in Zone D area command in Mushin. There have been several allegations against the DPO too but whenever we are involved, he knows how to play his cards. Maybe whenever we are not involved, he does badly and that’s probably why many people say bad things about him,” he said.

“When we visited him, about four policemen stood and surrounded us with their guns as if we were trying to harm the DPO. That was after they knew that we visited on behalf of the family. So,  they thought we wanted to revenge. But as the leader, I told the DPO that we are not criminals or hoodlums so human rights activists should work with the police.”

ALLEGATIONS AND WITHHOLDING OF CORPSE

The late Adeyemi

After the police arrested Adeyemi, his family was not contacted until Oluwafemi was informed by a third party. The police had also refused to inform them of the whereabouts of the 32-year-old. It took the intervention of Savage and his human rights team to get the attention of the Olosan police station DPO.

According to the human rights officer, the DPO explained that Adeyemi was arrested during a raid of a cultists’ hideout. He said Arogbo, the DPO, showed them a book where the cultists wrote their names and minutes of meetings, but a check through the book showed that Adeyemi’s name was not there. After pressure from the human rights official, Arogbo claimed it was a robbery incident. The DPO admitted the death and added that the body has been deposited in the mortuary.

“The DPO said it was during a cultists’ raid that they apprehended Adeyemi. After they arrested him, they claimed that he was trying to escape. So they were chasing him then he tried to jump over a fence and then died in the process,” he said.

“The police first told us that he was arrested during a raid in a particular area where cultists were. He showed us a book where cultists wrote minutes of their meetings but the man’s name was not on the list. They also claimed it is a robbery issue. He said the body was deposited in the mortuary and it wasn’t released because they were conducting an investigation involving him.”

This version of the police, however, contradicts the rush to the hospital on Sunday morning as the arrest was made on Saturday night. When this reporter visited the police station in Mushin after multiple futile attempts to reach the DPO, he was denied access and sent away by officers at the gate. This was despite proper introduction and identification to the gun-wielding officers.

TEARS, PAINS AND THE SEARCH FOR CORPSE

The deceased’s wife told TheCable that the family spent days searching for Adeyemi’s corpse. When they met with the DPO, he told the family that Adeyemi was already dead. But some officers in the station told the wife that her husband proved stubborn when he was arrested which was why he was tortured until he passed away.

“For four days, we kept moving from one place to another in search of his corpse. They kept on saying that the DPO is not around. When we eventually saw the DPO, he showed us my husband’s picture on his phone and he said ‘if this is the person you’re looking for, he is already dead,’” she said.

“His relatives then demanded his corpse for a proper burial but DPO Ayorinde Arugbo refused. Till now, we haven’t seen him whether dead or alive. They should allow me to bury him. I have two children for him. Our first child is eight years old and the second is about four years. I am pregnant for a third child. I am pregnant and I couldn’t tell his father on time because it would make him more worried.

“They didn’t tell us what his offence was. When his relatives went there, they told them that my husband is an armed robber. Later they claimed he is a cultist. Then they said he was proving stubborn which was why he was beaten and tortured to death. They kept on giving several excuses.

“We have moved from one place to another just to get his corpse but they are not responding to us. When we went to the station, they asked us to go to SARS office. And they kept telling us that what they have done with my husband is final and nobody can hold them to account.”

As she spoke with this reporter, her eyes were filled with tears. The shock of losing her husband on his birthday seemed unbearable.

“I cry every day and I don’t know of anyone but God. The officers at Olosan police station are responsible for the death of my husband. There was nothing wrong with him at all.”

POLICE THREATEN FAMILY OVER DEMAND

Olalekan Kareem

As the family of the deceased demanded Adeyemi’s corpse, the police retaliated with threats to detain more people. Olalekan Kareem, Adeyemi’s brother, was nearly detained but for the intervention of human rights officers at the police station.

“When I arrived Lagos from Ibadan, people advised me not to go to the police station because the officers had begun to threaten them. And when I got there, the DPO threatened to lock me up too just because I asked for the corpse of my brother,” he told TheCable.

TheCable found that Adeyemi had a local wooden safe called “kolo” in Yoruba language where he had saved N74,000 from his okada work before the incident. According to his wife, his house in Ilaji area of Ibadan remains uncompleted after several years of commencing the project.

“I am a Christian and he is a Muslim. His father’s house is in Ibadan. Even the house my husband is building is yet to be completed in Ilaji. When I went there on Sunday, I couldn’t hold my tears,” she recounted.

“When the incident happened, I had to break his kolo and N74,000 was all that we met inside. Does a thief keep such money in a kolo? Even the house, he had started building it before we got married and till date it isn’t completed. But all thanks to God, he isn’t someone that hurries. He works with his okada and that is all he does with God’s help.”

POLICE BRUTALITY AND THE #EndSARS CAMPAIGN

The case of Adeyemi is one of the many cases of police brutality. For 13 days, Nigerians across the country protested against brutality by operatives of the defunct special anti-robbery squad (SARS), a unit of the Nigeria police force which was disbanded after days of agitation. Prior to the campaign, there have been several cases of human rights abuses, police brutality and in some cases, extrajudicial killings by members of the police force.

Not less than 92 Nigerians were killed between March 2019 and February 2020, by policemen who are expected to protect the people. Innocent citizens have been killed over unimaginable reasons including alleged refusal to give N100 bribe to the police.

Kazeem Tiamiyu, Kolade Johnson, Tina Ezekwe, Chibuike Daniel Ikeaguchi, Mus’ab Sammani, among others, are those who have been killed by the police. In March 2019, Ogar Jumbo, an officer of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), was also killed by officers of the Nigeria police force in Nyanya, a suburb of Abuja.

Jumbo, who was with his wife before he was shot, was said to have violated traffic rules. An argument ensued and the police officers pounced on him, according to witnesses who said his wife and two children — aged five and eight — cried and watched helplessly until the man drew his last breath. More than a year down the line, justice has not been served for the deceased.

BURYING OF CASES, POLICE REACTION

This police officer refused TheCable reporter to access the station

A Human Rights Watch report had indicted police officers of bribery, unlawful detention and extrajudicial killings. It noted that unlawful detention by police officers may last for days or even weeks, adding that those who do not pay bribes to them face threats, sexual assault, torture, or even death.

Efforts to reach the DPO of Olosan police station proved abortive. His phone numbers have remained out of reach since the shootings during the #EndSARS protests in Mushin. A text message sent has also remained unanswered.

When contacted for reactions to the incident and the shootings in Mushin, Muyiwa Adejobi, spokesman of the Lagos police command, said any member of the public aggrieved with the police should forward their petitions to the judicial panel.

“Are those ones not covered by the panel? There is no need for us to be reacting on things like this. Those that are aggrieved should forward their report to the panel,” he said.

“If the panel will look holistically into general issue as related to #EndSARS palava in the state, if anybody has a complaint, they will go, including policemen. Everybody has rights so they should forward whatever they have to the panel so there is no need to be reacting one by one since the panel has commenced sitting.”

Nearly three months after Adeyemi left his home on that fateful day, his wife, two children and other relatives still remain at a loss as to where his corpse is. While his death was confirmed at the hospital, the location of his body remains unknown — whether in a mortuary, one of the disbanded SARS offices, or somewhere else. The family still hopes that a proper burial will be made when the body is found but who will they call to search for Adeyemi’s body. The police?

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