At 50, Kudirat Adebayo was a struggling widow and a mother of two as she sold fried ‘water yam snack,’ popularly called Ojojo, by the railway line at Mushin, Lagos.
Having lost her job as a cook in the Magodo Area of Lagos three months earlier, she was not deterred as she took to the street to make ends meet.
But all her dreams, hopes and aspirations came to an end on the afternoon of April 4, 2017, at the Onipanu Toll Gate area of Mushin, Lagos.
She had no warning of her impending doom. A bullet from the gun of an operative of the Special Anti-Robbery squad hit Kudirat in the head, killing her. The shooter was identified as a notorious SARS operative, popularly called T. Boy at Mushin, Lagos.
However, as the news of her death spread swiftly, the circumstances leading to the shooting that killed her emerged, stoking up anger among residents of the area.
Saturday PUNCH had reported at the time that Kudirat was killed while some SARS operatives attached to Olosan Police Division, Mushin, were chasing a young man accused of being an Internet fraudster (‘Yahoo boy’).
As the SARS men chased after the supposed suspect, they allegedly shot indiscriminately on the street, hitting Kudirat, who was trading nearby.
Kudirat’s son, Abayomi, told our correspondent that his mother would have been 51 years old on December 22 if she had not been killed.
“Till now, there has been no meaningful response from the police. Our lawyer has visited the police headquarters several times but there has been no response from the authorities. My brother is weak and emotionally down due to the sudden demise of our mom,” Abayomi said.
In the face of denial of wrongdoing following multiple reports of torture and killings by the force, Abayomi has added his voice to the calls by many others on the social media with hashtag – #EndSARS – for the proscription of the security unit. The call has gone viral over the last one week with.
“SARS has outlived its purpose and has turned to special robbery and killing squad. We cannot keep quiet and let them continue to kill our family members. We will also continue to demand justice for my mother,” he said.
For many families, Kudirat’s story sums up their experiences in the hands of SARS operatives across the country.
Just like in the case of Kudirat; in September 2016, SARS operatives were also allegedly chasing after a suspected Internet fraudster called Badoo along the LASU-Igando Road, Lagos, when they were reported to have resorted to shooting indiscriminately in the vicinity.
A university undergraduate identified as Joseph Eidonojie-Ugbeni, was killed in the process.
The suspect was said to have abandoned his car and fled when he spotted the operatives in a market area.
The father of the victim, Patrick, had told journalists at the time that the main suspect the security operatives were chasing after showed up at the SARS office with his lawyer and parents the following day.
However, for Joseph’s family, it was an unimaginable tragedy for his family. Till date, they said justice had not been done despite the fact that the police took Eidonojie-Ugbeni’s alleged killer into custody at the time.
“They shot my son in the head and they claimed that he had a gun on him, which was why they claimed that he was shot in self-defence. How is that possible when he was shot in the head from behind?” he said.
Apart from these cases of killings by stray bullets, suspects have allegedly “disappeared” in SARS custody on a number of occasions.
One of such cases was an exclusive report by Saturday PUNCH on 33-year-old Joseph Bajulaye, who was allegedly arrested on charges of stealing a tricycle over two years ago.
He was arrested by the police and transferred to the custody of SARS. He never came out of there alive.
The suspect’s mother, 55-year-old, Mrs. Bose Bajulaye, was brutalised while trying to get information from the SARS about the whereabouts of her son.
Joseph’s body was never handed over to his family and the police claimed at the time that he was killed while trying to escape.
Today, Mrs. Bajulaye is a wreck, traumatised by the murder of her son. She has not been able to recover.
She told Saturday PUNCH on the phone that her life had been miserable since her son’s death and that she had been unable to move on with her life.
She said, “The police killed my son and till today, nothing has been done to punish those who killed him. He stole the tricycle truly and admitted that he did it. He stole a tricycle and even told them that he used the proceeds to rent a house. SARS men went to the agent he paid the money to and it was refunded. Yet, they killed my son like a chicken. God will give me justice and judge each of his killers individually.
“My life has not remained the same since that day. My health has failed. I look older than my age and almost every day, I cry when I remember my son.”
Asked what she thought about the calls to end SARS, she said, “They should not just shut the unit down, they should put every one of them in jail. They are killers.”
Torture, killing allegations against SARS men
The SARS’s reputation of brutality has been a controversial topic for a few years, an issue the public has criticised police authorities for ignoring.
