Legal Nigeria

More than 2 months after, family locates body of Edo car dealer arrested by police

■ Benin residents, NGOs march in protest, demand action from govt, police authoritie
The two months of psycho­logical torture and agony ex­perienced by the family and close friends of Benson Obode, who had been searching for him, ended with a huge outpouring of long-bottled grief, when his de­composing body was found in the mortuary of Central Hospital, Benin, capital of Edo State.
Obode, a 26-year-old car deal­er in Benin city, was arrested by operatives of the Special Armed Robbery Squad of the Edo State Police Command, on May 21, 2015, in his residence at Ohovbe Quarters, Ikpoba-Okha Local Government Area, Edo State, for allegedly buying a stolen ve­hicle.
On the morning of the day he was arrested, Obode had spent the night at the home of his el­der sister, Mrs. Osawaru Izeyi, whose compound he swept before returning to his home. Minutes later, she was called that her younger brother was in trouble.
Shocked and surprised, she rushed to the place only to see her brother being held down by neighbours and his landlord, who said police wanted to ar­rest him for undisclosed crime.
“When I got there, I asked him what happened and he said that some policemen came to arrest him but he did not know the of­fence he committed. Not quite long after, the policemen came back in an ash colour Toyota Highlander SUV; strangely, they wore earrings and dreadlocks. If not for the police colours painted on their rifles, I would have doubted that they were real policemen. I asked them what my brother did, but in the typical arrogant manner of the police, they said I had no right to ask them questions. Thereaf­ter, I rushed back to my house to change and then went to the state command,” she said.
Continuing, Izeyi said: “When we got to the command head­quarters, we saw the policemen, and tried to talk to them but they hushed us up. We waited for a long time to see who we could talk to but nobody paid any at­tention to us. Then we went to the officer-in-charge of the Spe­cial Armed Robbery Squad; he also did not attend to us. Later that day, the policemen only told us that he bought a stolen vehi­cle; they also branded him an armed robber. I was surprised and in fact offended by that ac­cusation. I mean, my younger brother lived with me for a very long time, and he never took my money. If he needed money, he would ask me. Until the police arrested him, my brother was selling cars. He was 26 years old. He would go to Cotonou to bring vehicles for sale and then make a little profit. Some people overseas also sent him cars to sell for them in the country. He had never been linked with any act of violence at all and he nev­er told me he had any issue with anybody.
“The policeman insisted on their claim, and added that they belonged to the scorpion unit of the Lagos SARS. The next day, we went back with a lawyer as nobody was listening to us, to see if we could talk to the Head of SARS and possibly see my brother to ask him questions. Neither did they grant the law­yer audience, nor allow him to see my brother. The next day when we got there, we learnt that my brother had been moved to Abuja. We contacted a lawyer in Abuja to search po­lice stations there and possibly locate my brother.
“Later, the police told us again that he had been taken to Lagos State Police Command, Ikeja. My uncle who is a policeman went to Lagos and searched in several police stations but did not find him,” Izeyi said.
With no reliable explanation from the police regarding the whereabouts of Obode, the family engaged a lawyer in La­gos, who wrote a petition to the Lagos State Police Command over the allegation that police­men under the command were responsible for the arrest of Benson, and should therefore disclose his whereabouts, giving that he had not been charged to court for any criminal offence. A copy of the petition written to the Commissioner of Police, Lagos State by the family’s law­yer, Peter Ehijinwa of Peter Ehi­jinwa & Co dated June 29, 2015, and made available to Sunday Sun, stated that the policemen that came to arrest Benson were identified as Corporal Adeleke Adedeji, Corporal Abenna John, Corporal Henry Shobowale and Corporal Oniyo Musa.
The letter reads in part: “They arrived in Benin on May 18, 2015 in a Toyota Highlander SUV and arrested Benson Obode on May 21, 2015. Our client is in serious apprehension as to what hap­pened to their son because they have not heard from him. The family has made frantic efforts to see him in Lagos, but were told that he was not there. We therefore pray you to go into this matter so that our client will know the situation of his case. Our client is eager to know the whereabouts of their son.”
In the wake of the seeming disappearance of their brother while in police custody, Izeyi said that her aged mother who has been staying with her since their father died a few years ago, became hypertensive and was always asking after her son, Benson. “The other day, she just told me to take her to Lagos to see her son. Any time she heard me on phone, she would rush over to ask if there was any news about Benson,” she said.
After playing hide-and-seek for more than two months with the family, the police finally ad­mitted that Obode had died. The elder brother of the late Benson, Solomon Obode, told Sunday Sun that the police informed the family that Obode died after he was attacked by a mob. He said that the remains of his late brother was later discovered in a mortuary at the Central Hos­pital in Benin, two months after his arrest. Pointedly, he accused the police of being responsible for the death of his late younger brother, stating that he died on the same day that the police ar­rested him.
Recalling how the body was discovered, he said: “The family decided to search mortuaries in Edo State and his body was found at the Central Hospital in Benin. The police deposited his body in the mortuary with the name Benson Agu, not even Benson Obode. He was killed on May 21, the very day he was arrested. “His landlord told us that his hands and legs were tied to the back with a stick passing between the hands. A cement block was even placed on him. As if that was not enough, they shot him in his left rib and he died. They hid him from us and refused to tell us what was happening. Justice is what we need,” Solomon said.
He called on the state gov­ernment and the House of As­sembly to initiate investigation into the matter. When news of the gruesome killing of Obode in police custody hit the town, Benin city erupted in protest as residents and non-governmental organizations took to the street with placards denouncing the police and demanding that the police high command must fish out the operatives who perpe­trated the extra-judicial killing of Obode.
The President of the Con­ference of Non-Governmen­tal Organisations, Mr. Jude Obasanmi , who tendered a peti­tion to the Speaker of the House, Mr. Victor Edoror, described the incident as one among several cases of “police recklessness and extra-judicial killings” and called for urgent action by the House and the Nigeria Police to unravel the circumstances sur­rounding the death of Obode.
Responding to the protests, the State Commissioner of Po­lice, Mr. Samuel Adegbuyi, who spoke through Mr. Sodiq Bello, the Deputy Commissioner of Police in-charge of administra­tion in the state command, as­sured that the command would meet with the aggrieved family and also commence investiga­tion into the matter. He said: “I want to say that this incident is very unfortunate. It is not all of us that are in the investigation section. However, you are pro­viding us with valuable informa­tion which we are going to use to investigate this very issue . I assure you that we are going to investigate and we are going to say it loud and clear; we have nothing to hide. I hope you will have the courage to tell mem­bers of the public, by the time we are through with the inves­tigation, whatever comes out of it.”
-The Sun