A case, which began as a routine arrest by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission over $3.1m, has revealed a system of torture and extra-judicial impunity, which might have led to the death of an inmate of the Kirikiri Maximum Prison, Lagos, Suleiman Yerima.
It was learnt that the $3.1m in contention allegedly belonged to Mrs. Patience Jonathan, wife of former President, Goodluck Jonathan, who was said to have earmarked the money for exigencies during the campaign period leading up to the 2015 general election.
A sequence of events, which brought a petition concerning Yerima’s death to the Presidency, began to unfold on July 17, 2015 while Muslims celebrated Sallah.
In a mosque within the high walls of the prison facility, Muslim inmates – convicted and awaiting trial – prayed. But by the end of the prayer session, one of them, Yerima, was dead.
The deceased, who was remanded on June 24, 2015 along with another co-accused, Uwem Antia, were both due to reappear in court on November 9, 2015.
On Tuesday, the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission, Prof. Ben Angwe, led a team of investigators to the Kirikiri Maximum Prison and the zonal office of the EFCC in Ikoyi, Lagos, on a fact-finding mission.
According to him, the Presidency and the office of the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, had received a petition from the lawyers of the deceased, detailing how Yerima was tortured by the police in connivance with the officials of the EFCC and how that led to the death of the inmate while in prison custody.
At the Kirikiri Maximum Prison, Angwe, who called for documentations about the inmate’s death, asked the medical superintendent, Dr. Edwin Hemeson, if Yerima ever complained about any medical issues. Hemeson confirmed that there was no time he had any reason to treat the deceased for an ailment prior to his death.
“When he collapsed at the mosque that day, he was rushed to the prison hospital, lifeless. We confirmed that he was dead on arrival. The deceased was transferred to Ajeromi General Hospital, Ajegunle, where he was again certified dead,” Hemeson said.
Asked if he noticed any sign of torture on Yerima’s body when he was brought in from the mosque where he collapsed, Hemeson said it was the nurses on duty who received the body and transferred it to Ajeromi.
It was learnt that on July 21, 2015, four days after the deceased died, his family requested for his body and asked that an autopsy should not be performed on him so that he could be buried according to Islamic doctrine.
Angwe asked Hemeson if he issued a death certificate and what the cause of death was according to his examination. The death notification signed by Hemeson in the deceased’s file was inscribed with “sudden death and query cardiovascular accident.”
“All we are required to issue is a death notification when an inmate dies suddenly, we inform the coroner whose duty it is to ascertain the actual cause of death and issue a death certificate,” the doctor said.
In June 2015, the EFCC released a statement about the arrest and arraignment of Yerima and Antia on allegations of, “stealing the sum of $2,25m from two bankers, Gladys Aginwa and Ale Dennis.”
“The suspects allegedly approached Aginwa and Dennis in February 2015, offering to sell foreign exchange to the tune of $10m to them. After agreeing on the exchange rate, a sum of N672, 750, 000 (Six Hundred and Seventy Two Million, Seven Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira only) was transferred into the account of one of the bankers. From the banker’s account, the entire sum was moved into Antia’s account,” the EFCC said.
EFCC alleged that Antia approached a bureau de change operator and handed N666,250,000 to him, after they agreed on its dollar equivalent of $3,127,000. The commissioner accused Antia and Yerima of only handing over $1m to the bankers thereafter, saying they would be able to source for the remaining the following day. They were later accused of fleeing and switching off their phones after that.
However, during the NHRC visit to Kirikiri Prison, Antia, the deceased’s co-accused, explained that he thought he was going to die the way he was tortured in the custody of the police.
“We handed over the outstanding amount of money to one of the bankers (Dennis) at the Murtala International Airport. I am well known to them. This is not the first of such contracts we would handle for them. They represent Mrs. Patience Jonathan, the wife of the former President and we have supplied them dollars on many occasions. When they approached us about the need to supply the dollars for Mrs. Jonathan’s campaign activities during the election, I told them we could handle it as usual. Unfortunately, they diverted her money this time.
“After we were arraigned and the judge said we should be remanded in custody, the EFCC operatives laid ambush for us around the court and forcibly took us from prison officials.
“We were later transferred to Zone 2 Police Command where I was tortured more than I could imagine. I was stripped, held up by my feet as they dipped my head inside a bucket filled with water for long. By the time they do that to you, you would even say what you did not do.
“They shot me in the foot and hung me up with my two hands tied separately and my legs tied in similar way from night till morning.
After that, the Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Zone 2, Joseph Mbu, ordered that they should transfer me to the Maroko Police Division, where I was locked up in a cell. I defecated on the same floor I slept for one month.
“I was lucky that a priest who comes around to pray for inmates came to the cell one day and I slipped him my lawyer’s number. My lawyer later took up my case and we were later transferred to Kirikiri. My partner, the late Yerima, also told me about the brutal torture he went through at Zone 2 also.”
During the NHRC team’s visit to the EFCC, the Head of the Zonal Office in Lagos, Mr. Iliyasu Kwarbai, explained that the EFCC had no hand in the torture of the men.
When asked to take the team to the torture chambers of the EFCC, he said the commission had no such thing.
Kwarbai said, “We are a group of professionals. Integrity is one of our core values. We don’t extort confessional statements because our investigation is about tracing records and documents.
“We did not hand over the men to the police. Zone 2 requested for them. They came with a letter and we handed the suspects over.”
Prof. Angwe said what complicated the issue of the suspects was the involvement of the police. He said if Yerima had died after falling ill, it would have been a different issue.
He said, “When an inmate dies suddenly in prison, it is a serious issue. We want to ensure that whoever is involved is brought to book.
Our duty is to build a just and civilised society.
“The Presidency and the office of the vice president got a petition from the deceased’s lawyer and the case was referred to us for investigation. We would get to the root of this case and ensure justice is done.”
Source: Saturday PUNCH