The Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) in recent past became notorious killing innocent Nigerians, extorting huge sums of money from their victims while those that could not immediately meet their demands are despatched. Fortunately, AJOR SYLVANUS was a victim of SARS brutalisation and extortion but he survived it to tell his story. In this exclusive interview with OKOSUN DENNIS in Benin City, recounted his close shave with death. Excerpts:
CAN you recall your encounter with some policemen from the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) who brutalised you?
It was on the 20th May 2015. I was in my house when I heard a shout from my brother. He told me that some men were inside my compound and they said they were policemen. I asked policemen? This was about 1am in the night. I told him that I don’t think they were policemen because I don’t have anything to do with the police.
I told him that they must be armed robbers. They started hitting my burglary proof shouting that I should open the door. I came out to the living room and saw two of them. I asked what they wanted, they barked at me to open the door. The way they were shouting made me to conclude that they were not policemen especially as they were not putting on uniform, even though they had gun. I quickly ran back to my room, and called my neighbours and a friend on phone informing them that there were some men in my compound who were asking me to open my door but I suspected they were armed robbers because they were not behaving like policemen. I told them to be alert. Before I knew it – even before I mustered courage to open the door – they broke the burglary proof and came through the window and started beating me. I kept on asking them what was the problem? They never listened and continued to hit me with stick and gun butt. They asked me for my phones; collected one and asked me to bring other phones. I told them I don’t know where it was because of the pressure they were mounted on me. They started beating everybody including my younger brothers, threatening that if we do not provide other phones, they would drag everybody to the station. We later got the phones and I still asked: what was the problem? None of them told me the offence I have committed. They brought everybody outside and sat us down. In the process, one of the neighbours I called earlier came and asked what the problem was? They didn’t listen to him but rather kept beating me like a criminal.
You said in your house. Where is this place?
I live at Ekenwan Road, Benin City. They jumped the fence silently into the compound because my compound is fenced.
How did you know that people were in your compound?
It was my brother that came to my room to tell me there are people in my compound and they said they were policemen. I woke up to see the were already in the compound.
Did you at any time had issues with them or anybody in your compound that led to their coming?
No. Nothing like that happened.I don’t really know. I was surprised. Till date, I am still amazed how and what brought them to my compound.
So what happened after they brought you people out?
They asked us to sit on the ground. They started beating everybody most especially me, with sticks, irons and gun butts. I was slapped uncountable number of times. Despite the beating, I kept on asking: what have I done? One of them took me straight to the Highlander Jeep – a milk colour – they came with. There was a guy inside the police car and when they brought him out and asked him: Is this one? The man said no.
After the guy said you were not the one. What happened after?
The policeman said I will not go free. They asked where the tenants of my house were? I told them that I don’t have any tenant. Before I knew it, one of the policemen brought out a handcuff and chained my hands to the back, pushed me into my car and drove me to the state CID.
What kind of car do you use?
I use Toyota Camry. It was when we got to the police station I was convinced that they were actually policemen.
When they came, how were they dressed?
They were not putting on uniform. Two of them had earrings and one sprayed part of his beard with gold colour, while one of them had dreadlock. They were not looking like policemen. Their attitude and the way they were acting was suspicious making them look like armed robbers. My conclusion was that they were armed robbers or kidnappers and didn’t come out of that thought until I was taken to the police station.
What happened when you were eventually taken to the state CID?
When I got there, the leader of the team asked me: Where is the Toyota 2010 model that was parked in your compound? I told him I don’t know anything about what he was talking about. He further asked if I had any friend that uses that kind of car. I told him no. He went further to ask me about one pastor (I can’t remember his name now), I answered I don’t know any pastor like that. He threatened me with death if I don’t want to say the truth. I told him I don’t know anything he was talking about. He commanded that I should be taken to the cell.
Where you actually taken to the cell?
Yes, but I requested that they allow me to call my people and they refused and started beating me again.
At the time you got to the police station, where you with any of your phones?
They collected my phones in the house. I asked they give me my phone to make the call before they started beating me again, telling me not to say anything.
When they came to your house, were you the only one they took to the station?
As at that time, none of your brothers knew where you were taking to?
What happened inside the cell?
In the cell I met a guy they called “Presido,” and I was beaten to pump. I later thought that, maybe, the policemen ganged up with the guy to implicate me.
When did you leave the station?
They came to my house about 1am and I left the station in the evening about 11pm after much negotiation because they asked me to pay N5.5 million which the equivalent of the car they said was parked in my compound which was false.
What did they tell you your offence was?
They told me somebody parked a car in my compound, a Toyota Camry 2010 model.
Did they see the car parked?
No, there was no such car. I have never had any other car except the car I use.
Was there any time a friend brought such car to your house?
No. Nobody brought such car to my compound.
What happened before you were released or left the station?
