MEMBERS of the Rivers State judicial panel of inquiry set up to investigate abuses by the Special Anti Robbery Squad (Sars) police unit have been told how a man from Khana Local Government Area has remained in detention for a year for failing to pay a bribe.
Following a month-long nationwide protest against the brutality of the Sars police unit, the Nigerian government was forced to scrap the division. Forced by the weight of public opinion, the government asked state governors to set up panels of inquiries in their states to investigate claims of abuses by the Sars units.
On Monday, in Rivers State, the panel of inquiry heard the testimony of a councillor with Khana Local Government Area, Confidence Leera, who said his brother had been in police detention since November 1,2019 because of his inability to pay N3m ($7,833)demanded by a police officer. Councillor Leera said his brother, Edward Leera, who he claimed was a repentant cultist, was arrested along with nine others by the Inspector General of Police Intelligence Response Team and was later released on August 17, 2019 on bail.
However, he added that on September 14, 2019, one Assistant Superintendant of Police (ASP) David Agbo, demanded N3m for the closure of the case against his brother. Councillor Leera said his brother was found to be missing on November 1, 2019 and then on November 3, ASP Agbo called to inform the family that he had arrested his brother.
He said the family subsequently filed a fundamental rights enforcement suit for the release of his brother. Councillor Leera said the Rivers State High Court on December 17, 2019 delivered judgment in favour of his brother and ordered that N5,000 should be paid for each day he remained in detention until his release.
However, instead of obeying the court judgment, the police filed charges against his brother in court on January 20, 2020. According to Councillor Leera, the family did not get to know of the charges until sometimes in March 2020.
He said the police failed to produce his brother in court where the charges were filed, a development which prompted the court to strike out the case on August 4, 2020. Councillor Leers said all efforts to ensure the release of his brother had been futile.
Justice Suleiman Galadima, the chairman of the panel, asked the police to assist the panel to find out where the detainee is currently being held. He rejected a request to move the case to neighbouring Akwa Ibom State, saying the panel had the mandate to hear all complaints from any part of the country.