Michael Imoleayo, an #EndSARS protest supporter, whose arrest by the State Security Service (SSS) last year played out like an operation aimed at capturing the leader of the dreaded Boko Haram, has cried out over alleged frustrations in the hands of the security agency.
“They are pressing hard in court to have me convicted. They are really, really pressing hard. I had thought that after 41 days in their detention, that would be the end of the case, but I have realised that they are taking the matter as seriously as anything,” Mr Imoleayo, a computer programmer, told PREMIUM TIMES.
The 31-year-old said he is “being frustrated” by the SSS which he said continues holding on to his work tools including his laptop since November 13, 2020 when he was arrested at his home in Airport Village, in Basa area, which is in the neighbourhood of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
He said he lost his job to the crisis and could no longer afford a lawyer.
“I lost my job to this. I can’t even afford a lawyer anymore. After they violated my human rights, they are still pressing charges against me in court. That is why I had to come out express my frustrations,” he said.
‘Midnight arrest by 20 gun-wielding operatives’
Mr Imoleayo, who ended up spending 41 days in SSS detention, told PREMIUM TIMES that about 20 operatives of the secret service were mobilised to arrest him at his house in Abuja in the dead of the night of November 13, 2020.
His mother, wife, and little son watched as he was being taken away and would not hear from him until 36 days after.
Mr Imoleayo’s wife, Titilayo, spoke to PREMIUM TIMES late November about how the family had been “going from one security agency’s office to the other” looking for him.
“It was after the #EndSARS protests. Although I was not active in the protests physically, I only participated online on twitter.
“All of a sudden one midnight, I realised that my dogs were barking, and I was wondering what was happening. I checked through my window, and I saw some gunmen outside. I thought they were even thieves. I got up and I quickly went to the rooms where my mother, wife and son were,” he told this newspaper.
He said his family members , who had already seen the intruding operatives through their window, also asked him if they were armed robbers.
“I said I didn’t know,” adding, “I blew my whistle to notify neighbours. When I started blowing whistle, they tore down my window net and pointed their guns at us. My mother was with me, my son and my wife too. They pointed their guns at us and said we should open the door. I asked them who they were, they said they were military men.”
He said he had to open the door “since they were pointing their guns at me.”
“On opening the door about seven to 10 of them came into my living room. One started asking, ‘where is your phone? Where is your phone?”
He said he unlocked his phone and handed it over to them.
“So, they took me out of the house. I followed them outside thinking they were going to ask me questions. On getting outside, I realised there were about 20 gunmen all armed.”
The “gunmen” according to him, sent back neighbours who had arrived his home in response to his whistle.
He expected to be interrogated as he was being led away to about two streets away where the operatives had parked their vehicles, but no question was asked him.
Instead of being interrogated, he was blindfolded, Mr Imoleayo said.
“Getting to the junction around my place, they blindfolded me. Yes, I was blindfolded till we got to their office. This happened around 2a.m.,” he said.
“I got to the truck with them, thinking that they would ask me questions. They started their car and wanted to leave. I told them that I was going with them, but that they should at least, allow me to talk to my family. They declined,” he said.
He said the blindfold was only removed from his face on getting to the SSS office, where he would remain for 41 days.
The arrest is an instance of an extensive crackdown by the government on those linked with the nationwide anti-police brutality demonstrations which held in major Nigerian cities in October last year.
Nigerians, mainly the youth, had trooped to the streets in many parts of the country in demonstrations against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a police unit notorious for its inhuman treatments, extra-judicial killings, and extortion of Nigerians.
Police authorities, in response to the #EndSARS protests, disbanded SARS.
Governments at both the federal and state levels also promised to reform the police and set up various judicial panels of enquiry to investigate cases of police brutality across the country in the hope of compensating the deserving victims.
But while the steps appear to acknowledge the legitimacy of the protests, soldiers were deployed by military authorities to brutally quell the demonstrations taking place in Lekki Tollgate in Lagos, leaving a yet-to-be ascertained number of the protesters dead and others wounded.
Media reports indicated that the crackdown on the protesters continued long after the fatal shooting at Lekki Tollgate on October 20, 2020.
In a clampdown that continued after the protests, the Federal Government, through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), accused some 20 supporters of the protests of terrorism financing and had their bank accounts frozen for over 90 days.
Unabated attacks on peaceful protesters in different parts of the country raise questions about the resources state forces devote to suppressing unarmed demonstrators while kidnappers, terrorists, bandits, armed herders, and other perpetrators of violent crimes, operate freely, killing and abducting people.
Mr Imoleayo said he was not informed of any offence that he committed until the fifth day after his arrest.
“I was arrested on a Friday, and I only got to know of my offence on Tuesday.
“On that Tuesday, they brought out a file, the case was already assigned to an investigation officer. There were pictures of the protests in the file.”
Asked if his face appeared in any of the pictures, Mr Imoleayo said “no.”