At a point, one of them brought me out and wanted to let me go but the team leader said no that they must ‘obtain’ money from me.
Did you at that time know any of their names or did they call one another by name?
Like the leader of the team, then, I never knew his name. However, later I knew his name to be Corporal Adeleke Adedeji and the other one called Henry.
How much were you asked to pay?
They demanded for N5.5m. I told them that I have never seen that kind of money before. They later took me back to the cell. They brought me out about three to four times negotiating with my brother. They said they were Federal SARS and they don’t collect paltry money. Later, after they threatened that they would take me to Lagos and for the next 14 years my people will not see me again that it dawned on me that they were rootless.
Later, a policeman who is a friend to one of my friends came and said that was the way they behave saying that anytime they take someone from here, you will never see the person again. Later, the leader of the team, Adeleke Adedeji called my brother and showed him several pictures of people he has killed.
He showed it to your brother?
Yes, he did. He added that if we fail to bring the money that “I was just like a mosquito in his hands” boasting that whenever he pulls his hand, I will be a dead person. My brother knelt down crying and begging him. He said the least money he can collect was N500, 000. I started begging because I saw how they beat one boy to death right in the cell; a boy I later knew was one Benson Obodeh.
How did that happen?
When they brought me out from the cell, I saw the guy unconscious after much beating. We were two that they brought out from the cell. As at that time, he was in coma but still breathing. They called me to carry the guy and relax him on the wall. I refused because I looked at him as someone that can’t survive. I told them that I cannot carry him. Adeleke threatened me to carry him. I was forced to carry and relax him on the wall. Thereafter, one of the policemen brought a bucket of water and started pouring on him. I was later taken back to the cell. After seeing those things, I concluded that they had no conscience.
Having seen those horrible things, did you pay the money eventually?
Yes. After showing my brother the pictures of people he had killed including one man in Lagos called Ezeugo and whenever he kills the person, nothing happens, I told my brother that whatever it would cost to save my life, he should do it. I had no option than to pay the N500,000 they demanded. They said it must be paid in cash that night.
How did your brother source for the money?
My shop was opened that day and my brothers sold some items and they source cash from friends who assisted with some money to make up the N500,000.
Who was it given to?
It was given to one black smallish one among them I later knew to be Abena.
So they actually collected N500,000 from you?
Yes, they did. They said it must be cash and that was what they collected from me for doing nothing wrong apart from the brutalisation.
After collecting the money, what happened?
The day they arrested me, I was having N27, 000 plus in my pocket. They took it. After collecting the money, they drove my car away to buy food. They later came back with girls inside the police station with takeaway packs of Mr Biggs. They were rejoicing and celebrating while I was in pains. They gave me my car key and phones and asked me to go with a warning not tell anybody what happened or they will come back and kill me. I couldn’t ask them again what I did to deserve the maltreatment because of fear. I was allowed to go.
Did you sustain any injury?
Yes, I sustained injuries. I couldn’t hear again due to the beating. The only way I understood what anyone was saying was to watch his/her mouth. I went to the hospital and was admitted for three days and after medical examination/test, I was told I had injury inside my ears. I was on medication for over one month before I could hear perfectly again. I was placed on several drugs and ear drop which cost me a lot of money.
How much did you spend on medication?
I can’t just say exactly because I bought a lot of drugs that cost me a lot of money.
How do you know that the policemen that brutalised and collected N500, 000 from you were charged to court and you were invited to testify?
After the horrible moments I went through, I called my Pastor and explained to him. He took me to one Barr. Afolabi and the lawyer wrote a petition to the IGP and they acknowledged it but nothing came out of it. One day, Barr. Afolabi called me to come to his office that there was somebody that brought the issue I was talking about in his chambers. Again, I was watching on TV “Man Around Town,” who runs an NGO and heard him saying the same issue. I had to follow up.I looked for their phone number and called them, narrating my ordeal and told him that the issue he was discussing has something to do with me as well. When I got to Barr. Afolabi’s office, I met one Solomon Obodeh, the elder brother of the boy that was killed in the cell. I also saw a protest on ITV and recognised Solomon Obodeh’s sister whom I met at the police station that day the boy was killed why I was detained.
That was when you knew that the boy the police asked you to assist was their brother?
When you were called to come and testify, how did you feel?
Laughed! Oh my God, since that incident happened, I have been fasting, praying to God not to let the policemen go scot-free. I have been fasting and praying for an opportunity like this to come. I was really glad to come to the court to testify.
The joy I had that day to see the criminals; considering the way they beat me as if I was a thief and collected my hard-earned money N500, 000 plus for something. I was happy seeing them in handcuffs, docked and to tell the world what some policemen are doing to fellow Nigerians. I was very happy to testify in court.
What is your perception of an average policeman on the street after your experience?
Hum! To me, if this is how policemen behave, we don’t have a police system in Nigeria. We don’t have police in Nigeria.