It was a problem that prompted a September 2016 report by the Amnesty International, titled, “You have signed your death warrant”, which documented various cases of human rights abuses allegedly committed by the unit.
One of the cases documented by the organisation was that of a 33-year-old petrol station attendant, who was arrested on January 22, 2015, by SARS officers in Onitsha, Anambra State, after being accused of burglary by his boss.
He was quoted by the Amnesty International as saying, “The policemen took me to a hall. They brought a plain sheet and asked me to sign (it). When I signed it, they said to me, ‘You have signed your death warrant’. They took me to the back of the building and tied my hands to the back. They also connected the rope to my legs, leaving me hanging on a suspended iron rod.
“My head facing the ground and my body ceased to function. I went limp. The investigative police officer came at intervals and told me to tell him the truth. I lost consciousness. When I felt that I was about to die, they brought me down and poured water on me to revive me. People carried me back to the cell. I was detained for two weeks.”
‘Robbery’ in name of searching for ‘Yahoo boys’
As the #EndSARS campaign spreads across the country, numerous accounts of how members of the public were extorted by SARS men at gunpoint have emerged.
The accounts have one thing in common; most of the victims were forced at gunpoint to withdraw money from their accounts by SARS operatives, wearing no name tags, riding in unmarked vehicles, carrying weapons and forcing people to hand over their mobile phones for checks.
A social media promoter, Ibrahim Alajede, told of his experience with some SARS operatives at the Ogba area of Lagos.
He said, “There were five of them and none of them had anything on with which they could be identified. I can recognise all their faces though.
“They accosted me at Ojodu-Berger around noon, accusing me of being a ‘Yahoo boy’. They led me into a silver-coloured Sienna minivan with slaps and punches. One of them was wearing a SARS uniform (T-shirt) but the others were in mufti. They assaulted me, drove me towards Ogba and stopped on Wemco Road.
“The driver told one of them to get down from the vehicle and negotiate with me. The one that negotiated with me did so as he relieved himself by the roadside. He asked how much I was going to pay and I told him I was not a ‘Yahoo boy’ and even showed him my work identity card.
“I told them I did not have money because I was working and studying at the same time. But they said I did not want to cooperate with them. So, he led me back into the vehicle where the punching continued. They collected my three phones and drove me to a bank in Ogba, I was asked to withdraw N15,000 for them from my account. I would have escaped as they waited for me to finish the transaction, but my three phones were worth more than the N15,000 they asked for.”
Alajede said after he made the withdrawal and gave the money to the men, they dragged him back into the vehicle and drove to Ogba, dropped him off and sped off after returning his mobile phones.
Asked if he was able to note down their number plate, he said he was too shaken to remember to memorise the vehicle’s number plate.
He also said he could not report to the nearest police station because he knew he was going to be ignored if he told them he had just been “robbed” by SARS operatives.
A journalist, Oluwatosin Enitan, who also shared his experience in the hands of SARS operatives in Ibadan, Oyo State, explained how he was arrested along with his friend and taken to the Iyaganku Police Station.
According to him, they did not allow him to call his family to get him released on bail; rather, they drove him to an ATM.
“They negotiated with me and collected N20,000. They drove me to the ATM so that I could get money to bale my friend and I out.”
Accounts such as these abound as the #EndSARS campaign continues. On Saturday, Nigerians have vowed to gather at the Fawehinmi Freedom Park, Ojota in continuation of the call to scrap the unit.
It would be recalled that the Inspector General of Police had ordered a reorganisation of the SARS.
“Under the new arrangement, a Commissioner of Police is now the overall head of the Federal Anti-Robbery Squad nationwide under the Department of Operations, Force Headquarters, Abuja.
“The police zonal commands, state commands and divisions will continue to operate anti-crime units/sections, crime prevention and control squads to prevent and detect crimes in their areas of responsibility.”
He has also promised a probe into the conduct of personnel.
The Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, said, “Nigeria has obligations under international and regional human rights law to uphold the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment. The Nigerian government should take all the necessary steps to ensure that police officers do not commit human rights violations.
“The scale of the reaction to these incidents shows that the concerns of the Nigerian people are reaching a boiling point. All incidents of violence meted out by this notorious police unit must be independently investigated, and those found to be responsible must be prosecuted in fair trials.”
“The #EndSARS hashtag is rightly gaining the attention of the police and Nigerian government and now officials must do more to end these horrendous abuses of power. Amnesty International highlighted such abuses more than a year ago and yet these shocking incidents still continue. Restructuring SARS is not enough; the government must take concrete steps to protect Nigerians.”
