We’re innocent, they cry out
Police have learnt nothing from the protests — CSOs
By Ebunoluwa Sessou & Esther Onyegbula
Whenever there is crisis, violence, or war, women and children seem to be at the receiving end of the unfortunate fallouts.
So it was recently for several women who were arrested during the curfew imposed by the Lagos State government after the peaceful EndSARS protest was hijacked by hoodlums across the state.
When 32-year old Aishat Mohamend a mother of four who resides at 32 Docas Street in Alpha beach, Jankande went out to buy soup items on Thursday at about 9:30 am during the curfew, little did she know she was courting trouble and would spend the next six days in a crowded police cell for flouting government order?
Narrating how she was arrested, Aishat said, “I was on my way to Jakande market opposite Shoprite (Lekki) to buy soup items on Thursday morning when some police officers stopped me, they asked me to walk towards them and when I got to where they were, they said I should lie down on the ground where some other persons were forced to lay down. Later, they led us into their vehicle before taking us to the police station. For six days, we had no food, no water. I have a little baby, she is 14 months old. From Kogi state, my husband’s name is Kaudri. Unfortunately I haven’t been allowed to call any family member before they paraded me like a common criminal”.
Lamenting further, the Kogi State indigene noted that if the police are really investigating the people who burnt and looted items, they won’t arrest innocent people like me”.
Like Aishat, Omowunmi, a mother of five, said she was arrested at Jakande roundabout, Lekki when she went to buy food items.
“The police said I was arrested because there was curfew. I have been inside the cell for six days now. They haven’t allowed me to call, Omowunmi added
For 45-year-old Ogechi Ogbonna, “I was with my children, when policemen came to the compound located at 45, Oluwasenu Ijegun road Ikotun, on Monday October 26th. The police people said they were looking for the landlord’s children, I told them they don’t live here. I explained to them that I am the only tenant living here. They asked about the other rooms and I said the owner traveled since February before Covid-19 Lockdown. They left and arrested one boy who lives in the next compound. Later, they came back again and they said I am a suspect; they checked everywhere but they didn’t see anything. They packed my clothes and my children’s clothes that I am a suspect, that the clothes were exhibits. Nobody has come for my bail because they don’t know my whereabouts. My husband had gone to work when I was arrested.
Unlike Ogechi, Victoria a mother of four, said she was arrested in her house at Ikotun area of Lagos on Friday.
According to her, I was at home with my children in the Ikotun area of Lagos when police came and arrested me alongside other tenants because one of the female tenant’s boyfriend who kept some of the looted items in the compound”.
Weeping bitterly, Victoria said that her four children are with friends. “I don’t know how they are. Since I was arrested, the police refused to allow me to call anyone. I am innocent,” she added.
Like Victoria, Aina, a bread seller, who lives in the same compound as Victoria, said they were arrested on October 21 because one of the female tenant’s lovers and some boys who looted items during the lockdown hid them inside the compound where we live. “But the Investigating Police Officer IPO allowed me to call my family yesterday (Monday October 26th. Many of the tenants were also arrested. Nigerians should please come to our aid, I am innocent”.
According to 16-year-old Joseph Ezereke from Anambra state, “I was arrested on Tuesday at Festac Link Bridge at about 8:30 in the evening. I was returning from my place of work as a lotto officer. I have spent one week there. I am innocent. My parents don’t know where I was for the past one week. It was OPC that arrested me and handed me over to the police. The OPC that arrested me collected my phone, collected my money. I didn’t do anything, I was going home peacefully, no weapon was found in my possession. For one week, no food, no water”.
Reacting to police refusal to allow suspects call family members to notify them of their arrest, Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre noted with serious concern that information that most of the over 500 people arrested, paraded and detained at the Lagos State police headquarters since the past 6 days following the riots triggered by the violent disruption of the peaceful #EndSARS protests, have not been allowed to contact their family members. Their statement reads, “Many of the detainees are women who have children that need their care. The practice of indefinitely detaining accused persons, not charging them to court and denying them bail is an illegal and unprofessional practice which shows, sadly, that the police have not learnt any lessons from the sad events of the past that triggered the #EndSARS protests. Under the Police Act 2020, arresting police officers have obligation to inform family members of arrested persons about their arrest as well as facilitating for them access to lawyers. We call for the immediate release of those detained without justification. Those whom the police have credible evidence of their committing any offence should be charged promptly”.
In the same vein, Oyebisi, B. Oluseyi, Executive Director, Nigeria Network of NGOs told WO, “One is concerned about the safety and emotional wellbeing of children and adolescents arrested for flouting orders on curfew. If truly this is the case, the convention on the rights of the child, children and adolescents which Nigeria is a signatory to provides some safeguards and protection for children. I do hope that the Judiciary will ensure justice is served in a timely fashion to avoid exposing the children to dangerous circumstances”.
A Nigerian legal practitioner and women’s rights activist, Mrs Funmi Falana has commenced plans to approach the courts in the pro-bono defense of the human rights of the affected women and children. The Executive Director, Women Empowerment and Legal Aid, WELA, in her contribution said the curfew has no legal backing or executive order.
They cannot be paraded as common criminal unless the court finds them guilty. They have their fundamental rights and so, they should go to court”.
During the parade at the state police command, the Commissioner for Police, Hakeem Odumosu, said that during the crisis that rocked the state last week, the command was able to arrest a total of 520 suspects for various offences ranging from arson, robbery, murder, rioting, malicious damage, and unlawful possession of firearms.Odumosu also alleged that those arrested were not peaceful #ENDSARS protesters. He stated that it was a known fact armed hoodlums hijacked the protests and were responsible for series of killings, arson and looting recorded.”However, thorough investigation will be done”, he vowed.