The thought of finding his son dead or alive is what preoccupies the mind of Mr Emmanuel Iloanya every day. He has been confined to such a horrid line of thought for eight years without any sign of fading soon. That is the reality of a long thorny path forced on him by the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad at the Anambra State Police Command. The dreaded police unit has failed to explain the whereabouts of his son, Chijioke Iloanya, taken into custody on November 29, 2012.
That day, Chijioke, aged 20 then, was at the child dedication of a friend when some policemen stormed the venue and whisked him to Ajali Police Station. He was reportedly transferred to the SARS office later that day.
Emmanuel and his wife visited the SARS’ office that same day only to be told by the then officer in charge of the unit, CSP James Nwafor (retd.), that Chijioke was not in SARS custody.
The couple said as they stepped out of Nwafor’s office they saw Chijioke being brought in alongside some suspects and informed the OC, who ordered them out of the premises.
They added that when they visited the office the following day, the commander told them point-blank that Chijioke had been killed and there was nothing they could do about it.
Not even the intervention of the then Commissioner of Police, Bala Nasarawa, could change Nwafor’s position. He insisted that Chijioke was killed in a shootout between his men and some armed robbers.
The account sounded incredible to the helpless parents, yet they accepted it in good faith and demanded their son’s corpse. Unfortunately, the police have remained evasive as the family nurses a broken heart each passing day.
“I feel sober every day when I think of my son’s death,” Emmanuel, 64, mourned, in a telephone chat with our correspondent on Thursday.
In recent years, SARS had attracted outcry over different cases of brazen abuse of human rights, including harassment, extortion and extra-judicial killings, with many Nigerians calling for its scrapping.
The call was reignited about two weeks ago following the shooting of a youth reportedly in front of a hotel in Ughelli, Delta State, by some SARS operatives who drove away his Lexus Jeep. The police have, however, said the youth didn’t die.
The incident sparked off nationwide #EndSARS protests and gained global traction, resulting in the proscription of the infamous unit and naming of a new one called Special Weapon and Tactics Team.
However, Nigerians are not convinced by the development as they continue to occupy streets, major highways, and government centres in protests that have turned bloody and claimed lives in some parts of the country.
“The authorities must genuinely end SARS. In Abuja, my daughter (Chijioke’s sister) is leading one of the EndSARS protests. They should not just ban SARS but take drastic actions. It is not a matter of coming up with a new name called SWAT. They have to train people who will be acceptable in society,” Emmanuel said.
The retired civil servant also called on the police authorities to prosecute those responsible for ‘the missing’ of his son and bring them to justice.
He said, “We are insisting that justice must be served in the case. Even if he was an armed robber and was caught, they have to prosecute him. Why should they take him to their custody and shoot him dead? I want justice; justice must prevail.”
Having graduated and concluded the one-year mandatory National Youth Service Corps scheme, 28-year-old Ifeoma Abugu was set to walk down the aisle with a man she had wished to spend the rest of her life with.
But just as she was about to do so, she lost her life in a controversy involving SARS men at the Federal Capital Territory Command.
A three-man SARS team had on September 10, 2020 stormed her fiancé’s house at Wumba village in the Lokogoma area of Abuja, and arrested her in lieu of her lover, Afam Ugwunwa, accused of dealing in drugs.
Efforts to know the police station she was taken to proved abortive until Ugwunwa got a call the next day that Ifeoma had died and her corpse deposited in a morgue.
The deceased’s family accused the operatives of sexually harassing and killing her and petitioned the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu.
“When my uncles saw the picture of her corpse, they saw signs that she was sexually assaulted. We’re waiting for the result of an autopsy to come out to ascertain what happened to her
“My sister was arrested four days after her introduction in the village and her wedding was slated for December. We want the killers to be brought to justice,” Ifeoma’s brother, Alex, had told PUNCH.
Speaking to our correspondent on Saturday, Alex, 46, said the autopsy was out but the police had yet to give the family a copy.
He said the operatives cruelly wasted all the efforts that went into Ifeoma’s upbringing, noting that their conduct had left a deep scar.
He said, “The protest is a good development and I hope the government would listen to the people and act accordingly. It is unfortunate that my family had a taste of SARS misconduct. The autopsy report is out but the police have not released it to us.
“We are demanding prosecution of those who committed the offence. They should be either killed or jailed. The police must also pay compensation even though it can’t equate what we lost. This was someone who had attended a higher institution. Our father died when she was three years old. I was the one catering to her. She also learnt hair styling and became an expert. She used the money she realised to support her education.”
In a tragic twist of fate, the future of a rising football player of Remo Stars Football Club, Kazeem Tiamiyu, was eclipsed by some SARS operatives who reportedly pushed him on to a moving vehicle along Sagamu-Abeokuta Expressway in February 2020.
In the protest that greeted his tragic death, two persons were reportedly killed by policemen dispersing angry youths protesting against the killing.
“All I want is justice for my slain son. They (the SARS officers) should be killed because they committed murder against my son. They did not find anything to prove that he was a criminal before he was killed. They too should be killed because they cut short the life of my child,” Tiamiyu’s dad, Fasasi, had said amid sobs.
