A 52-year-old woman, Mrs. Olapeju Bakare Okafor, has narrated how policemen attached to Area P Police Command, Abesan area of Lagos State, allegedly attacked and then later remanded her in Kirikiri Prison because she touched a Trophy beer bottle, which police said was an exhibit.
Okafor noted that the most painful aspect of her encounter with the police was that she was the complainant in the case in which the bottle was the exhibit. How she later became a suspect and remanded in prison custody for weeks was still a shock to her, she said.
The incident occurred in 2018, but Okafor is presently demanding an apology and compensation from the Area P Commander, who she identified as Mr. Alade Abdulsalam. She alleged that Abdulsalam caused one of his policemen to slap her, lock her up in a police cell and then bundle her to court the following day. According to her, from there she was moved to the correctional centre.
Okafor, who had already gone to the Executive Director of Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC), Mr. Okechukwu Nwanguma, a human rights activist, seeking his help to attain justice, said she wanted the area commander and his men to realise that what they did to her was wrong. According to her, she also wants them to apologise and compensate her for all the losses incurred while in prison.
She further wanted the area commander and his men to tell the world the truth that she didn’t commit any crime because she was tired of being addressed as an “ex-convict” by everyone. Okafor explained that while in prison, the government demolished her shop and everything inside it and then the driver of her bus disappeared with her bus. She said: “My ordeal started in 2018, just a day or two after I marked my 50th birthday. Some of my friends and their husbands came to rejoice with me, but it was a low key celebration, done in my sitting room.
During the celebration, the male guests decided to buy alcoholic drinks. They went for Trophy beer which they bought from a woman within our neighbourhood” “As they started drinking, they observed that there were some particles inside some of the bottles. They stopped drinking.
As they were leaving, they stopped at the shop where they bought the drinks to complain to the woman. But instead of the woman to apologise, she insulted them. Angry, they held onto one of the cartons of beer, which they said they would use as evidence and then they left.”
Okafor said that on the third day, the beer seller came to her apartment, knocked and demanded the return of her bottles. She said from then onward, any time the woman sighted her, she would start raining curses and abuse on her.
Feeling embarrassed, harassed and threatened, Okafor went to Area P Police Command to lodge a complaint against the woman. She said: “I wanted to avoid physical confrontation with the woman, which was part of the reason I went to the police station. I wanted the police to warn her to let me be. When I got to the station, I was asked to write a statement.
The police asked for the bottles of the Trophy and I told them that the men left with them. Before that day, one of the men, Mr. Yusuf Bakare, had been stooling and we were worried that it might be the beer. But police insisted they needed the remaining bottles of beer as evidence.
I decided to go to Agege, to collect them.” When she got there, the men initially refused to give her the carton of beer, insisting they needed to take them to the office of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). But after much explanation, the bottles were released to her. Back at the station, the police invited the beer seller for questioning.
The beer seller told the police she bought the drinks from a distributor. The distributor was then invited for questioning. Okafor said: “I was asked to come back in a few days’ time, but I questioned the police. I didn’t understand why the case was being dragged.
All I wanted was for them to warn the beer seller to stop harassing me on the street. The policemen explained that they asked me to come back because the area commander needed to interview me. I went there on the date given to me.”
She observed that the distributor had a discussion with the area commander, after which he left. Okafor said she then asked the policemen to return the bottles to her, so that she could return them, but they allegedly refused. She added: “The policemen told me the bottles were exhibits in the ongoing investigation.
I was the complainant and I was also the person that brought the bottles to them. I got angry and went to report them to the area commander. I told him that his men refused to release the bottles to me.
He also told me that they were exhibits. I was still explaining to them that the bottles were not mine to give and then I touched one of the bottles, which was on the area commander’s table and just like that, the area commander asked why I touched the bottle. He said, ‘arrest her.’ I thought they were talking about arresting someone else. I didn’t know it was me.
One of them shouted at me to get up and move, and then I was given a hot slap across my face. I held my hot cheek. I was in shock! The area commander looked on; he didn’t caution the policeman that slapped me. Rather, they started pushing me out of the area commander’s office.
They insulted and called me names.” She was asked to write another statement, but she refused because, “I didn’t know what they wanted me to write. I had written a previous statement on the first day I came to report that the beer seller was harassing me.” Okafor was taken to the counter and asked to remove her jewellery, after which she was locked up in the police cell. “They collected my phone and wouldn’t allow me to reach my family members.
I was put in a cell and everything was like a bad dream. That was the first time I entered cell.” The following morning, she was brought and given her personal items, but not her phone. She thought the police were about to allow her to go home, but she was wrong. She was marched out of the station and bundled into a waiting vehicle.
She kept asking where they were taking her, but the policemen allegedly ignored her. It was when the vehicle drove into the Samuel Ilori Magistrates’ Court, Ogba, that it dawned on her she was about to be arraigned. As she was brought out of the vehicle, she was surrounded by lawyers, each saying they would handle her case for her.
She finally settled for one, who asked her to first pay N30,000. She said: “I told him that I had only N2,000 with me. Nobody told me I was coming to court; nobody prepared me for anything. The lawyer asked me to call my family, I told him that my phone was with the police and that they had refused to give it to me.
The lawyer asked them to return my phone that I needed to call my family. The policemen gave it to me. I called my family. Unfortunately, before my people came, my case was called and since I couldn’t meet the bail conditions, I was marched into a waiting Black Maria, taken to Kirikiri Prison and remanded.”
Okafor said that it took her almost a month before she could regain her freedom from the prison and that her family had to spend a lot of money to achieve that. She added: “After my release, the case was supposed to continue at the court but the police never came for one day. After six court appearances, without them coming to court, the case was struck out. It was as if the police just wanted to punish me. But I lost so much and now people stigmatise me, calling me an ex-convict. I can’t take it anymore.
What the police did to me was wrong!” Okafor was arraigned on a sixcount charge bordering on attempt to commit felony to wit destruction of exhibit, constitute nuisance by forcibly and unlawfully seizing a bottle of Trophy lager beer, an exhibit under investigation, to cause inconveniency in the ongoing investigation, stealing a bottle of Trophy lager beer, an exhibit under investigation, with intent to divert the attention of the investigators and officers.
With the phone number provided by Okafor, our reporter called the area commander, who had since been transferred and promoted to a Deputy Commissioner of Police. TrueCaller showed ‘Alade,’ but the man denied being the person Okafor was talking about. He said: “Maybe she doesn’t know what she’s saying. It couldn’t have been me. I’ve been a human rights activist for over 20 years and a lawyer.
I have never raised my hands on a woman, let alone to tell others to do so. If I touch her and she dies, I would have go and answer for murder charge. I will never do that because I know the implication of such an action. If she has any issue, let her go to Area P Police Command and challenge them there.”