Pelumi Onifade was only 20 years old when he was shot dead while performing his duty as a reporter.
AN intern at a private online broadcaster, Gboah TV, Pelumi Onifade was, at the time of death, a second-year history student at the Tai Solarin University of Education (TASUED) in Ogun state.
On October 24, 2020, Pelumi and one of his colleagues went out to report on an attempted break-in at a government facility at Abattoir in the Oko Oba area of Agege in Lagos. The mob hurled glass bottles at the police officers attached to the Lagos State Task Force who, in return, fired gunshots at the crowd.
Multiple eyewitnesses say Pelumi was hit by a bullet and the police took his body away.
One week after the incident, Bose Onifade, Pelumi’s mother, his boss at work and other family members combed different police stations in the Ikeja, Palmgrove and Onipanu areas of Lagos in search of the young journalist, without any luck.
At the SARS office in Ikeja, Cosmas Ejiofor convincingly told Afolani Oluseyi, a family friend who followed other family members in the search for the young journalist, that the Pelumi’s name came up on their desk but can no longer tell how it went missing after a while.
For a while, Ejiofor combed the cells at the SARS office, looking for Pelumi. “Pelumi! Pelumi!” he would echo his name without receiving any answer – a rude shock not only to himself but also to the family members asking about the whereabouts of their child.
After a futile search that day, October 31, 2020, the police officer advised Pelumi’s family to check the Ikorodu mortuary. It was at this mortuary their doubts were cleared and they wished Ejiofor was wrong for once.
“Whenever Pelumi was not in school, he was either in church or busy with house chores,” said his mother.
¨He was a member of the Brigade Corps; even the television station he worked with belonged to our Pastor’s son. So, he carried the church’s identity around.”
The inscription, ‘Faith in Christ’ was on the wristband he wore, which made identifying him possible and undeniable at the mortuary.
Other things like his phone and the press jacket were no longer seen.
“That’s our son,” Oluseyi said, but they were not allowed to take the corpse away. They needed to bring a police report before his remains could be released.
One question Bose Onifade badly wanted an answer to was this: “What took my son’s body from the Abattoir to Ikorodu morgue?”
She wailed night and day and waited for an answer that never came. The killer didn’t visit; the government never sent officials to condole with them.
“Let Him Rest” — Mother
In February, the Lagos state government asked the parents to do a DNA test at Ikeja General Hospital to establish the biological gene, but they still weren’t given the result after doing so.
May 12, 2021 marked the 200th-day Pelumi was last seen alive by his parents. The second time the family returned to Ikorodu mortuary, the attendant said the corpse was already checked out.
“For a stillbirth, it is hard for the mother,” Bose lamented.
“Now, compare the pain to a mother who raised a child from infancy to the age of 20. The police killed my son and the state authorities still don’t want to release his body to us.
“He is my first born and only son. I can no longer have a child who would take the identity of his father. They should give me the chance to give the last respect to my son. They should let him rest.”
After the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on the Restitution and Compensation of Victims of SARS Related Abuse and other Related Matters was set up on October 19, 2020, Pelumi’s parents approached the panel to seek justice for their son’s death.
However, in May 2021, the Lagos State Government wrote to the panel to strike out a case between the family and Lagos Task Force.
The government strongly stated that the panel lacked jurisdiction to hear the case of Pelumi’s murder. It also said that the crime was not perpetrated by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), and that Pelumi was killed on October 25, 2020, which was “long after the SARS had been disbanded and the Amended Instrument establishing the Panel of Enquiry was promulgated ”.
For Bose, the loss of her son still haunts her.
“Pelumi’s name means ‘to be with me’” she said, “But it has been one year now, that his life was cut short; the state authorities didn’t allow my only son to be with me.
“Yet, they still deny me the privilege of giving him a befitting burial ceremony. It’s obvious they are covering up the murder. As long as his remains are kept in the government’s custody, he cannot rest well.”
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.