Apparently fed up with the inhuman treatment meted to them by SARS operatives, some Nigerian celebrities have added their voices to the campaign.
A popular music producer and singer, K-Solo, said he had been harassed by SARS operatives for years. The singer said that he had slept in the police cell for a crime he did not commit and was once detained because his lips were considered as too dark.
He said, “I have been harassed by SARS operatives several times. They have been terrorising us (celebrities) for a very long time and they were the ones that began the trend of stop and search. They are never in a police van; they use a commercial bus. Before I became popular, there was a day I was on a motorcycle and they stopped the rider and ordered me to alight from the motorcycle, simply because they said I had black lips.
“They kept saying that they were sure that I had just finished smoking Indian hemp, the next thing they told me was to enter their bus. They took me to their police station, collected everything I had on me and ordered me to leave their premises. This happened to me twice, so I was forced to move around with pictures of my family members just to prove to them that we all have black lips in my family.
“Even when I became popular, they still harassed me. There was a time when I was returning from a studio at Ikeja, where I went to work with Paul Play. We finished at the studio very late and while we were returning home, SARS operatives stopped our bus and ordered all the men there to enter their van. Before I knew what was happening, I was already at Area F police station and they accused us of wandering. I tried to explain myself and brought out my phone to call my colleagues, but they snatched the phone from my hand and smashed it on the floor. I was detained there.
“Before I became famous, I slept in the underground cell at Area F because of a crime I did not commit. They did not even bother to ask me to write a statement, they just put me in the cell. I can never forget that experience. That was where I learnt about the welcome party they give new inmates in cells. The inmates brought out a small bucket, filled it with dirty water and asked me to drink it all. If the people calling for the end of SARS or its reformation should take the protest to the streets, I would be part of those to take the lead.”
Also, a popular singer, Orezi, said, “I have friends who have gone through humiliating circumstances in the hands of SARS operatives for no reason at all. I have had situations where my friends called to inform me that they were being detained by SARS because they could not produce the receipt of a laptop or mobile phone they bought a long time ago.
“There was a time when I was going for a show at Bells University and some SARS operatives stopped us and asked for the vehicle’s papers. They began to search the car as if they were looking for something. Eventually, they asked me to alight from the car and I obliged them. My producer was in the back-seat of the car with his laptop and immediately they saw that, they began to harass him. They asked him about his source of livelihood and he told them that he was a music producer.
“They admitted knowing me, but they kept on making comments like all musicians are ‘Yahoo boys’ and that we use music as a cover. They asked my producer to produce the receipt for his laptop that night and delayed us for several hours. My own encounter is not that grave probably because of my celebrity status but I have had friends who have gone through horrendous encounters in the hands of these men. Some of my friends have spent nights in the police cell for no reason at all.
“Even my security guard was not spared recently when I sent him to VGC to buy some things for me. I did not see him until the next day because he had been arrested by SARS operatives. They picked him up because they saw some money with him. They asked him how he got the money and he explained to them. Unfortunately for him, he did not have a phone to call me at that moment, so he had to spend the night there. I got him out on bail the next morning but he had already been made to suffer for doing nothing wrong.
“They should be aware of their boundaries because I don’t know why SARS operatives would check someone’s phone. I don’t think it is part of their job description to check people’s phones or even ask for their driving licences. If there is a report that a car has been stolen and the description of the stolen car matches the one being stopped, then the police are free to search such a vehicle, but it wrong to search cars randomly.”
He, therefore, called for the reformation of SARS.
Speaking on his encounter in the hands of SARS operatives, ‘Joromi’ singer, Jaywon, described it as a ‘scary and embarrassing encounter’. He said that he was stopped by a team of drunken SARS operatives, who threatened to shoot him.
He said, “I was once stopped by SARS operatives and they asked everyone in the car to get down. I told everyone to obey them and because it was a busy road, I told them to please search me inside the car because of on my status in the society. They said they were doing ‘stop and search’ and one of them accepted to search me in the car because he recognised me as an artiste. But the others got angry and one of them pointed his gun at me, threatening to shoot me if I didn’t get out of the car. He kept yelling ‘who are you self?’ Even it was Tuface, he must come down.
“At that point, I got down from the vehicle because I could not afford to let one drunkard kill me and render my son fatherless. They were all drunk.