The story of Emeka Kennedy, who spent months in SARS detention.
The story of how my life changed involves two cars: a Pathfinder Jeep, and a Toyota Avalon, and SARS.
Before I tell you this story, I should introduce myself. My name is Emeka Kennedy, and before this SARS wahala, I was a 35-year-old employee of the Importers Association of Nigeria (IMAN), a non-governmental organization that checks all forms of illegal importation, including small arms and goods.
Everything changed on April 12, 2018, when I returned to Lagos from Anambra State where I had gone to drop a car (the Toyota Avalon) for my uncle.
My own car, a Pathfinder Jeep, was not where I left it, at the Trade Fair Complex on Lagos-Badagry expressway.
I asked the security man at the office where my car was. He said some men from Trade Fair Police Station had come to tow it. So I went to the police station.
There, I met the Divisional Crime Officer (DCO) who said the officers that towed my car had left instructions: Anybody who came in search of the car should be detained. “For what?” I asked. The DCO did not answer.
Instead, I was immediately detained.
A few hours later, four heavy-looking men entered the station. They wore vests with the words ‘Intelligence Response Team (IRT)’. Later, I learned that the IRT was collaborating with the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
The IRT said they understood I had a Toyota Avalon in my possession.
The Toyota in question had come through Cotonou and belonged to my uncle, Mr Ozor Kenneth. All I did was drive it to Anambra State, where I parked it for him to collect. I told the officers all of this, even stating that the car had a plate number and all of its documents were intact. They ignored me.
From Trade Fair Police Station, I was transferred to the Lagos State Police Command, Ikeja where the Commanding Officer of SARS, Superintendent Philip, was powerful.
At the Lagos State Police Command, I wrote a statement, telling the officers everything I knew about the car, and that I was innocent, but they did not believe me.
They locked me up in a cell, where for one week, they did not give me food or water.
Later, the officers took me to the station’s backyard, where they tied my hands and legs and hung me in the air for several hours. After they brought me down, I was so weak that I could not stand.
The officers had taken away my phone and switched it off. This meant my family did not know where I was or what was happening to me.
All the officers kept saying was that they would kill me.
Five days later, they took me back to the backyard and hung me in the air again.
The next few days felt like I was in a coma.
When I regained a bit of my strength and the officers saw that I could raise my hand, they took me to the backyard and hung me again.
This was our routine for about two weeks. Starve, hang, repeat.
Then, the four officers who had picked me up from the Trade Fair Police Station put me in their vehicle and drove all the way to Anambra State.
There, the officers went to Awka Police Station, in the capital city of Anambra, to announce their arrival.
I took the officers to the house in Oko town where I had parked the Toyota Avalon. After that, the officers drove back to Badagry, Lagos, where I live.
It felt like I had been kidnapped, tortured, and my brutalized body was now being taken on a tour of Nigeria.
In Badagry, the officers, already armed with a search warrant, swept through my house. There was no one at home. My wife had travelled with our child to her parents in Lagos because of how uncertain things had become. The officers took everything they could find – shoes, clothes, belts, etc.
I spent a month and ten days in detention.
May 22, 2018, was the memorable mark of that dark period.
In the third week of this terrible experience, the officers asked me to call my relatives. I called my father-in-law, who came to my rescue.
My father-in-law and the officers started negotiating my release. Initially, the officers wanted 5 million naira, but they later dropped the price to 2 million. My father-in-law was still unable to raise that amount of money.
Later, I discovered that my wife usually came to see me, but the officers, especially the Investigating Police Officer (IPO), Sergeant Ermond, would send her away because she did not come with any money.
The cost of transportation from Badagry to Ikeja was 800 naira and, due to Lagos’ notorious traffic jams, the journey could linger for several hours.
My sister, who is a lecturer in the Federal Polytechnic in my hometown Oko, got tired of the officers’ shenanigans and, on May 22, 2018, wrote a petition to the then Inspector General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Kpotun Idris, in Abuja.
The IGP ordered the officers to transfer my case to Abuja with all the files and everyone who was involved in the case.
Instead of obeying the IGP’s order, the officers took me to the Samuel Ilori Magistrate Court in the Ogba suburb of Lagos and slapped me with all manner of charges, including forgery. The judge, suspecting foul play, refused to proceed with the case. She asked them to go and change the charges.
But the officers did not want to change the charges. Later, the IPO came to me and said they would give me bail. All I had to do was to call my people and the matter would go away.
I was asked to bring two sureties, one relative and a non-relative, who were senior-level civil servants, and could deposit 400,000 naira. I was able to get one relative but could not get a non-relative. So, I remained imprisoned.
I was remanded in Kirikiri Medium Prison in Lagos. During my time at Kirikiri, somebody inside the prison advised that I go to the High Court because the officers were afraid of it.
My lawyer and I took my case to the Lagos High Court in Igbosere on Lagos Island. We earned a favourable verdict and I finally became a free man on November 28, 2018.
Over six months after I was first kidnapped by the Nigerian police.
I thought my troubles had ended. For where?
When I returned home, my landlord, with whom I had never previously had any issues, asked me to vacate his property. He did not want to rent his house to an ‘ex-convict.’
Me, my wife, and our eight-month-old baby left Lagos on December 15, 2018.
We now live in Nkpor, a small town in Anambra.
SARS finished me. I lost my friends, my job and myself.
I lost my home. You see, I started living in Lagos when I was 13. I went to secondary school and university in Lagos. Lagos was home. Here in my new life in Anambra, there is nothing. If we see food, we eat.
I am currently unemployed. My last job was driving passengers around in a bus, but the bus broke down.
Don’t even ask about the police case. That one has gone cold.
When my uncle went to the officers concerning the vehicle, they kept toying with him. The officers asked him to go and visit me in jail. They did not believe I had been set free, given the hefty charges they had levelled against me.
SARS finished me.
I’m not even asking for justice. The only thing that concerns me right now is finding a bus to drive so that I can feed my family.
That will happen soon by God’s grace.
This story is part of a multimedia project by Tiger Eye Foundation and media partners across Nigeria, documenting police brutality in Nigeria, and advocating for police reform.