Thursday, October 20 marked two years since youths protesting across the country against brutality perpetrated against Nigerians by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the police and other security agencies were reportedly killed by security forces at the Lekki Tollgate in Lagos State.
The incident, which was later tagged, “Lekki massacre” snowballed into a national protest which almost consumed the country.
Following the Lekki incident, angry youths visited their wrath on government institutions, police officers and other security personnel, burning, looting and leaving bodies in their trail.
In Ogun State, fewer than six persons, including a Divisional Crime Officer (DCO) attached to the state’s Police Command, DSP Augustine Ogbeche and a Customs officer were killed by hoodlums during the #End- SARS protest that rocked the Gateway State. Investigations by New Telegraph revealed that over four police stations were also burnt, looted and vandalised during the protest.
In response to the mass protests, the Federal Executive Council (NEC) directed states to set up Judicial Panels of Inquiry to investigate cases of alleged violations of human rights by the now disbanded Special Anti- Robbery Squad and other police units. Following the directive, the Ogun State Government set up a ninemember panel, headed by Justice Solomon Olugbemi (rtd) with a seed fund of N50 million set aside as startup amount for the victims’ support fund.
The panel received 106 petitions, out of which 58 were treated and the remaining 48 were withdrawn, rejected or abandoned wholly or half-way by the petitioners. Governor Dapo Abiodun was one of the first state governors to set up the panel and this earned him commendations from across the country. Inaugurated on October 19, 2020, the panel began its sitting on November 5. It had the mandate to turn in its report in six months.
After sitting for six months, the Chairman of the panel submitted its report to the Governor for implementation. But, more than one year after the submission of the report, Governor Abiodun has failed to implement the report, leaving victims in endless wait for compensation.
While Lagos, Osun and Ekiti are some of the states that have begun implementation of their panel reports and compensation of victims that of Ogun State is lying somewhere in Governor Abiodun’s office gather- ing dust.
Victims recounted horrible encounters with police during panel sittings
The six-month sitting of the panel revealed chilling stories of victims’ encounters with operatives of the disbanded SARS. Deaths, brain damage, spinal cord injuries, permanent disability, loss of means of livelihood and many more were the tales of woes of victims and their relatives at the panel sittings.
For some victims, who survived, their touching stories of horrible experiences with police officers and the scars left on them, moved many who attended the panel to tears.
Dead victims’ stories were told by relatives who filed petitions
Kamol Ganiyu was the second person to appear before members of the panel during its first day of sitting.
Ganiyu narrated how a yet to be identified police officer shot him in the leg and crippled him. According to Ganiyu, he was shot in the leg by “unknown” police officers of the Ogun State Police Command, attached to the Ibara Divisional Police headquarters in Abeokuta on July 17, 2018.
He alleged that the police offered his family N250, 000 to “kill” the case, but he rejected it. Ganiyu, who walked with the aid of a stick, said after being shot, his mother and brother were also detained by the then Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of Ibara Division, CSP Bolaji Oluwasegun. He also alleged that the DPO refused to produce the officer that fired the shot and also prevented the hospital from treating him.
For 45-year-old Olasunkanmi Fagbemi, life has been a living hell for him since he had been permanently condemned to the wheelchair by the bullets of police operatives. Fagbemi, who appealed before the panel, alleged that he was hit in the neck by the bullet of police officers who were demanding a N20 bribe from a commercial bus driver.
He said the bullet damaged his spinal cord; left him crippled and dashed his hope of “naturally impregnating a woman again.” According to him, the incident happened on August 18, 2010 at Alapako axis of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway while travelling to Ibadan, Oyo State, in a public transport bus. Another victim, a 62-year-old man, Olaoluwa Kusimo also narrated how his right leg was amputated after being shot by a police officer, identified as Moshood.
According to him, two police officers accosted him around the Iporo Ake area of Abeokuta and one of them shot him and they both ran away. The petitioner explained that he was arrested by men of the defunct Special Anti- Robbery Squad (SARS) at the entrance of the State General Hospital where he was rushed to by neighbours for medical attention.
