A young man, Hassan Mukhtari, died in police custody last week after he was tortured by police officers who accused him of ‘defying their order’, his family members have said.
Mr Mukhtari, who was 22 years old, presently lies dead in the mortuary at the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital (UMTH) in the Borno State capital.
His parents insist his corpse will not be buried until they are told how their son died in a police cell hours after he was arrested.
Borno police commissioner, Mohammed Aliyu, confirmed knowledge of the development. He said he has “set up an investigative committee to unravel why the boy died in custody.”
The commissioner also said two policemen linked to the death have been arrested and detained pending the outcome of the police investigation.
Tortured to death?
Fatima Samaila, a sister to the victim, told PREMIUM TIMES that she was also arrested and detained by the police on the night her brother was “beaten and tortured” for several hours “until he died”.
According to Fatima, they were arrested from their house in Simari Extension on Friday evening by some policemen who came on a tricycle and took them to the Grange divisional police headquarters.
She said they were not told what their offence was. She, however, said there was earlier verbal altercation her brother had with two policemen, posted on guard duty in their area, “over a stray goat that encroached on the deceased’s farmland.”
“My brother was handcuffed and pushed into one of the two Keke-Napeps (tricycles) and when I stepped out to ask them why he was being arrested, one of the policemen ordered I should also be arrested,” she said.
Fatima said they were both taken to Gwange police station where the policemen immediately pounced on her younger brother “and began to slap and hit him on his face and head.”
“They then dragged him somewhere inside the police station where I believe he was tortured. I didn’t see my brother until about 8.30 p.m. when they brought him back. Immediately I saw my brother, I knew he was badly tortured. I ran to him in tears, asking what happened but my brother could not utter even a word. He kept shedding tears and shaking his head.
“As if that was not enough, one of them brought out a thick twin electric cable and began to whip him. My brother fell down and I began to scream begging them to stop that the torture was getting out of hand. They didn’t stop.”
She said all her pleas fell on deaf ears, adding that one of the policemen insulted her by calling them “miserable children of peasants”, while threatening that “next time your brother cross paths with me he would run far for his dear life.”
Fatima said she was later locked up as well.
“While I was being dragged away, I begged them to kindly take my brother who was lying almost lifeless on the floor to the hospital. But no one paid attention to me.”
She said she was locked up in a cell until the next morning when the policemen brought her out and began to interrogate her.
Fatima said she noticed that the policemen were less hostile in the morning, perhaps because they did not want to tell her, her brother had died in the night and the police had rushed him to the hospital where he was confirmed dead.
‘Police wanted a hasty burial’
Fatima said she was later allowed to go home without any information about the condition of her brother.
A neighbour to the Mukhtaris, Mr Yusuf, who claimed he was a witness to all that transpired between the deceased and the policemen before the arrest, told PREMIUM TIMES that the police had wanted to conceal what led to the death.
He said when Fatima returned home alone and reported to them that her brother was tortured all night at the police station, “we knew something must have gone wrong.”
“Some of us, the concerned neighbours, had to accompany the boy’s father down to the Gwange police station to find out what was going on.
“On reaching there, we didn’t get any of the police to explain what was going until around 3 p.m. when the DPO came out to tell us that Hassan had died and his body has been deposited in the mortuary.
“Before we could respond, he handed us a white apparel, which he asked an officer to go and buy, saying that we should take it and go to the hospital and pick the boy’s corpse for burial.
“We told the DPO that it was not possible for us to just go and pick the corpse of our son, who walked into their station alive, for burial without knowing the cause of his death,” Mr Yusuf said.
Mr Yusuf said the father and his neighbours went to the mortuary at the UMTH where they saw the corpse of the boy already placed in the morgue.
He said the police later came with a pickup van and asked them to use it to convey the corpse to a cemetery after preparing his body for burial, a request the family turned down.
“The DPO and other police officers were pressing us to take away the corpse by telling us to take heart and consider what happened to Hassan as a ‘destiny decreed by God’. And we told them that yes we are Muslims but we will not bury the corpse until we have a medical report telling us what led to his death.”
PREMIUM TIMES sought to discover what led to the arrest and untimely death of the young man.
Mr Mukhtari and his parents are farmers living in an area in the outskirts of Maiduguri called Simari extension. Most of those living in that neighbourhood are peasant farmers.
Just behind the community is a security check post built with sandbags and usually manned by armed policemen.
Two of the policemen linked with the victim’s arrest and death, Inspectors Abdullahi and Fasara, are among those detailed to man the sandbag security post.
On that Friday afternoon, a goat was spotted by the policemen grazing inside a farm belonging to the victim. The two policemen reportedly told two boys, one was a younger brother to the deceased, “to go after the goat, arrest it and take it to the office of the Civilian-JTF not too far away from the security post.”
Fatima confirmed that she saw the boys running after the goat which they caught. She also said she saw how the boys were maltreating the goat and she had to caution them against inflicting injury on the goat.
“But late Hassan who owns the farm came out of the house and saw that the boys were rough-handling the goat; so he scolded the boys and asked them to let the goat go since it was his farm they accused it of grazing on,” Fatima said.
The policemen who watching from afar were not happy that he made the boys defy their order, Fatima claims.
“The policeman asked the three of them – that is Hassan and the two boys – to come to him that he wanted to see them. But Hassan told the boys to go ahead and see the policeman first while he rushed into the house to pick up his praying mat because it was almost time for the Friday prayer,” explained Mr Yusuf who said he witnessed the incident.
PREMIUM TIMES was informed that late Mr Mukhtari later joined the two boys at the police security checkpoint; but upon his arrival, Mr Abdullahi cocked his gun and threatened to shoot Mr Hassan for defying his orders.
“I saw Hassan go down his knees and raised his hands up in the air begging Inspector Abdullahi not to shoot his cocked gun,” Mr Yusuf said.
“Before we could all rush down, Inspector Abdullahi grabbed Hassan by the collar of his shirt and began to squeeze it threatening to deal with him. He kept grabbing the collar in an attempt to strangulate him, and he did not let go for over 20 minutes that we were all begging.
“At a point, we started noticing that Hassan was suffocating and his eyes were bulging and turning red. But the policeman refused to let go, and his colleague too, Inspector Fasara, was not helping matters.
“When the policeman later noticed that the hands of Hassan who was also clutching had gone soft, a sign that he may have lost consciousness, then he heeded to the pleas of my mother who was on her knees crying, and let go of Hassan who was half-conscious,” Fatima said.
“We took him into the house and some neighbours helped us to resuscitate him. We still don’t understand why Inspector Abdullahi and Fasara did what they did.
“The farm in which the goat was grazing on belonged to my brother, and he asked that his younger ones should let the goat go. Why should that be a problem to the policemen, that they went on to torture and kill him?” Fatima asked in tears
Meanwhile, the deceased’s father, Mallam Mukhtari, has petitioned the Borno State commissioner of police over the incident.
He said he is “seeking justice for the killing of my son Hassan Mukhtari, who was under their (police) custody at Gwange Police station, Maiduguri, Borno State.”
We are investigating – CP
The police commissioner, who confirmed receiving the petition from the victim’s parents, described the development as very unfortunate.
He said the two policemen involved have been arrested and detained.
He also said, “A committee has been set up to investigate the matter and report back to him.”