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#MySARSstory: Death in detention

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Kehinde Omotosho and his nephew were detained under ambiguous circumstances, and the former did not survive the gruesome conditions in detention.


Kehinde Omotosho and his nephew, Jelili Rasaq, were locked in long, dark, narrow cells on parallel blocks. By the left was a broken-down toilet with an offensive smell. Beyond that was another cell, twice as long but just as narrow as the first one where these two relatives were stacked with almost a hundred other detainees.

“It was so far from the entrance that no amount of screaming could get to the police at the counter,” said Jelili while narrating his ordeal in detention.


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The first cell was for detainees who had spent longer periods in police custody. One rugged man nicknamed ‘State’, the supervisor of all detainees, stayed there. The second cell had no windows, and just one door, with no window. Whenever the detainees were to sleep, ‘State’ would come to arrange them. First-week detainees were lined up beside each other, and they all slept on the bare surface. Some older detainees would sit by the wall, and others would rest on the knees of their old counterparts.

Welcome to Iyaganku Police Station in the Dugbe area of Ibadan, the capital of Oyo state, where Kehinde and Jelili spent four days after being arrested by Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) officers.

While Jelili was later released, Kehinde, the older relative, died in detention.

The Journey to Hell

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Jelili Rasaq was a Caterpillar truck operator.

At about 12:25 am on July 17, 2020, he and Kehinde heard sporadic shooting in their neighbourhood in the Gbaremu area of Ibadan, Oyo State. Announcements from the local vigilantes followed.

“Wake up, wake up! The thieves are around,” they announced. Jelili could hear footsteps from his window.

In a short while, the story was changed. It was instead the police on a raid. Suddenly, the police broke into their family house. “Where is Kabir?” one of the officers asked repeatedly. Jelili replied, “Which Kabir are you looking for?”

He was hit on his chest with a gun and fell flat on the floor. His uncle, Kehinde, who tried to intervene, suffered the same treatment. They were both handcuffed and taken away. His sister tried to ask if she could know where they were being taken to, and the police officers told her to check Google and find the answer.

Funny, right? It was not hilarious that midnight. Aside from their uniforms that showed they were policemen, their raid that night was almost like an abduction. They came with one station wagon car, one Kia Rio patrol vehicle of the Nigeria Police and two public transport buses. Four other arrested persons were already inside the buses.

They first drove the now six detainees to the Agugu Police Division in Ibadan. One policewoman checked them out and told the other police officers, ‘good job.’ Then, they drove yet again, this time to the Iyaganku police station in the Dugbe area of Ibadan, where they were thrown in a cell. Iyangaku station is home to the SARS officers of the state.

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By daylight, Kehinde and Jelili were brought out of the cell. The policemen interrogated them separately, coercing them to admit to a purported crime committed by their ‘brother’, Kabir. After concocting the statement, Jelili was asked to sign without proofreading.

Investigating Police Officer (IPO), Ibrahim took the same statement for Kehinde. At this time, neither Jelili nor Kehinde knew what either of them or the Kabir the police officers kept mentioning had done.

They would later be told that some hoodlums had attacked members of the fraternal Oodua People’s Congress, OPC, and one of the community’s residents had died. Kabir was said to be one of the hoodlums.

It couldn’t have been our family’s Kabir as he had relocated to another state with his nuclear family over six months ago.

On Monday, July 20, 2020, Kehinde started complaining of stomach pain. He was hungry as neither man had eaten anything since they were whisked away from their house. None of their family members knew the exact police station they were being held in.

By midnight that day, Kehinde was really starving and rolling on the floor. That irritated the detainees near him who were asleep.  Some inmates tied Kehinde’s legs and hands to his back. He was then laid chest down.

When State’, the most senior of all inmates, came to check on the detainees for the first time, he saw that Kehinde was bound and almost slipping into unconsciousness.

State, together with Jelili, untied the rope and made him get back to sleep. When the inmates woke up the following day, they found Kehinde dead. He had died of starvation. And Jelili had unknowingly slept in that hell of a cell with the dead body of his uncle.

Bailed but Not Free

Kehinde’s corpse was taken to the morgue on Tuesday morning, July 21, 2020. His death forced the police to contact his family for the first time since he had been illegally abducted. They were allowed to bail Jelili Wednesday, July 2020, on the condition that he would return to the police station that weekend with information on the whereabouts of his “brother” Kabir, even though Jelili had no idea who this murderous Kabir the police insisted was his brother, was.

Even though the police called and threatened him several times, he never went back to their station. “I just didn’t want to die a painful death like my uncle,” Jelili says.

He has sued the police for illegal detention before the Federal High Court in Ibadan and the case is still being heard.

In March 2021, his family approached the Oyo state judicial panel set up to try cases of police brutality to make a report of the inhumane treatment of his uncle in detention, which led to his death.

At first, the panel said that since the case was already filed before the High Court, they did not have the jurisdiction to sit over it again. The family, however, explained that my case of illegal detention before the court is different from the request for justice over Kehinde’s death. Both are indeed not the same.

Except we are vindicated at the panel, we will not be able to find justice for Kehinde’s death.

After a series of investigations and cross-examinations on police-related abuses based on complaints from163 petitioners, the Oyo State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Police Brutality led by Justice Badejoko Adeniji (rtd), on July 13, 2021, concluded the panel sessions with recommendations for compensations, remedial measures and restitution for victims and petitioners.

The panel is still preparing the report, containing these recommendations, and they say it is to be submitted to the state government soon.

Jelili’s freedom is not fully restored. To the police he is still evading arrest because he didn’t return to tell them about the imaginary Kabir’s whereabouts. Until the court tries the police station for illegal detention, Jelili is not a free man.

A Family in Mourning

Kehinde Omotosho, Jelili’s late uncle, is remembered fondly by his relatives.

Kehinde is survived by a wife and seven children, most of whom are still very young and thus cannot make a living on their own.

Kehinde Omotosho's Daughter
Kehinde Omotosho’s Daughter

Before retiring to bed on the night of the arrest, he had told Jelili about his plan to surprise his first child, Khadijat, with a sewing machine. Ahead of Khadijat’s graduation in November 2020 from an apprentice to an independent tailor. They had ticked the calendar for the following Monday, July 20, 2020, to buy the equipment.

Instead of the celebration of progress, there was mourning.

This story is part of a multimedia project by Tiger Eye Foundation and media partners across Nigeria, documenting police brutality in Nigeria and advocating for police reform.

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