On one sunny day, SARS officers stormed a neighbourhood in Ajegunle, Lagos. They had been on a mission to arrest a suspect. One way or the other, Eric Okwaji, a resident within the neighbourhood bought caught up within the operations. Seven years later, Eric is but to be discovered.
Eric Okwaji noticed a gold-painted Sienna automotive parked in entrance of his residence at Nosamu Avenue, Ajegunle Apapa, Lagos.
Eric, who shared his residence with some buddies, requested for the automotive to be moved as a result of it was blocking motion. Although the automotive was finally moved, so was Eric’s – badly overwhelmed and unconscious.
It was late morning on September 17, 2014.
The SARS operatives who parked the automotive had been in Eric’s neighbourhood to make an arrest. Having ransacked the home at 39 Nosamu Avenue, which they believed was the household dwelling of their goal, often called ‘Popo’, they didn’t discover Popo. He apparently didn’t even reside there.
Pissed off by their failed arrest, listening to Eric ask concerning the automotive additional aggravated them.
“Their subsequent motion was to vehemently descend on Eric with severe anger,” Bosah Emeka, a group activist, mentioned in a letter despatched to the Onikan workplace of the Assistant Inspector-Normal of Police.
The aggression the SARS operatives had reserved for the Popo arrest was poured out on poor Eric, who they beat to the purpose of unconsciousness.
Pleas by group residents for the law enforcement officials to train restraint had been ignored. Eric’s battered physique was then thrown into the again of the Sienna automotive, which sped off.
It’s been six years because the automotive disappeared into the gap.
Household and buddies of Eric Okwaji, in addition to residents of Ajegunle Apapa in Lagos, have since not seen or heard from the younger man.
One of many officers who participated within the violent incident gave his identify as Sergeant Samuel C.Y. He left a cellular quantity, asking for any enquiries concerning the situation and whereabouts of Eric to be directed to him.
However every time a member of the family or neighbour known as, he requested for cash to be paid earlier than he might give out any data.
“After we known as him for the discharge of Eric, he demanded N400,000,” Lawrence Macaulay, Eric’s father, mentioned. “We begged him however he didn’t pay attention.”
As soon as Mr Macaulay, a retired civil servant, realized he couldn’t elevate the bribe demanded, he set out on his personal, visiting completely different police stations in quest of his son. The Ajeromi Ifelodun Neighborhood Motion additionally despatched out dispatches to completely different police models and NGOs asking for assist to seek out Eric.
In one in all such letters, addressed to Amnesty Worldwide, the affiliation revealed that they had despatched search events to Abuja “to no avail”.
Whereas insisting on his demand for the N400,000 bribe, Sergeant Samuel evaded Eric’s household, preferring to attach on cellphone and never in particular person. “Anytime we wished to fulfill him, he would say, ‘Come, however you’ll not meet me’,” Mr Macaulay recalled. “Anytime we bought to a station we had been directed to, they’d declare they didn’t know him; or that there was no Sergeant Samuel in that station.”
In a plan to trace down the doubtful sergeant, Emmanuella, Eric’s sister, linked with Sergeant Samuel through WhatsApp. Her beauty appeared to have caught the eye of the sergeant, who invited her for a night hangout at an area bar. Of their WhatsApp chats, Sergeant Samuel gave his identify to Emmanuella as Stephen Bayo.
Despite the fact that this scheduled assembly offered a uncommon alternative to fulfill Sergeant Samuel in particular person, Mr Macaulay discouraged the thought. He mentioned he didn’t need his daughter, whom he describes as “stunning”, to come back into contact with a person who had been concerned within the abduction of his son.
Moreover, Mr Macaulay thought Sergeant Samuel’s Whatsapp profile picture, in addition to the identify Stephen Bayo – which he suspected might be Sergeant Samuel’s actual identify – had been sufficient results in go on when it comes to attending to the underside of the problem. “I assumed it could assist our case,” Mr Macaulay mentioned.
But it surely didn’t. The sergeant continued to evade the household, maintaining his identification a secret whereas nonetheless demanding the N400, 000 ransom.