He believes that his online group created to provide support for the protests was infiltrated by SSS operatives.
“It was through a group that was created for #EndSARS Abuja that I joined,” Mr Imoleayo said when he was asked how he was linked to the protests.
“Maybe some of their agents too joined the group that was where they got my contact,” he added.
He said he was left in the cell until the 36th day when he was taken to a chief magistrate’s court in Gwagwalada, Abuja.
He was arraigned on three counts of conspiracy and disturbance of public peace, which he denied.
A lawyer already provided for him by the SSS and the court appeared for him and applied for his bail which was not opposed by the prosecution.
He was granted bail by the magistrate but was not released that day.
“After I was granted bail, I asked them to allow me to call my people who had been looking for me without knowing where I had been. Eventually, they allowed me to call them while they took me back to custody,” he said.
He said although his family members later told him that the bail conditions were met that day, the SSS would not release him until five days later on December 23.
Mr Imoleayo said his life had been put on hold as a result of his ongoing trial.
SSS’ curious charges
PREMIUM TIMES has seen a copy of the charges with the marking CR/250/20 filed at the Chief Magistrate’s Court in Gwagwalada, Abuja, against Mr Imoleayo.
The case which has the SSS as the “complainant” was filed on December 18, 2020.
It featured the names of I.M Bennet, S.M Bello, and U.S Gbabarawa as the prosecutors.
Curiously, the prosecutors alleged that Mr Imoleayo conspired
with “others at large” and of causing criminal disturbance of peace on November 13, 2020, which was the day he was woken up from sleep to be arrested by the invading operatives of the SSS.
The three counts read, “That you, Micheal IMOLEAYO, male adult on or about November 13, 2020, of House 113 Zone 4, Bassa Phase IV, Airport Village, FCT, Abuja, within the jurisdiction of the Honourable Court, criminally conspired with others at large to disturb the public peace and thereby committed an offence contrary to section 96 of the Panel Code Law Cap 89 LFN 1990 and punishable in Section 97 of the same law.
“That you Michael IMOLEAYO, male, adult on or about November 13, 2020, of House 113 Zone 4, Bassa Phase IV, Airport Village, FCT, Abuja, within the jurisdiction of the Honourable Court, disturbed the public peace and hereby committed an offence contrary to section 113 of the Penal Code Law, Cap 89 LFN 1990 and punishable under the same section
“That you, Michael IMOLEAYO, male, adult on or about November 13, 2020, of House 113 Zone 4, Bassa Phase IV, Airport Village, FCT, Abuja, within the jurisdiction of the Honourable Court, did an act with intent to cause a breach of the peace and disturb the public peace, thereby committed an offence contrary to section 114 of the Penal Code Law, Cap 89 LFN 1990 and punishable under the same section.”
Twitter advocacy for Imoleayo
Many Nigerians have taken to Twitter to campaign for his total freedom.
Since April 21, Mr Imoleayo has been sharing tales of the harrowing experience of his arrest and detention via his twitter handle, with many users of the microblogging site expressing sympathy and solidarity in reaction.
In one of his latest tweets, he said the memory of the traumatic experience still haunts him.
“Flashback of guns pointed at I and my family to open the door. Sometimes, I still feel like I’m on cuffs and leg chains. What about the cell condition?
“Barely 10days in custody, I got pneumonia with a swollen chest. So many memories. Some of us really got a life scar!” He stated in the tweet.
Afrobeat singer, Seun Kuti, who is a leading figure involved in the online campaign for Mr Imoleayo’s freedom, wrote, on Monday, “Remember @imoleayomichael? The young computer programmer kidnapped by DSS by 2am at his residence in front of his mum, wife and baby, kept in underground cell for 41 days over his involvement in the #EndSARS protests? The DSS is still bent on convicting him. #FreeImoleAyo”
Another twitter user, JagunJagun, wrote via the handle, @bjghost, “@Imoleayomichael was abducted by DSS at 2.30am in his residence and detained for 41days over #EndSARS protest. They still want to convict him. Imoleayo is a Programmer NOT A CRIMINAL! Pls lend your voice in solidarity to #FreeImoleAyo.
“It could be you or me. Pls tweet, RT, Tag.”
Another twitter user, King Divine Esq via @Divineze, wrote,”After 41 days in an underground cell, the DSS is still hell-bent on convicting @imoleayomichael over #EndSARS.
Pls lend your voice to #FreeImoleAyo #FREEIMOLEAYO.”
Kelechi via @JustKelechi tweeted, After 41 days in an underground cell, the DSS is still hell-bent on convicting @Imoleayo over #EndSARs. Why use innocent citizen who only wants a better Nigeria to score point.
Go after CRIMINAls not a PROGRAMMER. Pls led your voice to #FreeImoleAyo
SSS spokesperson, Peter Afunaya, did not immediately respond to this newspaper’s request for his comment on Mr Imoleayo’s travails.
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