A suspect, Eric Ezeala, whose family members have not seen since his arrest in 2017, has been confirmed dead by the police.
Appearing before the #EndSARS panel investigating complaints of police brutality in Abuja, on Tuesday, Izuka Eguzoikpe, an assistant superintendent of police, said he died in custody following some health complications.
He also linked Mr Ezeala to an alleged kidnap kingpin, Chukwudimeme Onwuamadike alias Evans.
This came less than two weeks after the police informed the panel that they could not find Mr Ezeala’s records and could not tell his whereabouts.
After series of the panel’s invitations shunned by police officers over the matter, Mr Eguzoikpe finally appeared on Tuesday, saying Mr Ezeala’s arrest was in respect to a kidnap case that happened in 2017 prior to the arrest of Evans.
He said Evans, in his confession to the police, mentioned Mr Ezeala as his second-in-command and gave Mr Ezeala’s phone number to the police technical intelligence unit for tracking.
“He was first tracked to a hideout Osun State, but the team couldn’t make an arrest. On July 17, 2017, he was tracked to Ehime Mbano local government in Imo State where he was arrested, ” Mr Eguzoikpe said.
According to Mr Eguzoikpe, Mr Ezeala was taken to Imo State police command where he gave his statement, allegedly confessed and admitted knowing Evans.
The police witness said Mr Ezeala was subsequently transferred to the Force Criminal Investigation Department in Abuja where he was made to confront Evans.
“Evans confronted him and he admitted knowing Evans. He even confessed that there was a camp in Lagos where their victims are first kept,” Mr Eguzoikpe added.
“Mr Ezeala was taken to his house at Lugbe where they met his wife and three children,” said Mr Eguzoikpe. He said the wife was surprised as she had not seen him in months.
According to Mr Eguzoikpe, the wife, Aduku Ezeala, made a statement that she had been suspecting her husband and had even reported him to the village elders.
Mr Eguzoikpe added that Mr Ezeala was later transferred to Lagos, where he showed the Intelligence Response team where their kidnapped victims were held – the house which he had sold when he realised the police were on his trail.
Death in custody
Mr Ezeala became ill on their route to the gang’s armoury, according to him, and was rushed to Ikeja General Hospital for treatment.
“He was treated and released, but he later slumped in his cell during investigation and was rushed back to the hospital. He was evaluated by the doctor, who confirmed that he was dead “Mr. Eguzoikpe said.
He described Mr Ezeala’s death as shocking.
He said signal was sent to the commander of the Inspector General of Police-Intelligence response team (IGP-IRT). He added that no autopsy was carried out.
“We reached out to the wife and she shunned our invitation. The police cannot carry out autopsy without the consent of the deceased’s family,” Mr Eguzoikpe concluded.
Police lawyer, Blessing Ezeala, who incidentally shares the same surname with the deceased, tendered copies of Mr Ezeala’s statement, his wife’s, and the signal sent to the IGP-IRT’s commander.
Documents extracted from the police crime diary were also admitted as exhibits.
Fielding questions under cross-examination by the counsel for the petitioner, Nnonye Okpor,
Mr Eguzoikpe said he was not aware of the nature of Mr Ezeala’s sickness.
He also said he was not aware the suspect was asmathic.
Mr Okpor also asked if the police officer was aware that the petitioner, Mr Ezeala’s mother, Hilda Ezeala, had visited the station several times but had never been allowed to meet with her son. But Mr Eguzoikpe said the claim was false.
The panel also asked if he knew the matter was taken to court and that the court ordered Mr Ezeala was either released or prosecuted.
Mr Eguzoikpe said he was not aware of such court case.
Panel commends police lawyer
The panel commended the police lawyer, Ms Ezeala, for her intervention in the case.
A representative of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) on the panel, John Aikpokpo-Martins, speaking on behalf of the panel, said the case had been on standstill until her intervention.
The panel’s chairperson, Suleiman Galadima, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, asked the police for the evidence of Mr Ezeala’s admission in the hospital and other relevant documents that would aid the panel’s decision.
The case was adjourned for the panel’s general report.
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 Mr Ezeala was arrested on July 16, 2017, by the officers of the defunct SARS at their family home in Imo State.
She told the panel how all her efforts to see his son after the arrest and get him released proved abortive.
Mrs Ezeala, who said she was never told the offences her son was arrested for, 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 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 said 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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