An instrumentalist, Temitope Adeyemi, who spent three months in Kirikiri Medium Prison after being falsely accused of robbery by men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, shares his agonising experience with GBENGA ADENIJI
What job do you do?
I am an instrumentalist and I am from Osun State.
What happened the day you were arrested by the police?
On May 23, 2018, I attended a choir vigil at my church in the Ifako area of Lagos. After the vigil the next day, I decided to rest well and I left the church around 11am to my house in Amikanle, AIT area, Alagbado, Lagos. I took a tricycle. As I alighted from the tricycle, I discovered that my phone battery was low. I decided to go to a friend’s shop close by to charge it before going home. He operates a gaming centre and I also used the opportunity to play with him.
After about an hour in the shop, two men and a woman came and asked me to come out that they wanted to see me. I initially didn’t answer them because I was busy. I later noticed that the two men with the woman were a youth leader in the area and a man who collects money from commercial buses at the bus stop. But I don’t know the woman. They left and returned about 15 minutes later. I left the shop and went to meet them to know why they wanted to see me.
What did they tell you they wanted to see you for?
The men said the woman told them that some people came to rob in their house on the Monday of that week and that she recognised me as one of the robbers. I was dumbfounded and couldn’t instantly comprehend the allegation. She said the person wore a green T-shirt. When I composed myself after the initial shock, I told her that I could not do such a thing and that I was even at home throughout with my mother on the Monday she mentioned. I also said I don’t have a green T-shirt. It was like a dream to me. She also said her husband was not at home the day of the incident. As she was talking, a man appeared from nowhere and he started shouting, “That is him. That is the guy.” I later learnt that he was the husband of my accuser.
I was speechless as he spoke. I couldn’t understand how the husband, whom the wife just said was not at home when a phantom robbery happened, could say I was a thief that came to their house. I was prepared to follow them anywhere especially as I was the only one defending myself in their midst. I left my bag containing about N2,000, a toothbrush, bathing soap and some clothes which I took to church. I followed them to Amikanle police post and when we got there, the officers there directed us to the police station along the AIT road.
When we got there, the DPO didn’t hear from me. He kept saying that I should speak the truth and return two phones and a laptop which the woman said I stole. He stated that I would soon confess if I was well handled. I insisted that I was innocent and that I wasn’t a robber. I told him that I was an instrumentalist and didn’t even know the woman or where she lives.
I expected the police officer to hear me out and carry out an investigation. As the DPO spoke, the woman’s husband said that he should not worry that he had called SARS officers to come and take me away. I didn’t know what to do at that point as I was in tears.
What later happened?
About an hour later, two men came in a van and introduced themselves as officers of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad. They ordered me to put off my shirt and used it to blindfold me. They also put handcuffs on my hands and legs. They said they were taking me to their office in Ikeja. As we made to leave, my accuser’s husband told the policemen that I dropped a big bag at the shop and that it contained guns and about N360,000. They led me to the place and when they checked the bag, they saw that it contained N2, 000, a toothbrush , bathing soap and some clothes.
They arrested a lady in my friend’s shop where the people earlier came. She was asked to enter the van and we all went to their office. They said on the way that they would buy a rope which they would use to hang me in their office. But they couldn’t buy any as they said the ones they saw were not strong enough. When we got to their office, we were asked to write statements and we did. We just started crying. By that time they had removed the handcuffs on my leg and the blindfold.
Someone offered to buy the lady food but she said she was not hungry because she was fasting. She was later released because I didn’t see her anymore.
On the next day, I was ordered to lie down on a long bench and one of them used the flat side of a cutlass to beat me on my bare back. Each time I fell off the bench, I commanded to lie on the bench again facing down. I cried my eyes out. On the third day, they took me to a room upstairs and each person, who passed by, asked me what I did. They would say I was a robber and the person would kick, beat and punch me. I initially thought I was going to die. I always told them that I was not a robber that I never stole from anyone. On that day, my pastor and mother came and they stopped beating me before they allowed them to see me. But I was too weak to say anything.
When did they take you to court?
It was later that the investigating police officer came to tell me to have a bath that I was dirty. He also bought food for me within the premises. On my first day in court, my accuser and the IPO didn’t show up. I was charged with armed robbery. I was also not granted bail and asked to be taken in a Black Maria to the Kirikiri Medium Prison. I was really happy the day I was granted a bail. But I was still trying to meet the bail conditions when the Directorate of Public Prosecutions legal advice came that I should be released
As you can see in the copy of the legal advice, the DPP noted that the police didn’t investigate any of what I said. It further added that, “This office shall not proceed against the suspect based solely on the doubtful identification of the suspect. Consequently, the doubt raised should be resolved in his favour.”
I was released from prison on August 24. I spent three months in detention on trumped-up charge. I headed straight to church. I was not feeling fine and still sickly till now.
How would you describe your experience in prison while awaiting trial?
It was as if I was in hell on earth. It was not a good experience at all. I have never experienced such a thing before. I always prayed to God that He should please see to my release because I was innocent. I served as the assistant pastor in the cell where I was placed. We prayed every day. I prayed that God should save me from false accusation since I was coming from his house the day my accusers accosted me.
What lessons did you learn from the experience?
I learnt lots of things. I discovered that I have to be more careful and calm. It was not that I wasn’t calm or careful before now, but I saw reasons to do that more. I cannot in my life think that someone could just accuse me of what I didn’t do. I have yet to understand why they did that to me but in all, I thank God. I learnt that it is a new gimmick where someone would just identify another person at random that he partook in a phony robbery in their house. They will then invite the police and name a particular amount which would cover the said stolen items. Once you are able to pay, they let you off the hook else they say you would go to court. I recall that they kept asking me to pay N360,000 which my accusers said was the cost of two phones and laptop they said were stolen. But I couldn’t pay for what I didn’t steal. I was in court thrice and neither the IPO nor my accusers showed up. I was unjustly beaten and locked up. I leave all to God.
Is there anything you want to say?
I want to really thank PUNCH for its stories on the matter when it went viral on the Internet. I also appreciate Betty Abah of CEE-HOPE who stood by us during the travail and a legal aid NGO, Gavel, that worked on the case. I thank God immensely for sending all these people to me during my time of urgent need.
How are you feeling now?
I am just getting better. The tests I did at a hospital in Ogba area of Lagos on August 27 showed that I have a perforated ear drum and an injured arm and shoulder.