When Olalekan Olaniyan, a generator repairer heard a knock on his door on July 20, 2017, which was his birthday, his thought was that perhaps one of his friends had come to congratulate him. When he eventually opened the door, four Police officers with some community leaders were standing there and all he heard was “are you Olalekan? When he said ‘yes’, the next thing he heard was, “you are under arrest.” Like a dream, all Olalekans plan to celebrate his birthday in a special way turned into nightmare as he was taken to Apete Police station, Ibadan, Oyo State and later transferred to the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, also in Ibadan where he was subjected to severe torture and six of his teeth forcefully removed. In this edition, Olalekan narrates to Encounter, his near-death experience in SARS torture room and how he spent five years in Agodi Prison for a crime he did not commit. 

How it happened

The incident started on July 20, 2017 which coincidentally was my birthday. It was supposed be a happy day for me but it turned out to be the worst day of my life. There was a robbery incident  in our community Kenge Ariyibi, Apete, Ibadan on  July 17, 2017 and the following morning, we all went out to sympathize with the victims. Three days after the robbery, I heard a knock on our door and my brother opened the door and saw some community people and Policemen. When they asked after me, I came out to identify myself. The Policemen who came from Apete Police Station told me that my attention was needed at their station.

Before we left, they searched every room in our house including my mother’s room but nothing incriminating was found. After the search, I followed them to Apete Police Station. The following day, I was transferred to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS in Dugbe. The SARS operatives also took me to our house for a search and not even a pin was found in our house. They came to our house three consecutive times and still found nothing. 

At SARS office in Dugbe, I was tortured to confess that I was among the armed robbers that came to rob in different communities in Apete on July 17, 2017. I told them that I am not a thief but they continued beating me.  I was hung on a ceiling fan in the torture room for two hours. Sometimes they would hang me upside down and flog me.  It got to a point that they started hitting my teeth with the boot of their gun. The pain was unbearable. Six of my teeth were forcefully removed by the SARS operatives. I passed out several times during the ordeal because of the terrible pain. I spent three weeks in their detention, before I was eventually charged to court for armed robbery. During my detention, I didn’t know what was going on outside but I later understood that it was one of the tenants in the community who reported me to the Police on suspicion that he saw me on the night of the incident when I was removing a mask. I was shocked when I heard that because I have never been involved in crime all my life. 

Mother sells house

Throughout the period I was in SARS detention, my mother did all she could to help me. My lawyer kept demanding for money from her and when she could no longer approach people for loan, she sold her only house for about N500, 000. She gave the lawyer more than half the money but the man took the money and kept saying that he was working on the case. At some point, I just gave up and accepted my fate that I would die in SARS detention. 

Arraignment for armed robbery

The Police eventually filed a case of armed robbery against me before the State Magistrate’s Court. After my initial arraignment, I was denied bail because of the nature of the offence and remanded at Agodi Prison. I kept appearing in court but the witness who told the Police that I may have been one of the suspected armed robbers, refused to show up in court. I later learnt that he had relocated from the community and refused to come to court.

Delayed trial

Since 2017 when I entered Agodi Prison, I went to the Magistrate’s Court five times. At a point, the matter was at a standstill. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, the court was closed.  February 22, 2021 was the first time I appeared at the Oyo State High Court. Being my first appearance, I could not be released until the charge is read to me. The next adjournment was March 12, 2021 but the judge was not in Court. On the subsequent adjourned date in April, the Court embarked on strike which lasted for three months. By the time the court resumed, they were already in a new Legal Year. I was given another long adjournment until January 17, 2022 when my case was struck out for want of prosecution witness.

Suffering, regrets

I suffered a lot while in prison. I spent four  years, seven months in prison for a crime I didn’t commit. Because of the torture at SARS, my front teeth were all gone and I could barely eat or talk well. Throughout my stay in prison, I was always sad because I never knew that some people could just implicate someone for a crime he didn’t commit. My mother was a major source of hope for me because she believed in my innocence and constantly came to visit me. Before the incident happened, my wife had left me, so my mother also took over the responsibility of taking care of my daughter while I was in prison. What happened to me was pure wickedness. 

Appeal

My only appeal to people is to help me to fix my teeth back and start my life afresh. I don’t feel happy the way my teeth are and I am pleading with well meaning Nigerians to support me to get artificial teeth.

How we facilitated his release —CJMR

Speaking on how Olaniyan’s freedom was facilitated, Executive Director of CJMR said: “In 2019, Olaniyan’s mother was referred to the Centre for Justice, Mercy and Reconciliation, CJMR for possible intervention. The woman and one of her sons insisted that her son was home with her on the night of the incident. A visit was made to the community on fact-finding mission by the CJMR team and several meetings were also held with the community leaders. They all sympathised with the woman and her son in the prison but they claimed that truly, there was a robbery incident and as a community, they lodged complaint to the Police but that they didn’t tell the Police that Olalekan committed the crime.

The only man who pointed at him as a suspect is a tenant in the community and shortly after the incident, he relocated and nobody could tell his whereabouts. We presented our cases to the appropriate authority  that it is not in the best interest of justice to keep this man in the prison without trial. The state finally withdrew the charges against him for lack of prosecution witness and the case was struck out in January, 2022.

“We thank God for the success of the freedom of Olalekan Olaniyan. You can see that there is wide gap between the Judiciary and most of the people behind the bar Far beyond the freedom, Olalekan Olaniyan needed rehabilitation, we plan to fix his teeth again and to settle him for a good job. His mother cannot buy the house back again, she has become  homeless. It is our desire, God willing, to build at least two-bedroom flat for this woman and her children again. They have been sleeping in the church since the incident. The case of Olalekan is not the first case we have successfully intervened in; we have records of hundreds of such pathetic cases. We must also thank the Ministry of Justice and some Courts especially the office of the Oyo State Chief Judge who always respond to our complaint whenever such good cases are presented before them, because it is cases like this that contribute to prison congestion.  We want to appeal to individuals who want to help in Olalekan and his mother’s rehabilitation to do so in good spirit.”

Support for Olalekan Olaniyan can be sent to CMJR First Bank account number 2013454021.

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