While victims like Chijioke, Ifeoma and Tiamiyu, did not live to tell their sad stories, Osaretin Erins will not forget grueling memories of Thursday, September 5, 2019, in a hurry.
A poultry farmer, the 35-year-old man had gone to a roasted meat (suya) joint in the Abule-Egba area of Lagos along the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway around 10pm in company with his friend, Raymond, who was a corps member then.
After buying suya, they dashed into a Hyundai Sonata driven by Erins, eager to get home and devour the pieces of meat. Shockingly, they would soon realise they were in for a nightmare as some armed policemen wearing vests with the inscription ‘FSARS’ and ‘Anti-Cultism’ blocked their way with a yellow commercial bus.
They demanded to know their offence but all they got in reply were repeated hot slaps as they were hopped into the bus.
Erins said they drove them round for some hours with a threat to frame them as cultists or kill them if they refused to cough up N500,000.
Fearing their lives were on the line, the friends resorted to negotiation and after pleas, ‘the ransom,’ as Erins described it, was reduced to N200,000.
Next, they took them to a nearby Automated Teller Machine gallery and emptied about N200,000 in the farmer’s account. They later released him and his friend around 1am.
Since that nasty encounter he likened to armed robbery, the mention of SARS and the sight of its operatives came with trepidation for the Edo State indigene.
He stated, “I am happy the youth can come together and safe enough is enough. They acted as if they were above the law. The protest is long overdue. It was supposed to have happened years back. For how long will Nigerian youths continue to go through all this (SARS harassment)? In my little way, I am participating in the protest. I don’t believe in the replacement of SARS with SWAT because the police would still use SARS men for SWAT. Justice should prevail. That will help in assuaging the sad experience.
“When I am abroad, I feel safer than when I am in my own country. Why should I be in my country and I can’t move freely? When they (SARS men) came across you, they would not give you the chance to express yourself.
“They acted like armed robbers. I live in South Africa and policemen don’t ask for my phone. It is only when there is conflict that they will ask you questions. After my encounter with them (SARS men), I have always avoided them.”
However, Erins believed that policemen would be better positioned to act professionally with good welfare.
He added, “Government should increase police welfare. They should pay them well. They are not properly taken care of. And the challenge in the country is such that prices of things keep going up while the salary is not. How do they meet their needs?”
On June 3, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari and the Chairman, Presidential Panel on the Reform of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, Mr Tony Ojukwu, exchanged warm smiles in the Villa as the latter submitted a bulky report on the atrocities of SARS detectives. Beyond the air of authority, the smile was symbolic. It beamed hope in the minds of millions of Nigerians that years of flagrant abuse of human rights by the anti-robbery officers would soon reach an end.
Buhari’s statement that day was also assuring. He stated that he had directed the Inspector-General of Police and the Ministry of Solicitor General of the Federal/Permanent Secretary, Justice, to meet with the National Human Rights Commission “to work out the modalities for the implementation of the report within three months from today (June 3).”
That timeline elapsed on September 3, 2019 without any feedback to Nigerians about the implementation. Rather, the sad, odd tales surrounding the conduct of the operatives thrived on as more innocent Nigerians fell victim to extortion and harassment.
Expressing anger while speaking with Sunday PUNCH, a Lagos-based civil engineer, Olaitan Adekanmbi, said he had been a victim of extortion by operatives of the disbanded SARS on several occasions.
He said he had to part with at least N10,000 on each of those occasions because the men threatened to kill him if he did not do their bidding.
He said, “On several occasions, particularly at the Berger end of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, there were many times I would be returning from work and SARS men would harass me. There were occasions that I had to part with money before I was released. The least amount I ever paid was N10,000.
“If I didn’t pay, they would threaten me and say I would be taken to their station. No youth would ever want to be taken to the station because from the experiences of people, you could be forced to write statements of crimes you never committed.
“I am a civil engineer and I usually return home late at night. I earn N4,000 per day, and it is painful that after struggling to make ends meet, some people called SARS men would collect all I worked for. On the occasions that I paid SARS men before being let go, they forced me to an Automated Teller Machine to withdraw. I have a wife and a child and I cater for them. I want a better life. I want an end to SARS.”
Adekanmbi, who claimed to be a friend of Tiamiyu, the footballer allegedly killed by SARS operatives in February in Sagamu, Ogun State, said he wanted compensation for his deceased friend’s family.
In a recent interview with one of our correspondents, a consultant psychiatrist, Prof. Adeoye Oyewole, observed that irrational behaviour by policemen stemmed from a number of social factors and deficiencies in the police system.
He urged the police authorities to train the operatives in emotional intelligence and improve on their welfare, including provision of life insurance, reduced work hours and stress management.
“They need to be trained in how to handle people. They need psychological surveillance from time to time. They also need to be trained in communication skills, emotional intelligence and how to be calm under provocation,” he added.
A professor of Psychology at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Christian Nweke, blamed indiscriminate police shootings and the resultant deaths on poor screening of policemen before recruitment.