Special Report, Featured

Wrongful arrests, trumped-up charges, unlawful detention, exposure to ill-treatment — how people held in connection with extraordinary #EndSARS protests are rotting in jail

Going home to meet his family with a smiling heart after a long day’s work, Robert Kpanou’s hands clenched to a polybag which contained a roll of sachet milk and four canned sardines. He was well-pleased with the groceries in his possession — considering his socioeconomic status. But his delight would suddenly turn to anguish.

For this young man who insists he was wrongly picked, a 15-minute roadside encounter at Lekki Toll Gate with officers of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) attached to Maroko Station became a full year in custody. The security agency arrested him for being part of the October 2020 extraordinary #EndSARS Protests, a demonstration against police brutality which led to the disbandment of the infamous Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The point of Kpanou’s arrest was symbolic of last October’s #EndSARS protests, as it is a spot the youthful Nigerian population would never forget. Two days earlier, military officials opened fire at peaceful #EndSARS protesters who were demanding wholesale change in how their nation is governed.

Although the Nigerian government and military have denied any wrongdoing, there are investigative reports that affirmed that armless #EndSARS protesters were indeed killed by soldiers at the Lekki tollgate in Lagos. Kpanou, a Beninese, never even joined the protest. 

“I work as a tile layer. On the 22nd of October 2020, I was coming back from work at Banana Island in the evening when the police arrested me with my phone, N5, 000 and tools at Lekki Toll Gate. They queried me on where I got the sardines and milk I carried. They then took me to the police station,” Kpanou, in a tone filled with melancholy, explained to NewsWireNGR at Yaba Magistrate Court on 24 September. “I have only been to court two times. The second time was today. They falsely claimed in court that we were the ones that went to burn down Tollgate (an act triggered by the soldiers’ killing of protesters at Lekki).”

On the day Kpanou’s matter was slated to be heard (24 September), about 30 other inmates were brought to Yaba Magistrate Court in relation to EndSARS.

Festus Ogun, a human rights activist and lawyer who is standing as counsel to Kpanou, and several others illegally detained in different parts of the country over #Endsars protest, expounded on what happened.

“He [Kpanou] was unlawfully detained beyond the contemplation of law before he was later charged to court. When he was charged to court, there was no charge against him, and he was remanded. He has since been in remand at Kirikiri for roughly a year.

“When the court was supposed to sit for his case on 24 September, it didn’t, because it was on vacation. He was remanded on the grounds that the Directorate of Public Prosecutions, DPP, advice was not ready.”

Robert Kpanou

Kpanou’s matter has been adjourned till December.

Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison, Apapa, Lagos, is among the correctional centres in Nigeria with the highest number of inmates held in connection with EndSARS. Like Kpanou, Sunday Okoro is being held up there.

You’d all recall hoodlums contaminated the #EndSARS protests in several Nigerian states. Destructions were enormous in Lagos. Nationwide, not less than 22 policemen, seven soldiers and 59 civilians were killed, according to the toll announced by President Muhammadu Buhari during an emergency meeting with former Nigerian leaders on 23 October 2020. On a date unforgettable to Nigerian youths (20 October 2020), lawbreakers set ablaze the building of Orile-Iganmu Police Station. A policeman who jumped the fence of the station in a bid to keep safe landed in the hands of the hoodlums who killed him. Some of the gangsters audaciously rocked police uniforms. One Sodiq Adigun was later arrested and paraded at the Command Headquarters in Ikeja, Lagos.

The Orile-Iganmu Police Station incident sparked anger among personnel of the Lagos State Police Command, as they resolved to use random persons around the area as scapegoats.

Sunday Okoro, a Lagos commercial driver was arrested two months after the EndSARS protests had died down — on 22 December — at Orile-Iganmu for allegedly vandalising Orile Police Station. Okoro, 31, said he was spotted by police officers in the background of a photo of some thugs burning the Station. Today, he is yet to regain freedom from Kirikiri Prison.

“They said I was among the people that protested in EndSARS, but I know nothing about it o [sic],” Okoro told this reporter at Ogba Magistrate Court in Ikeja, Lagos on 6 October.

