Entrepreneur Solomon Obodeh tells ALEXANDER OKEER how people from the Nigerian Police Anti-Robbery Task Force allegedly killed his younger brother Benson Obodeh in Benin City, Edo, in 2015.
Can you imagine yourself?
I am Solomon Obodekh. I am an entrepreneur in Jos, Plateau.
Have you suffered from police brutality?
Yes, on May 21, 2015, I lost my little brother to SARS officers. His name is Benson Obodech. At the time of his death, he was a student and car dealer.
How did this happen?
On May 21, 2015, SARS agents took him from his home. They (four of them) arrived in Benin City, Edo, from Ikeji, Lagos, with the suspicion that they had tracked down the phone of a mechanic named Evans, who turned out to be my younger brother’s mechanic who helped him fix cars. In particular, there was one car, a Peugeot 306, which someone identified as Favor brought from Italy to Nigeria. Favor handed the car over to my brother to help him find a buyer. He also handed him photocopies of customs clearance. The car had no license plate (Tokunbo). Everyone who had a car in the locksmith’s workshop was arrested.
The police came to my brother’s house in Urora in Benin City at night to arrest him, but did not meet him. The next morning, when he was sweeping my sister’s property, they called him and said that the police had come to look for him and arrested his landlord because they had not seen him. He wondered why the police were looking for him and went to his house. When he returned home, he was arrested and beaten. My sister was warned, she went there and called me on the phone. While she was talking to me, one of the policemen lifted her phone on the floor that she had no right to speak while they (the policemen) were there.
Where was it taken from?
They moved with my brother and a Peugeot 306 to the Benin City Police Department. I advised my sister to follow them so that there would be no unknown policemen, and she followed them. When they got to the headquarters, they took the boy to the back of the office and started beating him. One of them told my sister that if she got close, they would shoot her. She went to look for a lawyer, but when she returned, she could not find the police. It was then that the search for him began (Benson). I was supposed to go to Benin City, but the police said they never arrested or registered Benson Obodech. His neighbor and landlord said he saw him when he was brought to the police station, so we wondered why the police denied it. They (the police) told us that he was in Abuja with federal SARS, but when we got there, they did not see him. They said he was taken to Port Harcourt, Rivers. I went there, but he was not there. They said he was in Ikoyi prison in Lagos; I went there. They said he was in Kirikiri prison and I went there, but he was not there.
What did you do after?
I had to get the media involved and research picked up steam. At that time, we contacted the then Inspector General of Police Solomon Araze (now retired). It was Arace who was in charge of the then police commissioner in Lagos, Fatai Ovoseni (now retired), who ordered SARS to clarify what really happened to my brother. This happened in July 2015. At the time, it was the deputy commander of SARS, Ikea, to inform the Lagos police that a boy (Benson) had died due to an investigation in Benin City.
Have you been told what his offense was?
They said his crime was armed robbery; who was involved in an armed robbery. We wondered how he would get involved in this, because he went to his house when he learned that the police were looking for him. There was no field evidence that he was involved in the armed robbery.
Did the police tell you what they allegedly stole?
They said they stole the car. But when we saw the police report, we found it was full of anomalies. They tried to hide the crime they had committed. Assuming he was an armed robber, why was it difficult for the police to tell the family that they had killed him? He was not killed in the shootout. He surrendered to the police and was killed at the police station.
How did you know he was killed there?
I did my own investigation into this because I needed to get a court order in order to print out my brother’s bank statement as his next of kin. I found out that the boy died on May 21, 2015. The arrested homeowner saw when the police brought Benson, and the homeowner said that the police tied his arms and legs (Benson) to a pole, put blocks on his back and beat him. … The owner told his wife that even if Benson survived, he would remain a vegetable due to the cruelty he received. Unfortunately my brother did not succeed. They (the police) did not tell us where his body was; After 63 days, I learned that my brother had died. We searched for him for over two months and the police refused to tell us where he was, not knowing that they killed him and threw his body in the morgue of the Central Hospital in Benin City. We had to search first to find his body there. His body was registered at the hospital under the assumed name of Benson Agu and was marked as a victim of a firearm.
Many victims of SARS abuse claim to have been robbed by the unit. Was that how it was with your brother?
During the torture, seeing that he was about to die, they took away the key to his house, the car and 200,000 rupees that my father-in-law had given him for a bank deposit on the day of his arrest. SARS officers raised money, but they weren’t enough; however, they took his ATM card and PIN. He had N332,000 on his account. In total, N330,000 was withdrawn from the account.
How do you respond to recent protests by young Nigerians calling for the end of SARS and an end to police brutality?
Indeed, the Nigerians have several reasons to protest, and I don’t think now is the best time to call for police reform. While investigating my brother’s death, I met several police officers who performed their duties very professionally. But the bad guys refused to allow the good guys to be in sensitive positions in power, and so I think reforms are really needed.
Are you satisfied with the recent dissolution of SARS?
It’s just one step. FSARS is just a nomenclature. There are several employees behind FSARS. What’s going on with him? Where will they go? What are PGI’s intentions? What do you want to do with SARS officers? Is there a plan to reform them? They need reform. Now they are like outcasts. What they need now is a corrective program before they can return to the police.
One of the demands of the protesters is justice for the victims of police brutality. Has your family received justice for your brother’s death?
Demanding justice in this climate (Nigeria) is a challenge. My family is being pressured from outside and inside by the police to drop the case. Five police officers were involved in the murder of my late brother. They are currently in a correctional center in Benin City. We have closed our case for the last two years so that the defense can open your case. But we are still in the High State Court, not because it is the fault of the judges. In fact, they have succeeded. Some senior police officers even approached the Edo State Department of Justice and demanded that they drop the case. When it comes to justice, this is not an easy task. But Nigerians must continue to speak out against police brutality because it is useless to society.
Source: – Punchng