Nigeria: How SARS Tortured Me for 47 Days, Victim Tells Lagos Panel

28 October 2020

The Judicial Panel of Enquiry and Restitution for Victims of SARS-related abuses in Lagos, commenced sitting yesterday with one of the petitioners recounting his ordeal in the hands of policemen.

Mr. Okolieagu Abunike, a father of five, told the panel that in 2012, Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) operatives detained and tortured him for 47 days at their Ikeja office, without trial.

He spoke just as the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu warned miscreants in Lagos to be law-abiding and peaceful or face the full wrath of the law.

Abunike told the commission that the operatives stole and sold his vehicle, a Volkswagen bus, land, bags of cement, inverter and carted away all the possessions in his house.

He testified as the first petitioner since the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, set up the nine-member panel on October 15, following the #EndSARS protests.

Abunike told the panel that he was arrested after tendering his resignation as manager of a firm, following a false complaint of theft by his boss.

He said he was first taken to Ojo Police Station before being transferred to FSARS office at Ikeja.

There, he was beaten, hung on a pole and paraded as a thief in a market after he refused to confess to a bogus theft charge, a day after his arrest.

"They started beating me, paraded me before Alaba Market. The beating was too much. They broke my head. Then they took me back to the station and called my boss. I spent 47 days with SARS," Abunike said.

He identified his tormentors as Inspector Sunday alias" Baba Ijapa" and ASP (Assistant Superintended) Haruna.

He said: "My family didn't know where I was. When my mother and wife finally came. They beat them up in my presence. They took over my house, sold my car, my inverter, phones and seized my land documents."

The petitioner said he eventually got a judgment against the police on February 26, 2016, at the Federal High Court in Lagos.

Justice Ibrahim Buba ordered the police to pay him N10 million as exemplary damages, but the police refused to pay.

He added: "No compensation has been made till date. That's why I came forward to the panel. My property was not given back to me. The only one I have got back is the landed property document in 2017. Justice (Mobolanle) Okikiolu-Ighile ordered the release of my documents."

When asked what he wanted of the panel, Abunike said: "I want the panel to compel the police to do what the court has said. I am tired of suffering... feeding, school fees is a problem."

Justice Okuwobi promised that the panel would make its findings on Abunike's allegations public within seven working days.

Three other petitioners were scheduled for hearing yesterday. They are: a paraplegic on a wheelchair, Mr Ndukwe Ekekwe; Olukoya Ogungbeje: and Mr. Basil Chetal Ejiagwa.

But only Abunike testified in person. Ogungbeje, a lawyer, and Ejiagwa were absent but represented by their counsel.

They prayed the court to adopt their petitions as their testimony.

The court granted their applications.

The testimony of Ekekwe, whose spine was broken after allegedly being thrown from a two-storey building, was adjourned to give the Commissioner of Police in Lagos time to appear and respond to the allegations.

The panel's chair, Justice Doris Okuwobi, adjourned till Friday.

The panel was scheduled to begin full sitting on Monday, but could not do so because three of its members, Rinu Oduala, Temitope Majekodunmi and Lucas Koyejo, had not been sworn in.

Upon their arrival, Oduala and Majekodunmi, both youth representatives nominated by an online poll took their oaths alongside Koyejo, the Zonal Coordinator (South-west Zone) - National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

Meanwhile, many Nigerians on Twitter yesterday expressed dissatisfaction over the oath of secrecy administered on members of the panel.

The oath of secrecy administered on panel members reads in part, "I solemnly swear/affirm that I will not directly or indirectly communicate or reveal any matter to any person which shall be brought under my consideration or shall come to my knowledge in the discharge of my official duties, except as may be required for the discharge of my official duties or as may be officially permitted by the governor. So help me God/Allah."

Sanwo-Olu Reads Riot Act to Miscreants

The governor also yesterday warned miscreants to be law-abiding and peaceful or face the full wrath of the law.

Speaking during a visit to Fagba, in Ifako-Ijaiye Local Government Area of the state to assess the level of destruction of property caused by last week's communal clash in the area, Sanwo-Olu said the state government would deal with miscreants who refused to embrace peace.

Sanwo-Olu, who was accompanied by his deputy, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat; Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Mrs. Folasade Jaji; Special Adviser to the Governor on Education, Mr. Tokunbo Wahab and Head of Service, Mr. Hakeem Muri-Okunola, assured those affected by the clashes that the Lagos State Government would assist them.

He said: "The level of destruction that I have seen here is colossal; it is unfortunate. Enumeration would start immediately by the two local governments. The council chairmen and all the community leaders will come together and come up with a list of those whose properties have been destroyed.

"The security operatives are here; they can hear everything. We are using this opportunity to give notices to all the miscreants in the neighbourhood and that is why I am looking at you.

"If you know that you are not doing any work and that you are one of the people that have caused this trouble, we are giving you the final notice because we are coming to clear this whole place."

He also called on the miscreants to vacate Fagba.

Sanwo-Olu said: "We are coming to clear this whole place and we will make sure that you do not disturb or harass the peace-loving people that we have in this neighbourhood. We have Hausa community, Igbo community and Yoruba community and they are living well.

"You need to look for what to do; we will not allow you to come and tarnish the image and the peace that we have in Fagba and in Lagos State as a whole.

"We will make sure that we also come and see what we can do to help the youth. And once we do that, we are giving you an opportunity to remain law-abiding and be peaceful. If not, we will be hard and be very decisive on all of you," he added.

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