“There was a riot (on 20 October 2020), so I went to park my bus at a fuel station where I usually park it. As I was coming back, I saw some people running, shouting “DPO, DPO” [referring to the gang who were protesting the alleged high handedness by Orile Police Station’s Divisional Police Officer, DPO, before they set the station ablaze]. They were running towards my direction; I was confused. That is how they snapped me.

“So the other day [22 December], after work, I said I should get what my family will eat. That is how they arrested me. Since that time, they took me to the Lagos State Police Command Headquarters, Ikeja. Upon all the whole money spent, still, I find myself at Kirikiri.”

The Police filed charges relating to arson and others against him, but Okoro insists they are trumped-up accusations.

“They just brought out my picture because I was standing where people were shouting “DPO, DPO”. And I am not close to the station.

“There was a guy that was putting on a police uniform. Myself, I was scared, because there was a crowd following the boy at the back. I stood to know what was going on. So that is how they snapped a picture of that guy that is putting on a police uniform and my face appeared in the photo.”

Okoro has been to court about 14 times. The magistrate court in Ogba granted him a temporary bail in March, but his family is yet to meet the conditions because they lack the financial capability to perfect his bail conditions. According to him, “the prosecutor is the only person holding me”. He has found two sureties — his wife Lilian, and one other man.

Ogun, the counsel to Okoro hinted that he is working towards ensuring that his client’s case is struck out.

This reporter, on 5 October obtained some charge sheets of persons arrested in connection with the EndSARS protest in Lagos, most of whom are detained because of the devastation to the Orile Police Station.

Find below:

charge sheets of persons arrested in connection with the EndSARS protest in Lagos - NewsWireNGR
charge sheets of persons arrested in connection with the EndSARS protest in Lagos - NewsWireNGR
charge sheets of persons arrested in connection with the EndSARS protest in Lagos - NewsWireNGR
charge sheets of persons arrested in connection with the EndSARS protest in Lagos - NewsWireNGR
charge sheets of persons arrested in connection with the EndSARS protest in Lagos - NewsWireNGR
charge sheets of persons arrested in connection with the EndSARS protest in Lagos - NewsWireNGR
charge sheets of persons arrested in connection with the EndSARS protest in Lagos - NewsWireNGR
charge sheets of persons arrested in connection with the EndSARS protest in Lagos - NewsWireNGR

While Kpanou and Okoro did not partake in #EndSARS protests, Nicholas Mbah did — and even proudly. Mbah, a hairstylist, was arrested by officials of the Lagos State Task Force in Ojo area of Lagos in late October. He is among the many persons arrested randomly in the wake of the #EndSARS protests ‘for destroying public facilities’ and subsequently detained illegally. Although now a free man, Mbah spent two nights in Ojo Police Station, a week in Panti in Yaba and seven months in Kirikiri prison.

#EndSARS protesters - NewsWireNGR
Nicholas Mbah

“I participated in the #EndSARS protest in Ojo, and my area was peaceful and calm. There was neither any fight nor destruction. The protest stopped on October 20, but I was arrested a week after, which was October 29, 2020,” Mbah said in an interview with Premium Times in June.

Mbah was a victim of violence by fellow detainees. And that is what others like him are at risk of. He spoke of how he was conveyed in a ‘black maria’ alongside cultists who beat him up and subjected him to degradation.

“Seriously speaking, it was terrible. In the black maria were different criminals. If I am not mistaken, the black maria was jam-packed with between 80 to 100 people. I am sure most of the guys I was packed with were cultists. I saw some of them in court a day before and they knew my girlfriend offered me some cash when she joined me in court. Immediately I was pushed into the black maria in the midnight, one of the bad boys told others to search me that I was a big boy and that I had money.

“They called me ‘Oyinbo’ (fair complexioned) and before I could bring out the money, they rushed to me and beat me up. I am not happy narrating this. Since the first week of November 2020 that I landed in Kirikiri prison, I was not released until June 15, 2021.”

He added: “The prison officials didn’t touch me. The only torture I got was punishment from my fellow inmates. I packed “shit” (excreta) and underwent some punishments. There is what they call “jamming” in prison and it means assignments (tasks). It may be packing faeces or any kind of job. I mean you dip a bucket into the pit and pack faeces.”

