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Deaths in police custody

01.12.2023 Featured Innocent Nigerians Always ‘Act Strangely’ Before Dying in Police Detention. But Why?

Published 1st Dec, 2023

By Abimbola Abatta

When Seyi Oduyiga, a 39-year-old barber, died in mysterious circumstances on November 24 while in the custody of Ogun State police, it was unsurprising that the police faced public scrutiny.

The police had arrested Oduyiga on November 18 on suspicion of involvement in cultism, but he died six days later, by which time, under the law, he should no longer be in their custody.

A relative of Oduyiga who spoke with FIJ anonymously for fear of retribution had said one inspector Raji Agbaje led the investigation at Awolowo market police station.

“On Tuesday, November 21, the police transferred Oduyiga to Eleweran headquarters in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital. There, ASP Akinwale took over the investigation,” said the relative.

READ ALSO: Lagos Police Arrest ‘Innocent’ Man Near Home in Ikorodu, Drive Him to Mile 12 to Take N1.5m From His Account

“While in their custody, his family was making attempts to bail him, and at no point did the police tell us of any confession or statement he made. The police only said he had tattoos on his body, and that only cultists have tattoos.

“On November 23, his wife and sister wanted to visit him, but the police told them not to come as they would bring him to Sagamu where he lived to search the house. They also told the family they took him to court, but the court did not sit.

“The next day, his sister and mother-in-law visited the station with food for him, but no one could account for his whereabouts. They waited from morning till about 3 pm when they were taken upstairs to see the Deputy Commissioner of Police. There, they told the family that he went berserk and was talking to himself and biting his cell mates. They said they took him to a hospital, and he died there.”

The manner in which the police denied responsibility for Oduyiga’s death has raised concerns about similar cases of suspects dying while held in police custody, with an internet research revealing a pattern in how the police in different states explain away the deaths of suspects in their custody.

1. OGUN: SEYI ODUYIGA ‘WENT BERSERK’ BEFORE DYING

However, Omolola Odutola, spokesman of the police in Ogun, claimed that “on Friday, 24th November, at about 0500hrs, Seyi went berserk, shouting, biting with teeth, and assaulting other suspects in the cell”.

“He was taken to the police hospital and later to Ijaye General Hospital Abeokuta, along with other suspects he gave bites in the cell for medical treatment against infection. Other suspects were treated and discharged, but Seyi, while on medical attention, later gave up the ghost.”

READ ALSO: Ogun Police Arrested Barber on Cultism Allegations. He Died in Their Custody With Torture Marks All Over Him

2. LAGOS: SUSPECT ‘DISPLAYED STRANGE BEHAVIOUR’ BEFORE DYING

Ejioye Omolola, a young man in his mid-30s, also died in Lagos State police custody on May 7, 2021 over his failed attempt to rescue a motorcycle rider hit by stray bullet.

FIJ had reported how police officers attached to Igbogbo Police Station in Ikorodu arrested Omolola on May 2 and then transferred him to the Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (CIID) in Panti, Yaba area of Lagos.

Five days after he was held in the police custody for an incident he knew nothing about, the young man died.

Just as the Ogun police claimed that Oduyiga had displayed erratic behaviour a few days after his arrest, the police in Lagos State also ascribed Omolola’s death to a strange behaviour and an underlying illness. The police had equally debunked claims of torture in both cases.

In the case of Omolola’s death in 2021, Muyiwa Adejobi, the police spokesperson in Lagos at the time, had stated, “The command wishes to state in clear terms that a case of suspected murder was transferred from the Ikorodu Division to the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department, Panti, Yaba, on May 4, 2021 for discreet investigation. One Omolola Ejioye was brought along with the case file and other suspects.

“On May 7, 2021, around 4am, the attention of the officers on duty at the SCIID, Panti, was drawn to a strange behaviour by Omolola Ejioye, suggesting an underlining illness, and he was quickly rushed to the Falomo Police Hospital, Ikoyi, Lagos, where he gave up the ghost while on admission.”

READ ALSO: Lagos Police Arrest ‘Innocent’ Man Near Home in Ikorodu, Drive Him to Mile 12 to Take N1.5m From His Account

3. ONDO: SUSPECT ‘BEHAVED STRANGELY’ BEFORE DYING

Seven months after the death of Omolola, another suspect identified as Tunde Olayiwola died in the custody of the Ondo State police.

Olayiwola, a suspected ritualist who was in police custody in Akure over possession of a human skull, slumped and died on December 25, 2021.

The police spokesperson for the state at the time had stated that the suspect was behaving ‘strangely’ when he was rushed to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

READ ALSO: ‘Powerful’ Couple Keep Zedekiah Money Train’s Pastor Godswill Oyor in Police Custody, But an Investor Wants Him to Pay Her N1m

4. ANAMBRA: SUSPECT ‘ACTED ABNORMALLY’ BEFORE DYING

Anambra State police arrested three robbery suspects identified as Uchenna on December 23, 2022. When he died in their custody, the police said he was “acting abnormally” before his death.

Toochukwu Ikenga, spokesman of Anambra State Police Command, subsequently said the suspects were arrested for robbery and had confessed to it — just the way they claimed in Oduyiga’s case.

“Other suspects in custody revealed that as they were sleeping late in the night, Uchenna started acting abnormally. He screamed and hit his head on the wall before he slumped,” Ikenga said.

“The victim was taken to the hospital and he was confirmed dead by the doctor. No money was demanded or collected by the IPO or any policeman as attested by the deceased father.”

A HISTORY OF EXTRAJUDICIAL CRIMES

The subject of crimes by the police against suspects, and the ease with which they get away with it, has been concerning for many, for several years.

In 2010, a report by watchdogs in Nigeria and the US observed that police personnel routinely kill suspects, use torture as a principal means of investigation, commit rapes of both sexes and engage in extortion at nearly every opportunity.

“This shocking pattern of abuse calls into question the legitimacy of the entire Nigeria police force,” said Okechukwu Nwanguma, programme co-ordinator for the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (Noprin), which conducted the search. “If President Goodluck Jonathan truly means to improve public safety, then he must pay greater attention to police reform than his predecessor.”

“The police already have a template for when suspects die in their custody,” a friend of their most recent victim Seyi Oduyoga told FIJ on Friday. “The same thing they said about Seyi behaving abnormally was what they said about many other guys who died in their custody.”

Abatta is a reporter with FIJ, in partnership with Report for the World, which matches local newsrooms with talented emerging journalists to report on under-covered issues around the globe.

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Published 1st Dec, 2023

By Abimbola Abatta

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