Two Nights in Panti’s Cell

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With two nights in the dreaded but friendly cell of the Lagos State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (SCIID), Godwin Ifijeh narrates his awful journey to a murder charge

Sunday, September 18, 2016 broke like every other day. There was nothing to give the inkling of a gloomy day ahead. It radiated beauty and quite unlike me, I was still in bed at 6.30am, far past the usual time I rise on such days to prepare for the Sunday service.

But just as I wondered how to put myself together to get out of bed, do some press ups, brush and clean up, I had a bang on my door, I wondered who the guest could be. It was, however, not completely strange, as the chairman of my little community of Adeyemi/Arowojobe in Oshodi, a Lagos suburb, they are a usual occurrence. From time to time, community members come with one complaint or the other even into the wee hours of the day. The complaints are unending, issues of non-attendance to issues of frequent power outage, undue police arrests and detentions, complaints about the night guards and even personal domestic squabbles. In the recent past, complaints and challenge had bordered more on vandalism. Hoodlums had descended on the community lately vandalising automobiles. Cars glasses are broken to gain access into them to remove brain boxes, side mirrors, head lamps, trafficators, and other fittings that cost fortunes to replace. In the past weeks, as many as 15 high caliber SUVs were vandalised with many of the cars.

The knock on my door that Sunday morning turned out as well to be by a man whose car had been vandalised. A N13million Toyota Prado, belonging to his company; he had returned late from an official assignment the previous night and was unable to get back to the office to park the car. As usual, the vandals struck at about 5am, scaled the fence into his compound, broke the back windscreen of the car to gain entry, tore open the dash board and tried to remove the brain box, but for early passers-by whose movement scared them off. This, however, was not before they had vandalised some cars in the surrounding neighbourhoods, including Shehu Close and Boye Street.  Quickly, I pulled myself together, put on a short and a t-shirt and went down with the young man to his house to take a look at the vandalised vehicle, the extensive nature of the damage to the car was awful, I called in some elders, including the treasurer of the landlords association and the secretary, who doubles also as secretary of the community development association to take a look at the awful sight with me and then one of our night guards, who was supposed to be around the area that night, to explain where he was when the vandals struck. As we made to leave after asking the jeep man to take the photograph and make a report of it to the police, a phone call came from a woman in the street whose husband’s car was similarly vandalised two weeks earlier to inform me of the arrest of two vehicle vandals in the Mafoluku area of Oshodi. The vandals, according to her, were taken to the Makinde Police Station, close to where they were nabbed. The information brought some excitement and relief as I turned to break the development to the elders around me and the man whose jeep was vandalised, asking him to go to the Makinde Police Station to incident his case and find out if the apprehended vandals were also responsible for the damage to his vehicle. As I prepared to join them there, a call came from the night guard who I had asked to accompany them to the police station that officials of the Makinde Police Station had denied knowledge of such a case and had asked them instead to check with the Akinpelu Police Station, another police divisional headquarters in the suburb.

Just as they arrived there in company of some friends and other previous victims of the vandals, some men at the head of a mob, brought the two apprehended vandals, one of them severely beaten and in pool of blood, on motor bikes to the station. They reportedly took the two men into the station but the police rejected the badly injured one with severe injuries and a cut on the nose, asking them to take him to the hospital for treatment while they took and kept the other behind the canter. Both the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of the station, Mr. Jimoh Aliu, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (CSP) and the Operation Officer (Ops) confirmed as much, stating that they could not accept him in the situation he was brought him as they could not risk him dying in their cell. Along with two other community members, I arrived the station, clutching copies of photographs of earlier vandalised cars in the community with the intention of using them to strengthen the complaints of the victims. But close to the entrance of the police station, we met a battered young man sitting on the main road, he was drenched in his blood. Surrounded by a few persons, the blood from his cut nose was already clotting. I got to know with time that he was one of the two apprehended vandals mobbed around the canal in the Mafoluku area of the suburb. He had been abandoned and left to bleed in front of the station after the police insisted that those who brought him took him for treatment.

Moved by pity, a passerby, who also stopped to catch a glimpse of him, openly remarked: “How do the police think the mob that brought this man here would listen to them, wait and take him to the hospital, he has been left outside here since morning bleeding, This action of the police does not make sense, they would have picked a number of those who brought him immediately they came, take the young man to the hospital to halt this bleeding, that way they would have been able to establish those who beat him, where and why he is actually beaten and made them to pay for his treatment if that is what is preventing them from taking him to the hospital”. 

I put a call to our people, who were there to lay their complaints to the police, they told me they were inside the station, trying to incident their complaints. Then I moved in to join them, before then, a man, who said he was resident at Shehu Close and claimed that his car was as well vandalised early that morning, went close to the injured vandal to appeal to him to let him know where they hid the vandalised parts of his vehicle, promising to let him off the hook if he could lead him to recover the brain box in particular. The young man raised his head up, looked into his face and accepted to go with him to get the parts from where, according to him, his already detained colleague with the police hid them. The excited man, who claimed he uses the vehicle for commercial transport since he lost his job some months back, took the vandal on a bike and left with him along with some other young men for the place, it turned out later that he did not return to the police station. Once he recovered the parts, he left for home from there, leaving the vandal in the hands of the young folks that went with him. I was already now with our people, recording their complaints inside the station. An elderly Alhaji and his wife, who claimed to be resident at Boye Street, Oshodi, also showed up around this time to complain of the vandalism of the car he parked in the street the same night.

