Teenager Monday Desmart was wrongly accused of armed robbery and allegedly murdered by the police, leaving his small family heavily affected.
Around 5 a.m. on Friday, February 11, 2011, four members of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) from Police Command Headquarters, Abakaliki, Ebonyi stormed a house.
The SARS officers startled the inhabitants with the way they broke in like armed robbers while the family slept. They had come to arrest a teenager named Monday Desmart.
The officers handcuffed the family and brought them all out of the house. Then they began to rummage through the room. They however did not find anything incriminating.
Alongside Monday, they took away his late father’s motorcycle. His father, John Desmart Onwe, a former school proprietor, died in 2010. He left behind his wife, and two sons: Monday and Junior Desmart Onwe.
When the SARS officers checked a list with names, they said Junior’s name was not included, and so they let him go. When he insisted he wanted to follow them to know why they had arrested his brother. They refused, and when he tried to follow them, one of them landed the head of his gun on Junior, hurting him badly. Junior and Monday’s mother began to cry.
Their mother reasoned later that since SARS was part of the police, it was best for her to go to the police headquarters in Abakaliki, Ebonyi state’s capital, to officially enquire about their reasons for arresting her son.
Upon reaching the Abakaliki headquarters, their mother found out that her son, Junior’s brother, Monday had been killed. “What did my son do?” she asked repeatedly. But nobody answered.
When she returned home, she broke the news to the family that the SARS officers had killed Monday. She also went ahead to inform the elders in their community. She later hired a lawyer who wrote a petition to the Ebonyi State Commissioner of police on May 14, 2011, requesting compensation, as well as the release of Monday’s corpse for burial. The commissioner however didn’t respond to any of the requests.
Pastor Shedrack Onwe, Monday’s uncle, has been the one seeking redress on behalf of the family. He has been the one supporting the family financially as well.
Monday, while he was alive, was the one who took care of his mum and brother, Junior. He even paid Junior’s secondary school fees, and his death meant his younger brother had to drop out at SS3 (Senior Secondary 3).
In December 2020, Monday’s mother died because of the shock caused by the loss of her son. You see, after Monday’s death, their mother was so overwhelmed by grief that she struggled to sleep.
She would usually come out of her room to swear painfully, saying, “Anybody who killed my son will never find peace!”
She continued doing that until she developed high blood pressure. Junior took her to several health facilities with the little money he made from selling phone accessories and repairing phones.
Junior used to reassure her that he would try to fill the gap left by Monday. He told her he would do anything that his late older brother couldn’t do for her. But his mother could not be consoled until she died. Just like that.
Monday was almost 19-years-old when he was killed. He was a bricklayer who used to work in Benin City, the capital of Edo State. He had only come back to the village, as he usually did, to join other young people to celebrate the Ofia-ode festival (Ofia-ode is a cultural festival that people of the Ntezi community celebrate once in a year. It usually takes place in either the third or last week of January. During the festival, all the five villages that make up the Ntezi community display different kinds of masquerades).
Monday’s wife has a daughter who is about 10-years-old now. She gave birth to the child around April 2011, two months after Monday was killed. She had Junior’s niece at the back in her father’s home, because the family did not have enough money for a hospital birth. Sometimes, Junior says, he visits the child and buys whatever little gift he can afford.
Junior remembers his late brother Monday as a funny person, who was kind, peaceful, and never had problems with people. This, he says, is why he refuses to accept the police’s claim that Monday was an armed robber.
An Uncle’s pain
Pastor Olung Shedrack Onwe, was Monday’s uncle.
He was on the other side of the highway, on his way to Enugu, when he saw Monday and one other person handcuffed inside a Hilux van. The pastor decided he would visit his late brother’s wife upon his return to know what happened.
But by 12 p.m that day, news filtered through radio and television stations in Ebonyi State, announcing that policemen had killed some armed robbers at an uncompleted building where they (the robbers) had been sharing their loot. The report said two robbers were killed during the exchange of gunfire and added that the other armed robbers escaped.
“Only God knows the spot they reached and killed both of the boys and then went ahead to tell radio stations a different story,” Pastor Olung says.
That same morning, when Monday’s mother got to the station, the boy was already dead with his father’s motorcycle by his side, as one of the exhibits the police claimed was stolen property they had retrieved from him.
Even when his mother brought the receipt of the motorcycle, the police only collected it from her and still insisted that that machine was stolen property. To date, the police have neither returned the receipt of the bike nor released the victim’s corpse for burial.
Pastor Olung recalls that the family waited for some time before they approached the police to release the corpse of the boy for them to bury, but they refused. That was what prompted the first petition that the family employed a lawyer to write to the Commissioner of Police on May 14, 2011. The Commissioner of Police did nothing.
“This young man was not given a fair hearing,” Pastor Olung says, continuing, “because even if he had stolen, for God’s sake, the law holds that somebody who commits a crime is still a suspect until he is actually proven guilty in a court.”
Their petition however did not yield a positive result because they had no money to pursue the matter in court.
The family again brought up the case again after the Judicial Panel of Inquiry set up after the #EndSARS protests in October 2020. Pastor Olung had heard on the news that there was a panel of inquiry established to inquire into police brutality and extrajudicial killings. He wrote a petition to the panel on December 5, 2020.
When the family appeared at the panel on March 9, 2021, they asked that the panel recommend that the government compensate Monday’s family.
“We are asking the government to rise up to the occasion and give justice to whom justice is due,” Pastor Olung says.
“We are demanding three things,” he continues, “that they give us a 50 million naira compensation; that they release Monday’s corpse for proper burial; and that the police return the motorcycle stolen from our house.”
As of the time of this publication, neither Monday’s corpse nor the motorcycle, or compensation have been released to the family of the deceased.
“We are still waiting for the government to contact us,” Pastor Olong says.
The pastor adds that the impact of Monday’s death in their community was enormous. Stating that Monday was well-loved in the community. And such, his death is not easily forgotten.
“They say that kolanut lasts long in the mouth of those that know the value of it, the same way pain and anguish lasts long in the heart of those that pass through it,” the pastor says.
Pastor Olung continues saying, “I want Monday to be remembered as a victim of circumstance. And again I want Monday to be remembered as a lamb that was used as a sacrifice to end incessant brutality in Nigeria. I want Monday’s death and the punishment that will be served to the police officers to serve as a deterrent to other erring officers.
If these things happen, I will be very grateful.”