A Catholic priest has relived the unending pains his family has been grappling with within the last 14 years over the alleged killing of his brother by the police.
Henry Sanni, a reverend father, appeared before the #EndSARS panel in Abuja on Friday in quest for justice.
Mr Sanni recounted the emotional distress family members have been struggling with over his brother’s tragic death in the past 14 years.
His brother, Femi Sanni, according to the priest, died in police custody sometime in September 2007, leaving behind his wife of just about two months with a one-month pregnancy.
Some months after Femi’s death, his wife, Kehinde Sanni, gave birth to a boy. The priest said the boy, Remilekun, grew up believing he was his biological father.
However, the boy, whose Yoruba name, Remilekun, loosely means ‘Stop my grief’ is now a JSS 3 pupil.
He has come to know that Catholic priests do not bear children and has been asking questions about his real father, Mr Sanni told the 11-member panel on Friday.
“We have been lying to the 14-year-old child from the pregnancy that I am his father. But the boy has grown to know better than to believe that priests bear children,” he said.
He said part of why the family came to the panel was the “need to make explanations to Remilekun on the terrible things the police did to his father”.
The trauma of the last 14 years, Mr Sanni said, has been too difficult for his brother’s widow to handle. The woman, despite being a co-petitioner in the case, could not appear at Friday’s proceedings, Mr Sanni told the panel.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) set up 11-member Independent Investigative Panel in the aftermath of the October 2020 anti-police brutality #EndSARS protest, to probe cases of rights violations perpetrated by the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and other police units.
‘How my brother was arrested, killed’
Testifying before the #EndSARS panel, Mr Sanni insisted the police arrested his brother based on false allegation of armed robbery and eventually killed him.
Mr Sanni told the panel that his brother had called him on September 11, 2007 to tell him about his plan to attend a party in Abuja with his friends.
The priest said, he received a call on September 12, 2007 from Ilorin, Kwara State, that his brother had been arrested and paraded on the television.
He said the parade, he was told, was carried organised by then-Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) police command in Abuja, Uzoma Nwoha, a deputy superintendent of police, and other SARS officials.
The witness told the #EndSARS panel that he immediately travelled down to Abuja to confirm the authenticity of the information about the arrest of his brother.
“I quickly came to Abuja and met with the PPRO, Mr Nwoha, who told me that my brother is in their custody and he had been arrested for armed robbery,” Mr Sanni narrated.
He said he asked if he could talk to his brother but the official refused to claim that he had no right to do that.
The priest said he also approached another officer at the headquarters who recognised him as a priest and gave him a hint that his brother was, indeed, arrested, but had been taken to SARS headquarters.
He said he immediately proceeded to SARS headquarters, but was, again, not given any helpful information.
But he said, he found a Christian who recognised him as a priest and told him that his brother was brought there but had been transferred to another place he did not know.
“I quickly went back to the FCT headquarters to meet with the PPRO, but he threatened to gun me down and claimed I was obstructing justice,” the petitioner said.
He, however, recalled being allegedly told by Mr Nwoha that his brother was an armed robber and that he must face the wrath of the law.
Mr Sanni said he had to return to the SARS office to meet the earlier informant, whom, he said asked him to visit mortuaries to check for his brother.
“I did as he advised; and lo and behold, I found my brother mutilated. It was a gory sight and I passed out from the shock,” the priest said.
In his emotive testimony, Mr Sanni recalled seeing gunshot wounds on the chest region of the corpse, which he assumed resulted from gunfire from a close range.
Police release corpse for burial
Asked after Friday’s proceedings, Mr Sanni told PREMIUM TIMES that after confirming his brother’s death, the family requested that his body be released.
He shared with our reporter a copy of the ‘warrant to bury’ issued by the police releasing the corpse to the family.
Following the issuance of the warrant on September 27, 2007, Mr Sanni said, the corpse was buried on October 2, 2007.
‘My brother not an armed robbery’
Before concluding his testimony before the panel, Mr Sanni, denied the allegation of armed robbery levelled against his brother.
He said, his brother, an entrepreneur with three block industries in Abuja and Kwara State, could not have been involved in such an act.
The allegation, he said, was akin to giving a dog a bad name to hang it.
“My brother was not an armed robber, if you want to kill a dog, don’t name it. Remove his name from the list of armed robbers in Abuja. He was an entrepreneur with three blocking industries in Abuja and Kwara State,” Mr Sanni said.
In his payers, he appealed to the panel to compel the police to unconditionally remove the name of the deceased from the list of (arrested) armed robbers in Abuja.
He also urged the panel to order the that the family be paid N250 million compensation.
Police reaction to priest’s testimony
Meanwhile, the police legal team cross-examined Mr Sanni after he concluded his testimony during Friday’s hearing.
Malik Taiwo, the lawyer from the police legal team at the proceedings, asked the witness if he ever reported the alleged extra-judicial killing to other authorities.
Responding, Mr Sanni confirmed that the Sanni family wrote the Kwara State Government and the Inspector General of Police over the matter. He referenced the two letters attached to his petition.
Mr Malik then pleaded with the panel to give him time to trace the named police officers in the case since the alleged killing happened about 14 years ago.
The panel, chaired in an acting capacity by Garba Tetengi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, adjourned the case until March 9 for the police to present their defence.
Suleiman Galadima, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, who is the substantive chairman, was absent from Friday’s sitting.
SARS, accused by the priest in the killing of his brother, is a defunct police unit notorious for the inhuman activities of its men.
The unit was proscribed in the wake of the October 2020 #EndSARS anti-police brutality protest.
The #EndSARS protest also birthed the various panels of enquiry set up in Abuja and about 28 other states to probe cases of police brutality with a view to compensating victims or their families and holding erring police officers to account.
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