JUST like his 81-year-old father Daodu, Solomon Yellowe loved singing in church. Solomon, the last of seven children, often went with his father to choir rehearsals at their Anglican church, stopping only when he got admission to study Religious and Cultural Studies at the University of Port Harcourt.
On March 13, 2019, 27-year-old Solomon, now a final year student, left his hostel in the Choba campus of the university to his department to write a test. He was seen on campus by his friends during this time. He later returned to his hostel.
That night, he left his hostel again to withdraw money from an ATM outside of the campus.
This time, Solomon did not return.
Noticing his strange disappearance, concerned family and friends tried to reach Solomon via phone. The calls went through without an answer. The next morning, a stranger picked up and said Solomon had given him the phone to charge.
Friends and family would continue waiting for Solomon, calling him, throughout the 14th and 15th of March, but he neither came back nor answered his phone. It was becoming clear that something was amiss, prompting a search.
On March 18, Solomon’s family began visiting police stations in Port Harcourt. His sister, legal practitioner Anna West, went to the office of the Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS) in Rukpokwu, on the outskirts of Port Harcourt, in search of her brother, and was told Solomon was neither arrested nor in their custody.
Anna filed a missing person report at the police station and published it in the newspapers, on television, and on social media.
For eight weeks, the search for Solomon continued, until the family got a tip-off on April 25. The tip-off was from a detainee in a Port Harcourt prison, where Solomon’s girlfriend had visited as part of her search.
The detainee told Solomon’s girlfriend that Solomon had been killed by SARS, and urged her to search the mortuaries in the city as it was very likely she could find Solomon’s remains.
On April 26, the family visited the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital (UPTH) mortuary and found Solomon’s name on the register. The information contained in the register revealed his corpse had been deposited on March 14 by a SARS officer named Sunday Samuel.
Anna West returned to the SARS station that had previously denied arresting her brother for answers. The officers there now accused Solomon of being an armed robber who had been involved in some robbery operations in the state.
Anna launched a formal investigation, petitioning the Commissioner of Police, who charged the Rivers State Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to investigate the murder.
As part of the investigation, an autopsy was carried out. The result revealed Solomon had died from brain swelling, and that he had no gunshot wounds, only defensive wounds on his forearms as a result of torture.
“My brother had no previous health condition and no criminal records,” Anna says. “How come just a few hours into being in custody he slumped and died, as the police claimed?”
Anna adds that she applied for the release of the investigation report by the State CID, which has refused to release the report to date.
The officers accused of Solomon’s murder were later arrested. Anna wrote a statement, and the officers involved also gave their statement, after which they were released on bail. They were later rearrested, and re-released by the sitting Commissioner of Police, Friday Eboka, on administrative bail.
The case slacked in action and accountability until October 22, 2020, when the governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, in response to the nationwide #EndSARS protest, inaugurated the #EndSARS Judicial Panel of Inquiry.
Anna and her father Daodu testified before the panel. The accused officers testified too, claiming Solomon had been a criminal.
The family now waits for the decision of the panel. Although Rivers State’s panel of inquiry submitted their report in August 2021, no news has been heard at the time of publishing this story.
Anna says she fell into depression after losing her brother two years ago. She calls Solomon’s demise “the worst experience” of her life.
“The damage done to my family is irreparable,” she says, in tears. “Life has not been normal but we are trying to pick ourselves up. We are healing as a family but it still hurts and it will hurt forever.”
Anna wants every officer found to be involved in the kidnap, torture, and murder of her brother tried and prosecuted.
Martha Chindah, one of Solomon’s other sisters, describes her brother as a “kind and loving young man.”
“Solomon was taken away from us in his prime,” Martha laments.
“He was young and had a promising future. It is still something I can’t believe. For me, my siblings, and my father, it is something we will have to live with for the rest of our lives, knowing our sibling has just been taken away by SARS.”
For Solomon aged father Daodu, the pain of losing his last-born, the one who followed in his footsteps, is unimaginable.
“My father is in deep sorrow,” Martha says.
“Words cannot describe [how he feels]. It is a terrible feeling to lose a child.”
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.