He alleged that, he was detained for 37 days at the defunct SARS office in Magbon area of Abeokuta, where he was tortured with hot iron. Kusimo added the SARS operatives asked him to confess to being an armed robber. He said for the 37 days he spent in detention, he was denied medical treatment, hence his health degenerated.
A widow, Adebimpe Sobowale, told the panel that her husband was ‘tortured to death’ in police detention over a N200 airtime allegedly traced to her phone.
A weight lifter, Oluwasola Oladunjoye, recounted how a police officer, Gbenga Olajide, ‘slapped and stabbed’ him on his neck. Oladunjoye, who came fourth in the 69kg weight lifting category while representing Nigeria in India in 2008, said the injury he suffered from the policeman denied him participation in the 2017 weight lifting festival in Cuba. Another petitioner, Mrs. Funmi Akinade narrated how her late son, Seyi Akinade lost over N7million to Forex trading due to his unlawful arrest and detention by the operatives of the disbanded SARS in the State.
Akinade said, her son, an undergraduate of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB) committed suicide following the debt he incurred as a result of the loss. The petitioner disclosed that her late son was arrested by SARS officers from Obada- Oko Police Station, Abeokuta who raided his hostel and locked him up all night without a known cause.
Panel submits report, recommends N218m compensation
Nine months after the inauguration of the panel, the report of the findings was submitted to Governor Abiodun.
Handing over the report to the Governor, the Chairman of the panel, Olugbemi disclosed that, the panel after its findings recommended a total payment of over N218 million to be paid as compensation for 42 victims or families of victims of brutality and violation of human rights by police and other security personnel.
The Chairman added that, the panel also made recommendations for the investigation discipline and where appropriate, prosecution of certain personnel to serve as deterrent and in the interest of justice.
Olugbemi said: “The 289 page report captured the testimonies and evidences of gory details of torture, unjustifiable shootings, inhumane treatment and other forms of human rights abuses leading to brain damage, spinal cord injuries, permanent disability, death, loss of means of livelihood, unlawful seizure of personal properties and various forms of atrocities,” Governor Abiodun, while receiving the report, assured timely implementation of the recommendations towards having a peaceful society that will engender more robust relationships between the people and security agencies.
“I believe that the implementation of this report will end the gory experience often encountered by residents of the state,” the governor assured. But, more than one year after receiving the report, the governor has kept mum on the implementation of the recommendations of the panel.
Victims in agony
One of the victims, Kamol Ganiyu told New Telegraph that, despite selling his vehicle and other property on his treatment, he was yet to recover from the injury sustained from the gunshot by the police.
Ganiyu said he lost his job and now lives from hand to mouth, relying on little financial support from family and friends. “Even if the compensation eventually comes, I don’t think it will be sufficient enough to clear the debt I have incurred on medical treatment alone.
“I have spent a lot of money to restore my leg, but the best I can do now is walk with the aid of a stick. “I don’t think any amount of money can get me back into perfect shape, but at least, if the money is paid, I can pay part of my debts,” Ganiyu said.
It’s disheartening Ogun yet to implement report – Panel member
A member of the panel, who is also the National Secretary for Committee for the Defence
of Human Rights (CDHR), Comrade Yinka Folarin said, it is disheartening and disappointing that the state government has not considered the implementation of the recommendations of the report of the panel. Folarin noted that a serious government would have implemented the report.
His words: “It saddens my heart that the report is not being implemented. We sat at the panel, we were even paid with taxpayers’ money and we stayed for six months, visiting the locals and it is very sad that over a year now, the report has not been implemented or brought to the notice of the public.”
Ogun State govt remains silent
The Ogun State Government has remained silent on the implementation of the panel’s report. When contacted, the state’s Commissioner for Information, Waheed Odusile asked New Telegraph to give him some time for him to respond on the issue. “Somebody had already asked me about the issue and told the person to give me some time that I would need to find out what the situation is.
So if you are working in tandem with somebody that is unfortunate. “I will find out and whatever it is I will let you know,” Odusile said. Also, efforts to get comment from the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Oluwaseun Ogungbade, proved abortive as he did not answer calls put to him by New Telegraph and neither replied to text messages.