A fast search on Truecaller, a caller identification app, reveals the identify connected to the quantity given by Sergeant Samuel as “IPO Tayo Sars”.
Indicted for theft
Abba Kyari, the superstar cop who now leads the Inspector Normal of Police’s Intelligence Response Staff (IGP-IRT), was the Officer-in-Cost of SARS when 34-year outdated Eric was arrested.
Mr Macaulay, within the firm of 1 Mr Fatoki, a lawyer from the Nigerian Bar Affiliation (NBA), made a criticism to Mr Kyari concerning the illegal arrest of his son.
Mr Kyari admitted that Eric was in his custody, however claimed he had been arrested for freeway theft, as in opposition to the identified reality of being overwhelmed and kidnapped on Nosamu Avenue in Lagos.
Satisfied that there had been a mix-up that might be resolved with some authorized backing, Mr Macaulay and Mr Fatoki left hoping to return on a later date to safe Eric’s launch.
However issues didn’t fairly work out that manner. Mr Macaulay, whose pension earnings as a retired civil servant had been irregular, couldn’t meet the monetary calls for of his lawyer, Mr Fatoki. He had assumed that given the delicate nature of the case, Mr Fatoki would think about serving to him professional bono.
“We didn’t return to Kyari as a result of the NBA lawyer began asking for cash,” Mr Macaulay recounted. “After I had given him N20,000, he took me to his chambers and requested that I pay extra, however I didn’t have any cash.”
On Thursday, November 6, 2014, The Nation newspaper revealed an article about two alleged armed robbers arrested by Abba Kayari’s SARS operatives. The lads, recognized as Olarenwaju Oladejo and Ibrahim Afolabi, each of their early 20s, confessed to armed theft and indicted an “Eric Okowaji” and two others, who had been reported “at massive” on the time.
“My father died whereas he was working with the Ajeromi Native Authorities Space. I learnt panel beating however didn’t get sufficient cash from it. Two of my buddies, Eric (Okowaji) and Seyi, who remains to be at massive, launched me to the gang,” one of many suspects, Mr Oladejo, was quoted to have mentioned in one other publication by The Punch newspaper.
The picture of the “Eric Okowaji” in query was not connected to the publications by both The Nation or The Punch newspaper.
Might this Eric be the identical “Eric Okwaji” who had been whisked away in that gold-painted Sienna automotive just a few weeks earlier?
Mr Macaulay insists that the “Eric Okowaji” referred to by armed robbers might by no means be his son, Eric Okwaji, who he mentioned was a good man.
“Eric was a footballer, and in addition labored at Bayelsa Motor Park Boundary earlier than he was taken away,” Mr Macaulay mentioned.
It has been precisely six years and 7 months since Eric was inexplicably brutalized and plucked away on the streets of Lagos.
Final October, as years of SARS-related brutality reached its peak, frightening protests nationwide and garnering international consideration for Nigeria, the anguish of aggrieved households hit near dwelling. One among such households, Mr Macaulay and his family proceed to reside in perpetual nervousness, not realizing the place their beloved Eric is, and even whether or not he’s alive or not.
Below the stress of the #ENDSARS protests, the President Muhammadu Buhari led administration disbanded the controversial SARS unit, however the scars of their atrocities stay, with many questions unanswered, many mysteries unsolved.
Abba Kyari, the senior police officer who was chargeable for SARS operations in Lagos when Eric was taken by the unit’s officers six years in the past, remains to be being pursued for solutions.
A number of calls to Mr Kyari’s cellphone quantity solely get his voice mail. He additionally has not responded to textual content messages despatched to the identical quantity.
In the meantime, Mr Macaulay has approached the Lagos State Judicial Panel on Restitution for Victims of SARS Associated Abuse and Different Issues to hunt solutions.
It is a creating story. Anticipate extra revelations as we attempt to discover Eric Okwaji.
This story is a part of a multimedia mission by Tiger Eye Basis and media companions throughout Nigeria, documenting police brutality in Nigeria, and advocating for police reform.
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