The death of a businessman while in police detention in Yola has put Adamawa State’s recently-appointed police commissioner on the spot.
Family members of the deceased, Christian Eze, 42, have accused the commissioner of “unlawful detention, leading to the death of their kin.”
According to his family, the man was tricked by his friend to secure the bail of a suspect under police custody. He was however detained by the police for allegedly offering a N400 thousand bribe. He died in detention three days later.
A sibling of the deceased, Collins Eze, said his brother’s ordeal began on September 12 following his “unlawful detention and consequently the denial of bail” by the police, despite frantic efforts, and fore-warning by family members, to the police, about the deceased’s state of health.
Mr. Collins said he got a call from his late brother on September 12, informing him of his detention at the Adamawa State Police Command Headquarters where he had accompanied a friend – a police officer – to assist in securing bail for his relation, who was detained by the police.
He said the deceased was approached by a superintendent of police, Abalaka, serving with the Kwara State Command, to help “sign the bail bond already secured by him” for the release of his nephew, detained by the police for alleged “theft of communication cables worth several millions of naira.”
It was after signing the bail bond that his brother Christian was detained on the orders of the commissioner of police Geofrey Okeke, Mr. Collins said.
“Despite several frantic attempts made by the family, even to the extent [where] the wife of Christian daily besieged the police commissioner to release her husband over his innocence, the police still refused to release him,” Mr. Collins said.
The wife of the deceased had entreated the Assistant Commissioner of Police handling the case to release her husband, expressing fears over his “state of health as well as the condition of the detention facility being overcrowded.”
Speaking on the issue, the wife said she wants the police to explain why they denied her husband bail, shunning all entreaties to release the deceased to the family even when she warned the police based on her assessment of her husband’s disposition.
His “illegal detention,” she said, “had taken its toll on his well-being.”
The Police Public Relations Officer, Mohammed Ibrahim, however said the deceased was detained, alongside another police officer, for offering the police a N400 thousand bribe to secure the release of a suspect, held over the theft of telecommunication cables estimated to be worth over N100 million.
Mr. Ibrahim said the detention of both men was to help the police with their investigations, and to unravel any criminal network behind the theft of communication cables in the state.
There were however discordant tunes regarding the date the deceased was detained.
According to the police, both Mr. Christian and superintendent Abalaka were detained on Thursday, September 13.
“They were detained on Thursday for criminally trying to offer our men a N400, 000 bribe to secure the release of a suspect, and so they could not be granted bail before the weekend not to jeopardise police investigations on the case,” Mr. Ibrahim said.
“However, on Saturday, Christian, who even led prayers, called on one of the policemen to allow him ease himself. It was while he was going to ease himself that he stumbled. Unfortunately, he died on the way to the hospital as the doctor at the specialist hospital Yola confirmed him dead on arrival,” he added
Mr. Abalaka, who was detained alongside the deceased, is currently receiving medical attention at Boshang clinic after his health also degenerated while in police custody.
He debunked the police account, saying they were only coming up with spurious claims as defense now that a suspect has died in their custody. According to him, they have been in detention since Wednesday, September 12. .
Nigerian law does not permit the police to detain a suspect beyond 48 hours, two working days, without trial or permission by the court.
The detained policeman said the police should be asked to explain why they refused to release Mr. Christian, whom he believed died from torture and congestion in the cell where he was held.
Mr. Abalaka, who claimed he had little details about the case involving his nephew, said the boy’s father called him and pleaded with him to intervene and help secure the release of his son.
“As a result I had to leave Ilorin where I am serving to see how I can secure the release of my nephew,” he said. But Christian is an innocent man, I asked him to assist me since as a policeman I cannot sign the bail bond,” he said.
The chairman of the car dealers’ association in Adamawa to which the deceased belonged asked the police to come forth and clear itself of extra-judicial killing of another citizen. The Chairman, who identified himself as Garba, said the police should be held responsible for Mr. Christian’s death after they rebuffed frantic efforts made by the family and him to secure the deceased’s release.
“How can they now say Christian offered to give them N400 thousand bribe? Christian is innocent, besides he doesn’t even know the suspect. The police should be honest. They kept him under inhuman condition,” Mr. Garba said.
While the corpse of citizen Christian still lies unclaimed in the mortuary of the specialist hospital, his family has approached a lawyer to file a petition before the Human Rights Commission.