A few minutes past midnight in April 2008, a team of SARS officers stormed the home of Adesina kazeem in Sango, Ogun State. He was on the bed with his wife when he heard a loud bang on his door which forced him out of bed to peep through his window. At first, he had thought that they were robbers but after careful observation, he noticed that it was men of the Nigeria Police. And just like every one of his neighbors, he stepped out of his flat and approached the policemen. Unfortunately for Kazeem, what began as a friendly conversation with the SARS team would cost him the next 14 years of his life.
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Kazeem has since been remanded in prison for 14 years without trial. In that time, he has lost his beloved wife and hasn’t set eyes on his son and mother. The officers accused him of attempted robbery without evidence or any investigation neither was his case ever taken to court. Kazeem himself narrates the painful ordeal that has cost him 14 years of his life, his immediate family, and all he had ever dreamed of.
“When I stepped out of my house to meet the officers whom I quickly noticed were men of the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS), I met the other neighbors with them and my landlady who let out the apartment I was staying. Once she saw me, she told me the police were only there to find out from me if I knew where her husband (who had another wife) was staying. I told them that I knew the place and could lead them there. The policemen assured me that once I was able to identify where he lived they would allow me to return back home. I obliged and led them to the house.
Once we got there, they broke into his home and met the man laying on the bed with his other wife. The officers got him out of bed and asked if he knew the home of some other person, I wasn’t familiar with at the time. He told them that he knew where the man they requested was residing in Owode and he could lead them there. They assured him the same way they did me that once they got the person they were looking for, he will also be allowed to return home.
When we got to the exact address in Owode, the officers again broke into the identified home and found the person they claimed they were looking for right on his bed with his wife. They asked him to join us in the red Toyota corolla vehicle and that he should direct them to the house of a certain individual in Lagos. That was how we left for Lagos at about 4 am that morning. When we got to Lagos, the police picked up the fourth person from his house somewhere around the toll gate and then drove us to their office in Ikeja. We got to SARS’s office at about 5 am where we were all locked up in a cell. Confused about what was going on, neither I nor the other 3 men could catch any sleep until later in the day when we were ushered out of the cell to meet with who became the IPO of our case.
To our greatest amazement, we were accused of attempting to rob a bank. “Where do you keep your guns,” an officer asked us? With tears now rushing through my eyes, I said I had no idea what they were talking about and that I had never seen a gun in my life other than the ones carried by policemen. Before I could finish explaining, they shot Femi a little above his ankle. It was then I knew we were in serious trouble. “You think we are here to play?” another yelled as he opened fire on the other man we picked from Owode. After shooting them, they hung all four of us and continued questioning us despite the pain and bleeding from the gunshot wounds. After a few hours of torturing us, they ushered us back into the cell. Not even a painkiller or a bandage was given to both men that were shot. They left them bleeding and in excruciating pain.
After two weeks of detention, a cousin of mine was able to trace where we were being held and asked to see me. Once I heard my name that I had a visitor, my heart was filled with hope that I could finally be going home. On seeing my cousin, I narrated everything that had led us to be detained for two weeks. I told him I was hungry to which he quickly stepped out to get me something to eat. I waited for several hours but he never returned. Shockingly, I saw him being brought into the cell later that night. Apparently, he wasn’t allowed to leave the compound or to make any calls. All his money was taken from him and he was held in our cell for another two days until he was bailed with N100,000.
A few days after, my mother made it to the station and she was told to bring N500,000 to bail me out. My mother explained to them that she was poor and couldn’t afford it but they assaulted her and asked her to leave. I was crushed.
Exactly 28 days after our arrest, Femi could no longer bear the pain from the gunshot wounds, and with tears in his eyes that morning, he died. A month after Femi’s death, the other man that was picked up from Owode also died from the gunshot wounds he sustained.
Atrocities in SARS
One morning after being held for several months, about 15 of us were ushered out of the cell without any explanation. I thought we were being taken to court after we were all handcuffed and led by a particular officer outside the compound. But I soon noticed that there wasn’t any vehicle waiting for us and we were being led through a path that didn’t have any buildings but abandoned vehicles and other disposed items. We were kept there till it was dark wondering if we could still make it to court at that time of the night until another officer approached us. “Oya get up and move,” he shouted at us.
For some reason, another officer quickly approached us and asked, “where are the ones we arrested in Ota?’ We identified ourselves and they separated us from the others. The others, about 12 of them, were then shot at and killed. It was the cruelest thing I had ever seen or heard. I couldn’t sleep for several days, wondering when our turn to be shot would come.
Several months after, a new Head of SARS was brought in who asked for our case file. Once he noticed that we had been held for over 9 months, he ordered our IPO to either free us or charge us to court. Grudgingly, he obliged after openly saying that “me I no dey carry people go court, I dey kill them. I told these ones to bring 500k each so I can help them but they are proving stubborn so I must teach them a lesson.” I couldn’t believe my ears. Thankfully, or so we thought, we were taken to a magistrate court where we were charged with an “attempt to rob a bank.” We couldn’t believe it. It was like a dream. We didn’t have any lawyer present nor were we allowed to contact any. That was how we were remanded in Kirikiri without any trial for another 10 years.
In 2019 we met with a few human rights lawyers who came to visit our prison and promised to facilitate a hearing for us in court. Luckily, we were told we got a date for April 2020 which never came because of the pandemic that forced courts to close. Since then, I am yet to appear before any judge and this Is July 2022.”