Asked considering his unpleasant experience in custody if he regrets participating in #EndSARS protests, Mbah explained that he’d gladly participate again owing to the fact that he sees the protests as a chance for Nigerians to reset their nation: “Can I regret speaking for my freedom? My protest was not to fight the government, but to demand what is needed in the society. I never had any family member in police custody. I never suffered police brutality before the protest, but I needed to speak for others. We are not supposed to close our mouths. As long as I am protesting without arms, I will continue to protest when things are wrong. It is not a one-man show. We cannot live in fear. It is meant for everybody and the time to achieve justice is now.”

Similar issue in Oyo…

In Oyo State, nine residents: Adekunle Moruf, Rasheed Tiamiyu, Oyewole Olumide, Sodiq Ariyo, Afeez Ariyo, Ikechukwu Eze, Adesina Ademuyiwa, Taoreed Abiodun, and Ikenna Amaechi, who allegedly participated in the #EndSARS protest are detained at Abolongo Medium Prison in Oyo town. They were randomly arrested at different dates and locations and charged with the same offence: conspiracy, armed robbery, murder and arson. Oyo State — like Lagos — was a hot zone during the October 2020 EndSARS protest. Several police officers were gruesomely murdered when hoodlums on October 20 overwhelmed the police at Ojoo area of Ibadan — citing police shooting of some protesting youths earlier in the day. 37-year-old Inspector James Akanmu was a casualty — and this is the litigation which Ademuyiwa, Sodiq Ariyo, Afeez Ariyo and co. are standing trial for. Now detained for roughly a year, there is no clear direction on their cases.

#EndSARS infographic - NewsWireNGR

This data is based on a tip from an agent working on the cases

When NewsWireNGR contacted the police and the Federal Ministry of Justice, none of them responded to requests for comments for this story.

One year after, is the Nigerian govt meeting protesters’ demands?

The unforgettable nationwide ENDSARS protests of October 2020 is the reason why NewsWireNGR is producing this report. Yes, SARS was dissolved; the Buhari administration said it is improving the welfare of the force, recruiting a large number of junior police officers annually, and investing in the upgrade of facilities at police training institutions in the country. But is it fitting to say that success has been recorded vis-à-vis police reforms?

I asked Bolatito Rinu Oduala, popularly known as Savvy Rinu, one of the frontline EndSARS protesters, her thoughts.

Her words: “The Nigerian Government made a lot of promises last year regarding the reform of the Nigerian Police Force. Many of those promises haven’t been fulfilled. They have failed as usual in their promises to end stop-and-search, indiscriminate road blocks, intrusion of privacy of citizens, and everything young people protested against.

“The five for five (five-point demand of #EndSARS protesters) haven’t been fulfilled as well. The policing situations have remained the same and no general changes have been made. Young people are being profiled, harassed and killed extra-judicially.

“In the month of September [2021] alone, over seven extrajudicial killings of young people in Nigeria by the Police was reported through @hubngn (The Connect hub), a citizen-based platform that documents and stands against state violence.”

Bolatito Rinu Oduala

Speaking further, Rinu explained that a lot still needs to be done by Nigerian authorities despite the disbandment of SARS in 2020. According to her, the psychological evaluation of Nigerian police officers is not adequately performed before drafting them to other units.

On account of the freedom, Akwuzu SARS leader CSP James Nwafor and his accomplices in Anambra State are still enjoying, Rinu queried if the activities of the disbanded SARS police unit had been investigated and erring officers nationwide brought to justice. “It is until we get justice that we can get back to building a better society, not just for ourselves but for the generations coming after us,” the activist submitted.

Alongside other young Nigerians, Dipo Awojide, a senior lecturer at Nottingham Trent University, led an #EndSARS protest in London, United Kingdom (UK) on 11 October 2020 in solidarity with their fellow citizens back home in Nigeria. Sharing his personal view, Awojide says Police and other law enforcement agencies continue to commit with impunity a wide range of human rights violations. Small advancement has been achieved, Awojide says.

“Little progress has been made per reducing police brutality in Nigeria, but the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, seem to be taking over and unsystematically bursting hotels/private flats. It is my wish that the progress made is sustained,” he stated.

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