The Lagos State Judicial Panel of Enquiry and Restitution for Victims of SARS related abuses and other matters Saturday heard the chilling details of how the now dissolved police unit allegedly tortured a pregnant teacher and her husband for 22 days, till she lost her baby.
Ogechukwu Obiechina and his wife Ndubuisi told the panel that the incident occurred in June 2017 after the operatives falsely labelled her a thief and kidnapper.
Mrs Ndubuisi, who spoke for the couple, said she was two months pregnant at the time, but that during beatings, the men threatened to “force the baby out of me”.
She testified that following further trauma from the torture SARS operatives meted out on her husband during his second arrest in October 2017, she lost another pregnancy.
She said men of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) also stole her husband’s N50,000 and compelled them to cough up N400,000 as bail, before they were freed.
She told the panel that the couple in 2017 sued the Police at the Federal High Court in Lagos and won.
Justice Mohammed Idris ordered the Police to pay them N2million as compensation.
They also won at the Court of Appeal in Lagos in 2020 but the Police refused to comply with the judgment.
Mrs Ndubuisi identified some of her torturers as “Phillip Rilwan, Christian and Haruna Idowu,” all policemen.
Panel chair, Judge emeritus Doris Okuwobi, adjourned sitting till November 10, to give the mentioned operatives an opportunity to appear and respond to the allegations.
The Obiechinas’ testimony was the first of four petitions for the third day of sitting since the Lagos State Government set up the nine-member panel on October 15, following weeks of near nationwide #EndSARS protests.
The other petitioners are: Olusegun Openiyi; Francis Idum (deceased) and Olajide Fowotade. The fourth petition didn’t go on.
Mrs Ndubuisi, a private school teacher, said on June 1, she received a text message from an unknown number that she had a parcel from DHL. A caller using different numbers asked for her home or office address and she gave him her school address upon her husband’s advice.
It was the next day, June 2, 2017, that her ordeal began.
She said the men arrived at her school in a black Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV).
Mrs Ndubuisi said: “I saw a black jeep with huge men inside it. One of them was in a DHL uniform.
“Immediately, they approached me, they started beating me. They said I should enter inside. They said I was a thief, an armed robber. The one in the DHL uniform removed it. My HM (Headmistress) was peeping at us. I said let me go and tell her. They said no.”
The petitioner said she had a five-year-old son at the school, but they didn’t care.
” I said my kid is there, they said no, that I should follow them, that my kid would die there. My HM came to the gate; they pointed a gun at me. She asked what was going on.
They said ‘This woman is a thief, a kidnapper. She must follow us and go. They said they were Police, SARS.”
They pushed me inside the car and moved. The men were slapping, beating me. I was two months pregnant. I started vomiting. That’s when they found out I was pregnant. But they kept torturing me. I told them I did not know the suspect.
“They took me to their office at Ikeja. They took me to a shrine. They hanged me, beat me. They said they would force my baby out of me. They said I must produce the person or die there,” Mrs Obiechina said.
The witness testified further that her husband had been searching for her at different Police stations in Lagos. When he eventually found her, he was also arrested and tortured.
She continued: “Immediately they saw him, they started beating him. They put a tyre on his head, and said they would burn him alive. They started interrogating him, beat him with gun butt, hit him on the head with a stone.
“During the beating, I urinated on my clothes; they said my pregnancy was not my husband’s, that I should bring the man who impregnated me.”
She told the panel that they were put in different cells.
“…..I told them I had a five year-old son in school. They said ‘let him die there,” the petitioner said, adding that they eventually allowed her and her husband to call people to take care of their son.
“My husband was in Cell 1, I was in Cell 2. It was a high open room. Rain and sun beat us.”
They were eventually released upon payment of N250,000 and N150,000 “bail”, but her husband was re-arrested in October same year, during which she lost another pregnancy due to the fresh torture and trauma.
She said: “While we were preparing for church on a Sunday, Philip Rilwan, Haruna and other SARS operatives intruded into our house.
“I called our lawyer and I also called Christian when they were going. ‘You know first time I lost my baby. Now I’m pregnant and my doctor said I don’t need any stress. Tell me where you are taking my husband to.’
“Christian replied, ‘Oga said he wants to see him.’ I asked who is Oga? and he said Philip and that the order is from Abba Kyari.
“They beat my husband, pushed him out in boxers. I was begging them, they said no. They took him away.”
She said as a result of the “emotional trauma” she lost her second pregnancy.
The panel chair admitted the two judgments as exhibits.
“Judgement in appeal CA/L/178 of 2018 COP and others against Mr Obiechina and another dated March 20, 2020, is hereby admitted and marked as Exhibit B,” Justice Okuwobi said.
The second petitioner, Mr Fowotade, wept before narrating how he was allegedly assaulted by two plain clothes operative of the Ketu Division of the Police in Lagos.
The policeman allegedly accused him of attempting to knock them down with his vehicle.
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He told the panel that they removed two of his teeth before dragging him to their station.
The bike riding policemen were said to have accused him of attempting to run them over when he abruptly applied the brakes to avoid hitting a tricycle that veered off its lane.
One of them identified as Ayo was said to have head-butted the contractor on the mouth, knocking off two front teeth.
He testified that he was also thoroughly beaten up at the station, that even the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) was alarmed and reprimanded the policemen, when he found out.
Fowotade said weeks after, he was not himself and that he had spent hundreds of thousands trying to fix his teeth and leg.
“How can somebody just beat me up and nothing happened?”, he said.
When the panel asked him what he wanted, Fowotade said: “I want Justice”, adding that about N2million or N3miillion would help as compensation.
The panel adjourned further proceedings in all the petitions till November 10.
The panel is made up of the Chairman Justice Doris Okuwobi (Rtd); Mr Ebun Adegboruwa (SAN); Mr Taiwo Lakanu, a retired Deputy Inspector-General of Police and a founding member of SARS.
Other panelists are Mrs Oluwatoyin Odusanya, Director, Lagos State Directorate of Citizen’s Rights and Ms Patience Udoh, a representative of the civil society groups Mr Segun Awosanya (segalink) a human rights activist, Rinu Oduala, Temitope Majekodunmi and Mr Lucas Koyejo.
The panel sits from 10am to 4pm for six months. The designated sitting days are Tuesday, Friday and Saturday at the Lagos Court of Arbitration, No 1A, Remi Oluwode Street, Lekki Phase 1, Lagos.