October 20, 2020, will remain indelible in the minds of Nigerians and indeed the whole world for one reason. It was the day the Nigeran security agents mainly the Nigerian military and officers of the Nigerian Police Force shot and killed over 12 Nigerian youths who gathered at the Lekki tollgate in Lagos State to protest the brutality, extortion, high-handedness, torture, and extra-judicial killings by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad known as SARS, a unit of the Nigerian Police formed during the military rule in 1984.
The protest captioned “ENDSARS” was, from all intents and purposes, peaceful. The only offence of the youths shot, killed, or injured by the live ammunition fired by the military and the police was that they were protesting peacefully, singing the national anthem, and waving the Nigerian flag.
The public outcry and international condemnations that followed prompted the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwoolu, to set up a panel of Inquiry to investigate not just the circumstances that led to the killings during the protest, but series of killings, disappearances, extortions, and sundry acts of human rights abuses carried out by SARS officers before the unit was disbanded. Compensations were payable to victims or their families in appropriate cases, and where there was evidence of culpability by SARS officers, they were recommended for dismissal, prosecution, and imprisonment.
A barrage of petitions poured in from different parts of Nigeria. Accompanied by their lawyers, or armed with their petitions, Nigerians, or family members of those who were victims of extortion, violence, murder, extra-judicial killings, unlawful detentions, or solitary confinements gave harrowing testimonies of the atrocities and abuses they suffered in the hands of SARS officers.
A prominent name that was repeatedly mentioned by victims or their families was Taiye Olawale Yusuf, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, who was at various times the Commander of SARS Operations in Port Harcourt, Enugu, Benin City, Kano, and Lagos State. ACP Taiye was linked with sundry acts of extra-judicial killings, forced disappearances, violence, torture, and murder.
Petitioners and victims alleged that the mention of his name in the streets of any states he served sent fear and panic among youths. He personally led operations where he cornered and shot youths who he often referred to as “Bush-meat.” It is on record that those lucky to be arrested instead of being shot or killed in any of the commands he served were asked to pay several millions of naira to secure their release from detention.
Where the victims or their families were unable to pay the money he demanded, at the expiration of 48 hours which is usually the ultimatum ACP Taiye gives, they were murdered on allegations of trying to flee from detention facilities.
The father of one of his victims in Enugu State gave a gut-wrenching account of how he was unable to raise the money demanded by ACP Taiye, and the next day he was invited to the police station where he met the corpse of his son bathed with acid after been shot on the order of ACP Taiye who accused his son of trying to escape from the custody of the police.
Another victim from Benin City, whose leg was amputated told the panel that he was arrested, detained, and tortured for about two weeks on the order of ACP Taiye.
According to the victim, he was dating and planning to marrying a girl whom ACP Taiye had an interest in dating. His detention, torture and the gun-shot injuries which led to the amputation was carried out personally by ACP Taiye when he told him that nothing on earth would make him leave the girl.
Yet another trader in Enugu testified of how her husband was dragged out of the car on their way to the market and shot by ACP Taiye who accused him of being a ‘’Yahoo Boy” wanted by the United Sates government for internet fraud.
In all, the Panel received about 23 petitions and heartrending testimonies of extortion, violence, or threats of violence, forced disappearances, extra-judicial killings and torture ordered or personally carried out by ACP Taiye. Despite these horrifying testimonies, ACP Taiye was surprisingly exonerated of all the petitions against him.
The panel concluded that it lacked the power to recommend a dismissal or prosecution of ACP Taiye as the petitions, allegations, and testimonies were unsubstantiated and uncorroborated.
To add salt to injury, at a time when the furore generated by the suspicious manner ACP Taiye was cleared of all the charges levelled against him by the ENDSARS Judicial Panel of Inquiry was yet to settle, Nigerians yesterday woke up to the news of the elevation of ACP Taiye to the much coveted rank of a Deputy Commissioner of Police.
One issue that has left many Nigerians bewildered is how a police officer with such an unenviable record of human rights abuse, whose hands are soiled in the blood of Nigerians, and one who has abdicated the core duty of the police to protect and serve and, instead, became a threat to their lives and security, rose to that very senior level in the Nigerian Police Force.
The answer is not far-fetched. Taiye is rumoured as someone who knows how to share the spoils of his extortion with officers higher than him in the Nigerian Police Force.
He has many godfathers in the Nigerian political circle and he is also a Muslim who has proved his devotion to his faith by building Mosques in all the states he has served during his time as a Commander of the SARS Unit.
This has endeared him to the well-connected Muslim groups in the country whose patronage and protection he enjoys. It is said that Taiye is often heard boasting to his close confidants that he can do anything and get away with it.
With such an individual in position of authority, the reputation of the Nigerian police as an institution of extortion, fear, intimidation, extra-judicial killing, and human rights abuse, to mention a few, would continue to linger in the hearts of Nigerians.