A coroner’s inquest into the cause of death of Ademola Adedeji, who allegedly died in police custody on February 9, began at the Ikeja Magistrate court, Wednesday, with the police denying culpability in the death.
Mr. Adedeji, 39, a distributor at Rite Foods Limited in Lagos, was arrested by officers of Ikeja police station after the sausage manufacturing company alleged that he issued them four dud cheques which ran into millions of naira.
According to Police authorities, Mr. Adedeji, a few hours after his arrest, had a stomach ache while in detention and was rushed to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital where he was certified dead.
Under cross examination by Cyril Ejiofor, counsel to the police, the deceased’s wife, Cecilia Adedeji, her one year old daughter strapped to her back, told the court that her husband had been doing business with Rite Foods since 2008.
Her two sons, who accompanied her to the court, sat quietly at the back of the court room and watched proceedings.
“Late last year when my husband was invited by the police, he told me that Rite Foods said that he was owing them,” said Mrs. Adedeji, who cried throughout the duration of the cross examination.
“He told me the amount they said he is owing is not what he is owing and he requested for an audit”.
Mrs. Adedeji maintained that she was surprised when she heard that her husband was arrested for issuing dud cheques.
“When I got to the station, he (Mr. Adedeji) told me that the IPO (Investigating Police Officer) forced him to sign a statement and they did not allow him to read over,” she said.
Mr. Ejiofor said that the deceased admitted signing a statement at the Ikeja police station saying that he issued four dud cheques to Rite Foods.
Mrs. Adedeji’s profuse weeping halted questioning intermittently.
And when the police counsel asked if she loved her husband and how long they had been married; her weeping hit a feverish pitch.
It took the chief coroner, Tajudeen Elias’s, soothing words to restore her calmness albeit to a manageable level.
“My husband does not have any health issues and had never been admitted to any hospital,” she said, when asked about her husband’s medical history.
“My husband died in the police station, not on the way to the hospital,” she added.
Mr. Ejiofor had hinted that the deceased lasted for over an hour at the hospital before he gave up the ghost.
The police counsel also stated that the autopsy report, signed by Dr. F.A Fadeyile, showed that the deceased died of cardiac arrest.
Mrs. Adedeji told the court that no member of their family is aware of the outcome of the autopsy.
“Autopsy was done on my husband and since then we have not received any report,” she said.
“Nobody contacted any member of the family. It was when I saw the corpse that I knew they had done autopsy,” Mrs. Adedeji added.
In his cross examination, Bambo Adesanya, representing Rite Foods Limited, argued that his client did no wrong in reporting “a crime” to the police.
“It is the duty of the police to decide if an arrest should be made after a report,” said Mr. Adesanya, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
“It is also within the discretion of the police to grant or refuse bail,” he added.
According to Mrs. Adedeji, the police, acting on the orders of Rite Foods, had refused the deceased bail unless he provided N1million.
Mr. Adesanya, visibly unmoved by Mrs. Adedeji’s tears, reminded her that she had accused his client of murder and should answer the questions he posed to her.
“No amount of emotion will help your case,” he added.
Mr. Adesanya also accused Mrs. Adedeji of rushing to the media to grant interviews saying that Rite Foods killed her husband.
“If Rite Foods did not tell the police to arrest him, my husband will still be alive today,” Mrs. Adedeji fired back.
“I called the CSO (Chief Security Officer at Rite Foods) that night that they should release my husband and he said I should comply with whatever the DPO (Divisional Police Officer) says.
“When they told my husband he gave them dud cheque, he was still buying goods from them up to the 9th of February that he was arrested.
“It was in the company premises that they arrested him,” said Mrs. Adedeji.
Adewale Ajayi, the deceased’s elder brother, provided a comic interlude to an otherwise emotional inquest.
Asked if he was a senior or junior staff of the Judicial Service Commission where he works, he reasoned that as a senior driver, he belonged to the senior cadre.
The magistrate explained to him that senior staff in the civil service starts from Grade Level 08.
Under cross examination, Mr. Ajayi told the court that he heard that his brother issued dud cheques but “did not believe”.
The inquest was adjourned to July 18 for cross examination of more witnesses.