A woman narrated to the Abuja #EndSARS panel how some of the summoned police officers allegedly kidnapped her husband and eventually killed him in 2013.
The #EndSARS panel investigating cases of police brutality in Abuja, on Thursday, summoned some police officers to answer to allegations of extra-judicial killings levelled against them.
The panel, chaired in an acting capacity by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Garba Tetengi, ordered the police officers to appear on dates fixed for the respective cases against them.
Mr Tetengi stood in for the panel chairman, Suleiman Galadima, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, who was absent from Thursday’s sitting.
Those summoned include three operatives of the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), Awkuzu, Anambra State. The panel also summoned the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of the New Nyanyan police division in Nasarrawa State accused of complicity in the alleged extra-judicial killing of one Donald Agbenge.
The three Awkuzu SARS officers, identified as Inspector Emmanuel, James Nwafor, a chief superintendent of police, and one Officer John, have allegations of unlawful arrest, detention and death of one Christian Ugwunze, pending against them.
Woman’s testimony on killing of her husband
The panel heard the petitioner’s testimony in the case of the alleged extra-judicial killing of Christian Ugwunze on Thursday.
Testifying, the deceased person’s widow, Ngozi Arinze, told the panel how some of Awkuzu SARS officers allegedly kidnapped him and demanded N1 million to release him in 2013.
Mrs Arinze, a native of Agboana Village, Ukpor, in the Nnewi South Local Government Area of Anambra State, told the panel that the Awkuzu SARS operatives later killed her husband.
Tracing how the incident started, the witness recalled that her husband, on March 14, 2013, left their base in Lagos for his brother’s place in Asaba, Delta State, from where he planned to travel to Anambra State for a retreat. She said she was to join him in the course of his trip to attend the Anambra State retreat with him.
She recalled that her husband spent a night in Asaba before he left for one Ifeanyi’s house in Benin, Edo State.
She told the panel that her husband called her the following day and asked her to come to Benin with the clothes he planned to wear for the Anambra State retreat. It was the last time she heard from him, she told the panel.
“My husband called me in the morning and told me to come along with the clothes he intended to wear throughout the retreat. After this communication on the same day, his line became unreachable and all efforts to reach him proved abortive,” Ms Arinze said.
‘Alleged complicity of brothers-in-law’
She testified further that she got information from Mr Ifeanyi that some armed men in a black sport-utility vehicle seized her husband while standing by the roadside in Benin.
The woman, who accused her brothers-in-law of complicity in the alleged kidnap of her husband, said she was later informed by one of them, Emeka Ugwunze, that a phone number had called, claiming to know his whereabouts.
“I called the number and was told to bring N200,000 for bail and wait at the former Mobil Filling Station, Unizik Junction, Awka (Anambra State) and warned seriously to not inform anybody,” Ms Arinze said.
She said she was at the spot with the money when three men, whom she said her findings later showed to be SARS officers, drove a black Camry car to the place. “They collected the money and asked that I enter the black Camry they came with, but I refused, stating that I did not know them or where they planned to take me.”
She recalled going to report the incident at the police station. But to her surprise, she said she found the car driven by the men to take the money from her at the police station.
She added that the police officers refused to grant her access to her husband, but kept asking her to pay N1million to release him.
As she could not pay the money, Ms Arinze said the police officers continued to deny her access to her husband on the excuse that he had been transferred to other places for further investigations.
She said she continued the search for her husband only to find out from one of her husband’s brothers that he had been killed and his body deposited at the mortuary of the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital in Enugu State.
She alleged that her brothers-in-law, Edozie and Ikechukwu Ugwunze, were even going around telling his customers that he had died long before she confirmed his death.
She insisted that her brothers-in-law connived with police officers to kidnap and extort money from him as ransom, before he was eventually killed.
She told the panel that her husband died in the custody of the police in Enugu where she claimed he was last illegally detained by SARS operatives.
“I visited the mortuary and identified my husband’s body. I was also told that the body was deposited by the police,” Ms Arinze said.
She urged the panel to order the release of Mr Ugwunze’s body and award N20 million to her as compensation. She also pleaded with the panel to order a refund of the N200,000 to the police officers.
The panel, after listening to Ms Arinze’s testimony, summoned the officers fingered in the petition.
John Aikpokpo-Martins, a member of the panel, urged the lawyer representing the police to obtain the list of the names of all SARS personnel at the Awkuzu SARS from March to April 2013, as the petitioner was unable to provide the names of all the officers that were involved in the case.
Kennett Egbochua, the police counsel, assured that police could make the records available to the panel.
The panel then ordered the Inspector General of Police to provide the personnel records of officers attached to the Awkuzu police division from March to April 2013, when the incident occurred.
The panel adjourned the case until April 21 for defence.
It also adjourned the case of the alleged extra-judicial killing of Mr Agbenge involving the DPO New Nyanyan police division until March 8, for defence by the police. The case could not go on on Thursday because the petitioner was absent.
SARS, a police unit notorious for the inhuman activities of its men, was proscribed in the wake of the October 2020 #EndSARS anti-police brutality protest.
The #EndSARS protest also birthed the various panels of enquiry set up in Abuja and about 28 other states to probe cases of police brutality with a view to compensating victims or their families and holding erring police officers accountable.