It dawned on me at this stage that I should see the DPO with the photographs of the damage we have suffered from vehicle vandals in the last few weeks. Just as I mentioned it to him and told him that we were in the station to complain about our ordeal as we learnt of the arrest of some   of the vandals, he told me that he had asked the young men who brought them in to take the injured one to the hospital for treatment but chose to leave him in front of the station, then, he asked rhetorically, “will anyone suggest that we take that man in the way they brought him? If we keep him in our cell and he dies there, will people not turn around again to say that the police killed him? I have told them to take him to the hospital, they have to do that.” Then, an officer, who just came into his office, caught in to tell him that the vandal had already been taken to the hospital, then, he stood up, hurried out, saying that he was going to the hospital to ascertain his situation, explaining that another of such suspected thief was in the same hospital, recuperating after he was similarly beaten a day or two earlier by a mob in the area. The DPO left on a bike to the hospital accompanied by one or two other officers while I left for home, leaving behind my people, who were still busy, recording their complaints. But just before I got home, I got a call from another community member to inform me that the DPO had ordered the arrest of our people registering their complaints about the spate of vehicle vandalism in the area and appealed that I returned to the station to intercede on their behalf. I did and again tried to make the DPO, Mr. Aliu Jimoh, to realise that their arrest was not justified as they were neither responsible for the beating of the vandal nor knew who did. The arrest, I further told him, were neither made in our community nor were they beaten there. The highly fuming DPO said he was particularly angry about the fact that they refused to immediately take the injured vandal to the hospital as he directed and warned that he would hold them responsible if the young man died. Again, I insisted that he was addressing the wrong people as the people he was now holding accountable were not yet in the station when he gave the directive neither were they among those who apprehended and brought them to the  station. I reiterated before him that like many others including the Alhaji from Boye Street and the other man from Shehu Close, they were in the station on hearing about their arrest to let the police know that they were victims of the vandals and to ascertain if they were the ones who also operated in their area and vandalised their cars. The DPO was not persuaded. After a while, however, he put a call again to the hospital to ascertain the state of the vandal and ordered that our people were released on bail. This was a little after 5pm, three of them who had their friends around stood surety for them but the fourth man had nobody around and as I made to leave, the Investigating Police Officer (IPO) persuaded me to take him on bail and I did. They all left for home but instructed to return 10am the following day.

Moments after they regained their freedom, at about 8pm, the police station’s patrol vehicles were in the community. They, in fact, went to the home of the owner of the vandalised Toyota Prado, who has now become the chief suspect in the matter, to pick him up. It sent shock waves round the community as the story quickly spread that the hospitalised vandal was dead. Scared by the spontaneous reaction of the police, some of the men, who regained their freedom went into hiding.

I had left home for an assignment the following day, Monday, September 19; By mid-day, the police kept calling me that the people I took on bail did not show up. At about 8pm when I was returning home, I stopped at the station to ascertain things myself. Just as I set my eyes on the DPO, he told me of the death of the vandal and added that I would have to remain in the station until the person they released on bail showed up. I appealed that I should be allowed to get him to report because he declined. I stayed overnight in the station. By 9am the following day, I was charged with murder and despite various interventions from higher police officers, the DPO told me that I would be moved with the other guy whose vehicle was vandalised to the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (SCIID), Panti, Yaba, Lagos that morning.

The scenario became more intriguing for me when before they eventually took us away, the other vandal that had been in the cell since that Sunday was brought out for the first time to write his statement. The IPO, one Sergeant Victoria was also made to recall the other victim of the vandals, who took the now dead vandal away on a bike to recover parts of his vandalised vehicle, to rewrite his earlier statement made to the police and had the bond with which the parts were released to him withdrawn. While the man was left to go, we were hounded along with the suspected vandal into one of the station’s patrol vehicles and taken to the  Homicide Section of the Lagos State CIID to face investigation for murder. To my surprise, I discovered at Panti that the vandal suspect had been turned by Akinpelu Police Station as the complainant in the matter while no mention of the man who took the now dead  vandal out to recover his vandalised car parts that were earlier released to him on bond was made anywhere  in the case file. As if that was not enough, not even the simplest investigation of the matter was carried out by the station, they never bothered to establish the scene of the incident and perhaps the most intriguing of it all is that for a matter you claimed you have a complainant and the relation of the victim, they branded the corpse unknown and deposited it as same in the morgue.

Perhaps, we were lucky to have such professional and highly skilled men as those that have handled the case so far. With zest and steadfastness, they had moved quickly, dug into the matter and  with only two nights in Panti cell that is as dreaded as it is friendly we got  the relief we are enjoying so far, confident that the continuing investigation into the matter will eventually prove our innocence.