The police have said they cannot find the record of a suspect, Eric Ezeala, whose family members have not seen since his arrest in 2017.
They disclosed this to the #EndSARS panel probing complaints of police brutality in Abuja on Thursday.
Eric’s mother, Hilda Ezeala, who petitioned the panel, said he was arrested on July 16, 2017, by the operatives of the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) at their family home in Imo State.
Testifying on March 16, the aggrieved mother told the panel that her son was moved to Abuja after his arrest in Imo State, and had since not been seen by the family.
She said she travelled to the SARS office in Abuja where they confirmed that Eric was on their list of detainees, but did not allow her to see him.
According to her, she never saw her son again until a newspaper reported his parade alongside suspected kidnap kingpin, Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike, popularly known as Evans, on September 2, 2017.
While Evans was eventually arraigned in court, the witness said, her son was not charged and had not been seen ever since.
‘No record of arrest’
At Thursday’s proceedings of the #EndSARS panel, a member of the police legal team, Blessing Ezeala, who incidentally shares the same surname with the petitioner and the victim, said she had searched for Eric’s records and tried to find the officer handling the case to no avail.
“There is no record of the victim’s arrest in the police system; I have enquired and browsed through the police system,” she said.
She, however, pleaded with the panel to give her more time for further enquiries regarding the case.
Panel members kick
A representative of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) on the panel, John Aikpokpo-Martins, said the Inspector-General of Police-Intelligence Response Team (IGP-IRT), then led by a celebrity cop, Abba Kyari, which reportedly paraded the victim alongside others suspected kidnappers should know his whereabouts.
Mr Aikpokpo-Martins added that the officers summoned to appear by virtue of their positions should be able to provide relevant documents that could help to resolve the matter, regardless of whether or not the officers were directly involved in the arrest and investigation of the missing suspect.
“It is the responsibility of the IRT to go through their records and avail the panel with the details of Eric Ezeala’s arrest and detention,” Mr Aikpokpo-Martins said.
Another member of the panel, Garba Tetengi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, lamented the absence of the police officers summoned to appear in the case with documents relevant to the victim’s arrest and whereabouts.
Those summoned by the 11-member panel are Tunji Disu, a deputy commissioner of police, who recently took over from Mr Kyari as the head of the IGP-IRT, and two other police officers.
Explaining their absence to the panel on Thursday, the police lawyer, Blessing Ezeala, said Mr Disu and his second in command were “unavoidably absent due to the security situation of the country”.
“It is their wish to be present to honour the panel. But the commander is in Kaduna on the issue of terrorism and kidnapping while the 2IC (second in command) is on official assignment in Benin,” she said.
The panel chairperson of the panel, Suleiman Galadima, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, directed the police legal team, led by James Idachaba, to assist in getting the relevant documents on the arrest and detention of the mission suspect.
Mr Galadima then adjourned the case till December 15, in the hope that the police would have been able to produce relevant documents on the victim’s arrest and detention.
Hilda Ezeala’s petition
Eric’s mother, Hilda Ezeala, had petitioned the Independent Investigative Panel on Human Rights Violation by the defunct SARS and other units of the police, over the disappearance of her son.
She told the panel on March 16, 2021, how Eric was arrested on July 16, 2017, by the officers of the defunct SARS at their family home in Imo State.
When she asked for the reason for his arrest, the petitioner said, she was told to travel to the SARS office in Owerri, the Imo State capital, with her lawyer, to know the details of the case.
According to her, when she got to the Owerri office of SARS with her lawyer as advised, she was told her son had been moved to Abuja.
Mrs Ezeala said she then travelled to the SARS office in Abuja where, according to her, they confirmed that Eric was on their list but that she could not see him.
She added that she was told to look for the investigative police officer (IPO) in charge of the case for the details of the matter. She, however, regretted that all her visits to the SARS office in Abattoir, Abuja, to meet the IPO, were in vain.
Mrs Ezeala said further that her son would later be reported in a newspaper publication to have been paraded by the IGP-IRT as a notorious kidnapper and armed robber, alongside a suspected kidnap kingpin, Evans, on September 2, 2017.
According to her, while Evans was charged to court along with other suspects after the news publication, her son was not charged before any court.
She also told the panel that the family obtained a court order served on the offices of the Inspector-General of Police and the Commissioner of Police of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, directing the police to produce her son before any court of competent jurisdiction to face trial.
Mrs Ezeala lamented that despite the order of the FCT High Court in Jabi, Abuja, her son was not produced, and that she had still not seen him since then.
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