Adebimpe Sobowale, a widow and mother of two has alleged that she was tortured and detained for four days by police in Ogun State, Southwest Nigeria despite being pregnant.
Sobowale told the Ogun State Panel of Inquiry on police brutality and human rights violations by security operatives that her husband was also killed in the police detention over a N200 recharge claimed to have been traced to her phone.
Amid tears, she narrated her ordeal in the hands of some officers of the disbanded Special Anti-robbery Squad, (SARS) at the Zonal Intervention Squad in the Odeda area of the state.
She said she was arrested on Feb. 8, 2020, and taken to a holding cell in the station where she was detained and tortured “with something like electric touch.”
“They used the thing, which was plugged to an electric socket, to shock me, and asked me to write whatever they dictated to me as a statement. They said I belonged to a gang of fraudsters,” Sobowale recalled before the panel.
“They said my sim card was used to collect N200 recharge. They said they tracked it at Zain (Airtel) office and it brought my picture.”
While she pleaded innocent to the allegation, the widow said she was released two days after but her husband, now late, was arrested the following day.
“I told them I don’t know what they were talking about and I refused to implicate myself in the statement. They arrested my husband on Feb. 10 and released me the next day.”
But that was the last time she saw her husband as she was informed of his death in the police detention.
“Some days later, I was informed that my husband had died in detention,” she said.
Sobowale said she was arrested by three SARS officers but she could only identify two of them and she recalled that one of them was called Inspector Apiah Moses.
She said her husband before he was killed in detention, was a plank seller at the Mowe area of Lagos State.
Sobowale had a son before her arrest and the pregnancy had produced another baby boy. She brought both of them before the panel.
She demanded compensation for the death of her husband in order to be able to take care of the children.
The respondents to the petition are Gbenga Megope, a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) and the Officer in Command and one Leku Ekara, an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP).
The case was adjourned till Feb. 4 while the respondents were asked to produce Inspector Apiah Moses, who is the Investigating Police Officer (IPO) in the case and the alleged defrauded woman.
Many Cases Before Judicial Panels of Investigation
Sobowale’s story is one of many dehumanizing stories that are being heard at various sittings of judicial panels of Investigations across the country, where petitioners and witnesses, recount their ordeals and that of their relatives in the hands of security operatives, especially officers of the disbanded Special Anti-robbery Squad.
SARS was a unit in the Nigerian Police Force, notorious for brutality, torture, extortion, and extrajudicial killings of innocent Nigerians.
Around Oct. 2020, Nigerians, especially youths stormed major cities in the country in protest against police brutality and popularised what later became #ENDSARS protest.
Anger and anarchy pervaded the country for over a month, while the social media was also awash with numerous hashtags, with many Nigerians narrating their experiences with SARS officers.
They called for the dissolution of the unit and a reform of the entire police institution.
The protests which attracted international attention was later hijacked by hoodlums, claiming lives and leading to the destruction of properties in various parts of the country.
According to Amnesty International, no fewer than 56 people died across the country during the protests, with about 38 allegedly killed on Oct. 20 alone at the Lekki Toll Gate plaza in Lagos State.
In the heat of the historic ENDSARS protests, the Federal Government disbanded the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and promised to reform the Police.
“The disbandment of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reform,” President Buhari said in a television broadcast.
Also, in a bid to pacify the protesters, Nigeria Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo directed all state governors to set up investigative panels to enquire into the various cases of human rights violations by the police and other security agencies and recommend compensations to victims.
“We understand that you want to see action from us and I am here to tell you that work is ongoing. I chaired a meeting of 36 state governors and the Minister of the FCT, where we resolved to set up judicial panels of inquiry so we can see justice served, and fast,” the vice president wrote in a tweet.
In compliance with the directive, Ogun State Government joined 26 other states to set up a judicial panel of inquiry.
Dapo Abiodun, Governor of the State, on Oct. 17, 2020, announced the creation of a seven-man panel, headed by retired Justice Solomon Olugbemi.
The panel received a total of 105 petitions and commenced sitting on Nov. 5, 2020, at the Magistrate Court 1, Isabo, Abeokuta.
The panellists are still sitting in over 20 states in the country. Petitioners anticipate that justice is served in their respective cases while they continue to nurse the wounds of police brutality and human rights violations.