FOR Steven, 28, and Chinonso, 26, both sons of late Eze Solomon, Sunday, May 10 will forever remain a dark, haunting day in their memories.
It was the day life was snuffed out of their 68-year-old father by a police officer at Ereke junction in Karimo area of Abuja.
Nothing is more surreal to them now than the sudden end of their father, because there was no inkling early in the day that the man who just concluded a three-day dry fasting and requested for food was about to die.
Before the tragedy struck, the late father of six had in the morning held a house fellowship with members of his church, The Overcoming World Assembly, in his apartment.
He waited till the evening for his first son, Steven, to bring him food to end the three-day dry fasting.
Solomon never lived to eat the food.
Monday Chukwu’s arrest, Solomon’s death
In the evening of that fateful Sunday, a group of six police officers – some dressed in mufti, others in police bullet proof vests and an informant – had arrived at Karimo to arrest some traders.
The officers were believed to be operatives of Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), though it later turned out that they were from the FCT Anti-One Chance Squad who were carrying out random arrests of some criminals. They came in the company of an informant who goes by the name Lucky but is popularly known as Confusion.
It was the arrest of Monday Chukwu, a fashion boutique owner by the operatives that led to Solomon’s death. Chukwu says he was pinpointed by Confusion before the operatives came to his shop to arrest him.
“I was at the shop on Sunday at about 17:30, that’s 5:30, when some cars parked in front of the shop. I was thinking that they were customers,” he said.
“Three men came down from the car with sticks in their hands. I was asking them to come and check from me but when they got to my place, they held me by the waist, holding my trousers and asked me to close my shop.”
Then, Chukwu said, three policemen with guns, wearing bullet proof vests emerged from another car.
“They said I should pack my stuff. There and then, they started hitting me with their sticks that I should pack.”
While he was being forced into the car, Chukwu insisted that he wouldn’t go into the car and that he should be taken to a police station instead.
Chukwu said he asked Confusion why he implicated him. This was when a crowd had gathered to intervene, asking the police operatives to take him to the station.
Amid the crowd was late Solomon who was returning from where he had gone to check his shop which had been brought down by a rain storm the previous night.
He intervened as an elderly family friend of Chukwu’s, asking that he be taken to the nearby police station instead of SARS headquarters, but he paid the supreme price when the leader of the squad ordered one of his boys to do ‘his work’.
The late Solomon, who sold fairly used clothes and bags at the Ereke junction, was shot straight in the head and died instantly.
“During the process, one of the officers, that’s their boss, came down from the car and said, “ don’t they know their work, they should take action now,” Chukwu told our reporter.
“He brought out his gun and faced the direction of people arguing that they should take me to the station and shoot at one man there. He shot him directly into his eye.”
After the shooting, the leader of the squad, eyewitnesses told The ICIR, zoomed off in his car while his boys forced Chukwu into the second car.
He was not taken to any police station. Rather, Chukwu says he was dropped off along Airport Road after the operatives took N15,500 from him and without telling him his offence.
“At the Airport road, the boss said that they should release me because the guy ‘Confusion said I don’t have anything to do with him.”
“They returned my phone but went away with my money, a sum of N15, 500, and left me in the middle of the road.”
Distraught sons call for justice
Steven and Chinonso are heart broken. So is their mother, who lives in the village in Anambra State, and the rest of the family.
“I’m totally confused,” Steven told The ICIR looking downcast, .
“I’m still in shock because the whole thing happened like a film to me. I only saw my father and the next ten minutes, they called me that my father was shot.”
Chinonso said he was at home when he got a call that his father was shot dead.
“I was at home when someone rushed in to inform me that SARS shot my father to death.”
“When I got there I saw my dad lying lifeless in the pool of his blood. I rushed to Karimo Station and made a complaint there. The police came with a Hilux and took him to the mortuary.”
After the incident, a group of elders in Karimo, including leaders of Igbo community as well as its AMAC Vice Chairman, Lawrence , Maxwell Okpara , who is also a human rights lawyer, came around to see the family of the deceased.
