A young couple were on the verge of being put together when SARS stepped in and put them asunder.
My name is Afam Ugwunwa, and I never got to marry the woman of my dreams.
On September 6, 2020, I went to the home of my fiancé, Ifeoma Stella Abugu, so she could introduce me to her family. Ifeoma and I had set our wedding for December 2020.
While at home, and as part of preparations for our wedding, Ifeoma decided to paint her family’s house. After that, on September 7, she and I went to Anambra State, my state of origin, around 150 km west of Ugbaike, her village, which is in the southeastern Nigerian state of Enugu.
From there, we both returned to Wumba Village in the Lokogoma area of Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, where we lived.
At 5pm on September 10, three officers of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) stormed our residence in search of me. They claimed they had come to arrest me because I was into hard drugs.
But I wasn’t home, and so they arrested Ifeoma in my place, despite pleas from concerned neighbours. They then instructed the neighbours to tell me to bring five million naira to ‘Abattoir’ – a detention facility owned by SARS operatives in Abuja, which had formerly been a butchers’ yard.
I was confused, firstly at the SARS officers’ accusation, and then at the fact that they took away my wife-to-be. I did not, and indeed, do not deal in drugs. I sell wigs for a living. If they needed me, they could have just called me without causing trauma to Ifeoma.
The following day, September 11, my brother transferred 500,000 naira to the sister of one of my friends, who took it to SARS at Abattoir to secure Ifeoma’s release.
But this release was not to be.
The SARS operatives told my friend that my Ifeoma had died at the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital in Gwagwalada, on the outskirts of Abuja, that same day – September 11, 2019.
That day, I lost my senses. My life has not been the same since. SARS took away my 28-year-old fiance just like that.
Of course, I am not the only person who smells a rat. Ifeoma’s big brother, Alex Abugu, also believes Ifeoma was murdered by SARS while in detention.
Alex says his uncle wrote a statement in SARS’ office, after which he (the uncle) was told that SARS had found the matter “too tough”, hence they had transferred it to Apo Police Division, located in a district in Abuja.
Alex was told that the investigating officer in the Apo Police Division went to the hospital and took pictures of Ifeoma’s deceased body in the mortuary. However, Alex’s lawyer, Ifeanyi Cosmas Mamah, had gone to the same mortuary to take pictures and was refused entry.
When confronted, the SARS operatives who carried out Ifeoma’s arrest claimed that they had met her in an unconscious state, with cocaine on her table; and that they only took her to the hospital where she was confirmed dead.
This is a lie – not least because I say so, but also because there were neighbours who witnessed the whole arrest. The neighbours are very clear on what they saw – they claim they even made several calls, but the SARS officers refused to let Ifeoma go.
Alex says that a senior SARS official claimed the three officers who took Ifeoma away – identified as DSP Melai Isaac, Isp. Enlamali Agbede and Sgt. Ezekiel Agbede – hadn’t sought his permission to carry out the operation. Alex, like me, believes the officer is only trying to save face and evade responsibility, as there is no way those three officers could have embarked on that assignment without his approval.
Since the Apo Police Division didn’t seem to be taking the matter as seriously as expected, Ifeoma’s case was eventually transferred to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Police Command Headquarters in Garki.
The Commissioner of Police at the FCT Police Command, Bala Ciroma, ordered for an autopsy report to ascertain the cause of Ifeoma’s death.
The SARS officers stood by their story – that Ifeoma had taken cocaine and that they had only brought her to the hospital.
The doctor at the hospital told them that not only was he going to conduct an autopsy, he would also conduct forensic analysis to determine the actual cause of Ifeoma’s death. This would reveal whether or not Ifeoma had been taking drugs, and how long she had been doing so if she was.
Alex says the doctor charged 600,000 naira for the autopsy, and that the three SARS officers involved paid only 450,000 naira of the sum. He also says the doctor told him that he (the doctor) was being put under pressure to conduct the autopsy in favour of SARS, but he (the doctor) reassured Alex that he would do his job justly.
On October 5, nearly one month after Ifeoma’s demise, the result of the autopsy finally came out. Cocaine, as claimed by the SARS officers, wasn’t the cause of death. Torture was.
Alex says his lawyer called the doctor, who asked them to come and collect a copy of the autopsy, which he had signed. Alex rushed to the hospital and called the Investigating Officer to tell him the report was ready. He says the Investigating Officer told him he was already aware the report was done, though he was yet to receive it. He told Alex that he would let him know as soon as he received it.
The Investigating Officer later quietly went to collect the original report without the knowledge of Alex and his lawyer. Till date, the lawyer has not been able to secure the original autopsy report from the police.
Alex and the rest of Ifeoma’s family have vowed to go to court.
Meanwhile, the news of Ifeoma’s death totally broke her mum, Maru Abugu, who had to be told several weeks after it had happened because the family didn’t know how she would take it, especially as Ifeoma was her favourite child. The family eventually got a Catholic Priest in their village to inform Madam Abugu, who is 70 years old. Till date, she weeps at the mention of Ifeoma’s name. Another one of Ifeoma’s relatives collapsed upon hearing the news of her death.
In 2018, Ifeoma graduated from the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), a polytechnic college in Enugu city in Nigeria’s southeast. She completed her National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme in Abuja in 2019.
We met in the course of her NYSC programme.
Ifeoma was a hairdresser – and a breadwinning pillar in her family. From the proceeds of her business, she took care of members of her family, most especially by paying the fees of her younger brother, who is studying at a polytechnic. She also took care of her brother Alex’s children, who are in the village.
Ifeoma struggled to finish school to finally get a source of income in order to support her family. She was only getting started.
SARS not only took away my potential life-partner, they took away a whole family’s hope.