NIGERIAN engineering student Boniface Umale has died in police custody at a Durham prison in mysterious circumstances after he was detained for an unknown offence.
Mr Umale was studying for a masters degree in pipeline engineering at Northumbria University in Newcastle when he was arrested on March 24. Details are still unavailable regarding the offence he committed but he was detained at Her Majesty's Prison in Durham where he passed away under mysterious circumstances.
Shocked by the development, his friends have got together and hired a solicitor to delve into the matter and have written to the Nigerian high commission in London asking it to demand answers. They are also asking for a post-mortem to find out exactly what led to Mr Umale's death.
Barrister Adeniji of Rock Solicitors, the lawyer hired to pursue the case originally apparently turned up at the prison to see his client only to be told that his body was being prepared for cremation. He was hired by the Idoma community in the UK, who are desperately seeking answers about what happened to one of their kinsmen.
According to an Idoma community spokesman, no one was informed of Mr Umale's arrest and it was not until much later that it was discovered he was in custody. Mr Umale graduated in 2008 with an MSc degree in project management from Northumbria University and started another MSc programme thereafter, which he was doing until his demise.
Daniel Okpla, a spokesman for the Idoma community, said: "HMP Durham could not confirm if he was convicted of any crime and have not submitted any autopsy report to the Nigerian high commission despite several requests by it and the Idoma community in diaspora. Without confirmation from the Nigerian high commission, HMP Durham has indicated her intention to proceed with cremating the body without following due process.
"Family, friends and the entire Idoma community in diaspora have made it clear that cremation is culturally unacceptable and arrangement must be made to repatriate the body to the family at Otukpo, Benue state for a befitting burial. It is completely unacceptable that HMP Durham seem to be sweeping this matter under the carpet."
He added that Mr Umale's family and friends need to know when and why was he was arrested, the level of care and support he received while in police custody prior to arriving at the HMP Durham and why the police and the authorities failed to notify any one in UK or Nigeria of his arrest and detention until his death. Mr Okpla said his community would also like to know if Mr Umale's death was racially motivated or due to gross negligence and whether he was in solitary confinement without appropriate monitoring and risk assessment.
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