According to Steven and Chinonso, the elders assured them that justice would be done. But they have fears that their father may die in vain in spite of the assurances given to them by Bala Ciroma, FCT Commissioner of Police.
“On Tuesday, we went to the Commissioner of Police office at Garki 2. We met him and he assured us that justice would be done. He told us that the man who shot my dad has been arrested and is in police custody,” Chinonso said.
How ‘Confusion’ has been implicating innocent traders
Traders at the market say the police informant, whom they know as ‘Confusion’, has over the years been implicating innocent traders with the police.
A trader who once fell victim of his act narrated his experience to The ICIR.
“ Confusion comes around Karimo and Dape. His real name is Lucky.” said the boutique owner who did not want to be named for security reasons.
He was arrested right inside his shop by operatives of SARS after he was pointed by ‘Confusion’, alleging that he had bought a stolen phone from him.
The trader said he “paid through his nose” to bail himself after he was taken to the detention facility of SARS at Abattoir area of Abuja.
“ This is not the first time they are doing something like this. Last two years, they came to my shop and arrested me for no reason,” he said.
“I spent N110,500 to bail myself for what I did not do. I was taken to Abattoir. They alleged that I bought a handset from him while I did not buy anything from him. They found nothing on me. I bailed myself that very day. They took my home theatre and never returned.”
We are investigating the matter, police will be transparent— Manza
Anjuguri Manza, FCT Police Public Relations Officer, said the the matter was being investigated.
“Investigation is ongoing on the matter, the command commiserates with the family of the deceased and promises to make its findings public. The command also promises to be transparent in its investigation of the issue,” Manza says.
He confirmed to The ICIR that the officer who shot the deceased has been identified and arrested, noting that the command issued a statement to that effect.
The police spokesperson declined comments on the identities of the officers involved and what punishments await them if found guilty.
Maxwell Okpara, a human rights lawyer who has been following up on the case, also confirmed that the principal suspect has been arrested, alongside the leader of the operation.
“They are now in police detention now,” Okpara said.
“Police are doing investigation. They open two separate investigations for the matter. One is for the operation they went for; whether the operation was authorised or not was being investigated and the other is the investigation into the actual killing. On Friday when I went there they even brought them out. That is the stage we are now,” the human rights lawyer added.
The family of the deceased is concluding plans to apply for autopsy to be carried out after which the body can be released for burial while police investigation continues.
A police source confided in The ICIR that the police would conclude investigation next week and submit a report so that the officers can go for guard room trial.
After the trial, if found guilty, hey will dismiss them and hand them over for prosecution, the source said.
Okpara said he was convinced that the family of the deceased would get justice, saying “ they are doing what they are supposed to do.”
“If the family likes they can now sue the police because the officer did not come on his own, he did not commit the offence as a person, he committed the offence as a police officer. The police cannot run away from the liability.”
The lawyer said he and others would continue to follow up with the case noting, however, that the police would not want to mess up because the case is a straightforward matter.
“It is not as if they were looking for who shot the deceased. The officer never denied that he shot and the purpose of the autopsy is if the matter is going to court,” he said.
“He shot the man, the man was not fighting him, the man was not an armed robber. He came when they wanted to arrest the young man,” Okpara explained.
Police in Nigeria commit extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, and extortion with relative impunity, says Open Society Justice Initiative.
In a report, Criminal Force: Torture, Abuse, and Extrajudicial Killings by the Nigeria Police Force, the civil society group noted that Nigeria Police Force personnel routinely carry out summary executions of persons accused or suspected of crime; rely on torture as a principal means of investigation; commit rape of both sexes, with a particular focus on sex workers; and engage in extortion at nearly every opportunity.
The Nigerian government has acknowledged these problems and promised to address them in the past, but to date, abuses have continued with no real accountability.
It says Nigeria’s leadership must pay serious attention to police reform if it hopes to succeed in restoring public safety.