The family members of the deceased said they searched for their son at police stations across the state until he was traced to the Ikeja SARS office.
Families of an auto parts dealer are seeking justice over the suspicious death of their son who died in the custody of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), Lagos State Police Command.
The police were said to have, on many occasions, denied the whereabouts of the deceased, Lukman Ogundele, until his family members independently found out that he died in detention.
Lukman, who sold auto parts and iron in the Owode Onirin area of Lagos, had been arrested by SARS men alongside his friend, Saheed Abayomi, for allegedly facilitating the sale of a stolen Toyota Camry.
Lukman and Abayomi were reportedly arrested in the midnight of December 29, 2017 and they were detained at a police station in Ikeja, alongside two other suspects.
The families of the two traders said they searched for them at police stations across the state, until on December 31 when Abayomi’s mother traced him to the Ikeja SARS office.
According to Punch, Lukman’s wife, Wunmi Ogundele, and relatives consequently visited SARS office on several occasions, but were not allowed to see him.
“Any time we went there, policemen would chase us away and they did not allow us to see his friend, Saheed (Abayomi), so we could ask after him (Lukman). I had travelled with the children for the Yuletide when he was arrested,” Wunmi added.
His cousin, one Isaac, who went to the station on January 6, was told that the Investigating Police Officer, Inspector Edwin Obam, had taken him out, the report said.
Lukman’s mother, Yemisi Ogundele, who lives in Taraba State, was forced have travelled down to Lagos after unsuccessful attempts to see him.
The mother said, “He sold auto parts and iron in Owode Onirin. A man wanted to sell a car. He and Saheed got a buyer for the vehicle and the person sold it to someone else. On December 29, in the night, some SARS men went to his house in Itowolo, Ikorodu, with Saheed, and arrested him.
“Our family members went to the SARS office, but the policemen did not give them any attention. Last Wednesday, I came down to Lagos State and went there. The policemen I met said they did not know anybody by that name.
“I saw Saheed while he was being taken to the Ikeja Magistrate’s Court that day with two others. I asked for my son, but they chased me away. They did not allow me to get close to Saheed.”
She said she went with Lukman’s brother and official at the court, who showed them the charge preferred against him.
The woman said that she and Lukman’s brother went to the court and met with an official, who showed them the charge preferred against him.
She said she was shocked to discover that her son was charged with robbery along with one Kehinde Hassan.
She added, “His name on the heading of the charge sheet had been cancelled, but in the content, it was written as late Lukman Ogundele. That was when I realised that my son died in the police custody, but they were trying to cover up.
“When my daughter prodded the IPO further, he made a call. After a few minutes, about eight armed policemen came to scare us away.”
An uncle to the deceased, Pastor Bolaji Michael, said a policeman confided in him that Lukman was dead.
He said, “Lukman and Saheed were arrested for introducing a buyer to a stolen vehicle. But he was charged with a separate count bordering on robbery. We will be in court on Tuesday (today) to see what happens. We will also get a lawyer to petition the Inspector-General of Police.
“Officially, SARS has not told the family that he is dead, which is wrong. It was a policeman that told us that the boy slumped in custody and died. He said he was not tortured and advised us to let go of the matter. He said he would help us to collect his corpse. He said if we let the case drag on, we might not get his corpse in one year.
“I disagreed with him and said we would take it up. This was a man who had two kids of seven and nine years old and a wife. He must not die just like that.”
Also speaking, Abayomi’s mother said a SARS officer had promised her that Lukman and her son would be released on bail as soon as the prime suspects in the case were arrested.
She said, “The officer promised that Saheed and Lukman would be released once they got one Idowu and Kehinde, the prime suspects, arrested. But after the two were caught, they did not release them.
“I was surprised when I got a call last Tuesday that they would be charged to court. Saheed, Idowu and Kehinde were brought to the Ikeja Magistrate’s Court last Wednesday, but Lukman was not there. The police have postponed their arraignment to Tuesday (today).”
However, the Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer, SP Chike Oti, denied that the police covered up Lukman’s death.
He said Lukman died naturally on January 2, 2018, adding that the victim’s relatives were informed about the death through a family member, who is a policeman.
Oti said, “The boy was arrested for armed robbery with four others. Along the line, he was sick while in the cell and was taken to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja. The doctor treated him and the police took him back. He was returned to custody.
“The next day, he collapsed and was rushed back to the hospital. On getting to the hospital, he was confirmed dead by a doctor. Other gang members have been arraigned and remanded in prison.”
SARS, the police unit has been criticised by Nigerians over the unruly conduct of its operatives.
A campaign tagged #EndSARS has been ongoing on social media platforms for months, with many accusing SARS officials of harassing and brutalising innocent citizens, thereby calling on the Federal Government to scrap the unit.