The family of a Lagos-based food commodity trader, Abiodun Ilesanmi, has cried out over his deteriorating health condition in the custody of the Security Service (SSS).
His wife, Adekemi Ilesanmi, broke down sobbing while speaking to PREMIUM TIMES about his husband’s detention that has now lasted 42 days as of Thursday.
She said in a telephone interview with our reporter on Wednesday that the 55-year-old father of three was hypertensive as of the time of his arrest at their home in Shagisha, Lagos, on April 2.
According to her, the man developed breathing problem in custody and has only been getting sleeping pills as mediation, putting his health in a more precarious situation.
“My husband’s health is at stake; I hardly see him whenever I want to see him. He is hypertensive; he could not breathe in the night, and when I asked him, he said he was being given sleeping pills. And I told them (the SSS) from the outset that my husband’s health is not stable. He has lost so much weight.
“The children cry all day; we are traumatised by my husband’s continued incarceration by the SSS,” Mrs Ilesanmi said.
She added, “We appeal to well-meaning Nigerians and the human rights community to come to our aid. My husband is dying slowly in SSS custody.”
She narrated how operatives of the Nigerian secret police pulled down doors and windows to forcibly gain access into their home in the wee hours of April 2, 2021, in Shagisha, Lagos.
Family members, including one of their children, watched helplessly the way the operatives numbering about 30 violated the serenity of their abode at about 2a.m., the woman said.
She said he was handcuffed and whisked away by the SSS agents leaving “the entire family traumatised.”
“On April 2, 2021, in the middle of the night around 2a.m. about thirty (30) SSS operatives broke into our home fully armed with guns; putting on camouflage and black uniforms.
“Initially, my husband woke me up saying, ‘armed robbers are here.’ So, I stood up. One of our children; the last one born of 13 years had just returned from school on that day and had only rested a few hours when the security men broke into our house.
“We saw them scaling the fence and pulling down windows and doors. They destroyed about seven doors. They destroyed the main gate and our doors to gain access into the house. We thought they were armed robbers. I fainted upon seeing them in my room. Then they introduced themselves as security agents, but I couldn’t believe them. We were traumatised,” she said.
She provided our correspondent with the what she said were the pictures of the destruction left behind by the operatives.
According to her, the operatives eventually whisked away her husband, carting away valuable items without disclosing where he was being taken to.
“They (SSS) operatives carted away valuable documents, cash and car keys. Thereafter, they handcuffed my husband and immediately our daughter sighted her father in cuffs, she broke down in tears.
“The operatives were only saying they came from Abuja, they never told us what offence my husband has committed. They took my husband away that night and they never told us where he was being taken to.”
She said not until two days after that they learnt that he was taken to SSS office in Magodo in Lagos.
Mrs Ilesanmi said she was also invited and interrogated on different occasions by the SSS.
During one interrogation session, Mrs Ilesanmi said she was told that her husband was being held for the offence of “economic sabotage,” adding that she was informed by interrogating officers of the SSS that a “weighty” petition had been written against her husband.
The woman denied the allegation, insisting her husband has been engaged in legitimate trading of commodity food items for over 30 years across Nigeria.
The woman, who herself deals in flower mills, said her husband “sells foodstuff; not just only rice, he sells beans, rice, garri, vegetable oil.”
“They (SSS) invited me to their office at Magodo (Lagos) for interrogation. When I got there, they put me in one room and started asking me about my husband’s source of livelihood. I told them that he sells foodstuff, and he has been in the business for almost thirty years.
“He buys local rice and beans from Maiduguri, Niger, Gombe and across Nigeria. They asked where he gets his rice from, which I told them is Nigeria. He sources for local rice from Kano,” she said.
‘It’s been tough’
Mrs Ilesanmi said it’s been tough for both the nuclear and extended families since the arrest of her husband.
“When the SSS operatives came to arrest my husband, our children were about taking their exams in school. Each time I speak with them, they always cry. They seized my phone as well as my husband’s. For almost two weeks, they held on to my phone.
“It has not been easy; this is the hardest period of our lives. For the first time in my life and the children’s lives, even his immediate family, we are not fine. It is so tough, because he is the breadwinner of the extended family. He is the only one everyone is looking up to in the family,” she said.
Appealing for the release of her husband, she said, “As it is now, I can’t pay my children’s school fees; everything is at a standstill. My husband has an aged mother who is deeply traumatized by the incident.”
The law firm of Femi Falana, a human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, has petitioned the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), over Mr Ilesanmi’s continued detention.
The petition dated April 4, which was signed by a lawyer in Mr Falana’s chambers, Musa Abu, was addressed to the Executive Secretary of the NHRC, Tony Ojukwu.
Mr Abu said operatives of the SSS on April 2 in the wee hours of the night, broke into his client’s home at Shagisha in Lagos State, carting away money, documents and other valuables.
He described Mr Ilesanmi as a rice trader at the Mile 12 Commodity Market, Ketu “where he sells rice and other items under the regulations of the Ikosi Local Council Development Area, Lagos State.”
The businessman was arrested on April 2 without a warrant of arrest has not committed any criminal offence known to law, the law firm added.
It also said it had been difficult to meet the bail conditions set by the SSS which requested a senator or minister as surety.
“In response to our application for the release of our client, the SSS asked us to produce a surety who must be a senator or a minister. Apart from the fact that our client has not committed any offence to warrant the production of a surety he is not in a position to find a senator or minister to stand surety for him,” the petition read in part.
The lawyer argued that his client’s fundamental rights to personal liberty and dignity of human person as guaranteed by sections 34 and 35 of the Constitution and Articles 5 and 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right (Enforcement and Ratification) Act have been violated by the SSS without any legal justification whatsoever.
He called on the NHRC to prevail on the SSS authorities to release Mr ilesanmi from its custody.
SSS keeps mum
Efforts by our correspondent to find out from the SSS the reason for Mr Ilesanmi’s arrest and endless detention failed to yield positive results.
SSS spokesperson, Peter Afunaya, did not answer our correspondent’s repeated calls.
He later asked for the reporter’s identity in a text message.
Our reporter then sent a text message to his phone, seeking clarification on Mrs Ilesanmi’s claims.
But Mr Afunaya had not responded as of the time of filing this report.
Arrest or abduction?
Mrs Ilesanmi’s account of how SSS operatives arrested her husband, brings to mind the experience of an #EndSARS protest supporter, Michael Imoleayo, who was similarly arrested in a manner suggestive of kidnapping.
Like Mr Ilesanmi’s experience, Mr Imoleayo had told PREMIUM TIMES how tens of the operatives of the secret service invaded his home in the dead of the night before he was whisked away.
The operatives were also initially taken for armed robbers when they invaded Mr Imoleayo’s home in the odd hour of the day, the computer programmer had said.
Mr Imoleayo, 31, said about 20 gun-wielding operatives of the SSS invaded his home in Airport Village, Abuja, at about 2.a.m. on November 13, 2020.
He said he was led out of his home, while his wife, son, and mother, watched helplessly.
After walking some distance to where the operatives parked their vehicles, he was blindfolded before he was driven away.
Unclear about whom the invaders were, the family searched for him fruitlessly and did not hear from him until over a month after the arrest.
He was eventually charged with “disturbance of peace” at a magistrate’s court in Gwagwalada.
He told this newspaper that he spent 41 days in the custody of the security agency which now grapples with a bad reputation for arbitrary arrests and general disregard for human rights and rule of law.
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